Paris natives Phoenix rose to fame though the outstanding success of their fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, in 2009. Four years later they finally return with Bankrupt! an indie pop infused magnum opus that will definitely not disappoint die hard Phoenix fans.
It’s been a slow success for the French quartet, who formed in the mid 90s and released three albums to a small fan base before hitting it big-time with their now iconic LP, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The album cemented them as indie pop royalty and contained two of the most celebrated tracks of the last decade, the shamelessly dancey 1901 and the insanely catchy Lisztomania.
Over the last four years the band has been hard at work at creating the much anticipated follow up, and their hard work is shown through Bankrupt!’s production and musicality. Their latest effort follows in its predecessor’s footsteps in the sense that it provides a catchy, fun and quirky soundtrack to a night out, just with slightly more synthesisers.
The album’s opener and lead single, Entertainment, unveils what we can expect from the album. The combination of Asian inspired strings, electronic synths, soaring melodies, glossy production and even a kid choir, make for an exciting track. The lyrics however juxtapose the up-tempo beat and provide a melancholic observation of the life and love, with lead singer Thomas Mars boldly admitting, “I’d rather be alone” at the chorus’ closure.
Trying To Be Cool is effortlessly sleek and offers an oddly ironic comment on society’s obsession with impressing other people. Ironic in the sense that Phoenix are so obviously “cool” themselves and comfortable with this fact. Well, being BFFs with Daft Punk does help a bit I guess. Its lyrics are sweet and catchy, especially in the song’s chorus where Mars asks us to “tell me that you want me” over and over again.
The highlight of Bankrupt! comes from the blatantly bizarre yet irresistibly likable, Drakkar Noir, named after the horrid men’s perfume. The title is a satire that shames falsity and vanity, and correlates directly with the song’s cryptic chorus of nonsensical words. Laden with Asian inspired synths and bouncy drums it’s insanely fun. I dare you not to dance during its last minute when Mars croons the gloomy lyrics, “til I die, til I die” over atmospheric electronic flourishes.
Drakkar Noir’s partner song Chloroform follows, as both songs are named after strong smelling liquids that can be toxic if inhaled excessively – one with sleazy seduction and the other with drowsiness. The song’s woozy drones and slow pace evoke its title, and its saccharine lyrics mimic that of the sickly sweet anaesthetic.
The album’s closer Oblique City ends the album not with a whimper, but with a bang. The jumpy beats and shiny synths matched with Mars’ soaring lyrics evoke a classic pure indie pop Phoenix sound. As a song that celebrates life on the road and waking up in nameless cities, it captures a sense that Phoenix are nowhere near done with making joyful music.
Bankrupt! is an album that does not fade into oblivion but rather stands out boldly and brightly. As a follow to such an iconic album such as Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix it stands its ground allowing Phoenix to stick with what they do best, catchy indie pop. The rise of Phoenix is not over and hopefully we will continue to see more of these effortlessly cool French dudes as their music becomes more exposed to the masses.
This review was published in Issue 3, 2013 of RMIT’s Catalyst Magazine.