The French “classic-pop revivalists” fifth album Bankrupt! pushes further into throwback pop. It turns up the synths, turns down the Strokesy guitars and morphs into an 80’s copycat of Stuart Price’s (Les Rythmns Digitales) 80’s tribute Dark Dancer.
Really? Four years in the making, and all they come up with to follow Grammy award-winning, 2009 breakthrough fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, is a Kenwood blender mix of David Bowie, Prince, Sparks and Jam & Lewis producing Janet Jackson?
Bankrupt! (with exclamation mark, like so many West End musicals) is a worrying title. No longer do they stand out from the other ’80s copycats.
The lead single, Entertainment, sounds like a leftover from the WAP sessions, recycling Bowie’s China Girl with chunks of Jean Michel Jarre and Empire of the Sun thrown in. It carries some of their Indie energy, while reminding you that Thomas Mars’s pure, high-register voice can carry much better material than this. Suddenly it’s finished and into The Real Thing, a solid pop-radio play-list filler of very little substance, which also ends suddenly.
S.O.S in Bel Air belts along with a Thomas Dolby / New Order feel; the song is Owl City cranked up to eleven but terrified of it’s own shadow. It’s as if Phoenix are afraid that if they slow down the whole thing will grind to a halt. There are some good hooks, but everything gets lost in the cacophonous racket of synths and drums.
Trying to be Cool tries too hard to be cool. Is that irony or just bad luck? I can never tell. Is it reassuringly familiar or irritatingly non-descript? Electronic wallpaper music or shiny, shopping mall muzak?
The seven-minute Bankrupt tinkles along for two minutes then goes all concept-trance, arpegiating harpsichords, until four minutes twenty when the song proper begins, a Pink Floyd prog-rock album track.
Drakkar Noir and Chloroform are supposedly the one-two combination knock-out punch, but Drakkar moodles about like Mars couldn’t work out how to get from verse to bridge to chorus and rolls into Chloroform with all the subtlety of Georgio Moroder. Lyrically it’s a quirky French beat-poetry lesson with a bit of philosophy, wrapped in a mid tempo ballad and I really don’t know if that’s enough.
Don’t: “just don’t bother.” It’s not a great way to start a fast song. Remember Plastique Bertrand, that cliche of 80’s French synth pop (I know, he’s Belgian)? You will when you listen to Don’t. You might hear more Thomas Dolby too.
Bourgeois. Seriously? A French act and you have to title a track Bourgeois? While they were moodling about sounding like Two Door Cinema Club featuring Owl City (again), I got to thinking about titles they missed: Fillet Mignon, Deja Vu, Petit Filous. “You lost your mind on a cruise ship.” Bowie would be proud.
Finale Oblique City brings us back to where we started, a good bit of rattling pop with nothing memorable until it just fizzles out. I went back to playing ‘spot the synth riffs.’ If only they’d thrown in some Herbie Hancock, we’d have the whole set. RC
Related: Two Door Cinema Club – Beacon