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Album review: Phoenix takes it easy with forgettable tracks on ‘Bankrupt!’

Phoenix has become the festival favorite in the past few years, surpassing previous rock gods as the choice for headlining positions. The name has become associated with infectious synthed-out pop.

“Bankrupt!” doesn’t line up with that – at least not the first half of the album.
Phoenix’s newest album opens with “Entertainment,” and oriental chiming. Not only does it open the record, but it is also the lead single – and it really shouldn’t be. It has a subtle beat that doesn’t garner the head bobbing attention a single from Phoenix should.

The song sounds restrained, as do the first five songs of the album. Rather than the heavy beats and the belted vocals, the first half of “Bankrupt!” sounds like Phoenix took it easy. The songs are smooth, but forgettable. The group traded in punchy pop for clear, but more easy-going tracks. The sound is too relaxed. The synth beats aren’t hit hard enough.

Phoenix then drops title track, “Bankrupt” smack in the center of the album. The song clocks in at almost seven minutes, and serves as a breaking point within the record from tranquil to full-bodied, energetic tracks. “Bankrupt” opens with two minutes of docile, synthesized beats that hum into the second synth section, which is rougher. With three minutes left the vocals hit with subtle delicacy, mellowing out the last part of the song with an added acoustic guitar.

“Drakkar Noir” is the first song that meets the expectations Phoenix should live up to. The beats are forceful, and the singing matches the urgency of “1901.” With the first half of the album, it sounded like the singer, Thomas Mars, was too restful, without any real emphasis behind his vocals, but with the turn at “Bankrupt” the tone of the album changed as well as Mars’ vocals.

Followed by “Chloroform” the singing is more soothing, but matched with heavy synth back beats that balance out the track. “Don’t” finally brings in that head bobbing tone that Phoenix has been known for. Similar to “Lisztomania,” “Don’t” has a dance-ready sound.

With an acoustic guitar picking away, “Bankrupt!” ends with “Oblique City.” The album is short, and even as short as it is, the first five songs should have been cut out. The band took almost four years to make this record, so it doesn’t add up that it sounds like Mars isn’t even trying for the first half.

Grade: C

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