It does me great honor to review my favorite band Phoenix’s new album, “Bankrupt!” Unfortunately, not all I have to say is rapturous praise. Phoenix is a French band based out of Versailles. They reached national acclaim with their 2009 album “Wolfgang Amadeus,” and their fans have been waiting impatiently for another one ever since. “Bankrupt!” both fulfilled and dis-appointed these dreams.
The album begins with a track called “Entertainment,” which stands up to the high standard the band set for them-selves. It begins with a high key, almost oriental-sounding intro and immediately throws in the band’s trademark synth and guitar combo. The sound is reminiscent of their earlier albums and maintains the intoxicating melodies they provided for fans in “Wolfgang Amadeus.” The track’s melody maintains the band’s originality and gives listeners another musical hit. From there they break into symphonic-sounding tracks such as “S.O.S. in Bel Air” and others that are slightly reminiscent of the ‘80s, like “Trying to Be Cool.” While these tracks have wonderful sections within them, their overall sound is not quite as catchy as what I expected from Phoenix.
Their middle-of-the-album long track, “Bankrupt!” features a harpsichord and vocals in the last two minutes of its seven minutes. While it may be unfair to com-pare this album so directly to their last release, “Bankrupt!” lacks the same dreamy yet strong sound that “Love Like A Sunset” from “Wolfgang Amadeus” had. What is both wonderful and maddening is that the track only truly shows its potential in the last 30 seconds, when it uses deeper minor bass plucks as the vocals fade away. This instrumentation and sound has never been used by Phoenix previously and I would have loved to have heard them experiment with it a bit more.
The last five tracks of the album are similarly lacking, although “Bourgeois” and “Oblique City” manage to resurrect some of Phoenix’s trademark sound without feeling recycled. “Bourgeois” has a lofty, soft sound that puts the focus on the lyrics. The track follows a more pop-y composition than the others, which is perhaps what makes it more appealing to the ear. I enjoyed it nonetheless. “Oblique City” is an upbeat closing track. Though the middle section seems slightly off, the guitar throughout is classically Phoenix. The final seconds of the track, featuring soft acoustic guitar and humming, perfectly closes the album.
The two main things that frustrate me about “Bankrupt!” are the introductions to almost every track and the lack of focus on lyrics. In the past, my favorite part about Phoenix has been their lyrics. Perhaps it’s because English is their second language or because they merely under-stand the emotions of the world, but Phoenix always has a unique way of putting together simple words to form unforgettable lyrics.
While a few of the tracks on “Bankrupt!” have snippets of their past lyrical brilliance, most are either unintelligible or uninspired. Secondly, many of the introductions to the album’s tracks are unappealing or unrelated to the oncoming melodies. For example, “Chloroform” and “Drakkar Noir” both begin with rather bland synth melodies, which do not compliment the following melodies and at times even detract from them.
Overall, I am regrettably dis-appointed with Phoenix’s newest contribution. To be fair, the band set an impossibly high standard for themselves with “Wolfgang Amadeus” and cannot be faulted for failing to live up to a historic album. Perhaps my disappoint-ment will be lessened after several more listens. This album is more complex and experimental than “Wolfgang Amadeus” and there-fore could perhaps be a success on a different level than Phoenix’s previous work. Nonetheless, “Bankrupt!” seems to lack the wild inspiration I expect from Phoenix.