Phoenix: It's Never Been Like That

This is simple, feel-good pop rock that gets more interesting with subsequent listens. It's Never Been Like That has one foot planted somewhere between '80s British punk and '80s British new wave, and the other is standing squarely in the front row of a Strokes show. It's a good mix of influences, and they manage to sound interesting even in the current flood of new wave revivalists.

Music: 3.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
It's Never Been Like That doesn't have sharp teeth or bloody claws or even a fist raised in righteous anger. The music is catchy and the lyrics are smart, but the energy is restrained. Even the instrumental track, "North," adds something special even though its quiet nuances don't fit with the rest of the album. The songs are easy to forget once the CD ends, but as soon as it starts again, they slide into your ears like old friends who've found their way back onto your couch after a long absence. It'd be easy to let It's Never Been Like That slip by and dismiss it as take-it-or-leave-it pop. It'd be easy, and it'd be wrong.

Packaging: 3 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
The cover has that cheesy, homemade look for which people pay a lot of money. The simple red/black/white palette is effective, and the hand-colored accents add a nice touch. It's good to see a band who was willing to give up the entire back panel out of respect for the design, but the artwork isn't so powerful that it needed two panels to work. Likewise, printing the same picture twice on the center pages doesn't work. The background on the lyric pages is subtle, and it creates nice boundaries for the words without being overstated. I'm glad the song lyrics are included; the band may be French, but they write better words than many of their English-speaking peers.

Listen if you like: The Strokes and their many followers, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

If it were food, it'd be: Homemade mac & cheese. It's simple, but it stands out against its mass-produced peers.

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