Review by Benjy Eisen
Hey there, Well, as promised, here's my (p)review of the new album. First off,
DISCLAIMER 1: PHISH WILL ALWAYS BE PHISH. I mean think about it. How can someone not be who they are? So if/when I say "Doesn't sound like Phish" I mean simply that there are some sounds that are more like the Phish I'M USED TO than others. Phish definately has a "Phish sound" and they definately have a "non-Phish sound." Often the latter blends into the former after awhile (example: The Providence Bowie, 12/29/94, at the time was unusual. Then came the summer 95 space-jams. Etc.)
DISCLAIMER 2: Comparisons are just for discriptive referencing. When I say "Steep sounds *just* like early Pink Floyd." (and believe me, I will say this) it is merely for referencing - a way of describing something. I think it's absurd to try to put music into words (like putting a god into ink) but if I'm going to try, allow me metaphors and similes to help come closer. Of course it's not really Floyd or whoever -- it's only Phish after all.
DISCLAIMER 3: PLEASE NO GROVELS - I WON'T DUB IT FOR YOU. It's only a month till Oct. 15. anyway, and I don't want to be the one responsible for ruining the bands taping policy. Besides, I can't wait till Oct. 15 when I too will go out and buy the CD, cover art, hopefully lyrics, etc. in tow.
....on to the review. Done in two parts. First song by song, then album as a whole.
"BILLY BREATHES (AND BOY DOES SHE EVER) PART 1"
FREE - Ok a lot of you have heard this on the radio already, so you know how it sounds. It's a rocker, alright. Not that Free wasn't always a rocker, but not *quite* like this. I'm a fan of the Landover, MD 35min. Free (11/22/95) as well as the summer '95 S.P.A.C. version. But then again, perhaps this is just because I'm a fan of impecable jamming in general. I'm also a fan of great songs. Free can be both. Here, on the album, it is great as a song. It starts off with a sort of quick-fade-in stomp before the first of Trey's vocals come in. No signature Free guitar lick yet. Ahh...there it is. Nice Mike. Nice Fish. Nice Trey...where's Page? OK, now I hear him. Actually, some real nice Page here..nothing intruding with the song, but great "accents" to help color it. Wait a minute here, what's this? Trey has an overdubbed guitar part! Hmm...in theory I'd initially say, "What?" but I mean, this is great because he *can't* do this live. Which means he's using the studio for what it is - a unique venue where you can explore sounds that you can't explore live. More on this later. Anyway, Trey's overdubs here sound like Jimi Hendrix's stuff on Bold As Love. Spiral swirly psychadelic Leslie...not the Leslie as used by Trey live, but more of a violin/backwards effect here. Anyway, the lick is done, the song moves on... Ah, stock Trey lick now. It's the one that is reminescent of "Spooky." Their vocals are a little different here than live. No "doppler effect" so far as I can tell. Someone said that it's in a different key. I wouldn't know (relative, not perfect, pitch will do that to ya) HOLD EVERYTHING..wow, check it out..they go into a "Rock on!" groove here perfect for adolescents to pump their fist to. Wilson-style heavyness. They've done a beat like this before though, in jams when it starts to really rock out. "Boom boom ch, be-doom boom ch" y'know? Distortion. This really rocks, y'all. :) Some of you will be saying, "aw fuck, why'd they do that? Now it's going to get played all over the radio." Because it's good...So it will...it does have "radio" written all over it, but those who complain that it's different are the same one's who complained that live it never changed. If they had broken this out at a show before recording it, everyone would have said, "Wow! Check out what they did with Free!" You go, Mike! Flange away now..go nuts! Nice! We're with you Mike. Great job - definately noticeably different from what I've heard him do with this live. Definately Mike's style here too. Overdubbed, slick vocals here over that slinky arena-rock groove. OK, this is definately a studio version. Finally reverts back to that Trey lick. Repeat. "Freeeeeee" Same ending as live. Yes, it does have potential to be a huge hit. But then again, isn't this reflective of songwriting talent? OK, so "YEM" and "Hood" wouldn't make it on the radio and are (imo) much more amazing tunes in terms of impressive-factor, and, well, most-things factor. I'll leave it to you all to discuss about the repurcussions of this on the radio. I'm not looking forward to the effects of a Phish radio hit, but if that's what they want....and no matter what, it won't interefere with the fact that I do really enjoy this Free.
