In a much earlier blog post, I talked about how I feel about the title “The Best Album of All Time.” In some ways, this is an arbitrary title to give a creative piece of work, especially considering how many millions upon millions upon millions of albums that have been made. But it also frames the question in a really unique way. Because beyond asking what your favorite song is, or even what your favorite album is, it’s just slightly more. It may not necessarily be your favorite, but it’s what you consider the best. It’s personal, it reveals your standards, and it reveals who you are, in some weird kind of way.
So this week, I want to talk about what I consider to be The Best Album So Far, since, as we all know, new and exciting music is being created everyday. In some ways, it’s my favorite album, and in others, I just consider it to be a musical masterpiece. And yet, I know that it’s flawed, it’s not perfect, and it’s not a widely shared opinion. But it’s mine, and I want to talk about it, and this is my blog, so ha I win.
Phoenix’s 2013 concept-album-but-also-not-really Bankrupt! probably flew under most radars that year. It’s the year Vampire Weekend released Modern Vampires of New York and Arctic Monkeys released AM, and although a quick search on albumoftheyear.org (I didn’t even know this existed until today) finds a compilation of generally favorable, even highly praised reviews of it, even the slightly more than general indie band might find it hard to remember Bankrupt! because…well…Phoenix was old news. Although Phoenix at this point has been around for years and years and released multiple albums, their claim to fame was Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (another equally brilliant album), along with 1901 that I knew from the car commercial but I’m sure indie fans knew from other things. So then Bankrupt! was, in essence, that dreaded sophomore album.
And to be honest, the first time I heard the lead single “Entertainment,” I was not impressed. As a single, “Entertainment” is catchy, upbeat, fun, synth-heavy indie-pop. It’s likable, it’s pleasing, and made for the general indie population to consume and enjoy. But it’s not in any way brilliant, and it does not speak for the album as a whole.
So what is Bankrupt!? I call it a concept album despite the fact that the only concept seems to be non-concept. And yet, that’s what, to me, makes it so brilliant. When listening to the album all the way through, Bankrupt! changes styles at least 5 times, if not more. It never becomes content with the pop-infused sound of “Entertainment,” coincidentally the first song on the album. It can’t stay there, because that’s not the ending, but the beginning. The album constantly reinvents itself in a way that the listener cannot anticipate nor be completely satisfied with itself. And yet, in direct contradiction to that, none of the tracks feel jarring, or out of place, even when the songs get darker, slower, or vaguer. The album navigates the changes so smoothly that the listener barely even notices these changes.
I have listened to Bankrupt!, as a complete album, well over 100 times. Sometimes, I do listen to individual songs, and I had a phase where I did that. But then I started realizing that when I started with an individual song, even if it’s a few songs into the album, I kept wanting to listen to the rest of the album, rather than switching to some other artist or even another song by Phoenix.
And it’s clear that Phoenix intended the album to be listened to as a whole, as each song flows into the next, often playing the melody for the next song before the previous ends. Which is why it’s easy to see why “Entertainment” failed as a single in some ways – it was never meant to be a single. It was meant to be the introduction to Bankrupt!, with the rest of the album to speak for it.
I also personally love this album because the lyrics are just real enough to matter, and just absurd enough to be indie, always keeping you guessing. I also love the musicality, the way the music sometimes overpowers the vocals, like you’re hearing it live every time. I love everything about this album.
And for some weird, bizarre reason, I find it to be the best album of all time. I come back to it, again and again, and I’m always surprised by it. And that, to me, is enough to qualify it.
So then…I’ll ask again. What’s your best album of all time?