Phoenix – Alpha Zulu

A riveting return from the French group...

There’s an erroneous school of thought that Phoenix calcified on 2009’s ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’, a breakout moment that has come to define them in many quarters. Deeply intelligent electro-pop with an indie appeal, the French group’s output is often anchored to this record, but that ignores the subtle, and often striking, elements of evolution within their catalogue, carefully finessing their creativity while introducing fresh ideas.

‘Alpha Zulu’ – their first since 2017’s ‘Ti Amo’ – epitomises this tendency. Produced by the band themselves, it found them working from the auspicious location of the Palais du Louvre, in Paris. An independent entity shrouded by fabled works of art, it’s perhaps no surprise that ‘Alpha Zulu’ has emerged as such a strong and engaging record.

Led by Thomas Mars, the album opens with its title track, a subtle hip-hop dynamic underpinning the chanted chorus, before the breakdown is fuelled by rivulets of electronic melody. The inimitable Ezra Koenig lends beaming light to riveting collaboration ‘Tonight’, while ‘The Only One’ revels in Gallic disco energy.

Phoenix – Alpha Zulu

Indeed, there’s a continuing after hours feel to the record as a whole. Whether that’s the imagery suggested by ‘Winter Solstice’ and ‘After Midnight’ or the clipped, Chic-style chords on ‘Artefact’ it’s a record that feels primed for the wee small hours of the night. That’s not to suggest that ‘Alpha Zulu’ is a club experience, however; Phoenix expertly weave light and shade, with pulsating elements (such as the punchy paranoia of ‘All Eyes On Me’) intermingled against the introspection of ‘My Elixir’, say.

Closing with the wonderful ‘Identical’, this record finds Phoenix moving with remarkable confidence. Closing in on their 20th year together, the French group have rarely sounded so calm and at-ease, while also challenging themselves at every turn. A fun record, but also one with real depth, ‘Alpha Zulu’ becomes an apt testament to the group’s continuing vitality.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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