When I read the term “pentatonic” as a descriptor for the new Phoenix album “Bankrupt!,” I felt a little skeptical (the usual emotion after a hearty eye-roll). But that is an honest, qualitative way of illustrating just what “Entertainment” is.
The lead synth melody line sounds like something sampled from a Chinese film, or a movie that’s trying at least to depict that. It’s both cinematic and a little exotic, more challenging than their big hits like “Lisztomania” and “1901.” Furthermore, it comes off as emotionally ambiguous, nesting in neither a major or a minor, and lacks a big explosive proper chorus to let you know either way. It’s mostly like a long pre-chorus, with some tricky rhythm work that warrants a repeat listen.
If only I was hooked. Not sure if this is the band’s way of first presenting a unique anomaly and then sating fans with something that sounds more like a “single” later or what, but it sounds like vocalist Thomas Mars wants to keep things fairly vague, if not expressing a streak of cynicism toward exactly what “entertainment” means.
While I’m over-analyzing, Phoenix’s album title “Bankrupt!” (the exclamation point, in particular) and their choice of “Entertainment” as the first song and single made me think of Gang of Four’s “Entertainment!” That English band has an obvious influence on Phoenix and — wouldn’t you know — the opening song to that album, “Ether,” has a lot in common with “Entertainment.” Perhaps its subconscious homage?
Or, whatever, you can awkwardly dance to this one. I suggest interpretive arm expressions when the thing goes half-time.
“Bankrupt!” is due April 23.
Here is the tracklist for “Bankrupt!”:
2. The Real Thing
3. S.O.S. In Bel Air
4. Trying To Be Cool
6. Drakkar Noir
10. Oblique City