An amiable slice of new wave-styled pop that suffers from a lack of memorability, albeit with an over-familiar sound.
Since their surprise burst into the mainstream with 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, French rockers and Daft Punk buddies Phoenix honed onto a very specific sound: that of a shimmering and sun-kissed mix of new wave revivalism, synthpop, and indie rock that has supported big, catchy riffs and angular melodies with an almost in-built ubiquity that has led to tracks like ‘1901,’ ‘Entertainment,’ ‘Lizstomania,’ and ‘Trying To Be Cool’ being synced to numerous adverts and becoming beloved in indie scenes, leading to a well-deserved Grammy in 2010. However, ‘J-Boy’ – the new single from upcoming sixth album Ti Amo – does not deviate from this formula, used not only in 2009 but also the wonderful intermediary Bankrupt! While it remains amiable, there is a worry the band is now hooking into diminishing returns.
Things start well enough: a brief synth bass drop quickly segues to a mix of chiming guitars, reverb-heavy gated drums, and a tinkling, circular synth riff that is endearing and blatantly 1980s-influenced, if not overly memorable. Slipping back to primarily the stabbing synth basslines and drums for the more minimalist verses, frontman Thomas Mars pseudo-raps his almost trademark charmingly odd lyrics (“They hang me higher than a disco ball”) although his endearingly wispy vocals are so closely recorded and loudly mixed they verge on ASMR videos and actually come off as a bit weird. The instruments drop back in for the choruses and, while the tinkling synths and guitars mesh nicely with Mars’ drawn out melodic phrases, they don’t really coalesce into anything. If anything, they mostly feel as if escalating towards a bigger and more bombastic chorus that never really comes, with Mars’ own loosely sketched melodies here feeling like placeholders.
This is not to say they are not enjoyable. They are definitely amiable and danceable, but ‘J-Boy’ never really shifts into anything as immediate as they have been capable of in the past and the song drifts across its runtime. Also, while the chirpy sun-drenched sound of the last eight years has been an enjoyable signature, it is a bit perturbing quite how similar the song sounds to more or less anything off their previous two records, albeit without the big hooks that characterised previous offerings. Certainly the song is likeable and Phoenix remains an enjoyable band, but sadly it is remarkable how much the song comes off as underwhelming at times – for a return after four years, a song that feels like a slightly undercooked outtake from previous album sessions is odd at best.
As a sunny, summer-ready festival track with in-vogue 80s-styled pop buoyancy, ‘J-Boy’ absolutely unquestionably. As something more distinctive, more memorable, or even as something that can fit with Phoenix’s best, it falters, coming off as any old indie-pop group sandwiched onto Next’s store playlist or a Made In Chelsea broadcast. Considering the inventiveness of ‘1901’ and ‘Entertainment,’ ‘J-Boy’ is likeable and a potentially agreeable album track but beyond is sadly lacking.
‘J-Boy’ is out now via Glassnote and Loyauté