On their debut album for Astralwerks/Source, Phoenix applies a slick electronica aesthetic to traditional pop/rock songwriting, resulting in a quite adventurous album capable of re-organizing perceptions about 1980s-style verse-chorus-verse guitar pop. Of course, the fact that the group members come from France gives them the necessary perspective on commercial American pop/rock from the past. With this perspective, they bring fresh life to something that grew stale fast, primarily with their textural approach to songwriting. For instance, the catchy vocal hook from "Too Young" seems far too melodic for its own good, mostly from the pristine production that brings an uncanny gleam to Thomas Mars' already warm voice. Furthermore, one can pick pretty much any instrument in any given song and appreciate the way the sounds come alive in ways that few pop/rock songs are capable of: the percussion gently rattles far too crisply, the bass guitar sounds more like a house bassline than an actual guitar riff, and the subtle guitar sounds seem just too little like the oft-stale sounds that have been associated with guitars over the years. In sum, the album sounds great, but the allure goes deeper than just production. The band understands how to write catchy songs that manage to retain an innocent aura of simplicity and accessibility without coming off contrived. To just think of United as an album of slick pop/rock postmodernism would be cheapening; think of the album as an uncanny yet earnest showcase of what makes pop/rock pop without the gaudy trendiness that now makes the 1980s seem so distasteful.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier