4:35 PM EDT, April 22, 2013
3 stars (out of 4)
After a decade of anonymity, French quartet Phoenix finally broke through in 2009 with “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” an album loaded with effervescent electro-pop such as “Lisztomania” and “1901.” On the follow-up, “Bankrupt!” (V2), there's nothing quite as undeniable as those singles – though “S.O.S. in Bel Air” comes close with its punchy drums, bouyant synthesizers and soaring Thomas Mars' vocals.
Though the instant hits are lacking, “Bankrupt!” is more cohesive than its best-selling predecessor. Many of the songs reflect on themes explored by Mars' wife, director Sofia Coppola, in her 2010 movie “Somewhere,” for which Phoenix wrote the soundtrack. The movie explores the emotionally empty life of a wealthy young actor who indulges in and is trapped by Hollywood luxury. Mars has never been particularly transparent as a lyricist, preferring to insinuate and imply rather than spell things out. But there's no missing the subtext in many of these songs as he drops references to the “fake rituals” and desperate cool of a self-styled cultural elite with too much time and money on its hands.
Little wonder that Phoenix's music revels in decadent splendor. A string of uptempo songs opens the album. “Trying to be Cool” flirts with a slinky R&B vibe atop a rubbery bass line and handclaps. Then the nearly seven-minute title track douses the party vibe in chilled-out ambience before shifting into a more frantic and disturbing tone. Keyboards -- and lots of them -- dominate instead of guitars, and they're layer-cake rich in texture, especially on the slower, dreamier second half of the album. “Darling, you never know when you're ... kind of done,” Mars declares on the deceptively dreamy “Bourgeois,” even as a “sha-la-la” wordless vocal hook suggests the party will go on anyway.
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