CHARACTER ZERO: Anyone who has the "Third Ball" tapes from Woodstock, NY 6/6/96 will already know this song, pretty much how it appears on the album. Of course this is studio-polished vs. the Woodstock break-out of it, but the vocals the second way through here are a bit more smoothed out, flow a little more in a less harsher manner. I like both ways, although the difference is slight. Where's Page? Oh, that's him on the piano...sparce nice touches. Does he do more on this song and he's undermixed as usual on album, or is he just being sparse here for art's sake? What I do hear, I like. And if he is being sparse, it is working to his favor in terms of taste (the value, not the song...yet). Trey's guitar lick..so far the same as the Woodstock one - follows the same pattern. Wait - not any more. There's more than one Trey here! Awww--TREY'S MULTIPLYING AGAIN! His multiplicity is showing nice texture, and it's subtle in its studio trickery. Now comes something, some sound, presumably from Page, presumably from the Theremin, but not like he played it this summer. Is this the Theremin here? This summer, if I recall correctly, he slid notes together using sustain too. Here there are individual distinct notes, staccato-like, with full intervals versus bluring/sliding/bending notes into one another. Mad-scientist you, Page! Song fades out.
WASTE: Well, if you've seen this one this summer, or heard it on a tape (acoustically...NOT the Woodstock 6/6/96 version) then you've pretty much heard it the way it is here. Except here it is perfect. Captured just the way it should be if there is to be a snapshot of a "perfect" version of any song. Beautiful. For once I'm going to put the album version, not the live version, of a Phish song when I make mixes for a girlfriend! Aha! Now it deviates from the live way...(they have a studio to abuse, what do you expect?) Its..yes, ladies and gentlemen come one come all come 70,000...it's...oh my god,...it's...THE MULTIPLE TREY SYNDROME. No, I'm not making fun of this in a bad way - it's done tastefully and I rather like it. Some very subtle background electric guitar, or so it sounds like. Nice, classy, reserved notes. Here it comes now - oh STOP IT PAGE STOP IT...you're bringing tears to my eyes! Page, really, this is just...no, I'm not going to compartmentalize and analyze and put-my-finger on your solo here...this is just too sacred. The vocals have come along a long way. Sure, they're delicate here, but this style of vocalization that they do, as its done here anyway, is "fragile but sincere." making it strong in the end. And powerful. And evokes tears, if you open yourself to it and stop thinking, "When's the next Y.E.M.?" Come on, there is never the next anything, and if there was, then it'd get real boring, real fast (also see Hootie and the BLOWfish for this last point.) As the song fades, I can hear some banjo. Nicely placed. My only complaint is that it's undermixed until the end...unless I'm just not listening for it enough or if it just plain doesn't appear until the very end.
