I have spoken on these very pages, quite recently in fact, about the brilliance of Air’s “Moon Safari” album, and also of the genius of legendary French producer Cerrone. However, at the risk of revealing myself to be a raving Francophile nutter, I wanted to put my camembert, model eiffel tower and string of onions down for a moment, take off my beret and stripey top, and pause briefly to mention another Gallic offering which takes pride of place as perhaps my favourite French record. (Don’t we all have favourite French records? No? Aah. Bit awkward*).
Anyway, I would probably go so far as to say that this record is more than that, it is simply one of my favourite tracks of all time, and melts my hard old heart on each repeated listen. And the track in question? Phoenix’s disco-tinged and soulful slice of aural sunshine, wrapped up in a housey ribbon of pure joy, 2000′s “If I Ever Feel Better Love” from the equally great “United” album. There is nothing overly sophisticated about this tune, nothing particularly innovative in its aspirations, and yet for some reason I just love it. There is an incessant quality to the beat, up-tempo and uplifting and yet somehow mellow in its mood, and the filtered sweetness of the vocals is just like an aural spongebath from a stunning French maid. Except it is sung by a man who sounds like he has just stepped out of the Californian surf circa 1973, and in an accent that defies categorisation. And yet it works so beautifully.
It is seductive and winsome, it is warm and drenched with the best type of love-based sentiments as to induce unadulterated fits of swooning. Perhaps that is just me again. But the point remains that Phoenix are a unique band who are capable of producing music that comes from an incredible diversity of influences and reference points, and yet make it sound so coherent, so accessible and so different, but still with quality and verve. The debut album that this song of choice comes from, 2000′s “United” is an absolute belter of a record, marrying these influences, from country to house, and from riff-tastic 1980′s rock, to hip-hop and soul, to create an album that shines from start to finish.
The title says it all really, uniting and knitting together strands of musical history to make a colourful pullover of aural brilliance, but one which screams “Parisian sophistication, cool and savoir-faire” rather than “Granny’s unwanted Christmas present”. Phoenix started life as Air’s studio band, and also have strong links to Daft Punk, but such is their pedigree that they are correctly seen in their own right, as opposed to a footnote to other French successes, or riding on the bandwagon of nu-wave filtered French funky disco. It is almost like the best compilation album that you never received from that cool French chick you never met on a school exchange programme when you were fifteen (remember the one you actually spent with some spotty librarian-type dude on the outskirts of some industrial French town pretending to enjoy smoking and wondering when the family food would become edible). Anyway, “United” is a brilliant album and well worth checking out at any time, but particularly as the spring turns to summer and heart-warming melodies seem to make balmy evenings last forever.
Cheesy as a Frenchman’s larder, yet as cool and laid-back as their wine-cellar, for me it remains the best example of disco-tinged pop rock country soul with a funky house undertone that I own. Just because it is the only one is irrelevant, because even if my whole collection was of records meeting this crazy criteria, “United” would still stand proud at the top of the pile.
Its All Love on January 10th 2010 in Music