Bankrupt!, Phoenix’s new album scheduled to be released April 22nd, was recently leaked. For eager fans who have been waiting since their 2009 release of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Bankrupt! shows a shift into a new and more experimental sound. If you’ve listened to their newly released single, “Entertainment,” you realize that the beginning chords are more common in East Asian music, giving the song an exotic flair. This muted, foreign sound is recurrent throughout the rest of the album, adding to the nostalgic feel of the lyrics and giving the album a vibe that shifts from the pop-rock feel of their past albums.
The album seems to center around Phoenix’s rise to success, the lyrics focusing on what fame means and its effect on relationships. “Entertainment” opens the album with an upbeat vibe, but when you pay attention to the lyrics you realize that the track is to this album what a preface is to a book. The first two lines, “Headline from this day on / Why do you keep pretending that you wanna let go?” clue you into the fact that while the melodies might remain sunny and cheerful, the lyrics are serious and reflective of everything the band has gone through since they released Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, widely considered the band’s best album. “Entertainment” sums up everything the band is now and the following songs address aspects of fame and relationships that were impacted. Rising into the coveted limelight of headliner (locally: Sweetlife, notably: Coachella) is something the members of Phoenix recognize as an emblem of their increasing fame. They use this album as an almost ironic way of poking fun at what it means to be successful, confessing faults they’ve made in their journey.
But the album goes beyond just addressing their mainstream successes. The lyrics of “Bourgeois” warn us against falling into the pit of luxury obsession, a rock lullaby imbued with the morals that they’ve learned. It’s soothing in the eeriest of ways, with frontman Thomas Mars crooning about the pitfalls of the bourgeois life over a rich, well-orchestrated musical texture filled with percussions and electronic synths.
Musically, the band maintains its captivatingly simple melodic lines. However, the presence of electronic instruments is much more prevalent and almost overwhelms Mars’s voice in some places, providing a jarring sharpness that pleasingly contrasts his voice. There’s a desperation and almost whining effect in his vocals, offset by the inclusion of the synths and some interesting resolutions, elevating it from an album fussing about the problems of fame to a retrospective look at what could have been done better in their private lives.
There are some songs that don’t fit together properly—“Trying To Be Cool” ends on a descending, followed by an ascending, chromatic that almost seems late and misplaced, as if it was added in as an afterthought. Given the speculation about Phoenix always prematurely leaking their albums to gauge the response, plus the leaked versions being unmastered, I’d hope this is true. I’m interested to hear the official release of the album; the sound quality of the leaks were subpar and a bit fuzzy and the emotional weight behind the album deserves to be conveyed in its final form.
My personal highlights of the album are definitely “Entertainment,” “Bourgeois,” “Drakkar Noir,” and “SOS In Bel Air.” “Drakkar Noir” has an insanely catchy chorus that captures Phoenix’s pop feel at its best. “SOS In Bel Air” is musically ambiguous and captivating—it goes from feeling happy to laidback to almost melancholy. Bankrupt! as a whole teeters on the brink between upbeat and despondent, making you feel uncomfortable and awesome at the same time. It takes you aback in that sense—is it in a major key? Is it in a minor key?—and renders you emotionally aghast. The juxtaposition between the music and the lyrics is something that should be recognized—it defines the album as a retrospective look at Phoenix’s fame and goes a lot further in its storytelling abilities than it has in the band’s past albums.