So here we are, nearly four years on from the release of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and we’ve finally heard something new from French indie poppers Phoenix. It goes without saying that his is far and away the most anticipated release in the band’s fourteen-year career.
That’s the thing though; these guys have been at it for well over a decade. While the runaway success of Wolfgang certainly felt like a reintroduction, it’s not as if they suddenly stumbled upon some secret genius. From 2000’s United up through 06’s equally great It’s Never Been Like That the band simultaneously progressed by dialing back. Equal parts huge ambition and lack of cohesion plagued their earliest work, but ensuing albums saw the band come closer to honing in on a sound all their own. Which of course, is the sound they absolutely nailed on Wolfgang. Suddenly they were everywhere, in car ads, on late night TV shows, and even onstage at Madison Square Garden, then rarefied air for indie bands. Then they sorta disappeared.
But, back as early as spring of last year reports of their next work started to pop up and the types of words that scream difficult follow-up marked them. Frontman Thomas Mars was using words like “futuristic” and “experimental” to describe the sounds of early sessions for the record before going silent again for a long while. How could this be I thought. How could a band as airtight as Phoenix manage to make an entire album of experimental music? It just didn’t add up. They finally broke just before the New Year by announcing a timeline for the new album. We now know that Bankrupt! is the title of that album and that it’s due in April. And now we have our first taste of it.
Here’s the deal, ‘Entertainment’ finds Phoenix functioning well within the musical parameters they’ve laid down over their fourteen-year career. With a synth pattern that vaguely recalls Bowie’s ‘China Girl’, ‘Entertainment’ finds the band returning to the upbeat synth-pop motif they tackled on Wolfgang. While surely this may irritate some fans for lack of variation, the song is by no means a drab retread, but rather a subtle progression from their greatest work to date. Which history has shown to be their MO.
Right from the get-go it’s pretty clear who made this track. The way the opening synth line runs along a repetitive tom-heavy drum sample immediately recalls Wolfgang standouts like ‘Lasso’. Mars also leans on repetition of short phrases and words within the verses, a trick he’s been pulling since at least 2004’s Alphabetical. Where the track stand out though however is the band’s use of the opening riff as a sort of wordless chorus after slow build during the pre-chorus. It’s a neat little trick that adds some more movement to the already highly vibrant track. Otherwise, not much else needs to be deviated when you have such a sonic stronghold it seems.