TASTE: This is the biggest (and only) disappointment on the entire album -for me and imho. Who am I to criticize Phish? A fan who respects them enough to be honest, that who...I suppose. When Taste first hit the concert sheds, Summer 95, man did I love it! I looked forward to it at the shows. I remember it being a highlight of the Jones Beach run for me, strange as that may seem. OK, so I wasn't a fan of Fog That Surrounds, big deal. When Taste/Fog interlocked I sort of liked the neat way that these two different melodies locked in and around each other. It was, well, neat. And to redeem any loss over the purity of the original Taste there was always the end jam. I wouldn't mind the remaining part of Fog...at all, even...if they had left the uplifting ending the same. They haven't done it, as pure Taste, since Great Woods '95 and I think I remember hearing that Trey hated it that night and "would never play it the same way again." Well, that's his right. And they haven't. But boy, do I miss it. So this one has that funky, slightly different intro. a la any of summer '96 versions (basically the same as always, but I think Fish is doing a little more here than in 95???) I'm still confused as to if they sing "I can see though the light" or..is it "can" or "can't" and is it "lines" "lies" or "light" I always thought it was the way I just wrote it, but then it seemed like they switched things around and weren't just repeating the same line...here is sounds like "can..lines" in the first verse but then changes...fuck it, they'll hopefully have lyrics included in the CD booklet. Here it is again, "lines"...no "lies" no "light" no...aughhh! Now comes the "Fog" part...HOLD EVERYTHING! What's this? The rest of the band is saying "Ooh!....Ooh!.....Ooh!" overtop of Fish's part. Now I hear distantly in the background overdubbed Fish parts where he's singing "Ooh!" too, but differently than the others, and,well...it's in the background. Listen for it on Oct. 15. I'm not to keen on this rearrangement initially. Maybe time will help... Page does his usual magic in here...usual chords and playing for Taste. Great stuff from him, but is that unusual? Trey does have a definate "Taste" stock solo here, but it's not of the legnth or purity of the older classics. Nor is it the focal point. Focal point is the band as a whole (usually this is a good thing, but to undermine this solo is like under-mixing the Divided Sky solo and shortening it some.) A disappointment to me personally, but who knows, maybe (read: probably) it'll grow on me. It already has some. But I still miss the summer 95 classics.
CARS, TRUCKS, BUSSES: The first of a few nice "exceeded expectations" suprises of the album. I mean, I love this tune, but I thought that C.T.B. was, well, C.T.B. Changes only marginally...or when you have Micheal Ray to help you. But here I figured they'd want to capture the essential standard version for the album, and logically so. But to those familiar with the standard version, the song as it appears on the album has captured the spontaneity of Phish live! Wow, I never thought I'd say that! CONGRATULATIONS, BOYS! Trey has some great non-standard-for-C.T.B. licks that don't necessarily blend with Page's Medeski-stylings but rather stand out on their own. Listen closely, Mike does some great stuff in here too. And Fish riding those cymbals or bells or whatever it is that's making that "chink"...nice stuff from all those involved. Uh oh- is that a Digitech Whammy (or even just a plain oldwah) that I hear Trey playing with? Well, he does it well, that Trey. They all do. I'm impressed!
TALK: Again, not too different from the Clifford Ball version I think, stronger vocals than Red Rocks, but again...they weren't exactly trying to jam this song out..and rightly so. This is *meant* to be a beautiful song. And that it is, friends. And that it is. Some overdubs maybe..some banjo too, i think. I'm almost paralyzed listening to it through my "filter that surrounds" as the beauty just enraptures me. Tunes like this are 90% of the time cheesy BECAUSE they're *not honest* but rather feigned emotion for the sake of evoking crying females and their boyfriends who shake their heads and say "he's so deep man. *Sooo* deep." as they point to a Jimmy Buffett singing a "woe is me." The diffence, folks, is sincerity. Something is only cheezy in proportion to how assured and pretensive it is. Sincerity cancels that, but sincerity...sincere sincerity, is rare. And when it is there, it shines through. Well, my friends, this shines through. And, so that there is no confusion, may you refer back to this paragraph for every song on the album.
