Let me say upfront right now that you are going to be disappointed by the upcoming new Phoenix record Bankrupt!. But you probably should not be.
Let’s back up a bit first with a band history lesson. Phoenix, the French quartet led by Thomas Mars, started off their musical careers innocuously enough. Their first two records, United and Alphabetical were synthy alt-pop records that gave appropriate nods to its jazzy and soul influences, but were by-and-large ignored by both critics and listeners outside their native country (excepting the times when they were promoted by Mars’ then girlfirend-now-wife Sofia Coppola). It was with 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That though when Phoenix finally stepped up their game and elevated their sound. Sounding like a long-lost Strokes record, and a very good one at that, It’s Never Been Like That was catchy and memorable in all the right places and signifies the true potential of Phoenix.
It was with 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix though that Phoenix truly became world-wide superstars. With the one-two punch of Lisztomania and 1901, Phoenix have written two of the most irrepressibly irresistible tunes in their catalog. When you hear these tunes, you WILL get up and dance. And with very good to great tracks filling the rest of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, it’s no wonder that the record was universally loved and praised by both critics and casual listeners. Suddenly, the laid-back aw-shuck guys of Phoenix have become the next great rock band. Their songs are heard everywhere – from commercials, to movie trailers to sporting events. Phoenix sold out Madison Square Garden and headlined music festivals. The ascendance of Phoenix has truly completed. With such great heights achieved, there is nowhere to go but down.
And that is why, you and me – listener and lover of catchy danceable music, will have no choice but be disappointed by any follow-up music by Phoenix. Because nothing they do can ever top Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
But the thing is, the unfortunately titled Bankrupt! is not a bad Phoenix record. It maintains all the sleek and shine of the previous two Phoenix albums. And while there isn’t any (nor will there be any) track in Bankrupt! approaching the greatness of Listzomania or 1901, the whole record still feels like wholly complete and wholly Phoenix. Lead single Entertainment is a truly great track in itself with its oriental synths and triumphal bridge. Bourgeois and Chloroform both have the trademark Phoenix charmful smugness. And the title track stands side by side with Love Like A Sunset as those largely instrumental tracks with big finishes that fills your soul. Bankrupt! is less immediate but feels more like a grower and will probably age the best out of Phoenix‘s catalog. And so while I initially was greatly disappointed by Bankrupt!, I have come to slowly appreciate it. It’s no Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. But it still is vintage Phoenix, and I realize that’s enough for me.
Watch the bonkers straight-out-crazy South Korean soap drama of a video that is Entertainment embedded below.
Phoenix – Bankrupt! comes out 4/23 via Glassnote (order here)