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Saturday 19 April 2014

Phoenix on fire again with thrilling, hedonistic tunes

Album Review: Bankrupt! (Atlantic)****

French quartet Phoenix have a winning template

Until the release of their fourth album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix in 2009, Phoenix were a comparatively obscure French quartet who did a fine line in 80s-inflected pop and whose music surfaced in Sofia Coppola's charming films.

But Wolfgang changed the game entirely. Buoyed by the sleek sophisti-pop of singles 1901 and Lisztomania, it won a Grammy for best 'alternative' album and heavily outsold all previous Phoenix albums combined.

Frontman Thomas Mars – husband of the aforementioned Ms Coppola – has talked about the weight of expectation that accompanied the lengthy sessions for this follow-up album. But there is little strained and laboured about the 10 tracks that have made the cut.

Bankrupt! offers the sort of effervescent synth-rock that Mars and friends have seemingly effortlessly delivered since debut album United (consider how magnificent its standout track, Too Young, sounds on the Lost in Translation soundtrack).

There are occasional experimental touches – especially on the lengthy, atmospheric title track – but for the most part, Phoenix don't stray too far from a winning template of insidiously catchy songs in which guitar and synthesizer play equally important and complementary roles.

While the album title might hint at weighty themes, the songs are rooted in the more hedonistic pleasures of sex, parties and ... perfume.

The latter is the inspiration for the faintly nostalgic Drakkar Noir – which was also the name of an overpowering male fragrance that was a big deal in the France of their teen-hoods.

The glittering radio-friendly SOS in Bel Air, meanwhile, captures the sort of feckless ennui of the beautiful young things of LA, while Entertainment appears machine-tooled to appeal to pop-lovers everywhere.

The band's so-called fifth member, Philippe Zdar, showcases his exemplary brand of production and – just as he did with Two Door Cinema Club's Tourist History – his accentuation of hooks and melodies is thrilling.

There's little room for extraneous fat, although the band have – for better or for worse – made 70 'sketches and demos' available on a deluxe version of this album.

Key tracks SOS in Bel Air; Entertainment

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