Why would Phoenix want to change anything from its breakthrough album, "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix"? The 2009 album was both a commercial and critical success, landing the band a string of modern rock hits, including "1901" and "Lisztomania," and a Grammy Award for best alternative music album.
Oh, that's right. It wouldn't. And on "Bankrupt!" (Glassnote), the French band led by Thomas Mars doesn't vary much from the successful formula of sleek synth-pop with just enough guitars to keep modern rock radio happy.
Yes, they do get slightly peppier on the first single -- and opening number -- "Entertainment," which picks up "1901" and transports it to Asia for the catchy, "China Girl"-ish keyboard bits. But for the rest of the album, the sonic palette is so similar, it will likely be difficult to tell which album spawned "Don't" or "Trying to Be Cool." Heck, they even throw in one of their trademark suites, this time the seven-minute title track.
The main difference between "Bankrupt!" and "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" is the lyrical content, with Mars singing more about the downside of stardom, especially on "Drakkar Noir," when he declares, "I wish I knew you from before."
On "SOS in Bel Air," Mars croons, "Alone, alone, alone" over layers of lush, new-wave synths to create a manic effect, from icy sadness to warm, guitar-driven joy.
That's the subtle sign of Phoenix's growth as artists on "Bankrupt!" -- a sign that the band is getting better at using the same tools. It's not a leap forward, but it's still a step in the right direction.
THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE More sleek synth-pop from France