THEME FROM THE BOTTOM: Well, this wins the award for the song on the album that "sounds the most like Phish." Of all the songs on this album, all the great songs, this sounds most like themselves. Talk and Waste and even Character Zero...these are great songs, but if another band did them, I wouldn't say "ahh, it sounds like they're trying to be Phish." If anybody else wrote Theme, I would say it. In fact, had Phish never done this, and say another band actually wrote it, I'd still accuse them of blatantly ripping off Phish and doing such a good job of it that I'd charge them with plaigerizing, or getting into Phish's collective creative well and stealing a bucketfull. This song is *that* much quintessential Phish. And they've captured it pretty faithfully here, with no real suprises. A laugh in the background in-between lines of verse 1 (real faintly) and other studio-overdubs and technical tricks, but other than that, this is the same Theme we know and love. Some definite Multiple Trey Syndrome (again, these overdub tricks are done tastefully and for the most part are pretty subtle.) Listening to it on a walkman, in the right ear, there is almost an entire track of a 2nd Trey thoughout the song. And there are parts with more than two Trey's, it sounds like. But hidden...not to flood the song but to very subtly color it, accentuate it, texturize it some. That's the beauty of the studio---the boys have finally learned how to use it to their advantage rather than try to get just the live feel. They're using the studio for what it is...a chance to do something different, aim for something different than they do so many other nights of the year. And they're successfull at it. I think I hear Theremin in here (the "jam" part) too. Mixed really well...this is a "blob" here in it's own right, but if you've heard "Theme" live, you know the general feel here. Vocal section done more perfectly than I've ever heard it and then quick little drone-like ending as called for in "Theme." I think I here Mike saying "Om" -y'know, holding a note that blends with the music, in the last fadeout here for a second...then onto
TRAIN SONG: Again, not that different than the three versions we heard this summer (well, 4 if you include Europe. 3 for me). Main difference, as with the others, is that this is the studio version. Most bands, when performing live, attempt to capture how they did the song in the studio. Thank god not most of the bands I see. Phish, previously, had tried the opposite. With this song it does seem like they were trying to present it live as the "song" and rightfully so. I mean, come on, that's what this is. Thanks Mike. Thanks for writing a beautiful song that evokes images of looking out a train window as it goes by the heartland (wherever that may be.) I picture mid-west. I'm thinking Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa...Madison County stuff. But that's just me. Aha, here we are now - deviation from the live versions. I like that. Page is on...I want to say he's on the vibes. In fact, I will say that, but I could be wrong. He's on something akin to a vibraphone though. Great guitar melody, but if you've heard it this summer, you've heard what I'm talking about. That descending riff/theme thing. "The train whistle melody wove through the trees/ and in through the door to signal the turns of a dance" There's a laugh from Trey here. I *really* like this. It shows a sort of, well, I guess I'm going to call it "human aspect" that is all too missing from overproduced slick sterile studio albums. The studio affords a chance to get every note just perfect, no matter how many takes you must go through to get to that point. In the search for perfection, *realness* tends to get lost. Thankfully, not just this song, but the album as a whole, seems *real*. This laugh demonstrates something that might not have been intended in "the perfect ideal" of the song, but rather something that actually occured while recording it. Maybe they planned it, but it doesn't sound contrived. It sounds like something that they did spontaneously (relatively) and then said, "Hey, let's keep it." I'm glad they did. Song fades-out.
BLISS: song fades-in. From this point on, think of the rest of the album as an inseperatable "blob" (even though that's not till later). The entire album flows nicely, but from here on out is fits EXCEPTIONALLY well together (for any album I've heard, ever). Anyway, Bliss. Um, hard to describe. It's a very stunning, meditative piece of cycling appregios and chordal picking, acoustic guitar, electric bass. For a reference point, I could compare it to sections of Acoustic Army in terms of general feel. But there is a marked and decided difference. Anyway, "Bliss" is probably the single most qualified name for this classical-like composition. Although It's not classical, it's not a ballad, it's just....bliss. I have the feeling that, instead of the short version of it here, if this piece was repeated for say an hour, and I sat listening to it with my eyes closed, in a meditation position, pretty soon my body would start to levitate and before I knew it I'd find myself floating upwards and upwards higher and higher in a trance-like state of....bliss. (Bliss, yes we are. Bliss, yes we am. Bliss, yes we do) Fades-out so that
