Though Phoenix's blend of soft rock, synth pop, disco, and indie has remained largely the same over the years, they've always given their albums distinctive moods. This is particularly true of Ti Amo, a reaction to the tumultuous late 2010s that feels timely, timeless, and unmistakably Phoenix. In the four years between Bankrupt! and this album, the world got a lot darker and scarier, with events such as the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris defining the era's violence and uncertainty (due to a police lockdown during the attack at the Bataclan theater, Phoenix guitarist Christian Mazzalai was even trapped in their studio while they were making Ti Amo). Instead of responding with more darkness, Phoenix make the most of their good-natured music, channeling the sensual joys of an Italian summer into gelato-sweet and gelato-brief songs that suggest beauty and romance are always necessary, especially when times are tough. As the title implies, Ti Amo mixes love, lust, different languages, and soft-focus rock and disco into some of the band's most romantic music; the swelling arpeggios on the standout "Lovelife" feel like they could have been played on heartstrings instead of a synth. "J-Boy"'s impulsive fling is made all the more pointed by the song's imagery of dying coral reefs and kamikazes, while Thomas Mars' quasi-rap vocals prove once again that Phoenix are masters of turning corny into cool. Later, "Fior di Latte" (which takes its name from a type of cheese) serves up the kind of soft rock that could be cheesy in less skilled manos. Ti Amo's first half is one of the band's most consistent stretches of songs since Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but the wispiness of its second half delivers mixed results. "Goodbye Soleil" captures a dream evaporating with twilight melancholy, but "Role Model" is harder to grasp, even with its massive choruses. "Via Veneto" is hazier still, as if the album is fading away before listeners' ears. Some of this must be intentional -- one of the main reasons Ti Amo's celebration of la dolce vita doesn't descend into escapism is because it's so fleeting. It's no coincidence that the most urgent song on the album, "Fleur de Lys," takes its name from from one of the most classic symbols of France, while "Telefono" plays like a prologue that tracks a connection as it fades across time zones. Returning to normal life -- or worse -- might be inevitable, but Ti Amo's hazily gorgeous memories remain potent and poignant.
Ti Amo Review
by Heather Phares