No, you’re reading that correctly, I’m reviewing an album released in the year 2000. Why now? Well, mostly because a lot of us missed this gem the first time around, and with a featured song in Lost in Translation, plus a new album hitting shelves entitled Alphabetical, Phoenix was begging to be `rediscovered’. Over the past four years that this album has been out, I have seen different reviews comparing the band to both Steely Dan and Hall & Oates. I have never been a fan of the Dan, but I must admit, I have always secretly loved Hall & Oates. Their white-boy soul has often been ridiculed, but certain songs of theirs have always held a place in my heart, even some of the really bad ones. “Method of Modern Love”, anyone?
If you’re just familiar with the song off of the Lost In Translation soundtrack, you haven’t heard anything yet. The entire album sounds like what you would imagine an Air cover album to sound like. For instance, what would it sound like if Air covered an A-ha song? Take a listen to “If I Ever Feel Better”. At times sounding like a DeBarge song, and at others like the aforementioned Steely Dan with A Flock of Seagulls providing accompaniment. The song’s lyrics reflect someone just getting over a relationship and telling someone new that they would love to go out with them once they get over their pain. “If I ever feel better / Remind me to spend some good time with you / You can give me your number / When it’s all over I’ll let you know.”
“Party Time” features fuzzy vocals and driving nineties’ style guitars. It doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the album, and if it were done with keyboards instead of guitars, it might, but I found myself asking whether I wanted it to fit, or whether I wanted consistency. I don’t have that answer yet.
“On Fire” is straight off of seventies’ AM radio. It has a Doobie Brothers or Little River Band feel to it, and then when the female backup singers come in, it seems to morph into a Starland Vocal Band thing. I keep picturing the rollerskating scene in Boogie Nights and thinking that this song would have worked perfectly there. The song then transforms into the next track “Embuscade”, which reminds me of instrumental Burt Bacharach. All of this can sound downright cheesy, and sometimes it is, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
“Funky Squaredance” is a near ten-minute epic pop composition in three parts. The first consists of a jaunty tune with altered vocal sounds over twanging pedal steel and epinette, which is a French zither-like instrument. Part two starts with a Junior Senior-ish dance groove and crowd baiting shouts, then adds the slap bass, two different organs and a synthesizer, fairly antiquated drum machine sounds, and again with a nod and a wink to labelmates Air, vocals akin to those in “Kelly Watch the Stars”. And if you didn’t think it could get any cheesier and the smile on your face couldn’t get any bigger, a guitar riff as good (or as bad) as any Eddie Van Halen work jumps in as a bridge to the last few minutes.
The album ends with a remixed version of their now most famous song, “Too Young”. The original version is fantastic. I do like the remixed version, but it seems like it was remixed specifically so that it could slip in unnoticed in the soundtrack for either Fame, Flashdance, or Footloose. What’s up with all of the eighties dance movies beginning in the same letter anyway?
If you enjoy a lot of the smooth electronic music coming out of France such as Air or Cyann & Ben, but sometimes feel like you miss the music you grew up with (if you’re older than twenty-five, that is), then Phoenix is right up your alley. If nothing else, it’s a great party album. In fact, I have a dare for you. Host an eighties theme party and throw in a couple of tracks from United amongst the songs by Madonna, Haircut 100, and Toto, and see if anyone even notices.
Air- Moon Safari
The Doobie Brothers- Takin’ it to the Streets
Hall & Oates- Private Eyes