Success doesn’t seem to have clouded French band Phoenix’s minds.
While their 2009 album was titled Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, tipping their hat to the famous composer, they named the follow-up simply Bankrupt!
The title of the band’s fifth album, out tomorrow, is a nod to the beauty of failure, guitarist Christian Mazzalai says.
“Because Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was such a big statement, we wanted to find a totally new direction of music,” he explains.
The four-piece, comprising Thomas Mars, Deck d’Arcy, Laurent Brancowitz and Mazzalai formed in suburban Paris in 1995. They released three albums to critical acclaim but not much else, before changing labels for the release of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The album got outstanding reviews and the new indie darlings went on to win a Grammy for best Alternative Music Album.
They spent the following two years on the road, before settling down to work on their fifth album.
But the Frenchmen refused to rush into recording a quick follow-up on their global success and instead took two years to produce the latest album while hiding away in studios around the world.
The main difference to its predecessor was the way they approached the song-writing Mazzalai says. They decided not to give in to pressure and presumptions, and just focus on themselves.
“We did it in the most selfish way,” he says.
“It was just the four of us and we locked the doors and just concentrated on us.”
The result are 10 playful, psychedelic tracks, blending the Phoenix trademark style of live with programmed instrumentation that makes it sometimes impossible to tell which one is which.
The title track Bankrupt! stands out from the rest.
Mainly instrumental, it is a statement that this quartet is not just able to deliver four-minute indie pop beauties, but is capable of dropping a complicated and expanding seven-minute synth-pop piece right into the middle of the album.
“Nine of the 10 songs are pop songs and then there’s one that goes away,” the guitarist says.
“But it was also the song that took the most time to get right.”
Phoenix began writing the track on the first day they worked on the album and finished it after two years, right at the end.
There aren’t a lot of French bands who have made it big on an international level in recent years. Phoenix’ global appeal is being supported by their decision to sing not in their mother tongue but in English.
“We tried it a bit,”Mazzalai says.
“But in France we have Serge Gainsbourg and he’s just perfect.”
So instead of aiming at being France’s second-best chansonniers, Phoenix went their own way. And at least until fellow Parisiennes Daft Punk release their album, they’re without a doubt the hottest export from France.
Listen to Bankrupt! here.