BILLY BREATHES: can fade-in seamlessly. The two songs are ever-so-slightly overlapping in their fade-out/fade-in. Billy Breathes is the suprise "jam" of the album, but before most good jams precedes a good song. Well, here's a great one for ya', but I'm assuming that quite a bit, if not most, of you have heard the fall '95 live versions. That tends to be the jist of it, but again, thanks to the accomadations of a studio, there is alot going on underneath, gently coloring and toning and spraying an almost invisible mist on the song. Some really "neat" rolls from Fish. Again now, it sounds like Page might be doing some vibraphone trills in my right speaker. Definately something bubbling underneath that somehow *really* captures the feeling of this song being a lullaby that's flying in the trees. No, I haven't completly lost touch with reality here, that really is the feel of the song. There's a banjo in the mix now as well. A little buried, but it's there. Trey has just an exquitite vocal job here. Markedly improved from the already beautiful jobs he did last fall. Strong performance and really really heartfelt. The "softly sing sweet songs" bit - wow! OK, I'm going to do what I never thought I would; I'd like to congratulate you Mr. Jonathan Fishman for beautiful singing on this chorus. Fish is sort-of playing off of Trey, he's behind Trey, almost echoing him. Shit, why can't I think of the common term for this frequent practice? Oh well, you know what I mean. Trey sing's "Softly sing sweet songs" and Fish sort of echoes it in the background, but with a real trained-sounding voice. Not a rock n' roll one, that's for sure. Something a little more spiritual than that...not gospel, but sort-of opera-like. Anyway, it's really just gorgeous. I gotta admit it, Fishman, I had my doubts. This is definately not Henrietta here, nor Tubbs, nor Moses Brown (well.....). This is Fishman singing something really gorgeous. Congratulations. Then something unexpected happens - unexpected, but completely welcome and fitting: more unusual instrumentation. OK, in the background I can still hear the banjo and, like I said earlier, what I think is the vibraphone (and if not, is awfully like one). Then comes what sounds like MIDI guitar emulating horns. The "riff" is definately a typical horn line and it sounds like imitation horns. Maybe I'll be eating my words if I find out that it really is real horns (in that case, full apology to whoever it is playing it), and it could quite possibly be real horns...or synth. But it sounds to me extremely similar in tamber to the sound of (uh oh, should I say it? I shouldn't...I will) Jerry Garcia's guitar, "Rosebud." I'm not saying it sounds like Jerry here - it doesn't. But the actual tamber here sounds *exactly* like the tamber I've heard come from Jerry's guitar, on occaison, in the last few years when he would experiment with MIDI during space and stuff like that. Now, I'm *much* more versed in Phish than in the Dead, so I'm not trying to pass as a "Jerry's tones/toys/experiments" expert. BUT, I do remember one show in particular where Jerry had this sound - Philly from March '95 I think. Covering the Beatles "It's all Too Much", the horn-imitation sounds Jerry was experimenting with sound exactly like the tamber/tone of the "horn" sound here on Billy Breathes. Which leads me to conclude that I think it's Trey here doing this. Regardless, it sure is nice. Adds a little spicy ingrediant to the mix. And now back to the chorus. MIDI/horn thing, banjo, vibes, and Fish using everything from a triangle to perhaps a shaker, all going on in the background. I've listened to this a number of times now and every time I am forced to listen harder (usually when someone becomes familiar with a song, they listen to it with less of an effort, and hear just as much) but I'm telling you -- in all of these songs it seems like there is an oceans worth of buried treasure. The hunt is on, my diving gear is in tow! Now as the song comes to a psuedo-ending via a "bang" it's continued at first by Page on keys, of course, and then who is this on guitar? David Gimore? They got David Gilmore to come down and play on the album? At first it sounded like either a beer commercial guitar lick, or Slowhand (or are the two slowly becomming synonymous?) But the more I hear this, the more it reminds me of David Gilmore. The tone even reminds me of