Phoenix’s evolution from a cult French electronic outfit into a pop juggernaut big enough to headline festivals like Coachella has always been kind of head-scratching. Formed in 1999, the band released three well-received but uneven albums during the decade that followed; its most well-known songs dabbled in warm ’70s disco (“Too Young”) and sparkling funk (“Everything Is Everything”). Phoenix’s 2009 breakthrough album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, had higher production values and more keyboards but was also hit or miss, varying between indelible singles (“1901,” “Lisztomania”) and sleek but forgettable album tracks.
That irregular pattern doesn’t abate on Bankrupt!, a record whose sonic ambition matches Phoenix’s growing reputation. Confetti-shower lead single “Entertainment” is a fizzy homage to Japanese synth-pop, while other songs expand the band’s sound in delightful ways. “Chloroform” resembles an R. Kelly slow jam. “The Real Thing” has an airy ’80s Top-40 feel. And “S.O.S. in Bel Air” is New Order with a stuttering problem. But those standouts are flanked by several momentum killers. The title track is a seven-minute near-instrumental nod to 8-bit Nintendo and the keyboard shimmers of early M83, while other songs draw from faceless new wave or generic dancefloor fodder. There’s no doubt Phoenix is a talented band; perhaps one day it’ll release an album that lives up to that potential.