Phoenix: Bankrupt!

Photo: Arnaud Potier

How does a band like Phoenix follow up an album that propelled them to superstar status? By continuing to do what they always do.



Label: Glassnote
US Release Date: 2013-04-23

Phoenix are one of the biggest bands in the world, and there’s something a little off about that. It’s not that Phoenix aren’t especially undeserving of their success; it’s just that they don’t seem like the kind of band that you’d expect to be international superstars and festival headliners. Even their contemporaries (Jack White, the Killers, Kings of Leon and other indie-to-stadium bands) had the sort of sweeping songs or the outsized egos that indicated a future in filling arenas.

Phoenix don’t have that, even if Thomas Mars’ marriage to Sofia Coppola seems like the kind of thing that the tabloids would have feasted on in the late ‘90s. Phoenix only have songs and a fully-formed sound that they’ve spent most of three albums honing to perfection. Just listen to It’s Never Been Like That or Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and one is left with the impression of a unique, arresting pop band, even if they don’t come across as brash and arrogant in interviews. On Bankrupt!, their latest album and first as legitimate pop stars, Phoenix offer more of the same, with a few tweaks and adjustments.

Phoenix’s rise to fame coincided with their decision to embrace synth-pop unabashedly as a part of their repertoire, and Bankrupt! is easily more synth-heavy than anything the band have done previously. Songs like “Trying to Be Cool” and “Drakkar Noir” ride in on sweeping synth parts that reach for the heavens. It can’t be emphasized enough just how well Phoenix pull off this sort of stuff. While bands like the Strokes (whose fingerprints are all over their semi-breakthrough It’s Never Been Like That, ironically enough) attempt synth-pop grounded in nostalgic cheese, Phoenix’s work isn’t grounded in any specific time. Any other band could have written a song like “Entertainment” and turned it into a wry homage to the corny sounds of yesteryear, but Phoenix do it straight; this is just what they sound like, regardless of temporal context. Like (arguably) all great pop music, Phoenix’s music isn’t completely tied down to a specific period in time.

That isn’t to say that Bankrupt! is all great pop music. Entertaining for sure, but it couldn’t help but be a little disappointing, especially in light of the runaway success of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. While Phoenix keep doing their pleasant, jaunty thing on the album, not a whole lot of Bankrupt! sticks as much as anything on their previous albums. “Entertainment” is a great single, but it doesn’t feel as timeless as “Lisztomania” and “Long Distance Call” did on first listen. And “Entertainment” is arguably the only clear single on Bankrupt!. Elsewhere, “The Real Thing” chugs along without doing much of anything different, and “Don’t” and “Bourgeois” feel more like half-hearted songwriting experiments than real songs. Too often, Bankrupt! feels labored, especially for a band that seemed to do things so effortlessly.

Some have argued that Phoenix were in a tough situation with this album to begin with, that any follow-up to a surprise hit like Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix would have inevitably disappointed. While Bankrupt! is ultimately underwhelming, it’s not nearly as disappointing as something like, say, Second Coming (or First Impressions of Earth, for that matter). There isn’t as much going on with Bankrupt! to rank it among the best albums by Phoenix, but it still works as a solid effort from a band getting used to being big. They’re just doing what they do.




Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'The Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.