Phoenix! The petits garçons of Versailles and the winsome, glinting pommes destined to hang perpetually in the eyes of staunch Francophiles worldwide who were this year promoted to headlining status without even so much as a song to corroborate such ascent! Sacré bleu! Coachella came and went, replete with an outré R. Kelly cameo; Primavera Sound is yet to be invested with their crowning presence, and this week we’ve an album to substantiate the elevation. Mon dieu!
Of course it’s not an entirely clean slate from which Thomas Mars et al. here begin to chalk up their fifth studio full-length, in that not only have we already heard (over, and over, and encore une fois I ought add) lead single Entertainment, but we’ve so too indulged in thoroughgoing revisions from both Dinosaur Jr. and Blood Orange alike. It’s a tour de force in contemporary pop that’s hooky as Velcro, and stands for all that can be consummate about contemporary pop music with at least a couple toes dipped into the past for divine inspiration. The song itself had a touch of the seraphic to it I’d go so far as to say, so pristine was its ultimate aesthetic.
Though that which so starkly demarcated the influence of the past from its impact upon the present was that synth line – a resurgent glimmer of that to have blessed Aneka’s Japanese Boy, or perhaps even a spurt of the one which inflated Nena’s 99 Luftballoons and still allows them to linger at large over all ’80s reminiscences. It’s one of which even vivifying compatriot Jean Michel Jarre would be orgueilleux, and it’s this same pseudo-Oriental preset which is insistently employed to such ecstatic effect throughout: it laces the bumptious ebullience of Drakkar Noir with an ever more mischievous, unmistakably boyish potency; the snappy Chloroform with a twang of the intangible East; the funk-addled skulk of Trying To Be Cool with a familiar twinkling. The lattermost’s lyrics of “white lie binoculars” and “cannibal boyfriends” may be at once novel, though the track makes for another of the troupe’s usually compelling maelstroms of compulsive movement both in terms of the swirling instrumentation they here opt for, and so too the influence the song itself will doubtless have upon you. For Phoenix revel in a directly corporeal delight – they exist to inspire motion as well as emotion, and it’s as such that the album’s title track and so too its centrepiece, Bankrupt, more or less gets to be the Love Like a Sunset of their latest. It’s as yet a single, distinct entity as opposed to the triptych the Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix behemoth has become since the record’s initial release in 2009, though don’t let that lure you into deception – it’s already there.
For whereas Love Like a Sunset gradually arose from a gleaming mire of elate euphoria, Bankrupt has as much to do with commotion as it does the urging of motion, in that it has ears instantly pricked by soft tones evocative of those which prelude most church services, only to have heads continually turning as the band run through an expansive palette of stylistic variance. Balearic acoustica; terse and acerbic synth bits; pieces of Baroque virtuosity. Shush then descends, celestial keys moulded into nebulous blankets cushioning the at times harsh, and here deadpan vocal of Mars. It’s their odyssey; their Oxygène compressed into seven momentarily bewildering, though ultimately blinding moments that play ingenuously with invention, experimentation and so too innovation.
Elsewhere, Don’t comes sugared with seemingly Glass Candy-inspired modulations – a colourful plash of schizoid versicolor – while The Real Thing begins with a Disney naïveté only to swiftly reposition itself as a blockbuster standout; a surefire single in waiting to be met with agape gobs and profuse gaping come the rolling of proverbial credits. There’s then the blithe Bourgeoise – a track laid-back as a sun lounger reclining on the sun-dappled top deck of the “cruise ship” cited on the song’s vertiginous pre-chorus section. It serves as a gloriously jejune, if gently conceited anecdote telling of an upperclass adolescent caught in an undercurrent of ersatz rebellion who, conversely, has been destined for the upper echelons of society; for bulkier and more brilliant, if not necessarily bigger things from birth, as Mars collars the obligatory pomp and show the so-called highlife entails. Lyrically, its content traces the carefree existences of untroubled twenty-somethings west London over and thus perhaps aptly, it sounds not dissimilar to all those flimsy indie tracks alas adopted by blighting Made in Chelsea soundtrack, albeit executed to a considerably more polished aspect.
It’s of course of utmost suavity, and breezes out of earshot with that same ease it came into being before we ebb into the endearingly naff Oblique City. It doesn’t exactly operate on parallel planes to their every previous – blurts of tawdry sci-fi synths and All My Friends-inspired plodder aside – though this is absolutely to Phoenix’ unconditional credit. For they genuinely don’t sound like anybody before, or indeed about them in that same way that nothing sounds quite like them and not only have they contrived to remain unchanged throughout these incontestably turbulent times, but they’ve never even so much as undulated in the unerring refinement for which they strive.
Released: April 22nd, 2013 [Atlantic Records]