It's never been like this? Oh yes it has
No matter how much the press release may declare 'It's Never Been Like This' has unprecedented immediacy, it doesn't make it true. Neither does their singer, Thomas Mars, saying 'There's a brutality to the record' make it so. Given that Phoenix are French, comparing them to Air might be unfair but they do bear some resemblances. Add Strokes and The Libertines to the equation and these songs seem to deserve to be the background music for summer picnics and days by the seaside such is their breezy indie. Well, light indie with an edgy nervousness.
'Napoleon Says' sets the tone for the album, of lazy days and romantic lovers, but underneath it all is a restless, stomping beat and jangly melody that makes for a pretty odd tune. In all honesty, it's not the best way to start an album; the second track, 'Consolation Prizes', may be pure Libertines and Strokes (with different vocals naturally), but it's sweet and one of the better tracks on the album. The whimsical mood is carried on by 'Rally' and 'Long Distance Call', but this time they don't have the same effect. Even though both start off downbeat, the Air comparisons start appearing - irritatingly light. Only the chorus on 'Rally' makes the song worth listening to at all.
With the second half of the record, it becomes clear 'It's Never Been Like This' is really quite downcast. 'One Time Too Many' is a case in point; superficially, it's just like before but underneath the surface is a melancholy touch and it makes all the difference. With 'Lost and Found' and 'Courtesy Laughs', in the lyrics as the tune, things are often bitter although the Strokes beats, vocals and stop start melodies are too apparent for comfort. It's a shame because 'Lost and Found' is a lovely tune, all the better for being less self-conscious than most of the record.
Phoenix are definitely better when they're not so infuriatingly happy, as proved by 'North' a simple instrumental. It's gorgeous stuff, and almost a Cuban vibe. As with 'One Time Too Many', the last two tracks, 'Sometimes In the Fall' and 'Second to None' are deceivingly melancholy.
It's certainly not a bad record by any means, but it lacks a certain Je ne sais quoi and if only there were more like 'Lost and Found' or 'Consolation Prizes', 'It's Never Been Like This' would be a lot better.