It’s about time time for a new trick by an old favorite. After four long years of silence, the french alternative band Phoenix is finally out with their new album Bankrupt! Fortunately the ominous title does not refer to the band’s sound. Bankrupt! is an excellent fifth addition to Phoenix’s impressive discography and a worthy follow up to their critically acclaimed 2009 Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, (affectionately nicknamed WAP by fans). The album garnered Phoenix significant international airplay and won them that year’s Grammy for Best Alternative Album. But Bankrupt! is a different animal; it both celebrates the musical style they’re known for, and travels places up and beyond.
The beauty of Bankrupt! is the uncomplicated, upbeat melodies accompanied by subtle but heartbreaking lyrical transitions, all tied up neatly by vocalist Thomas Mars’ soaring, poignant vocals. Mars’ voice has an ethereal quality which melds remarkably with the instrumentation. One of Phoenix’s many virtues is the band’s ability to evoke tone and sentiment out of their music, not exclusively their lyrics. Mars’ accented English is often difficult to understand and his writing is not as concise as a native speaker’s might be. The lyrics are poetic and sublime messages that run through a song but do not define it’s meaning. As stated, the music itself does that job.
Musicians Deck d’Arcy, Christian Mazzalai, and Laurent Brancowitz provide impressive instrumentals which, frankly, stand all on their own. Phoenix’s debut album United placed a significant emphasis on instrumental tracks, mostly funk and jazz with an alt rock twist. Their style has shifted over time, but the strong background in instrumental work is apparent on Bankrupt! The album presents a grand diversity of melodies while maintaining a unified sound.
“Chloroform” is a wonderfully simple ballad of cruel love marked by blaring bass and twangy synth. “Trying to be Cool” is a playful melody, but it just dances on the surface of bitter desperation. Building on punping drums and delicate guitar, the transcendental “Bourgeois,” showcase’s what may be Mars’ most affecting vocals since WAP‘s tender “Rome.” These songs are not individual pieces, however. The whole album comes together wonderfully, in a single listening experience. Bankrupt! is absolutely decadent, transporting the listener to a heartbreakingly beautiful place.
Phoenix is on top of their game, still firing on all cylinders, but is there anything bad about the album? That depends. While Bankrupt! is still undeniably Phoenix, their transition to a more electronic sound is really evident in this new set of songs. But don’t panic; sell-outs these men are not. Phoenix has outgrown the funky alternative rock of United and this album represents a natural progression of sound, which the band has taken great care to develop. Is it different? Yes. Is it bad? No. Whether you appreciate the band’s growing synth tendencies is a matter of taste, but there is no question, Phoenix straight up works it.
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