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People often forget that Phoenix have been at it for over a decade, and if there’s anything the power-pop veterans are able to do and do well, it’s churn out tune after catchy tune. Bankrupt! is the band’s fourth studio album, and though it’s been a long time in the making, the band prove that it really was worth the wait. The album showcases the four-piece’s knack for perfecting fun, danceable and unabashedly accessible tunes.
The first track off the new album, Entertainment, features big, full sounds – layers of shiny synths, pummelling drums and a steady bass line makes the track immediately likeable. Despite frontman Thomas Mars’ refrain of “I’d rather be alone”, the music seems to send quite a different message.
The loner theme continues to run through S.O.S. In Bel Air. The lyrics and mix are opaque, but one line is clear: “You can’t cross the line/But you can’t stop trying”, interweaved with lamentations of being “alone, alone, alone”. The synths and the vocal style on the track are reminiscent of the Julian Casablancas track 11th Dimension, with a slight difference in its change up of tempo throughout the song.
Trying To Be Cool is one of the highlights of the record. The intro features big synths that give way to showcase Mars’ lilting vocals. This is by far one of the melodic stand-outs and although some critics have said the song’s “easy-listening” quality is a lazy move on the band’s part, Phoenix have never really shied away from those luscious synths. Here they’re just doing what they do best – and excelling at it.
Seven-minute songs are by no means easy-listening, however. Title track Bankrupt is a departure from the rest of the album; it’s difficult and intriguing, evolving over the course of the tune. The sparkling build-up is gorgeous, but sounds more like an interlude than a complete song. It progresses into a metallic synth a third of the way in, which feels disjointed and incomplete. That’s not to say the song has no redeeming qualities – the vocals and keys are appropriately wistful and as close to harrowing as Phoenix will ever get. Bankrupt is an interesting track; extremely ambitious but feels a little too contrived.
Chloroform is a meandering jam with warm, tumbling synths and vocals to match. The tune offers a slight change of pace and is startlingly candid in lyrical content. Bourgeois offers a similar honesty, with Mars offering some social commentary – “Bourgeois, why would you care for more?/They give you almost everything/You believe almost anything”.
The mismatch between the upbeat rhythms with the comparatively reflective and searching (though never cynical or disenchanted) lyrical content is an inherent characteristic of the four-piece’s method of songwriting. Although Bankrupt! delves into a situation that very much reflects what happened to the band after the runaway success of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, singing about the rich kid blues has never sounded so optimistic, which is what makes them so disarming. Bankrupt! leans on the safe side, but Phoenix’s latest record is no less charming than its predecessors.