Friday, October 16, 2009
With Festival 8 a mere 2 weeks away, and Joy having been released over a month ago now, I thought it might be time to chime in and review the album. The dust has settled, fans are placated, and music critics have once again given mediocre reviews to another Phish studio record. For the life of me though, I can't figure out why. Perhaps these critics have a blank space where their minds should be.
In any event, I'm a fan of Phish's new material, and think they captured it nicely on their eleventh studio effort (also their first new record in 5 years). After all, as a die hard fan, I know the days of intricate dueling guitar/piano parts are long over. That's not to say that the band lacks the technical ability or discipline to write them (take Time Turns Elastic for example), but rather they've come to realize in recent years that less is more. Even going as far back as Farmhouse that theme started to bleed through. The band found that with drone oriented simpler 4-chord and 5-chord progressions, they had more flexibility to improvise, a novelty the band is essentially known for today.
And I think as we dig deeper here it's important to take a closer look at Time Turns Elastic. By this point, the song has been universally panned by fans. I'm really not sure why. Given Trey's recent (and let's be honest, lifelong) obsession with orchestral music, the song wasn't written for the 4-piece outfit. Instead, it was intended to be a complete narrative arrangement (and very much so is in it's studio incantation) something that many of these supposed die hard fans have forgotten. Not to mention the fact that Steve Lillywhite was really behind that track making Joy. And I have to agree with his vision: it really isn't a Phish album without one of those songs that is undoubtedly Phishy. The only problem however, is that the band has moved away from that, and shows no signs of returning to that place again.
As for the rest of Joy, it's probably one of the loosest and most fun records the band has ever released. Aside from the days when they were intentionally trying to be tongue and cheek, I can't think of a record in their catalog that not only encapsulates their mantra while still maintaining their unique sound at the same time. It's a tough thing to do, maturing. Often times you wonder if you'll be the same as you were in the "glory days," or if you'll become something you never wanted to end up like. Phish has struck a nice balance with that in mind both relieving themselves from the pressure of maintaining whatever it was they were, and just simply putting out a record they enjoyed writing and recording*.
While many fans this past summer rolled their eyes as a new tune started, I for one, couldn't have been happier. Joy is the perfect metaphor for where the band is today: they are happy to be playing music together again, and could really give a fuck what their audiences think. And it's with that mindset that they are forever changed and forever will be the same band I fell in love with some 15 years ago.
Phish- Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan
*Except for Time Turns Elastic of course, which took over 250 takes to get right. I can imagine that process was miserable.