When a band releases an album as prolific as Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
, there is a real sense that lightening has a habit of only striking once. That kind of success can be near impossible to follow up because in Phoenix's case, it was a result of an entire career of ideas culminating in a perfect, definitive statement. So while the band had around four years to attempt a revolutionary progression in their sound, that wait also proliferated in immense hype for their next release. Well, Bankrupt!
is here now, and at the very least it does not have to struggle with any issues of relevancy.
Early reviews of the album tried really hard to form some sort of narrative out of the album in the context of Phoenix's career. Bankrupt!
has been labeled a 'Post-Success album", a description that isn't really reflected in the music at all, with the exception of one subtle lyrical nod to a "victory lap". Just to get this off the table right away, fans of Phoenix will love Bankrupt!
and it certainly cements them as one of the biggest rock bands in the world right now. So what gives? Despite the fact that it is ultimately better than its immediate predecessor, why doesn't it feel like it has the same kind of impact on our ears or the landscape of music right now?
Perhaps it is because Bankrupt!
introduces healthy tweaks to their sound without overhauling the formula altogether. Instead of the Euro-centric sound of Amadeus
experiments a bit with Eastern Asian chord progressions and tones. The first two tracks "Entertainment" and "The Real Thing" display this the most. Beyond that, many of these tracks could have easily found themselves at home on Amadeus
and some of them even rehash the exact same ideas behind some of those songs. The titular track sounds like it easily could have been called "Love Like a Sunset (Part 3)". Just because you do some different chord changes and arpeggios over a previously existing skeleton doesn't make it a new song, guys. Sure, "Bankrupt!" is good. It's also the exact same thing we heard from them last time.
The album succeeds in the moments where Phoenix substantially beef up their sound. Tracks like "S.O.S. In Bel Air" have major shifts between the verses and chorus in terms of power. This soft/loud dynamic is something that had not been previously experimented with. The resulting album sounds much more modern and refined than the one that came before it, even if it lacks immediacy. Production is lush with finger picked acoustic guitars, brushes, and rumbling synths. The warble of "Bourgeois" is executed with the kind of professionalism that makes you realize exactly how much these guys have grown.
Even if Bankrupt!
isn't nearly as memorable as Phoenix's true breakthrough effort, there is something to the consistency of each song here. To me, this reveals an inherent fact about where the band is at. Since Wolfgang Amadeus
, there has been an explosion of indie bands sporting the whole Euro-Pop sound. Despite this, Pheonix still only have themselves to compete with. They were the guys who brought us that danceable perfection in the first place. If you want the real thing, Bankrupt!
is the best place to turn.
is available now.