Phoenix is the first album from Seattle’s Pedro The Lion in 15 years. It is, therefore, obvious that it should be named after the mythical creature that symbolises a rebirth of sorts, a new beginning, which is definitely indicative of David Bazan’s creative process after such a long hiatus. Central figurehead for the outfit, Bazan found himself in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, when touring the US alone a few years ago, stopping off at his grandparents’ house. The breakthrough that followed also inspired a visit to the house he grew up in, undoubtedly resulting in the nostalgia that is the dominant theme throughout his new material.
Phoenix begins quite triumphantly. The pop melodies of recent single ‘Yellow Bike’ spark an uncomplicated pleasure and familiarity that signals a fond return for an artist who appears to be making a personal journey through storytelling. As he wistfully sings: “I remember what it was like / Astride my yellow bike” Bazan sounds like a man at the end of his life, reflecting with a combination of freedom and loneliness. His is a classic form of songwriting that, in the more upbeat moments, gives a charming and inoffensive hint of Tom Petty or even the retrospective nature of later Johnny Cash in the slower tracks, such as ‘Piano Bench’.
However, though touching and reminiscent, Phoenix becomes more monotonous as it progresses. Its lack of dynamism unfortunately detracts from the finished product and leaves it with a little less soul than it starts off with, despite the religious references throughout. Indeed, Bazan has achieved the feeling that he intended in his listener: that of returning to a place that was beloved but now appears somewhat alien. The overall mood is a lot flatter than would be expected, contradicting the heartfelt raison d’etre that led to the album’s creation. Drawing more on slacker rock inspiration in ‘Circle K’ and ‘Quietest Friend’, it’s a style that sadly evokes little emotion; ‘My Phoenix’ has a pleasing touch of a later Pearl Jam release about it but without the power of Eddie Vedder’s vocal.
While Bazan has gone full circle in his creative pursuits, so too has the music industry, which means that there is a chance for new fans to discover him. However, those who remember him first time round will prefer to remember something more vital than this offering bears witness to. Perhaps it’s now time for him to lead Pedro The Lion forwards rather than look backwards if he is to really make any kind of waves in showcasing the stronger ability we know is there.