Phoenix may have been around since 1999, but it wasn’t until their 2009 breakthrough Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix that ubiquitous indie-pop tracks like “1901” (aka the “Falling” song no one could avoid hearing) became household ear-worms. A few years of headlining major festivals later, lyricist Thomas Mars pens an album that apprehensively reflects on the band’s massive success. However, he seems to have taken a John Lennon-style approach a la “I Am the Walrus” for vast chunks of it, as if to thwart any over-analysis of his words by stocking these tracks with borderline gibberish. Or rather, a ‘let’s see them figure that out’ method. Here are the five most WTF lyrical moments of the French quartet’s fifth effort, Bankrupt!
With the only constant being the refrain “tell me that you want me,” this mid-tempo groove shows Thomas Mars perhaps “trying to be cool,” through the album’s most absurdist lines. Between fleeting mentions of cannibalism and mint-julep-flavored testosterone, it out-stranges even “I Am The Walrus,” it’s too weird to be Venn-diagrammed: [LISTEN]
Too much intention Presbyterian
Mint julep testosterone
Two dozen pink and white binoculars
Why, I got no problems to show
To part-time holy bachelors
Mars also knows how to pepper in a few biting quips in his bizarre tangents, leaving you to ponder the overall meaning but still get a general feel. For instance, while this whole album is littered with nonsensical non-messages, there’s also the commentary about fame and success. Here, he goes on a run with “jingles” and jungles” – perhaps in reference to his own tracks becoming jingles – all right after taking a pot-shot at star-fuckers:
How come everyone knows you before they meet you?
In the jingle jungle
Jungle joke on me
Jingle jump before you stumble
“S.O.S.” heads in several different directions musically, and they still somewhat fit, if a bit tenuously. The same can be said for Mars’ lyrics here; sometimes the diverse images and lack of grammatical narrative give the feel of an impressionist painting, but sometimes the feel is more of split-personality confusion. This couplet straddles the line:
Crystal or bamboo?
White azure canoe
“Bankrupt!” starts with an experimental interlude that first calms the nerves, then stimulates the brain without any brick-to-the-face synth pop action. But, to match the diverse range of electronic direction taken, Mars’ lyrics take a Cedric Bixler-Zavala turn in random SAT words that happen to sound cool together, bridging the gap between prog weirdness and pop. It’s a marriage of oil and water that kind of begrudgingly works:
Victory lap, for unfettering eyes
Dating vendetta win small spray pesticide
Caledonian, rich and young
“Oblique City” is the most coherent and direct reflection on the band’s fulfillment, as Mars wonders whether all the Coke (as in soda) and wine in the world will satisfy him, likening their success to finding “Atlantis.” Still, the title escapes logic – is the state of career accomplishment named after the muscles under one’s love-handles, or sloped parallelograms? More likely, is it a city filled with people with oblique intentions, as in dishonest cutthroats? The focused narrative’s open interpretation and ten-dollar words still hint at the band’s great efforts to redefine themselves, in an MGMT‘s Congratulations sort of way:
I wanted out of the Biblical bets.
Oblique city credentials
It’s everything that I’ve ever known.
Coca-Colas, Rosetta Stone.
Atlantis, finally we found it