The word “bankrupt” conjures up images of emptiness and lacking. Maybe it’s a safe cracked open and left bare or pockets turned out with nary a cent to be dropped. These descriptions are hardly fitting for Phoenix‘s fifth, and most recent, album, Bankrupt!, which is an overly cluttered collection of thoughts cobbled together to make songs.
Phoenix last captured listeners in 2009 with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, an album that’s title suggests masterpiece-level technical quality. It made good with its atmospheric and sometimes lush waves of sound laying out a setting for incessantly winding lyrics that ran the risk of depressing any listener who was able to escape their hypnotic spiral. While the songs often drifted together in a sort of haze, they always had a direction, driven by the subtle energy of their minimalism. On Bankrupt!, there is no such focus or velocity, instead being populated by many ideas that run over each other in a way that comes off as clumsy.
In fact, it is hard to find a song on the album that doesn’t become derailed. “Trying to be Cool” plays as a Weezer-esque message of working too hard that lacks the zip to make this plea seem truly Phoenix trademarked. The chiming decorative riffs of “Entertainment” and “Drakkar Noir” are catchy, but act as just more dressing on an album that is already overindulgent. Even the title track is without an identity, starting out as a two-minute ambulatory introduction to what ends up sounding like video game boss-stage music.
There certainly are sections of the album that are likable. The bass-heavy descent on the minor chord in “The Real Thing” gives the song undeniable gravity and thus makes it one of the better tracks. “Chloroform” has all the jam power of a Ratatat song and dares a listener not to bob their head along with the beat. However, these good components are too often interrupted and unfinished, frustrating a listener without providing a release.
One can imagine a universe where the quality musical ideas from Bankrupt! are carried out with more discipline, becoming fully fleshed out and coherent. Instead, Phoenix seems to have emptied their creative vault and have found mostly fools’ good instead of something that holds more value.