By Patrick Campbell
Released June 13th, 2000 - Warner Music
Nearly fourteen years after its original release overseas, the debut album by French alt-rockers Phoenix; United has finally been released through a New Zealand label for all to enjoy. The album, which launched the bands career, is a genuine pleasure to listen to from beginning to end and stands up against any of the bands four later releases.
This album is special, of course you would expect any album by the band that headlined the Friday nights of last years Coachella to be special, but this really is. It has most of the qualities that you find in most bands debut album; there is a lot of experimentation of different genres, this means the album doesn't really come together as a whole, it's ten songs, each different from the next. This is obvious in the middle of the album, from Party Time to On Fire there is a switch from a heavy rock song, focused on loud drums and layered guitars, to a song with a keyboard line like something out of a Stevie Wonder album.
This quality is something that you do not find as often in their latest work, whilst there is still a lot of experimentation, especially in their latest release; Bankrupt! The albums are more cohesive now all the tracks come together to create a body of work that flows. I don't know if either way is better, but listening to United is refreshing, it's constantly evolving. Clocking in at just under forty minutes it's a fast energetic burst of sound, with even the slower ballads such as Summer Days being filled with energy and feeling. The various instrumental intros and moments that fill the album bring it to life, showcasing the bands musical talents and skills for bringing unlikely combinations together and making them work.
The only letdown of the entire album is the first half of the ten minute long theatrical production; Funky Squaredance. Starting off with heavily auto-tuned lyrics over a country instrumental it begins as an annoying disaster, after two minutes it evolves into a tribal rhythm with a larger electronic background behind the ever-present repetition of "Funky Squaredance". At the halfway mark it begins to get better with a roaring guitar solo, and basically a new song beginning. The next three minutes are aural bliss, the lyrics are captivating, and the instrumental backing is layered, and unique. The end of the song takes you back to "Funky Squaredance" and it gets boring. The song would have been much better just as the beautiful three minutes found after the mid point. This could beautifully lead into the instrumental outro Definitive Breaks, which sounds like something out of the recent Blood Orange album, with its steady drum beat, and saxophone solo driving it along.
The album isn't perfect, but for a first attempt at a full-length studio album, this is a brilliant effort. United is the album that launched a band's career that has crossed over the decades and is still growing as their success reaches every corner of the world. Not just any album can do that.