the single-coil Fender Stratocaster tone (David Gilmore/Slowhand -Clapton/beer commercials; all use this instrument), rather than the fat tone of Trey's prefered Languedocs and Gibsons. On Hoist I know he used a Gibson SG for Axilla...maybe he experimented with the Fender camp? It sure sounds like it...and I do seem to recall a Schvice awhile back with a Fender jumping in the tub with my brother. Or was that just an amp? Oh well, doesn't matter....what matters is that the licks here really sound like Fender tone, Gilmore-ish flavored. In the background it appears as if there is very distant, well...um...bubbling noises. Ok, now Trey is sounding more "like himself" again. Now very very much like himself again, but the tone still sounds alarmingly like he's on a Fender. Not that it matters.... I don't mean to give Trey all the attention here -- there is alot of great stuff from Page, Mike and Jon here as well. This is the suprise "jam" of the album. By jam I mean that if they broke this out without recording it like this, we would all have said, "Wow! Did you hear the way they jammed out Billy Breathes tonight? That was great." And it is great. This is what I always dreamed of them doing with this song in concert. Well, not quite like this...I pictured more of them just extending the ending, maybe some appregio's under a piano solo... but Trey is featured for the moment. As he is for->
SWEPT AWAY: hmm...do I even want to try to describe this song? Yes, but I still won't come near to doing it justice. This song is just gorgeous, simple but magnificent, and well...the best word that I can think of for it is, "precious." It's very very delicate. The only instrumentation I hear is a lush, exquisite acoustic guitar (*perhaps* even a 12-string?? I'm not sure about this at all though.) It's very beautiful. Like a fully matured "Horse" (yes, that last sentence taken out of context....) Well, it's at least along the lines of "The Horse" to give you some idea of what it sounds like...it is short, complexly simplistic, and is mostly just Trey and his guitar. The whole band sings in harmony, "awaaay" Trey's voice, at one point, cracks; it's sung very high. The cracking of his voice goes back to what I love about the little laugh in "Train Song" It's human. It's delicate. It's downright moving is what it is. It's as if he was singing a love song to a girl he wants to ask out on a date, and he's a little bit nervous, a little bit unsure of himself and a 110 percent sincere. The sincerity here just radiates. I really do not want to bring any Dead comparisons into here (I'm not a Deadhead, although I do love them... I have been called a "Phish kid" and with that I won't argue), and I'm not going to compare the two at all...but I have to say that the way Jerry's voice is fragile on "So Many Roads" is very much akin to Trey's voice here; Trey's isn't nearly as "sad" but every bit as sincere when he sings, "and I feel like it's surrounding me..." etc. "I'm finally swept away..." repeats through a fade. Then a there's a slight overlap/"silent segue" into
STEEP: which is thematically and for most purposes "Swept Away (Part II)" Musically however, it is *very* different (ie worlds apart). In-fact Steep is very much a world unto itself and it is unlike anything Phish has *ever* recorded before, much less played live. But there is a band that has done something like this: early Pink Floyd. Both with Syd Barrett and immediately following his departure. Actually this is very "Meddle" sounding in a way...fuck it, this song sounds *exactly* like something Pink Floyd would do. It's not that far off from some other prog-rock bands of the early Pink Floyd era either. I could picture King Crimson doing this as well, although it is definately more Floydish than Robert Fripp. Hmm...this is, well, let me just say that I absoultely love this song. My only complaint is that it's too short. It starts, entering immediately after the last, fading "finally swept away" from the previous song, with all of them doing an eerie prog-rock fade in. Trey's notes swell here, as in after he strikes the note, it has a period of gain ("swell") before it starts to fade. Hendrix pioneered this effect used by many a "psychadelic" band since. Even the Beatles had some stuff like this in their "tripped-out" era. Mike's bass is providing a nice "drone" and Page has some real nice piano playing that, well the only way I can describe it is "eerie" and playing alongside Trey's swells. Forgive my uncertainty, but there is *some* other instrument in here providing a steady "drone-like texture." Could be a synth., or it could even be a string instrument with a bow slowly and steadily stroking the note a la cello (but not a cello). Whatever it is, it's nice. Mike is doing some real cool droning. A lot of it is the same note, but it's a "clean" bass