This week fifteen years ago, Phoenix, the second LP from The Warlocks, was released via Mute Records. Not only is this an indisputably masterful record, but it is a novelty in the sense that there hasn’t been a record – or a band – that has so successfully integrated modernity into psych-rock to the same caliber that The Warlocks did with Phoenix. In honor of this milestone anniversary, we’re diving head first into Phoenix and all that made it the timeless piece of rock ‘n’ roll magic that it is.
Had one been unaware that the track/record made its debut at the turn of the century, it would have easily been assumed to be an effortless sonic fit within the 1960s or early 1970s – the goddam golden era of music as far as this writer is concerned. However, this point touches upon a dominant aspect of the album’s overarching strengths – it effortlessly melds the classic sonic tropes of rock music’s peak with contemporary creative flair. The Warlocks repackaged a sound the world had long been hungering for, custom-made for the listener of the modern age.
One of the most prominent artistic strengths of Phoenix is its inherently multidimensional nature. Are psychedelic sensibilities found throughout? Absolutely, and more so on certain tracks than others. However, it also isn’t exclusively a “psych-rock” album by any means. Each track – hell, each second of each track – is loaded with nuance. As a result, the album is inherently kaleidoscopic. That is certainly not an easy feat to accomplish, but The Warlocks did it and did it exceptionally – on every single track.
“Shake The Dope Out,” the album’s opener, can be used as an exploratory example of this. Its electrifying union of fuzz-infused guitar hooks, addictive rhythms, memorable and insatiably catchy lyrics, and a Goliathan explosion of sound at its conclusion all meld to make the track the invigorating and intoxicating listen that it is. The amount of detectble sonic detail within the track is indicative of how carefully crafted it was, therefore unveiling the not-so-hidden mastery behind it. Each time one listens to “Shake The Dope Out,” another layer – another detail – is revealed. Therefore, the track grows into something of its own giant with every listen, with the discovery of each piece of its magic gradually coming to life. That’s what makes the listening experience special, after all, and The Warlocks were able to harness it and integrate it into their work with ease. Whether this was a creative objective when bringing the album to fruition or not is unknow, but either way, the element of discovery it yields a potent and mammoth-sized presence. That’s something seldom seen, and is subsequently truly impressive.
It is worth noting that “Shake The Dope Out” is merely an example of the delightful sonic tropes that pepper the album. Each and every track that Phoenix is comprised of is rich with detail, exhiliration, stylistic nexus, and ample opportunity for sonic discovery with every listen. This is a part of what makes the album so special; the element of discovery makes each listen entirely unique and fresh – no matter how many times it has been heard. There is always a detail, a rhythm, a hook, an inflection left unheard. The album may have reached its fifteenth birthday, but it will always sound entirely fresh. This makes it, without a doubt, wholly timeless. On what was just their second album, The Warlocks produced a body of work that emulated the effervescence of rock ‘n’ roll relics and pumped it with contemporarism, as well as their natural creative flair and penchant for detail and advanced arrangement. There hasn’t been a record like it since, and frankly, there may never be. Albums like Phoenix simply don’t surface regularly, and nor do bands like The Warlocks, for that matter – that’s why a writer who was seven years old at the time of its release is now dedicating an article to looking back on its undeniably mastery.
To listen to Phoenix in full, click here to do so on The Warlocks’ Bandcamp page.