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Published Apr. 25, 2013

Fans of the Versailles-born four-piece Phoenix brace themselves for the next curve as the alternative rock band is tasked with the impossible - attempting to top 2009's stellar Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. For Phoenix, the answer is experimentation.

It's true that Bankrupt! showcases a comparable host of their signature dancey beats against Thomas Mars' characteristically smooth vocals, but it exchanges more notably radiant songs such as 2009's 1901 for songs such as the slow and sedate Chloroform. It's superb either way, but it's just not Lasso.

But that's enough comparison to victories past. Whether you look at Bankrupt! as a solitary album or an extension of a terrific band's colorful career, the result is nothing short of outstanding.

The Frenchmen may have set aside the strategy behind some of their brightest and best grooves, but I'm less disappointed than I am excited before listening, and especially with The Real Thing. The chorus here is terrific, and I could listen all day. It's topped with the comfortably repetitive S.O.S. in BelAir, which is more reminiscent of the really special Phoenix songs that make you think you can fly.

After Chloroform, Phoenix plays the contrast card with Don't, which flickers between uptempo pirouettes and the broken down beats that slow it toward the finish line. As Phoenix edges closer to the close of the too-short Bankrupt!, we taste the relaxed lullabies Bourgeois and Oblique City. Here's where anyone previously undecided is convinced that you really cannot get enough of Mars' voice.

After three long years, Phoenix returns with new style and funk, thank goodness, and songs that drift closer to the moon, unlike Wolfgang's sunnier stuff. But the two flairs overlap with suave urbanity, and the finished product is almost enough to tide me over for three more years.

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Grade: *****

Available: Now

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***** Can you marry a thing that's not a person?

**** Silver medals are still cool.

*** Nobody's perfect

** Its mom still loves it.

* No. Just, no.