Fresh from the two Coachella weekends in Indio, Ca, during which they performed a live mashup onstage with R. Kelly, Versailles’ Phoenix released their fifth studio album. Entitled Bankrupt!, it is not technically their sophomore effort but it is the follow-up to the massively successful Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and time will tell if their huge momentum will continue. The band has stated in interviews that the album is going to be a departure from the pop sounds of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and they are trying to create something more experimental. While it is always interesting to see bands refine their sound and evolve as musicians, the formula used for Wolfgang gave them a Grammy win and their first number one hit with “1901” in 2009.
Fortunately for newly-gained Phoenix fans, most of the album lives in the same territory as the jumpy songs of Wolfgang with a few more interesting musical twists. “Entertainment” is the opening track and the first single released back in February with a video set in Korea that has already climbed to 11 on the US alternative charts. The title track that appears about halfway through the album, is the first song that does not follow a fairly typical pop song format. Clocking in at just under seven minutes, it’s a synthy instrumental for the first four that’s reminiscent of fellow Versailles compatriots, Air, that finishes with anthemic vocals, acoustic guitar and big synth strings.
“Bankrupt!” is also one of only three songs that breaks the four-minute mark in length. There are no 12-minute excursions into space with songs that are compositionally divergent from modern pop songs. And while an album of pop songs is fine, none from this collection seem to have the magic hit-making formula of “1901” or “Lisztomania.” “Chloroform” opens with a saw synth and slow, electronic R&B sounding drums that jump into plenty of Thomas Mars’ familiar falsetto and ending with a synth flute lead. It is followed up with “Don’t,” a more typical Phoenix song with a jumpy rhythm and a cool electronic tom hit breakdown reminiscent of New Order.
Any fans concerned that Bankrupt! will be freakishly different than the Phoenix they’ve come to appreciate have nothing to worry about. Bankrupt! is a melodic and slightly gentler version of Wolfgang, and while this album could be considered experimental, all of the songs are easily recognizable as a Phoenix song upon first listen. Taken in isolation, it’s catchy, but not with any songs capable of reaching mega-hit status. If they set out to make an album that’s compositionally divergent from anything they’ve done prior, they didn’t do so well. If they set out to make an album of easy-on-the-ear pop songs with a few subtle twists, they did pretty well.