More than any previous Phoenix record, Bankrupt! is a dizzying whirlwind of sparkling indie pop. Every song overflows with evolving melodies, shifting synth rhythms and twinkling instrumental flourishes. And, no, it's still not clear what Thomas Mars is saying or what he means by any of it.
But Phoenix has a way of communicating without being direct. There's hardly anything resembling narrative or a finished thought, but you come away from Bankrupt! with a feeling of pretty melancholy. Every shift from peppy keys to soaring synths and crashing drums conveys some confusing mix of emotions, like the band isn't so sure how to feel about life right now. But it makes sense, kind of.
Compared to the sonic shift Phoenix made between It's Never Been Like That (2006) and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009), Bankrupt! sounds like an adherence to a winning formula. That's not really a bad thing, since Wolfgang was a beautiful success. Bankrupt!'s title track, clocking in around seven minutes, is a lot like Wolfgang's “Love Like a Sunset” -- serving as an extended album centerpiece with a long, droning instrumental build and quiet vocals.
“Entertainment,” the first single off the album, is the album's most likely hit. With all the shiny pop commotion, it's hard to grasp onto something in these songs for more than a minute. “Bourgeois” and “Chloroform” both stand out because they back off a little. They bring you along for the trip instead of leaving you watching in wonder.
Through the confusion, Bankrupt! works for being so distinctly Phoenix. It's both delicate and powerful, cerebrally confusing and emotionally blunt. Bankrupt! might leave you disoriented, but the dizzying high is worth it.