BANKRUPT! is a synthed-up, technicolor hurricane and a romping good time, but you won’t catch yourself singing along.
Phoenix has hit that delicate milestone in the musical career: Bankrupt! is their first post-success, post-international fame album, and it’s a place where many other bands have fumbled. MGMT swung for the experimental fences with 2007’s Oracular Spectacular, while Mumford & Sons decided to be overwhelmingly “safe” with Babel. Phoenix looks to have hit the sweet spot with Bankrupt!– the album has enough new elements mixed in with the band’s popular sound to be a success.
The album opens up with its first single, “Entertainment,” as if lead vocalist Thomas Mars is giving you the not-so-subtle nudge towards the theme of the album. There’s no life crises here, no broken hearts, no kindling romances- but it’s fun. Mars is selling entertainment, and he shrugs off any serious ambitions from the get-go: “Headlining from this day on, why you keep pretending that you wanna let go?”
Let it be known: Phoenix is very good at having a good time. “Bourgeois” has a catchy melody that’s sure to remind you of aimless summers on the beach and sun-bleached hair. The entire album seems tailor-made for an incredible live experience, and I think I’ll have plenty of company shouting “Alone, alone, alone!” along to “S.O.S. In Bel Air.”
But as fun as it is, Mars tries to insist you can’t take Bankrupt! at face value. With song titles like “The Real Thing” and “Trying To Be Cool,” Mars is trying to be deep. Honestly. He even pairs up the songs “Drakkar Noir” and “Chloroform”- isn’t that witty! Matching that cologne and chloroform: that’s deep, man. The band’s feeling trapped by its overwhelming success in “S.O.S. In Bel Air,” and poor Thomas Mars and crew are stuck in a place “When you can’t cross the line, but you can’t stop trying.” Don’t fall for it, because it’s just another act: look beneath Mars’ dissembling, and you get even more mindless pop- but at least it’s self-aware. “Jangle jungle, jingle jump before you stumble,” he croons on “Drakkar Noir.” Entertainment is what Phoenix is selling, and entertainment is what you’ll get.
Bankrupt! is a synthed-up hurricane of sound. The few isolated riffs which exist serve as harbingers for a storm of notes sure to follow. Almost all the tracks have snappy beats and aren’t satisfied with a single melody. But every hurricane has its eye. On Bankrupt!, that’s the eponymous track “Bankrupt.” The track plays like Wolfgang‘s “Love Like A Sunset” all grown up, with the benefit of Mars’ vocals.
Thomas Mars’ lyrics are certainly a point of contention. Everything worth saying on Bankrupt is said twice- or more. The lyrics are used more for their musical effect than any semblance of meaning. They ramble. You’ll get confused if you pay too much attention. Don’t expect any tattoo-worthy lyrical genius from Bankrupt!, but at least you won’t have to grimace as your kid brother tells you how Phoenix just “gets him.”
Pros: The album is a delightful riot of fun sounds, pretty catchy, and sure to amaze live.
Cons: Not even Thomas Mars knows what Thomas Mars is singing about.
On the side: Apparently the album is misspelled without the exclamation point.
Rating: Although a worthy successor to the sounds of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the French band lacks a certain je ne sais quoi on Bankrupt!