Your crusty chronicler generally does his own thing. Still, when Examiner asked for support for their “List” format, it was impossible not to be open-minded. So, with that spirit in mind, your rockin’ reviewer presents this series—“Track by Track” in which we review certain select CDs “track by track”.
This edition, we peruse the fifth studio album by Phoenix titled Bankrupt! You would think that by now your rascally writer would have already reviewed this work. In fact, those who know me intimately would be surprised that I had not already written about any and all Phoenix-related bands. Still, your solo scribe was never one to jump on bandwagons and chose to wait before weighing in on the latest by this indie band.
For those who may have missed the previously published profile piece, Phoenix is a French alternative rock band formed by lead singer Thomas Mars, Deck d’Arcy (bass, keys, percussion, backing vocals, programming and treatments), Christian Mazzalai (guitar, keys, backing vocals and programming) and (soon after) Laurent Brancowitz (guitar, percussion, keys, backing vocals and programming). (Popular percussionist Thomas Hedlund also joined in again on drums and sampled drums.)
In fact, the group was assisted by other artists on this project as well. (Read through the list to learn more about Phoenix’s Bankrupt!)
The album opener and lead single is “Entertainment”. This a pop piece highlighted by Mars’ vocals and the opening wall of keys. It has a moving drumbeat and a good pre-chorus build. It’s a good indication of things to come (production-wise). Guest artists include Michael Askill, Cameron Kennedy, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones and Steph Mudford on mallets and percussion.
“The Real Thing”
The second selection is titled “The Real Thing”. This, too, is rather meticulously-produced pop music. It’s chock full o’ barely noticeable nuances including responsive riffs and shifting synth sounds. Mind you, some critics claim these elements were perhaps a bit passive. In truth, it’s evident as early as this cut that the band isn’t trying to top their prior release so much as musically dealing with new found success.
“S.O.S. In Bel Air”
The next number is “S.O.S. In Bel Air”. This is actually what one might call a prototype Phoenix piece complete with the perhaps now trademark fluctuating chorus and the upbeat drumbeat. While some might criticize the group for falling back on what is successful a majority of others will enjoy it for the same reasons.
“Trying To Be Cool”
The tuneful track “Trying To Be Cool” follows here. This mid-tempo piece carries on with a theme similar to that of the previous cut. Lyrically this one will no doubt garner mixed reactions. It sounds at times as if they have selected multi-syllabic words almost at random for much of the song before making a simple statement such as “Tell me that you want me”. On the one hand it might come off as cool to some while others might consider it similar to Dewey Cox’s Dylan-like material from the movie Walk Hard. It includes Laurent d’Herbécourt on extra drums.
The title track, “Bankrupt!” is next on the disc. This is one of the more melodious tracks here. Cedric Plancy is brought in on flute to add a unique touch to the tune. Bastien Vandevelde is also introduced on extra drums and Askill, Kennedy, Lloyd-Jones and Mudford encore on mallets and percussion.
On “Drakkar Noir” Mars embodies the spirit of the cologne and claims to be the best on this one. It’s humorous and clever and yet your rascally writer cannot help but think—based on his own innumerable intimate adventures that the song should have been about Pierre Cardin instead. Still, the musical message is clear: don’t settle for anything but the best.
“Chloroform” is an early favorite of fans and critics alike and perhaps one of the best bits on the CD in terms of individual identity. Mind you, it might not be something that translates well at a big stadium rock concert and yet the noticeably slow jam manages to work on its own. No doubt it was placed after “Drakkar Noir” because both substances are poisonous in their own ways.
“Don’t” gives Mars the chance to bemoan his personal relationships and crack philosophical about the responsibility of others and that of himself. It is, however, a bit musically nondescript save for the percussive pounding that follows the chorus. This could result in a critical “falling through the cracks” when it comes to future reviews.
“Bourgeois” lyrically allows Mars to sing social commentary. It’s a reflective, warm mid tempo pop piece about a middle class gal’s mediocrity. It introduces Zdar on extra drums and includes more noteworthy production as well as a parenthetical fade-in and fade-out that adds a bit of balance to the tune.
The closing cut on this disc is “Oblique City”. This one is somehow reminiscent of music from the 1980s. Mars’ falsetto, a bright melody and almost happy keyboards, near rash key changes and a fading acoustic guitar close all merge together in an up-tempo track that is parenthetically placed to the album’s lead-in.
Overall, Phoenix’s Bankrupt! (also available in a “Deluxe” edition) received generally positive early reviews despite the fact that the music while entertaining and catchy is not necessarily always deep or all that meaningful. Still, just because a sound isn’t new or groundbreaking doesn’t mean it isn’t good or fun.
It’s certainly a prime example of the band doing exactly what they do now. Perhaps they subscribe to the adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You simply cannot blame the boys for not screwing with the formula. Regardless of any arguments regarding the lack of risk-taking, “Don’t” discount the disc’s value as solid “Entertainment”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.