Release Date: Apr 23, 2013
Record label: Glass Note
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Bands like Phoenix aren't supposed to make it on Main Street USA. Globally ambitious European acts from Abba on down have usually tried to sound as Anglo-American as possible, but these Versailles-bred indie-pop guys radiate continental elegance. And yet they pulled off a stateside breakthrough with their fourth LP, 2009's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and its cunningly fun hits "Lisztomania" and "1901" – sublime songs about old-world Europe that ran the radio-play-TV-commercial-wedding-DJ loop faster than you can say "Zou Bisou Bisou.
In an age of overnight sensations, it’s heartening to pay attention to the story of Phoenix. The Parisian quartet remained resolutely under the radar for the best part of a decade, only known to the most dedicated fan of French pop and anybody who paid attention to soundtracks to Sophia Coppola movies. Then, in 2009, came Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, two irresistible, near ubiquitous singles in 1901 and Lisztomania, chart success and Grammy awards.
Through four albums, Phoenix have become more ambitious with their brand of pop, cutting between the dance thud of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’s “1901” and experiments like United’s “Funky Squaredance.” The highly anticipated Bankrupt! is complete and accomplished. It’s less catchy than Wolfgang but also more creative and more satisfying. Bankrupt! recalls the ’80s noir of their debut, but here, each song does more.
In certain circles there has been a quiet suspicion for a few years now that European pop music has made its way under the radar to a place a million miles ahead of its American and British contemporaries: we offer up the catchy but interchangeable, indistinguishable, and disposable ideas, Europe gives us the likes of Versailles's Phoenix. .
Review Summary: Can't stop loving you.It’s a deep, dark secret of mine that when I first heard “Lisztomania,” the initial single off 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, I hated it. Where was the pounding hook of “Consolation Prizes,” the fearless anything-goes mentality of United? Now, I’m not proud of this – in retrospect, I don’t even know how it was possible, so viscerally thrilling follow-up “1901” is and how immediate the album as a whole feels to me now. But I came around to it; we all did, really, as Wolfgang’s sales and Phoenix’s headlining turn at this month’s Coachella confirmed.
Somewhat sneakily, as they honed their blend of new wave, synth pop, soft rock, and all things '80s for the better part of a decade, Phoenix became one of the most influential acts of the 2000s and 2010s. When they married that distinctive style to some of their strongest songs on 2009's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, that album's mainstream success felt like a well-earned reward for their years of defining a sound that had permeated a lot of pop culture. Its follow-up, Bankrupt!, isn't nearly as devoid of new ideas as its title suggests, but it doesn't feel like quite the leap forward Wolfgang was compared to what came before it.
Bankrupt? Not unless they've spent it all on monogrammed Porsches. If anything, the success of Phoenix's last album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – which finally brought them big success, after nine years of trying – means the French four-piece are flying high. To follow up their first million-seller, they've made a record that sounds "like the TGV [high-speed train], nostalgic, futuristic", which is a way of saying it doesn't really depart from the cashmere-lined soft rock that made their name.
Until recently, Phoenix were the French indie band that was meant to be enjoyed in a very French way, their airy-cool soft rock aimed at pastel-jeaned crowds doing a little noncommittal nod-your-head dance, possibly while dangling a Gauloises cigarette from their lips. But with 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the group went all-in on upbeat Europop choruses and yell-it-from-the-rooftops tributes to new love, earning listeners’ truly unironic adoration — and a Grammy. On Bankrupt! they sound like they’ve officially quit trying to appeal to hipsters, as singer Thomas Mars rants about young people who are ”sad and underweight” or ”just tryin’ to be cool.
Phoenix are a total anachronism-- can you name another post-millennial power-pop band of thirtysomethings that made the jump from cult curio to festival headliners 10 years and four albums into their career? But if their trajectory feels old-fashioned, the French foursome are so perfectly emblematic of our present. Sure, you could chalk up the surprise, runaway success of 2009's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix as some fortuitously timed, crossover-appealing fusion of big-tent indie anthems and glossy synth sheen; but then, this band has embraced huge hooks and smooth moves since day one. Really, Phoenix started making the big dollars once they stopped making sense: By intensifying the jiterry energy introduced on 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That, with Wolfgang, they perfected an ADD-via-ESL approach to pop that matched the pace of our hyperactive, distracted, smartphone-sucking lives.
