An album so polished you can see your face in it
What in Hades has happened to Phoenix? Around 25 people got excited about their first three albums, and most of those were close friends of the band or in Daft Punk. Then four years ago ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ happened, and now these French classic-pop revivalists are setting pulses racing across the globe. They’re headlining Coachella, for God’s sake, and comeback single ‘Entertainment’ has been ‘remixed’ by They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-Sugababes MKS. In the last 18 months they’ve even had great Warner Music hope Birdy covering their 2009 single ‘1901’. Step by step, this is a band edging towards the big time.
Now fifth album ‘Bankrupt!’ rolls in with Phoenix flapping off at the mouth about ripping everything up and starting again. So what sort of seismic shift can we expect? What’ve they done? They’ve turned up the synths a bit. Since the cocky step forward of third album ‘It’s Never Been Like That’ there’s been a steady erosion of guitarists Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai’s contribution, which has seen their Strokesy interplay subsumed by synth washes, making an already pretty clean band sound positively laundered. ‘Bankrupt!’ is a record buffed and polished for anyone who loved the zappy soaring highs of ‘1901’ or the epic phases of ‘Love Like A Sunset’.
In fact there’s exciting news for fans of ‘Love Like A Sunset’, the centrepiece of the last album. The title track of ‘Bankrupt!’ is another slow-burning mid-album breather, while ‘Bourgeois’ takes its thumping chimes, changes the key and recycles one of Phoenix’s real spine-tingling moments, but builds on all this self-larceny to whack out a heart-melting chorus. Other enhancements include the album’s knockout three-track opening salvo – ‘Entertainment’, ‘The Real Thing’ and ‘SOS In Bel Air’ are all thrilling – and the airing of some of that famous Gallic wit. “You’re sophisticated“, sings Thomas Mars on ‘Don’t’, “I saw the chandelier“.
When they’re not affecting a sardonic sneer or ripping off their own back catalogue, Phoenix fill out and speed up David Bowie’s ‘China Girl’ riff on ‘Entertainment’, replicate Prince’s steam-pump ‘Darling Nikki’ beats on ‘Chloroform’ and find a tumbling groove on ‘Trying To Be Cool’ that’s all Jam & Lewis producing Janet Jackson. Phoenix are no ’80s copycats, but they occupy a sweet spot where influences and their own flashy banks of synths and treated guitars sound meaty and perfect together. If it’s still a mystery how they’re suddenly ruling the Californian desert for two weekends on the trot, it’s got nothing to do with their songs sucking. Phoenix are keeping it classy – same as it ever was, just more so.