Saturday, September 12, 2009


So I uploaded Phish's newest album, Joy, to my iPod this week, and I must say, it's getting quite a bit of mileage already.

Generally I'm not a huge fan of Phish's studio work, only because it's so computerized and almost too perfect.

I am growing on the music, but mostly because of the lyrics. They're more personalized this time around, and more (dare I say it?) generic. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Phish. I would go as far as to say they are my favorite band.

In fact, the reason I love Phish is because their music is unlike anything else. There are unique elements to their stuff that most bands just simply don't embody. Structurally, vocally..

When considering a jam band's repertoire, it always seems to me that there are (what I have unofficially termed) "first set songs." Songs that never really go anywhere, that never have any great jams. Songs that don't stand out. Songs during the first set.

By no means am I asserting that all songs played during the first set are in fact First Set Songs, however. I am merely pointing out the fact that songs like these exist in the jam band world. (Example: Casey Jones from the Grateful Dead, as opposed to something like Dark Star.)

And guess what? All of the stuff on Phish's new album seem suspiciously like First Set Songs.

Maybe it's because it's a studio album...

Or maybe it's because they ARE.

I think the recent summer tour reaffirms my position. I never heard one new song that was jammed out like something from their pre-hiatus days (think Ghost, Piper, even something like Chalkdust Torture).

And my other issue with their new album? It's generic. There's an intro, verse one, verse two, a chorus, a bridge, verse three, etc. My point? Anyone could be writing this stuff. Where are the new Guyutes? Harpuas? Harry Hoods?? Not only structurally, but lyrically as well. I want to hear about sleeping monkeys, big black furry creatures, mockingbirds! Zany things.

Any band can write lyrics like the ones on this album, but only Phish can describe a fat sweaty bulldog with grace and musicianship.

I mentioned earlier that the tunes grabbed me (such as 'Joy' and 'Stealing Time') because of their lyrics. Personally, I think lyrics should be secondary to the instrumentation (obviously the mainstream music industry these days does not particularly concur), especially with a band with such musicianship like Phish. So the way I see it, it's almost a bad thing that it was the lyrics that kept me coming back to those songs for more. (It must be noted, however, that 'Time Turns Elastic' is more structurally similar than others.)

So the verdict? Catchy stuff, but it just doesn't have a place in my heart.. At least not in the Phish category.

People come and go, but music is perpetual.
much love, E-Major


  1. Don't worry, it usually takes a few tours for the "second setters" to emerge. Probably not Ocelot or Joy but I'd bank on Stealing Time and Light being jam monsters by next summer.

  2. Isn't it a bit premature to stuffing all of these songs into the "First Set" catagory? Backwards, Joy & Stealing Time all have jam vehicle potential. Time Turns Elastic is already there in my opinon.

    I also think that you are missing the point of Phish's studio albums which is to showcase the nuts and bolts of their songs in a defined setting. Most of their songs have not received extended live treatments before being debuted in the studio, and the songs on Joy are no differnt. So I see the studio versions as more of a baseline from which the song with ripen and mature, much like a fine wine matures with age.

    I will agree with you, however, that Sugar Shack and I've Been Around will most likely disappear from the rotation and never emerge as great songs. They seem like they are leftovers from Gordon and McConnell's last studio albums.

  3. I think it's a mere speculation that this album has no earth-shattering material. Furthermore, we have already seen at least three months of how they hold up on stage.. I am not impressed with them so far.

    The point to this review is the genericness of the new songs - in essence most of them could have been written by anyone.

  4. Hey Now Elizabeth...

    There is no question Jackie Green's lyric from Ball & Chain applies to you...

    "Now I, I look around
    And it's a crazy town
    if you look around

    But she, she loves the sound
    of this crazy town
    she loves the sound"

    So glad you dig the sound, rock on.

    Grateful Graphics