Astralwerks' Phoenix believes in truth in advertising. Their new CD, It's Never Been Like That, is everything the title says, and more. Back in 2001 when I was working at my college radio station, I got a CD from them titled United and I was floored with how much they sounded like an indie Hall & Oates. I loved it. A few years later I was given their sophomore release, Alphabetical. It was nothing like United at all; it sounded a lot more like their label mates, Air. Keeping with the theme of their new record, the Parisian foursome has now given us ten new tunes that they recorded and self produced in Berlin.
The album that streets on May 23 is similar to Alphabetical, but there are also hints of country and classic sounding 70's American rock mixed in with the electronic beats. Their first single, "Long Distance Call", which has been streaming on Myspace for about a week now, is easily one of the best songs on the album. Guitarists Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz feverishly play and then stop on a dime almost immediately when the smooth vocal styling of Thomas Mars kick in, only to come back strong during the chorus of Thomas repeating "It's Never Been Like That / It's Never Been Like That." The 70's country Americana sound comes full force on "One Time Too Many" and makes me want to reach for my old Fleetwood Mac vinyl. Then there is "Napoleon Says", the first track on the record, which is completely different than the others. Jangle guitars, tambourines and a danceable drum beat lay the groundwork for lyrics that sound like a French version of the children's game of Simon Says. I can picture Madeline playing with Jean Luc and Franc on the schoolyard saying, "Napoleon says take off your coat, take off your long johns too and come over here." Anyone looking for their favorite summer anthem needs to look no further than "Consolation Prizes." This upbeat song has handclaps, awesome harmonies, a great guitar riff and the listener can't help but start moving along in unison with the beats.
It's Never Been Like That is a solid album and a great follow-up to Alphabetical. These guys totally defied the rule of the sophomore slump, and appear to have no signs of senioritis in the future. The band is going on tour throughout April including a date at Coachella. You don't want to miss them live.