Blending synth and carefree rock is not a new practice for French indie veterans Phoenix, and for their new album, Bankrupt!, out today via Loyaute/Glassnote, the group honed in on this format. Following the success of their delightful 2009 hit album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the band continues to deliver happy-go-lucky music that is musically lighthearted while thematically and lyrically deep. However, in releasing their first new album since that wildly popular effort four years prior, the band had to grapple with the fact that they had a hard act to follow.
With Bankrupt!, Phoenix reveals their interest in experimentation. In album opener “Entertainment,” the band uses Far East sounds layered over rockier elements, and this use of traditional Asian sounds feels a bit off and even contrived when coming from four Frenchmen. Yet when this theme is lightly revisited elsewhere on the album, it doesn’t seem to feel as uncomfortable. They walk a fine line between deftly integrating this sensibility into their sound and blatantly overusing it.
Other songs on Bankrupt! features the catchy riffs that fit in with Phoenix’s signature style, and several are especially reminiscent of Wolfgang. On one such example, “The Real Thing,” the band sings “Follow, follow me” in a quick falsetto throughout the track, while “Drakkar Noir” repeats “Jingle jungle / jingle junkie-junkie jumble” in various variations. The combination of synth wiggles and full-band rock sound is highly appealing.
However, many of the addicting lyrics are not necessarily joyous or cheerful, though the way in which they are presented makes them seem that way. “And you can’t cross the line / but you can’t stop trying,” vocalist Thomas Mars charmingly sings on “SOS in Bel Air,” and on their single “Entertainment,” Mars belts the now iconic “I’d rather be alone.”
On the album’s title track, which clocks in just under the seven-minute mark, the lyrics don’t appear until four minutes in. The track instead focuses solely on the synth and serves as a nice repose after their lyric-based pop-rock tracks. “Bankrupt” is the track that fits in the least with the others on the album, and at the same time, it is one of the most compelling.
While Bankrupt! is certainly entertaining, it feel slightly lackluster after Wolfgang, which is an admittedly hard act to beat. However, if you take this album out of the context of Phoenix’s catalog, it is definitely worth a listen.
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