Nick Phoenix has built his musical reputation on his work with Two Steps from Hell, the music production company he helms with co-founder Thomas Bergersen. The pair’s company has experienced tremendous success scoring a wide variety of films, television programming, and sporting events and scaled the heights to become the #1 streaming film music artist(s) worldwide.
Phoenix, however, has continued harboring broader ambitions. He’s wanted to return to his first love for some time, rock and roll, and kicked that off with 2021’s King of One. Its follow-up Wide World expands on the former’s unfettered creativity with an eleven song set that filters a wide range of influences through his own experiences and gifts. The title track “Wide World” opens the release and reminds us all, including Phoenix, that even if pandemic ravages families and nations, war haunts the globe, and there seems to be no respite from daily struggle, life remains varied enough to still offer possibility. It points to the collection’s ultimate theme of redemption – even if the album’s darkest moments, the fact we can still sing offers us a meaningful measure of hope.
“Rise Up” is a little reminiscent of Pink Floyd post-Roger Waters, but shaped by American sensibilities and a strong dose of singer/songwriter fare. It follows a similar template to later tracks such as “Andromeda” and “He Knows Enough” without those cuts sounding like Phoenix retreading familiar territory. It’s more predictable to kick off releases with an up-tempo track and “Always On” is our first evidence of Phoenix’s musical acumen. He takes chances with confidence and his boldness curries favor with listeners. The chorus may divide listeners; some will think it appropriate given the track’s general mood while others may hear it as diffuse and lacking the desired impact. The song has, as well, a percussive quality in the piano playing that captures your attention and underlines the drumming’s crisp snap.
“Andromeda” is symphonic pop-rock of the highest order. Piano returns again, albeit geared towards different ends, though we’re likely hearing an auditory glimpse of the song’s origins. The peaks and valleys are well-timed and there’s never any sense of Phoenix forcing the track forward. Dramatic art-pop comes into play with the track “That Won’t Stand”. Its classical inclinations are impossible to ignore, but it’s equally impossible to ignore.
His vocal for “Last Round” pairs well with a female backing vocalist, but Phoenix carries the bulk of the track. His relaxed yet insistent singing juxtaposes nicely with the song’s relentless pulsing. Echoes of our times reverberate throughout the album, and they are especially loud during the track “Which Side You’re On”. Phoenix, however, is never so crass as to bore listeners with specific targets and the ambiguity serves him well. So does the piano break at the song’s midway point.
“He Knows Enough” is an often brooding finale, but Phoenix corrals much of its darkness. You hear it running as an undercurrent through the song but, by the end, you can’t help but be impressed by the array of distinct emotions he conjures. It’s a vocal masterpiece for him unimpaired by post-production effects. It ends Phoenix’s Wide World on a dramatic, but never despairing, note.