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CD review: Phoenix, ‘Bankrupt!’



★ ★

Posted 2:55pm on Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2013

Try as it might, Phoenix can’t shake what it is.

In advance interviews, the four members of the French pop band have talked up how “different” Bankrupt! is from 2009’s world-dominating (and Grammy-winning) Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. And while, yes, the new collection doesn’t boast anything as effervescent as giddy singles 1901 or Lisztomania (although album opener Entertainment certainly tries), neither does it push the band in any interesting directions.

Instead, Bankrupt! finds Phoenix in a creative holding pattern, pleasing but ultimately forgettable, which is almost worse than rehashing previous success.

Produced by the band and Philippe Zdar (who also co-produced Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix), Bankrupt! has moments when it’s possible to see where Phoenix might’ve gone — Trying To Be Cool cribs from the synth-pop trend of the moment, evoking 1983 sonic cheese, but does it ever so elegantly — and it’s surprising that Thomas Mars and his bandmates demonstrate so much restraint.

Musically speaking, the French have a long cultural history of embracing that which other countries find too cloying. With so many acts trying to re-create the Reagan era in the 21st century, it’s baffling why Phoenix effectively takes the path of least resistance, particularly in light of Bankrupt!’s ambitious title track, which runs nearly seven minutes and manages to evoke such disparate contemporaries as Daft Punk and M83.

Perhaps Phoenix felt it couldn’t afford to take a bold leap forward, at the risk of alienating its larger audience. But even those expecting Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Part II will likely be as disappointed as those hoping greater visibility and success would embolden a band capable of delivering edge and irresistible hooks (look no further than 2004’s Alphabetical or 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That, which balance Continental style and cool-kid posturing).

Instead, Bankrupt! ends up being just that.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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