It’s kinda easy to forget about It’s Never Been Like That, the third full length album from Phoenix. It’s not a debut record, United, the one serving as their official introduction and the one fans will always attribute to their beginnings. And it’s not the smash hit and American breakthrough, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the one to score them a spot on SNL 1 and a slew of commercials through hit single, “1901.” It sits in the middle of those two markers, as their all-time-best, and maybe…perhaps…their slightly forgotten high mark.
It starts with “Napoleon Says,” the tambourine driving the opener’s pitch perfect tempo, the weird, international romance primarily involving taking “off your coat” and “your long johns too.” Meanwhile, album standout “Rally” follows another twisted love story, in which you are to “follow the shouting” and where frontman Thomas Mars believes “Tired or wasted/I think you’re decent.” True affection right there. First single “Long Distance Call” is another standout 2, but we’ll move on to “Lost and Found,” which has Mars describing the back and forth of most tumultuous relationships, singing, “To get to you I’ll go down on my knees/Last night I swear I wouldn’t be the same/Last night I swear it never was the same.”
And while the lyrical work would be interesting on its own, hell, even surrounded by an army of kazoos, it’s the layered, exact instrumental work that carries the record to the next level. It’s not the brand of arena rock modern-day music lovers would call cheesy, it’s the rock that needs that sized venue to fully express itself. Each element comes in a different musical wave, the previously mentioned “Long Distance Call” serving as a prime example.
Oh yeah, and check out “Sometimes In The Fall” for a prime example of all the good The Strokes’ influence did throughout the early to mid-2000s.
With an album this incredibly dense, I was curious to see what exactly we’d be dealing with in the reissue, a reissue that didn’t really get any “remastered” fanfare and as you’ll see in “Packaging” and “Extras,” seemed like a bit of an afterthought. Well, it’s certainly not a disaster, with great moments in songs like “Lost and Found,” which hits those high, bright tones, and the conclusion of “Rally,” it’s several sources of percussion properly separated. But then when you get a song like “Napoleon Says,” in which the drums are truly and utterly buried, you’ll be slightly disappointed. And actually, my first spin was met with a pretty heavy sigh, but I gave it more spins and something clicked; I respected the clean pressing, lacking the pops and clicks, and the clarity with which Mars’ vocal work comes through.
“Long Distance Call” is a standout, as well, the echoing synth work well represented, while “North,” your instrumental track, suffers from no outright audible atrocities. There’s some definite misses — as previously stated, a few tracks just seem to have certain elements muted, subdued — but I respect the overall job and can say confidently that it’s the best part of this release.
The single LP set is housed in a very thin jacket (just about the cheapest one you have in your collection), featuring the original artwork. The inner sleeve is a little step up, as it includes lyrics and credits on the flip side. In other words, it’s your pretty standard, cheap, single pocket jacket. Nothing special here. The center labels, the big letters and massive red drop shadow, add a bold colorful touch to that black vinyl, though.
No digital download code or CD is included. Again, very bare bones. I gave them 20 pity points on this.
“Long Distance Call” & “Lost & Found.”