You can’t quite pin Nick Phoenix’s Wide World down and there’s no use in trying. The influence of his film score work as one half of the brain trust behind the world’s number one streaming film and television music company, Two Steps from Hell, can be felt and heard throughout the eleven songs on Wide World. These are not, however, compositions for some film or television show that will never be made. They are fully rounded musical and lyrical statements more than capable of living up to their often grandiose sound.
I should clarify what I mean by grandiose. It can have a negative connotation. It isn’t the sort of grandiosity soon sinking under the weight of its own importance, too much instrumentation choking the song, but instead shows a steady hand in control throughout. “Always On” is a great example. The drumming is a big part of what makes this song so memorable as it provides a simmering and constant undercurrent of energy that deepens the song’s impact.
It’s kind of an anomaly on the album. The cut “Andromeda” widens Phoenix’s sonic palette without ever venturing too far afield of the opener’s sound and likewise steadies the album’s trajectory moving forward from here. I suspect the vast majority of the album’s sounds began life on piano and this is no exception. His propensity for dramatic arrangements with instruments laden in echo and crescendos galore is even more pronounced with the closing song “He Knows Enough”.
One of the strongest attributes of this album, for me, is its construction. There are decided differences between the album opener “Wide World” and the finale “He Knows Enough”, but there less tangible though no less important aesthetic similarities. They are conscious “definitive statement” songs without any of the attendant self-absorption dragging down such efforts.
“If I Let You Go” is one of the album’s more commercial-minded tracks, perhaps deliberately so but likely not, but it’s no slight. The layered mix of emotions running through this song gives it a maturity level you rarely find with this sort of subject matter and the influence of songwriters such as Leonard Cohen is clear. Other influences such as Coldplay emerge from tracks such as “That Won’t Stand”, but don’t let such “talk” mislead you. Wearing your influences on your sleeve can be a bad thing but when an artist manages, as Phoenix does here, to transmute those influences into your own idiosyncratic songwriting, it achieves something far greater than mere imitation.
“Tumblin’ Down” is the finest rock exponent on the album. The compelling rhythmic drive of this cut stands out on an album full of such moments and the guitar playing, certainly not a prominent feature on much of the release, has real power during this track. Playing with the same musicians on this album helps give it a steadiness you can hear from song to song and the chemistry is palpable. and it’s an affecting final curtain.
Phoenix, once again, never overwhelms listeners while still providing a colorful and fully realized musical experience. Wide World doesn’t just show his love for writing songs and performing with a band, it shows his love for particular styles as well, but there’s something on Wide World for everyone and it holds up well under repeated listens.
by Jennifer Munoz