Album review: Phoenix, 'Bankrupt!'

3 stars (out of 4)

After a decade of anonymity, French quartet Phoenix finally broke through in 2009 with “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” an album loaded with effervescent electro-pop such as “Lisztomania” and “1901.” On the follow-up, “Bankrupt!” (V2), there's nothing quite as undeniable as those singles – though “S.O.S. in Bel Air” comes close with its punchy drums, bouyant synthesizers and soaring Thomas Mars' vocals.

Though the instant hits are lacking, “Bankrupt!” is more cohesive than its best-selling predecessor. Many of the songs reflect on themes explored by Mars' wife, director Sofia Coppola, in her 2010 movie “Somewhere,” for which Phoenix wrote the soundtrack. The movie explores the emotionally empty life of a wealthy young actor who indulges in and is trapped by Hollywood luxury. Mars has never been particularly transparent as a lyricist, preferring to insinuate and imply rather than spell things out. But there's no missing the subtext in many of these songs as he drops references to the “fake rituals” and desperate cool of a self-styled cultural elite with too much time and money on its hands.

Little wonder that Phoenix's music revels in decadent splendor. A string of uptempo songs opens the album. “Trying to be Cool” flirts with a slinky R&B vibe atop a rubbery bass line and handclaps. Then the nearly seven-minute title track douses the party vibe in chilled-out ambience before shifting into a more frantic and disturbing tone. Keyboards -- and lots of them -- dominate instead of guitars, and they're layer-cake rich in texture, especially on the slower, dreamier second half of the album. “Darling, you never know when you're ... kind of done,” Mars declares on the deceptively dreamy “Bourgeois,” even as a “sha-la-la” wordless vocal hook suggests the party will go on anyway.



Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • 'Welcome to Me' is highly gawkable
    'Welcome to Me' is highly gawkable

    “Why doesn’t it look like ‘Oprah’?” Alice (Kristen Wiig) asks about the production value of her recently launched, guest-free talk show. Responds one of the many employees who can’t believe this series is happening: “Because you ate a cake made out of hamburger and started crying.”

  • Even the outtakes are predictable in 'Hot Pursuit'
    Even the outtakes are predictable in 'Hot Pursuit'

    In February 2013, Melissa McCarthy starred in an unfunny, aggressive road movie (“Identity Thief”). Four months later, she was the wild card to Sandra Bullock’s straight arrow in an incredibly generic buddy cop comedy (“The Heat”). Opening June 5, McCarthy stars in the very funny “Spy” as Susan...

  • Jack Black immediately derails 'The D Train'
    Jack Black immediately derails 'The D Train'

    Hidden in the nagging onslaught of suck that is “The D Train” is a really good scene: Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), the former high school stud who moved from Pittsburgh to L.A. to become an actor, approaches Dermot Mulroney (playing himself), who’s in a bar and being treated like royalty in...

  • Rauner to aldermen: 'For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs'
    Rauner to aldermen: 'For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs'

    In an unusual and perhaps unprecedented speech, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday dropped in at City Hall and offered a time-tested political horse trade: support his controversial pro-business, anti-union agenda, and he'll help Chicago out of its financial free fall.

  • Is Riot Fest dividing the community?

    The questionable return of Riot Fest to Humboldt Park has polarized the community with the local alderman unwaivering in his opposition and the festival organizers launching a full-court press to bring the three-day music festival back.

  • Mayor: Approval of Burge victims fund a step toward 'removing a stain'
    Mayor: Approval of Burge victims fund a step toward 'removing a stain'

    In a dramatic moment Wednesday, the Chicago City Council rose to acknowledge victims of torture at the hands of former police Cmdr. Jon Burge before approving a $5.5 million reparations package that Mayor Rahm Emanuel said shows Chicago is willing to deal with the dark chapter in its history.