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Laurent Brancowitz, left, and Thomas Mars of Phoenix performing in New York City in April 2013. Neilson Barnard / Getty Images
Laurent Brancowitz, left, and Thomas Mars of Phoenix performing in New York City in April 2013. Neilson Barnard / Getty Images
Bankrupt!, the latest release by Phoenix. AP Photo / Glass Note
Bankrupt!, the latest release by Phoenix. AP Photo / Glass Note

The French rockers Phoenix are not busted, but they're maybe too flush

It appears France's irregular but oft-brilliant top musical exports are preparing for a summer of international supremacy.

Given the current state of flag-waving fever in the US, it seems an unusual time for music hype stateside to be dominated by - of all people - the French. But thanks to the genius drip-feed marketing of Daft Punk's first proper release in eight years and this, the latest album by their alt rock equivalents Phoenix, it appears Paris's irregular but oft-brilliant top musical exports are preparing for a summer of international supremacy.

It's important to note that Bankrupt! isn't Phoenix's "difficult" second album. But with the breakout success of 2009's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, a record that propelled this four-piece from respected indie underachievers to headliners at the likes of Madison Square Garden and the Coachella festival (where they were last week), this fifth studio release is arguably going to be viewed as such.

Which direction would they take: to stick with the infectious pop-rock of 1901, Lisztomania and co that saw them crack the lucrative US hipster market or perhaps traverse into more courageous territories?

Opening with an explosion of cheesy China Girl-inspired synths before settling into the classic Phoenix combo of a fast-paced bass bubbling under Thomas Mars's wispy vocals, the first track Entertainment seems to suggest the answer is firmly "stick". With Cassius's Philippe Zdar back on production duties, this is clear Wolfgang 2.0, enhanced with pumping drums and a chorus that has undoubtedly had several thousand arms aloft already.

Another sizeable nod to the previous outing comes from the album's title track, a seven-minute sit-back-and-relax epic in four parts akin to Love Like a Sunset; rich in scorching chords and Mars's obligatory nonsensical lyrics. Drakkar Noir - named after the men's fragrance - turns up the 1980s notch further, with a further Orient-on-a-Casio themed riff, also present on The Real Thing, a sublimely produced piece of pop heavy in clever twists and key changes to keep ears pricked.

Despite a name that suggests a further crank upwards in sun-soaked cheese, S.O.S. in Bel Air sadly fails to capture the spirit of pastel-coloured pop-rock exemplified elsewhere, although its fast-to-slow-and-back-again chorus is pure Phoenix. Other perfectly nice but perfectly forgettable tracks come with Don't and Trying to Be Cool, both big on sound but small on anything you're likely to remember by the end.

The album closes on Oblique City, one of many preppy, up-tempo, main-stage-lights-on numbers clearly with festival audiences in mind. To even the untrained ear, this - along with much of Bankrupt! - has been based squarely on the blueprint left by Wolfgang, and is likely to be played to equally adoring crowds this summer. But despite boasting ample drum machines and tracks littered with high-powered keyboards, the album just doesn't seem to have the attention-grabbing attitude as before.

aritman@thenational.ae

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