After seemingly exploding out of nowhere in 2009 with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (in actual fact the French alt-rockers’ fourth album), it seemed that Phoenix could do no wrong. The massive singles ‘Lisztomania’ and ‘1901’ propelled them to giddy heights no one could have foreseen. 4 years later, and they’ve just headlined Coachella, and pretty much taken the world by storm.
The recently released 5th album Bankrupt! is quite remarkably polished, filled with huge, anthemic synth hooks and is generally an exuberant, if carefully constructed affair. Single and album opener ‘Entertainment’ does pretty much what it says on the tin. It fizzes with 80s infused synthy energy and vocalist Thomas Mars’s improbably high voice is strangely infectious. Things go downhill slightly for ‘S.O.S in Bel Air’, which is almost painfully generic. It is neat and polished to within an inch of its life, and the result is an unimaginative and predictable sounding track. This is a pretty accurate reflection of the album as a whole, which, despite its relentless hooks and an almost uncanny sonic togetherness, remains largely uninspiring.
Things slow down towards the middle of the album with title track ‘Bankrupt!’ However, instead of providing a calming break, it serves more as a dull, droning seemingly impenetrable wall, doing its best to drain any remaining interest you may have had in the record and drive you, despairing, away. It’s very disappointing, I would have thought the very least you could hope for from a track with an exclamation mark in the title would be mild excitement.
In ‘Drakkar Noir’, Phoenix (once again) fall victim to the absurdly polished nature of their music. While this might be a merit for some, I can’t help but prefer music that sounds like it’s been put together with some sort of emotion. All is not lost, however, as there are some moments on the album which do redeem it somewhat. The grittier ‘Chloroform’, with its prominent bass and dark piano chords is thrilling and a welcome relief from the rest of the album, much of which sounds a bit too similar.
Phoenix have made an album which, although it ticks all the boxes that should make it likeable, I find myself disliking. And I think the reason for that is Phoenix have focused too much on making an album they think people will like, almost trying to justify their popularity, rather than concentrating on making exciting music.
Released on 22 April 2013 by Atlantic Records