How do you follow the album that accidentally broke you through to the mainstream, that turned you from a slightly-under-the-radar act to, well, an act that wins Grammys? In the case of Phoenix and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix: you don't even try. You try as hard as possible to go in the opposite direction. Enter Bankrupt!, featuring: approximately seven billion and fifty-two synthesisers, one gajillion pop hooks, a console used to record Thriller that somehow turned up on eBay, and a whole lot of musical mayhem.
PhoenixBankrupt![Loyaute/Glassnote ; 2013]By Ray Finlayson; April 22, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGWolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was one of those rare albums that brought my siblings and I together. I might get lucky and inspire a brother of mine to listen to a single song I love, or another brother will spontaneously ask if I’ve heard of Bat For Lashes (in a manner which always echoes Aziz Ansari’s cousin Darwish), but for a whole album to be adopted and become the new soundtrack to every car journey? I’d never known of such things in my bloodline, and when those same siblings excitably joined me to see Phoenix live, I thought a new dawn was rising. Fittingly, one might even say they were all “sick for the big sun” (myself included).
What in Hades has happened to Phoenix? Around 25 people got excited about their first three albums, and most of those were close friends of the band or in Daft Punk. Then four years ago ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ happened, and now these French classic-pop revivalists are setting pulses racing across the globe. They’re headlining Coachella, for God’s sake, and comeback single ‘Entertainment’ has been ‘remixed’ by They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-Sugababes MKS.
The psychology behind listening to a sumptuous pop song is that, at least for the span of three minutes, it makes you feel like a winner. Top 40-radio programmers design to play the same songs in a continuous loop not because they want to numb you into a stupor (unless you’re headstrong or perky enough to tolerate it), but because they want to indulge your needs, and know the exact time in which you’ll tune in. Back in 2008, the surprising, yet suspiciously calculated, placing of 1901 on heavy rotation was like a godsend – those snappy drum patterns and gruff keyboard stabs are still a pleasure to get lost in.
PHOENIX play the Grove Music Festival August 3. See listing. Rating: NNN Growing up in Versailles, Phoenix learned a thing or two about the bougie life. Their fifth album is full of references to the aspirational - cheap cologne, cruise ships, Cristal, California - that paint a bemused portrait of modern society's obsession with ostentatious wealth and mediocrity.
Unless you are Thomas Mars, Deck d’Arcy, Laurent Brancowitz or Christian Mazzalai, it is unlikely that you ever thought Phoenix would be where they are right now. When the band announced the title of their eventual mega-hit, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the absurdity of it in no way inspired the confidence that it would be a success. But it was, and radio stations played “1901” into the ground, though it never really got old the way something like Gotye has, and somehow the band was playing Madison Square Garden and Daft Punk was there and we were all happy for them because they had paid their dues and released so many good albums and now in 2013, when they are headlining Coachella, we are proud to have another band like The Black Keys or Arcade Fire whose growth seems organic and deserved and worth rooting for.
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.
Last weekend Phoenix headlined a night at Coachella, the prestigious Californian music festival. Rumours circulated that they might be joined by fellow Gallic superstars Daft Punk. The two outfits are old friends, one of Phoenix having shared a pre-Daft band with both Punks. Daft Punk did previously turn up at a Phoenix Madison Square Garden gig in 2010, the year after Phoenix's fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, made this band of sleek thirtysomething synth-rockers one of the year's surprise indie success stories, selling upwards of 710,000 in the US.
Four years after Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix transformed Phoenix from alt-rock also-rans to Coachella headliners, the band is confronted by the question that faces many acts following up on a break-out album: stick or twist? Do they put out Wolfgang Part 2, aimed squarely at those heaving festival crowds and risk saying nothing we haven't heard before, or do they move into more adventurous territory, possibly alienating the fans attracted by the laser-guided pop of “1901” and “Lisztomania”? With the release of Bankrupt!, it seems the answer is, well, neither. Without the gleaming hooks of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, yet lacking the experimental forays the band promised in interviews last year, Bankrupt! sees Phoenix finally abandoning the Strokes-influenced rock of their early efforts, turning up the keyboards, and bringing in the drum machines. It's cool and pleasant, but easy to forget.
When a band strike upon a winning formula, it's tough not to duplicate it in some form. Much of the blueprint of Phoenix's fifth album, Bankrupt!, follows its successful 2009 critical and commercial predecessor, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. From the grand opening numbers to the instrumental interludes mid-album, this new record looks to be travelling down a similar road, but sonically takes a different turn.
