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Phoenix rises again on new album ‘Bankrupt!’

Dylan Dobson, 4Play Editor
May 1, 2013
Filed under 4Play

 

French synth-rock band Phoenix already showed American music fans what it was all about when “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” was released stateside — with singles “1901” and “Lisztomania” making the group a household name. With “Bankrupt!,” the band hopes to prove it’s far more than a single album or its Daft Punk roots.

On “Bankrupt!,” the band toys around with psychedelic compositions and low-fi recording styles. The production is exceptional — with muted electronic instrumental compositions that are as complex and catchy as anything ever released by Deadmau5 and the band’s signature hypnotic vocals.

The band makes a misstep by placing “Entertainment,” the album’s lead single and standout track, at the front. “Entertainment” is perhaps the most ambitious and loud thing the band has ever recorded, a chiming rock anthem with cheesy oriental stylings juxtaposed against layered guitars and booming drums. In comparison, the rest of the album is fairly forgettable.

“SOS in Bel Air” is appropriately urgent, with robotic voices chanting like a siren while vocalist Thomas Mars coos like a dove. Sirens and synthesizers add into the mix to make for a great dance track and a probable summer single and make the track one of the best “Bankrupt!” has to offer.

“SOS in Bel Air” is followed by the fairly straightforward pick-up line song “Trying to Be Cool,” which feels a lot like a part two for the band’s first single, “If I Ever Feel Better” off their debut release “United.”

In fact, much of this album seems to be a throwback, though not to the ‘80s post-disco dancehall music that the band often tries to replicate. Instead, “Bankrupt!” feels more like homage to the band’s own early work. While hearing them get back to their roots after the very Strokes-esque “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” is fun, it forces the album to feel like more of a novelty than a moment of growth for the band.

And with Vampire Weekend, a band that is often lumped together with Phoenix, releasing its own new album this year, it will be interesting to see how the two compare. Unlike the fairly stagnant Phoenix, Vampire Weekend is known for its drastic evolution between albums.

The title track of the album — a six-minute interlude full of synthesized baroque — feels like a forced reference to lead guitarist Laurent Brancowitz’s past with the men from Daft Punk. Daft Punk also has a monumental new album coming out this year, and this reference only serves to further foreshadow the work on which it appears.

Phoenix would have done well to stretch themselves and try something new on “Bankrupt!” instead of playing to old habits and paying homage to their past. Whereas it could have been a triumphant follow-up to the band’s most successful album, “Bankrupt!” instead represents a low in the group’s career.

Still, “Bankrupt!” proves to be a great record on-par with the band’s earlier albums but lacking in comparison to “It’s Never Been Like That” or “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.” It has the spark of nostalgic magic that the band is known for casting but fails to enchant the way past releases have.

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