PHOENIX, the French rockers who broke into cultural ubiquity in 2008 with a superb album and well-placed ad syncs, has transitioned over the past decade from niche soft-rockers to festival-headlining stars. As the foursome releases its fifth studio album, Bankrupt! (Glassnote, $14), we take a look at the band’s meandering musical journey to the top.
Phoenix’s first album is a louche, slinky affair. Frontman Thomas Mars favors Hall & Oates–style blue-eyed soul, and the band dares to dabble in disco cheese (“Funky Squaredance”) and sax-laden smoothness (“Embuscade”). United reflects a band searching for its lane while opening the gates for outside interest.
Phoenix tightens the groove on round two. Alphabetical is decidedly an adult-contemporary occurrence. Yet tight, sugary rhythm guitars (“Run Run Run”) blend effortlessly with Mars’ cutesy croon. It’s catchy mid-tempo rock that hints at bigger and bolder things to come.
It’s Never Been Like That (2006)
Phoenix’s most consistent album features looser, more strokes-y tunes (“Long Distance Call”) anchored by uptick guitars (“Courtesy Laughs”) and caution-to-the-wind melodies. A transition is under way: Here, Phoenix sheds its soft-rock roots and more fully embraces the unrestricting confines of indie-pop.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2008)
Cue Phoenix’s crossover. On Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Mars and company drum up a slew of pop-leaning hooks (“1901”) and flitty guitar rhythms (“Lisztomania”) that both retain the band’s signature sound and shed the superfluous. It’s a fully formed mission statement from a veteran band just getting started.