One of the most prolific and pleasing indie bands of the last decade, Phoenix have crafted a very addictive and unique sound, utilizing a lot of shiny synths and decadent melodies you’ll never forget. Their discography entails a list of listen-worthy albums and a particular gem. 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was a pure blast enjoyed the world over – featuring the ultra catchy “1901” and the triumphant “Lasso”, the entire album is a pop/rock conceptual idea of near brilliance. Every song’s composition never fall to the dull side.
The difference about Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and Bankrupt! is that while Wolfgang’s entire album is more than satisfactory, Bankrupt! is one of the albums released in 2013 that is hard to take as anything other than a slight disappointment. It might be hard to swallow, but it seems as if Phoenix’s vision has fallen to the wayside in order to just release another album. This might happen after you successfully world-tour off 1 album for 2 1/2 years and then need new material for the next tour. They must have been under a lot more pressure writing & crafting this release, both internally and from the outside world.
Alas, all of it isn’t amiss, there are moments worth noting and enjoying. “Entertainment” is the the essential track to hear on this LP, with its unique Oriental influence (which is also apparent in many other tracks) in the electronics, and as the song builds, it almost gains this swirling characteristic, which is the closest Phoenix comes to really creating any visionary sound. The vocals never disappoint on this record, and on “Entertainment”, they shine above the already heavenly melodies. With a snapping beat and a trademark jangly guitar lead, the song seems to foreshadow more good.
But the rest of the album’s sound never attempts to truly catch attention of the listener’s intrigue in addition to one’s dancing feet. The music just seems to meander and change in some baseless ways, often because one realizes the sound simply doesn’t change much as the tracks plays on the album. The music of Bankrupt! is much like Sid Vicious’ bass playing ability. Most of the tracks seem aimless and half-baked. None of them, save “Entertainment”, have the same forceful ambition that any previous Phoenix album has showcased.
Not all of this album is bad, let’s not look at this in the wrong light, but after their last stellar and pop-world-shaking album it is only fair to look at the bad in a manner relevant to the potential we know they possess. There are moments of salvation, mainly the last four tracks, especially “Chloroform” and “Bourgeois”. The first has this buzzing synth line that just dances in your brain and keeps lounging for days – the very same way the rest of the album should feel, as other Phoenix albums have proven this isn’t impossible. The latter features soothing melody that rises into this powerfully emotional chorus with some very exceptional vocal talent from Thomas Mars.
The rest of the tracks stick out because of their average production and disheartening hooks. “The Real Thing” has this distinct possibility of becoming this really overwhelming bit, but then this “follow me” section blares loudly, and it’s confusing. Phoenix would just hit the higher chord and sing this really awesome melody, and… No, they just spat out this half-assed chorus.
“S.O.S. In Bel Air”, “Trying to Be Cool”, and the title track all seem to have some promise, and end up being tolerable tracks, with “Bankrupt!” being the most interesting of the three. It’s multi-section structure works with this sound, and especially since they change it up, it sounds a lot nicer than others. Its length is a little longer than most Phoenix tracks, at seven minutes of length. “Drakkar Noir” sounds rushed, like they are putting together all they have and hoping it sounds long enough. It’s warbling and high melodies sound too forced.
This album, if you were expecting a continuation of the trajectory created with Wolfgang, is probably going to be a major disappointment for you. While it undoubtedly has energy, it lacks the character, drive, and focus previous Phoenix albums have had. It never jumps out you and latches on. It just stands around and lurks. The best way to describe the album is to feel like you’ve been transported to some “French” bar and these guys are up on stage, but the equipment is falling apart and you know this night is not going to end well. Replacing their actual instruments with the best they can find – generic, cheap, and horrifically sounding instruments. And this night lasts longer than you wanted, yet you can’t seem to leave, because you keep hoping it all get better. And it doesn’t, but you know it could.
Written by Dylan Tracy
OurVinyl | Contributor