Phoenix – Bankrupt!

Albums / Words

25 Apr 13

It’s almost like Phoenix want us to think they’re good musicians. Widening their appeal, ‘Bankrupt!’ douses itself with a flirtatious cheek – take ‘S.O.S In Bel Air”s lyric “You cant cross the line but you can’t stop trying” which might poke fun at frustrated plastic fantastics in LA who lack the creativity and common touch of a band like this.

‘Bankrupt!’ continually shoots past expectation, surprising with the fervor of a student protest – minus the aggression. Much like the LP’s flirtatious lyrics, the French four pieces’ sound-bed strives for love-soaked headiness and achieves it – often by way of cushioned percussive and instrumental synths, which tease harsher electronic beats which are farther fetching than before. Feel good House is all over this work. New vastness of terrain – achieved.

For a concept track, check ‘Bankrupt!’ itself, which (rightly) takes itself seriously – but in that Carl and Pete kinda way. It’s effortless.

The bands commoner Soft Rock and straight chord play is still here, ‘Drakkar Noir’ opts for a Phoenix crescendo and outro ‘Oblique City’ reminds us why the first record still plays out well – but interestingly, ‘Drakkar Noir’ leaps into the intro to edgier ‘Chloroform’ like it’s making a point.

Phoenix drift off into these diversified creative explosions more here than ever. The band, armed with new technology, are hellbent on re-defining audial expectation as tracks drift in and out of focus – but asides all this disparity the band clutch to their stronghold: the power of storytelling. This is a dream.

The online reaction to Bankrupt! so far reads as a tribute to the band’s previous outing Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – whose splendour made a name for this erstwhile French foursome in 2009 and supposedly goes unrepeated here.

Phoenix do concede that Bankrupt! owns a bolder sound, and no small dose of Gallic contrariness. Their fame was years in the making; this new collection is similarly long of gestation and liable to accusations that the synthpoppers had no strategy for building on success.

But when the music is as shapely as this, former glories don’t matter. The openers ‘Entertainment’ and ‘The Real Thing’ are dazzling electro tunes, spicing up gargantuan synth lines with nifty, far-eastern motifs.

Further in, ‘Chloroform’ is microcosmic of the album’s knack for balancing little and large, combining lightness of touch with an ‘80s keyboard maelstrom. Bankrupt! also explores a range of paces. At the sharper end is jangly, geometric indie like ‘S.O.S. in Bel Air’, which scurries along like early Strokes.

So much for a radical deviation from a winning formula. The eponymous track is the sole wildcard: a prog-rock colossus, though highly listenable. The rest are tormentingly catchy, and destined – like any worthwhile Francophone import, from Daft Punk to Air – for beach boomboxes.

My Nana hails from a France long gone. Growing up she taught me old French drinking games (all drinking and no games), and regaled me with beautiful French songs of that golden era; whilst generally exuding a wit and style like no other.

Thus, France became a Mecca of cool in my mind.

But the hat ruined all that.

A present from a French friend of my mother’s to my sister, obtained from a shop appropriately named NAF NAF. A strange diluted beige with odd spaghetti like material; it had a look of old man wondering by the river about it. It was a tough look to bare but she bore it stoically.

‘All the children in France are wearing them.’ My Mother’s friend stated with a grin.

The French COOL crumbled.

But the rebuild happened, and Phoenix helped the renovation move speedily along.

However Bankrupt! is an album that feels like its treading water after the success of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; trying to repeat the same recipe but not tasting as good.

Though still housing enjoyable tracks in ‘Trying To Be Cool’, ‘Chloroform’ and ‘Bourgeois’. It’s Phoenix being their quirksum pop happy selves.

And Bankrupt! is likeable, it’s just not particularly mesmerising.

As I sit here French songs of old float back into my mind.

I think of their time, before Phoenix, before me and long before NAF NAF killed the cool.