With just under a minute remaining on ?Entertainment?, the first track and lead single off Phoenix’s latest album Bankrupt!, we arrive at the bridge. The bridge consists of one long syllable, ?ohhh?, set loose above synthesizers and a metronomic bass beat. Given the track?s structure and golden Hollywood pop gloss feel, this moment should absolutely be the big and catchy shout-along climax to an already big and catchy single ? and for a second, it sounds like it will be.
For many new listeners, it appeared as if Phoenix had actually arrived with 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. An album that packed pop sensibilities with roaring singles captivated everyone from media to non-fans; it finally declared the French rock band as one of music’s true heavyweights. The actual reality was that the band had already made three terrific albums prior to the heavy blends of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and now, with Bankrupt!, the band returns with yet another thrilling winner.
Phoenix’s fifth album Bankrupt! is like a latter-day Brett Easton Ellis novel: day-glo champagne dreams with a nasty dark undercurrent, and blank-eyed protagonists who never mean what they say. Or at least that’s how it sounds to me. Phoenix is not a band for concept albums; in fact, their lyrics are deliberately vague and at times nonsensical. The closest thing we get to a mantra comes in the frothy “Bourgeois”: “We’re destined, wise, and we socialize.” With Phoenix, the mood is the message, and that’s true more than ever on Bankrupt!, which like its career-defining predecessor Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009), is an irresistible, glossy, yet coherent pop album.
According to the New Yorker’s “Notes and Comments,” Phoenix lead-singer Thomas Mars lives in the West Village but was raised in Versailles. To record “Bankrupt!,” the band’s fifth album, the band bought the console used for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on eBay and shipped it to Paris. As on 2009’s “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” the elite pedigree of these bright, well-mannered Frenchmen shows in their impressive aural plumage.
When Phoenix were announced as headliners of Coachella and Primavera it hit home just how big they had become. It seemed to have sneaked up on us. Maybe it shouldn’t have. After all, ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ was a juggernaut of an album, its tracks overpowering indie discos throughout the land.
People always say otherwise, but when you hear a fantastic, as-of-yet-unpopular song part of you wants to covet it. Some are always going to share their hidden gems but others – the relatable, yet loathsome gollums of the fanatical music community – prefer to enjoy their unreleased re-edits in isolation. I have to admit that only a few songs have turned me into this selfish, hermitic listener; Phoenix's “Too Young” is the first on the list.
In 2009, Phoenix’s release Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix set the indie rock world quietly ablaze. Beginning with credibility built from strong but measured critical reception over the course of nearly a decade, the band’s fourth studio album came flying out of the gates, bridging a critically adored status into chart success undoubtably aided by an incessantly played Cadillac commercial. The energetic, precise pop of singles “1901” and “Lisztomania” propelled Phoenix into the upper echelon of guitar-rock headliners but the support from deeper cuts like the emotive “Love Like A Sunset”, the propulsive “Lasso” and the subtler “Rome” are what made Wolfgang a beginning-to-end cohesive record.
PHOENIX “Bankrupt!” (Glassnote) “Alone, alone, alone,” croons Thomas Mars at a choice moment on the new Phoenix album, “Bankrupt!,” repeating the refrain thrice more before shifting gears. The song he’s singing is “SOS in Bel Air,” and the wry premise behind its title — distress signals emitting from privileged enclaves — could easily be applied to the album. For a band that has exploited the whims of style as briskly as Phoenix, this rings of self-conflicted social critique, though it’s neither critical nor conflicted enough.
"1901" was released as a single on Feb. 23, 2009. On Dec. 19, it entered the Billboard Hot 100 at a modest No. 90. It's been a slow climb, but nothing halts Phoenix. The French quartet's fifth album, Bankrupt! will inevitably be judged in the shadow of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix's underdog glory, and ….
Are Phoenix the most willfully contrarian indie band of the last 13 years? Have a lock at their stylistic trajectory in relation to the general direction of all indie music since 2000. The French band started their career in June of 2000 with United, an album filled with what at the time was deemed to be terminally gauche and conservative 80s soft rock and white boy R&B. The guitar loving indie tastemakers of the time were only just starting to find a way forward after spending the last few years of the 90s in a stunned daze, following the collapse of US alternative rock and the cocaine-ravaged end of Britpop.