Sound: Phoenix is a rather little known Alt-Rock band from France who have currently recorded 3 studio albums. United is their debut and shows their incredible creative flair as well as their versatility in recording.
Bottom line is, United sounds somewhat like Pop Punk, which might put a few people off the album. They also centre a bit around slower songs and soft pop that is reminiscent of Coldplay or Travis, but also can play with distorted guitars and match heavier acts. The lead singer will remind you a bit of John Mayer and kind of whispers the lyrics, which are slightly accented to the point where it's not too easy to interpret.
Overall, you might need to listen to the album several times to get a good gist of the sound of this band. The musical aspects are all over the place, ranging from country, indie pop, pop punk, alt-rock, soul and one shred guitar solo. There's a good mix and there's really something for everyone.
For a debut album, the band sounds very very good. Maybe it's not your style, but the tracks are all very polished, the band has a good direction and the music is bound to appeal to you one way or another. // 9
Lyrics: Lyric wise, this album is actually a little hard to decipher. The lyrics are sometimes softly sung or whispered, and even then the lead singer's accent doesn't really help you with understanding. It's not that bad as to leave you completely in the dark, however, and you can get a good idea of the lyrics on your first listen.
The actual lyrics are a little bit strange; the themes can be a bit too deep for the genre of music: the more pop orientated songs have lyrics that question the artist's purpose or overanalyses a relationship, which I find is a welcome change from the rest of modern pop lyrics. No busting caps or anything like that.
The singer has a decent vocal range, but he doesn't really use it much. He shows that he's more than capable of singing boldly such as in "Party Time", but chooses to stick with the softer course of songs such as "Honeymoon" and keeps his voice restrained and soft. It's relaxing, but there's nothing really incredibly exciting about his voice.
There are also a lot of effects that the lead singer uses to alter his voice, which makes him sound a bit digital in a few songs. This usually fits the theme of the song, so it's forgivable. // 7
Overall Impression: It would be a close call to call United completely unique, but Phoenix definitely shows a lot of creative flair and innovation in their music. Musically, Phoenix could easily stand next to acts like Coldplay, to whom they sound similar. I do think that Phoenix needs to refine their sound for their later albums, which they have done quite a bit, but I would definitely want this creativity and innovation to be present on them as well.
This album holds many interesting songs, such as the pop orientated "Too Young" and "If I Ever Feel Better" which have catchy hooks and surprisingly meaningful lyrics. They are probably the ones that you'll be singing for a while.
The album also holds a few softer songs such as "Honeymoon", "Summer Days" and "On Fire", which convey a bit of the romance of the singer and are good for relaxing too. "Honeymoon" has a great rhythm guitar section with a fingerpicked riff, while "Summer Days" and "On Fire" show a lot of soul influences.
Another song which needs a mention is "Embusculade", which serves as an instrumental bridge between songs. Funnily enough, it bridges "Summer Days" and "On Fire", which are in my opinion the two songs in this album that need a bridge the least. "Embusculade" is incredibly deep, featuring keyboard solos and one point two saxophones doing complicated and technical solos at the same time. It has a dark mood reminiscent of Pink Floyd, specifically Any Colour You Like from Dark Side of the Moon.
The song that needs the most mention however, is the penultimate track "Funky Squaredance" which really blows the whole album out of the water. It starts with relaxed indie-pop style lyrics (which are about death for some reason) and country guitar before going into a bit of a club-dance interlude. This is followed by a crunch guitar riff, a shredding solo and a minimalistic breakdown reminiscent of "If I Ever Feel Better" before continuing with the crunch riff and another guitar solo. The track is insane and really good to listen to.
Overall, United is an extremely solid debut album. Phoenix as a band is very talented and versatile, and I would most definitely want to hear their newer works. I'm sure that with popularity, Phoenix can top a lot of the Alt-Rock bands of today.
If you can't find this album in stores, I suggest going to their myspace page and listening to the album there, because it is definitely worth it. // 9