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To say that 2009 was a groundbreaking year for Versailles, France based indie rock group Phoenix is a complete understatement. Their fourth studio album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix blew up the charts with “1901” and “Lisztomania,” becoming runaway smash hits. This album even netted Phoenix the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 2010. Though their success was continuously growing over their past three albums, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix put the band on the map and supplanted them as one of the today’s hottest bands. This success naturally increased Phoenix’s fanbase by a wide margin, but it also puts whatever album follows it into a massive spotlight. Everyone wanted to see what Phoenix would do with their rapidly growing popularity. True to form, Phoenix simply went back to the recording studio and started working on a brand new album. This was after all of their international music tours of course. A couple of years and a handful of cryptic images later, Bankrupt! hit the shelves on April 19th.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that one of Phoenix’s goals with this album was to change up their sound a bit. It’s easy for a band to become stale if they don’t spice things up a bit with every new release. So what’s the spice this time around? It’s a big, heaping helping of synthesizers and keyboards! It’s as if frontman Thomas Mars one day decided that he had a fever, and his only prescription was more synthesizers. You could tell the band was going this direction when “Entertainment” dropped as the first single, and this element just continues on for the entire album. The upbeat guitar hooks that made Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix so successful are still present, but it’s clear that the synths took center stage this time around. Tracks like “Chloroform” are almost entirely synths for example.
So what does this mean for you, the listener? Well, if you’re not a fan of synthesizers or the new wave genre of music, you’ll probably be turned off with a lot of these tracks. I know Phoenix has always had a touch of new wave with their past albums (much less so in the beginning. It actually progressively grew over the years), but there are already some fans who feel that Bankrupt! went a bit overboard. As for me, I’m actually a pretty big fan of new wave and new wave styled music. I’m not afraid to admit it either. The new wave elements and heavy synths of Bankrupt! really appeal to me and makes the album incredibly addictive. If you like that 80s-era style of music, then this album is definitely right up your alley.
As for the songs, they’re all really good to be honest. The shining songs this time around were “Entertainment”, “S.O.S. In Bel Air”, “Trying To Be Cool”, and “Oblique City”. “Entertainment” is definitely the best song to start off with as it begins the album beautifully and keeps you wanting more. Whoever decided to make that the lead single made the right call. Out of all the songs, it easily has the best chance of being the breakout hit like “1901” was back in 2009. The majority of tracks are really up tempo as well, with the aforementioned “Chloroform” being an exception, along with “Drakkar Noir” and “Bankrupt!.”
Even though I know a lot of people are against doing this, it’s nearly impossible not to compare the quality of Bankrupt! with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Quite simply, how does this new album measure up to the widely successful previous release? Despite how enjoyable Bankrupt! is, I’d have to go with the 2009 album. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was a stellar release and will probably be the point of reference for any later Phoenix albums. Even coming close to that level is an accomplishment in itself. Bankrupt! easily stands up on its on two legs and will definitely appeal the wide array of Phoenix fans. The heavily synthed tracks are a lot of fun to listen to and I still enjoy blasting “Entertainment” wherever I go. If you’ve never bothered to listen to Phoenix before and have a secret love for 80s new wave mixed with alt-rock, pick this up immediately. If you’re a fan of Phoenix like I am, chances are this has already been playing constantly through your speakers. There’s a lot to love with this release and it’s definitely already set itself to be one of 2013’s best albums.