From being a fairly unknown 4-piece French band to being one of the headlined acts at Coachella ’13, their last album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix did wonders for Phoenix’s popularity. They won over people with songs like 1901 and Lisztomania in their signature guitar and synth pop amalgam. Their 5th album, Bankrupt!, comes at a time when the hype about them has still not yet died down and it has much to live up to.
Bankrupt! is an experimental album claims Phoenix. They’ve tried to lose their “pop” sound they say. It’s clear enough from the first song of the album Entertainment and the tinny Japanese riff it has throughout the song that they weren’t trying hard enough. It’s not another 1901 but works as a great follow up and like its name – it entertains.
Catchy hooks and synths are abundant in the next songs The Real Thing and SOS in Bel Air. They glide over with lines like “Follow, follow me” and “Put my name in your list”.
In the form of the longing Trying To Be Cool that induces you to dance more than sympathize and disinterestedly dark Chloroform, Phoenix has successfully incorporated an 80s influence. They’re also two of the best songs on the album.
Bankrupt!, the title song, is the “bone structure” and inspiration for the album in the words of Phoenix themselves. If you remember the song(s) Love Is Like A Sunset in Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Bankrupt! (the song) is the reincarnation of it in this album. It’s a long synth instrumental (recorded in a jungle in Australia with a percussionist father of a friend) followed by the vocal part (recorded in the studio 2 years later).
Drakkar Noir is more reminiscent of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix with the drums and the synth. The album ends with the lively Don’t with a heavy influence from Lemon Incest by Serge Gainsborough, the brilliant and intense Bourgeois and Oblique City, which being the last track gives the album a feeling of incompleteness than finality.
The Bankrupt! Diaries would technically be the last track, but consisting of 71 sketches from their recording sessions and a playtime of 64:31 minutes I doubt most people would go through it. It has random clips ranging from a mere 2-3 seconds to longer and if you have the patience, listening to it helps you understand Phoenix’s musical thought process behind this album much better.
Thomas Mars vocals are a source of fascination partially because they glide over so smoothly over all the songs with such nonchalance that whacked out lyrics like “There’s no evidence of cannibal boyfriends” (Trying to be Cool) and “Jingle jungle, jingle junkie, jingle junglemen” (Drakkar Noir) seem normal and partially because despite having a French accent while talking, it mysteriously does not extend to his singing.
The vocals blend in so perfectly that sometimes you don’t even notice that you aren’t noticing them.
Compared to Phoenix’s previous works, this was definitely not the smooth, shiny music that they usually do and there was definitely less of “pop” in it this time. Despite this, Phoenix have managed to retain a piece of them throughout the album and have not digressed from their style that much. It was a good experimental album, their love for synths, catchy hooks and vague lyrics still intact.
Bankrupt! did not beat Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but it was an enjoyable album and with Phoenix, that’s all that matters.
My favourite tracks – Trying To Be Cool, Chloroform, Bourgeois