There are two things the French are notoriously bad at: war and Rock N' Roll. Of course, this broad generalization discounts Napoleon who extended French influence over the European continent before meeting his Waterloo. As far as Rock goes, there really isn't a similar highpoint but Phoenix is not the usual embarrassment, actually they are pretty good, though the Versailles-based group passes themselves off as an "un-French" band.
Vocalist Thomas Mars, bassist Deck D'Arcy and guitarist Christian Mazzalai started the group in the mid-90s and became Phoenix when second guitarist Laurent was added in '96. Following some session work as a backing band, Phoenix made their '00 debut with "United." That album was followed four years later by "Alphabetical." "Live! Thirty Days Ago" (released only thirty-days after the completion of the "Alphabetical" supporting tour) arrived in '05.
Recorded in Berlin, the band's third studio album, "It's Never Been Like That" led to both European and U.S. tours.
'09's "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" landed with a promotional splash. The group performed "Lisztomania," and "1901" on just about every late night show in the U.S. - Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Craig Ferguson, Letterman and Conan O'Brien. "1901" was placed in a Cadillac commercial while "Lisztomania" was heard in the Where The Wild Things Are trailer and on the TV show Cougar Town.
To top it off, Phoenix won a Grammy in the Alternative Album category. But before that was decided, MySpace Music named "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" the Best Album of 2009.
In addition, Phoenix were the subject of the Antoine Wagner directed documentary, From A Mess To The Masses, about the group's '09-'10 "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" tour.
Work on their fifth album began in the spring of '11, but nine months later Phoenix had only completed four songs. After stating that they wanted to go beyond the "pop" of "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix," their label boss said the album could be "revolutionary," which is just the sort of hype expected from a label honcho. A targeted '12 release date came and went. With a '13 U.S. tour looming, the group felt compelled to finish "Bankrupt!"
The album was mixed at co-producer Philippe Zdar's home studio in Montmartre, in the north of Paris. Mixing was done on the vintage console Michael Jackson used for "Thriller." They brought it on eBay for $17,000 (which is a bit more than a new high-end console costs). "We didn't even look at the expense," said Mars.
2006 It's Never Been Like That
2009 Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
2004 Live! Thirty Days Ago
2010 iTunes Live From Soho
Phoenix plays music boyfriends can tolerate, if not appreciate. The songs on "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" are pop nuggets. "Lisztomania" and "1901" are obvious but other notable tracks include "Fences," "Love Like Sunset II" and the urgent "Countdown."
The difference between background and foreground music is that the former is meant to be heard but not listened to, while the latter attempts to stimulate or motivate. "Bankrupt!" straddles the line. Mars' vocals are plaintive and appealing even though the songs are ordinary synth-pop adventures. Hardly revolutionary.
Going to the back catalog there's "It's Never Been Like That." It's in exactly the same mode "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" but less polished. The album opens strong with "Napoleon Says" and "Consolation Prize." If those work, they have more.