Phoenix’s plod to mainstream acclaim might have taken the best part of a decade but that creeping success has always seemed indicative of the band’s impossibly buoyant outlook. More positive than relentless, even when the world was squeezing into skinny Casablancas jackets and wishing Daft Punk was playing at their house, Phoenix were there enjoying it with them, going about their business, patiently waiting for the blogosphere to align.
And in an era where it’s easy to dismiss a band for being consistently good than gratuitously experimental, it’s little surprise that ‘Bankrupt!’ is as meticulous, likeable, and danceable as its predecessors.
Where we expect Justice to deliver with a thundering Gallic insouciance, we’ve come to expect Phoenix to deliver with clean pop simplicity. And where ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ set the band’s benchmark, ‘Bankrupt!’ is more than just the end of a four-year absence, it hints at a band pushing beyond standard indie pop boundaries.
Suddenly, we’re moving through M83 panorama, candied chillwave, and guilty pop pleasure, and the drifting melodies that surfaced on ‘Wolfgang…’ are left to play out on ‘S.O.S In Bel Air’, bump on the misty-eyed R&B of ‘Chloroform’, and bop along the Abba piano lines of ‘Oblique City’.
Title track ‘Bankrupt!’ shows similar ambition with its tender piano-led intro and outro sandwiching a spectral Cliff Martinez-esque interlude but it feels interrupted, and awkward, as if the shards of two songs have been skipped together to create something grander than the sum of its parts.
Where ‘Bankrupt!’ fails, ‘Trying To Be Cool’ emerges as the melodic reminder why Phoenix continue to universally charm. Romantic and anthemic, it’s a track destined to soar out across festival stages for a few giddy summer weeks, Thomas leading the handclaps in the closing thirty seconds, inspiring the next set of DVD highlights.
And Phoenix belong on those grander stages, armed with their infinite optimism and their singles, and the back catalogue no-one really heard the first time round. They’ve earned it and are the hopeful proof that simply being good should be good enough.
Words by REEF YOUNIS