Review Summary: Phoenix's latest has some delightful cuts but suffers from an identity crisis.
Casting one’s mind back to 2009, French electro-poppers Phoenix were a little hard to avoid. That made a refreshing change for the group, who’d been making a go of it ten years before that without any real breakthroughs. ’1901′ and ‘Listzomania’ featured almost without end in the British press – starting out on the radio before winding it’s way to the worst fate that can befall any tracks: TV montage music. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix catapulted them into the popular music spotlight.
Bankrupt! aims to keep them there, and on the hellish landscape of pop music that’s a tall order. Bar a few stalwart super-powers (Rihanna, Timberlake) with monopolies on the national consciousness, few others ascend past being flavours of the month. Do people even remember Phoenix? Bar those few who heard the single and bought the record/crawled onto the Pirate Bay (remember that?) and started following the band, probably not. They’ll be relying on killer hooks then to reignite the burners – but on this album they simply don’t materialise. Semi-oriental ‘Entertainment’, the album’s lead off single (and opener) is rather generic, it’s hook a worn and defunct one. Quasi-singles like ‘Don’t’ begin to recapture the group’s natural energy found on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but by then we’re only two tracks short from the finish.
Phoenix’s flawed attempts at recapturing the pop buzz of ’1901′ are juxtaposed by the meatier cuts that appear in equal quantities. Title track ‘Bankrupt’ is a swirling mass of 80s pop cliches, weaving between ideas across it’s 7-minutes. It’s here and on similar efforts (‘Bourgeois’, ‘Drakkar Noir’) that Bankrupt! is most satisfying – precisely because it offers some suggestion of some evolution in the band’s sound. It’s a shame everything isn’t explored in more detail.
The group’s fifth album is a generally enjoyable one overall, but the whole experience is marred by Bankrupt!’s identity crisis. They’ve traded their bright-eyed gay abandon for less successful pop sensibilities and worthwhile 7-minute electro-freak-outs. The latter of those features is accomplished and rounded, but at times you feel like Phoenix are trying to please their fans, hardcore or casual. Bankrupt! represents a dilemma that’s doubtlessly entered the group’s minds sometime in the past four years: did they like the taste of pop, or did they not want to betray their artsy roots? This record presents the arguments but doesn’t give much away in terms of a conclusion Phoenix might have reached – call us when you’ve got one, gents.