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Tuesday, September 20

Phish's New Album, Big Boat, Leaked and it Still Holds Water: A Review of Phish's new LP

  Phish's New Album Leaked but this Big Boat holds Water. 
The first song, "Friends", has already been heard live. It's a Fishman-led, hard charging, heavy song that reminds one of an early Pink Floyd song without all the psychedelic flowers. This song is where the title comes from, so I guess it's only natural to kick off the album with it. It's a weird way to enter the album with it's heavy snare hits and straight ahead drumming, which is not Fishman's general style of drumming. 

It leads into the light, acoustic and lilting "Breath and Burning" which was my favorite new song on this past tour. The song drifts from a light reggae beat into a Memphis soul horn section that rages with Page all over the top of the horns. It translates well to the stage and I expect we will hear it quite a bit more. Look for this one on Fall tour. 
The next track, "Home", is a lyrical meditation on the journey to get back to the titular home and it makes one think of all touring the band has done. It is the song of a band who has matured and realizes that home is where your head is. Although they sing of returning home, the song has an undercurrent of being at home anywhere. It has a solid Anastasio-lead that flows into a string section that doesn't overpower but supports the song. This might not be a heavy-hitter out of the gate but the band doesn't let you rest. They get Phish-y towards the end with a prog-style jam into a choral part that drops hard into a driving beat. The last two-minutes of this song, if they play it live, has real jam potential.

"Blaze On" is up next and I don't think I need to tell any Phish fans about this song. It's a driving, Meters-influenced, meditation on going towards life with all the energy one can muster. Even if life has knocked you back, the song tells you to keep on moving and keep going. It's nice to hear the lyrics up front and completely intelligible . The live version is hot and the album version doesn't slack off any, in fact, it fades out with some Trey scat-singing, where the band would normally take it into a jam.

The next tune,"Tide Turns", starts with another Stax, Tower of Power, Memphis-style, horn section. It sounds better than it did on it's live excursions. The album cut is a mature, fully-fleshed out song. Trey takes the lead and it has the lyrics of the a ballad but it rests on the power of those horns and "Tide Turns" turns out to be a good album version of a song that didn't cut it live on Summer Tour.
The next tune out of the gate is a weird Page ditty that lasts about two minutes and has a few silly lines but is a nice breather after all the horns and strings from the opening of the album. This a good halfway point.

"Waking Up Dead" comes roaring up after "Things People Do" with an almost Eighties feel. It has a middle eastern guitar figure over a solid Page piano lick and when Mike starts singing, the song takes on a dreamlike state. Between each verse there is just a taste of a jam portion that the band could stretch out in concert. I'm looking forward to hearing this one live. It features some tasty use of Page's clavinet before melting into a spacey bridge. A very solid effort from Mike and will only grow in concert.

The softly sung "Running Out of Time" is a nice Trey ballad in the vein of "Lifeboy". This album is starting to remind me more and more of Hoist or Billy Breathes. This nice little ballad ends with Trey whistling the pretty melody. It's just a short break into one of the true breakout new jam songs, "No Men in No Man's Land". There is not much to say about this. Everybody that cares, already knows how much this song has grown live and this version just adds the horns that seems to be this albums' signature device. 

The wonderful ballad "Miss You" comes out of the end of "No Men in No Man' Land". It sounds like Trey's song to his sister about past experiences that might have strained their relationship. Now that she has passed on, it is simply a moving tribute to how much he misses her, simple as that. Like the beautiful "Joy", this could also be a tune that is a full owning of the damage he caused and how happy he is now that he's found stability and sobriety and could also serve as a peon to his wife. It is just a solid, pretty vocal on a bed of typically hot guitar riffs with a solid solo. It also shows how lucky Trey is to have such a solid base to play over and around in bandmates that stayed with him through the best and worst of times. This is a wonderful song. It doesn't belong in Mike's Groove but it's still a beautiful tune. I was upset they left "Shade" off the album but this makes up for it. The rumor from Bob Ezrin is they had plenty of new material coming into the studio, so maybe we'll see more new songs coming out later this year and next summer. 
"I Always Wanted it This Way" comes off like a Flock of Seagulls song, the effects-laden song is a direct callback to eighties punk-pop. If it had more guitar squall, it would sound right on any Jesus and Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine album but it doesn't get that deep. So it stays firmly in the New Order Eighties instead of the Joy Division Eighties, although I can hear it coming out of "Crosseyed and Painless". Up next, is "More".A Trey ditty that is keeping to his cuts on this album that are earnest, no pun, and sincere. Maybe it's his newfound happiness but it's a little cheesy but still it has a kick to it that is reminiscent of "Kill Devil Falls" but the chorus of "Vibrating with love and light in a world gone mad, there must be something more than this" won't win him any fans in the mainstream media or the Pitchfork's of the world. 
It has some solid work by Page towards the end but is a little too cheesy for my taste.
"Petrichor" starts with tender guitar filigrees and gongs and xylophones or some light percussion before moving into a prog segment, which was surely unavoidable at almost fourteen minutes long. It has a "Divided Sky" feel or maybe it's "Fluff's Travel's" but we've heard this band on Junta before. Once the horns come in, I'm starting to wonder if we will hear this live. He played it with an orchestra behind him but I don't know if it will grace a Phish stage. They may give it a shot. It could be a "Time Turns Elastic" track, the lyrics do reference time and newness. Or, it could be a pure album cut that stays on the album. It does have a nice little rock part before breaking into a small guitar part that is very reminiscent of early Phish.
Overall, this is a very solid effort that shows Phish as a mature, seasoned band of professional musicians that have been on the road and worked at their craft. It being their lucky thirteenth album, Phish has pulled off a solid work that shows they are masters at doing the unexpected. This album is full of Memphis horns and string sections and a mastery of the studio, with the help of Bob Ezrin. There is the nicely strange song from Page, even though I think it sounds like Mike, and the prog-ish epic from Trey and good efforts from Fishman and Page, who are always on my good side. It is a synthesis of all their early albums plus some nods to the decade they started playing in and they are all solid. I actually like this record. I haven't listened to many Phish albums since I started touring, like most, sticking to live shows but on a couple of listens, I found it enjoyable. A mature outing and a great batch of tunes that I'm looking forward to hearing live. I give it 3.8 fishes. It would be higher but I doubt I will listen to it in steady rotation. They shine live but this album takes all that and mixes it with their past studio efforts and out has come a very good album.

Written by: Greg Heffelfinger

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