I’m usually not one of those people that get to say, “Pfff. I liked ’em before they were big.” I don’t why that is, but I guess I tend to gravitate towards bands just as they’re reaching their peak, or I just gravitate towards bands that don’t quite have that Big Time Rock Band appeal. Now I wasn’t cool enough to get into Phoenix on the strength of their first two albums, but I did find myself loving Phoenix’s 2006 release It’s Never Been Like That when it came out, and couldn’t help but ask, “Why aren’t these guys huge?”. Of course, Phoenix did become pretty huge with 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but they did it with a refined pop-savvy that made it easy to feel like their newfound success was completely justified. Bankrupt! mainly sees them continuing to refine their signature brand of danceable pop-rock in a way that’s still pretty enjoyable, if a little predictable.
When you get down it, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was a success because of two monster singles (“Lisztomania” and “1901”), and though Bankrupt!‘s opener “Entertainment” isn’t quite in that same league, it still has that nice yearning quality that Thomas Mars pulls off so well, juxtaposed with a buoyant synth-pop sheen. “Entertainment”, much like the rest of the album relies pretty heavily on those ’80s synths that the kids are into, and thus feels like Phoenix at their most polished and most ready to please the masses. I don’t know if the songs overall are quite as memorable as on their other recent albums, but tracks like “The Real Thing” and “Drakkar Noir” are nonetheless brimming with enough hooks and peppiness to keep any Phoenix fan satisfied.
As for the more overtly synth-driven sound of Bankrupt!, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the spiky guitar work of It’s Never Been Like That (I still say it’s their best album). But then again, I’m the kind of guy that’ll choose the sound of a guitar over the sound of a synthesizer nine times out of ten. As for the fact that this album just doesn’t quite have the instant likability of Phoenix’s last two albums, I think it should’ve been expected. All bands reach their peak at some point, and it’s especially hard to knock a band for not living up to a pair of modern classics. So regardless of that, I think Bankrupt! still stands as a perfectly fine Phoenix album, even if it probably won’t result in them getting any huger than they already are.
Favorite Tracks: “Entertainment”, “The Real Thing”, “Bourgeois”