And suddenly you are standing on top of the world. We can only assume that it must have been a weird feeling for French pop group PHOENIX before they started working on their fifth longplayer Bankrupt! The success of the previous album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix came quite unexpected for a group that’s been in the business for already a full decade by that time. PHOENIX were always quite nice and known to a certain little indie crowd. But Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix changed that – with the record they cracked America, received a Grammy and finally arrived in the hearts and minds of a bigger audience. 1901 and Lisztomania were the hits for more than just one summer. They’ve made it by surprise. They’ve always wrote good pop songs in the past – just take Too Young or Everything Is Everything. It was just that the world was finally ready for it. After years of indie and garage rock, pop was embraced – and PHOENIX were there. Right time, right place.
Bankrupt! is kind of an ironic title for the album since the band might live quite okay from their music by now. It became the follow-up a band quite often produces after the success of a certain album. It’s about remaining the status quo, conserve the atmosphere and show all the aces you have in your hand. Bankrupt! is harmonic and powerful sugar-filled French pop as PHOENIX do it regularly since their 2000 debut United. Easy floating, harmless but quite groovy and catchy melodies and even less edges than on the previous records. The whole production status is – of course – quite big. The guys around singer Thomas Mars never sounded that full and high quality as on Bankrupt! You can almost feel the tension and pressure on creating a proper follow-up to Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
The lead single Entertainment opens the new ten-track-selection with energetic drums and certain Asian influences. Power-pop at it’s best. It’s the music PHOENIX did before, the music that people want to hear and the music they get on Bankrupt! as well. Sunny grooving tunes like The Real Thing, Trying To Be Cool and Bourgeois combine the electronic indie-pop with Mars’ characteristic vocals, creating a lovely atmosphere that basically says “Everything Is Okay”. There are not really melancholic moments that break the happy vibes – the only track to break out of the concept might be the epic seven-minute long title-track. It starts with a tender intro before a fancy bass sequencer interrupts the harmony and Mars’ high voice unfolds over an ambient-like sound pattern. Good to see that they are still able to write such a song.
The rest is predictable and harmless, but quite nice, radio friendly indie-pop. Sometimes smoother like in Drakkar Noir, sometimes more powerful as in S.O.S. in Bel Air or the closing Oblique City. That’s basically it. The new PHOENIX record is one that is produced for the purpose of safety. No risk, just fun. What you expect is what you get – well, only with a lack of really amazing hits like on the previous ones. The songs are all very nice and well done but the indirect plan to re-create the Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix buzz might have been doomed from the start. You can’t revisit it, the band might even know this. It’s okay for PHOENIX to come out with such a status-quo-record but we really hope they return to the sweet and innocent playfulness again on their next one, combined with new ideas. People might love them even more for such a move.