tone, mixed well and on-top of things. There is also what appears to be a water-phone here. I'm almost positive it is. Waterphones were used in "Jaws" to create that "underwater effect" and Leftover Salmon plays one on their song "Ask the Fish." Mike sat in with them once when they played this, so maybe that's where they got the idea for it? Anyway it accomplishes said goal - an "underwater" effect is acheived. Then, out of nowhere, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's...it's...it's a bow dropping on to a violin!!! You know, the sound a bow makes when it drops and then bounces on a violin. A quick stroke and then *poof* it disappears like a speedy kitten in a runaway hit-and-run. Now comes the melodies...both of them. The main one which includes the Swept Away lyrics changed only marginally and then expanded upon. Whoever is singing this (Trey or Page...or Mike?) has some serious studio processing on their voice - reverb and signal processing stuff. Deep vocals. Then the "play-off" melody sounds like Mike (could be Page too). In a really, well, neat trick he is echoing themes of lyrics before the actual lyric is sung. For instance he'll sing, "although my roots were deep", drawing out the "allllllllllllthough my roots were deep"; two lines later the "main" vocal goes, "although I thought my roots were deep" and hence this creates a psychadelic "pre-echo" effect. Crazyness. In-fact, this song is crazyness in general. In the background someone is singing a word here-and-there in an extremely low and studio-manipulated voice. Hard to tell whose voice is whose here. It's the type of song I would imagine to be playing again and again and again inside the head of someone who downed a vile of liquid LSD and found themselves in a padded room...with *this* song playing again and again inside their head. I pity the poor soul! I know there will be plenty of kids who will love to hear this song tripping (the same kids who get off on hearing "Brain Damage/Eclipse" tripping) and indeed, the song itself has that edge that makes even a sober listener feel on the tethered ends of sanity for a split second or two. Again, really really impressive Mike playing on this one...really noticeable, really impressive, really simple too. Now here it comes, get ready get ready, is everybody ready? It's INDUSTRIAL PHISHING! Machine/hammers/construction site noises with a cool bass line accompaniment. I messed up earlier about the waterphone...it makes its appearance here. Maybe earlier too, but def. here. Look, there is a slight chance that it is only Mike doing bass tricks, but if so, the effect he's using must be called "lets see how close we can sound like a waterphone!" And now comes the "blob" in the true sense of the word....oh my god, OH MY GOD WE'RE NO LONGER LISTENING TO AN ALBUM..WE'RE NO LONGER ON THE PHISH.NET, NO LONGER IN CYBERSPACE....WE'RE..oh my god...WE'RE IN GAMEHENDGE AND WE ARE LISTENING TO THE SLOTH AS HE BREATHES AT NIGHT!! FUCK BILLY, THIS IS THE SLOTH BREATHING NOW, AS HE BURBLES AND GURGLE'S AND BUBBLES FROTH SNOARING AND SEETHING AND BOILING INTO ONE MASSIVE HUNK-A B-L-O-B. We're in the blob now folks, and I'm not kiddding, this is what it sounds like. You have been forwarned. I'm inside the blob and please, someone call my loved ones and tell them I love them, but I can't leave...I like it here, inside this blob... (if the end of the Gunnison, CO vocal jam, right before they sing "Scurvy Dog" or the end of the Waterloo 95, or any of many vocal jams, were taken and transformed from vocals making that sound to...*something* making that sound, something *non-human*, it would sound amazingly similar to this.) And then, from the muck, from the quagmire, comes...
PRINCE CASPIAN: as slowly, valiantly, the intro of Prince Caspian bubbles to the surface of the blob, slowly drowning him out, first just Trey's guitar, then Mike joins too, as well as Page and Jon. This is, as reported, the reworked Prince Caspian and he's now emerging out of the blob until he's completely out of it, sword held high, dripping wet with the last fragments of sloth. He (the Prince) is victorius. Truly truly victorius. The reworked version, simply put, kicks ass! The guitar here is heavily distorted, vocal lines still the same, and still strong, beautiful and some of the most inspiring uplifting Phish vocals I've heard. As a fellow netter (who know's who he is) pointed out to me ealier, the Red Rocks version this summer was indeed better than this one, (imo anyway), but this one is still incredible. As the vocal section ends, we are left with a repeating guitar lick and sparse but sweet and tasteful Page noodling. And then, for less than half a minute or so, things kick back into rock-land until the final fade out of the album. This "rock-land" features Trey playing a lick very akin to Joe Walsh, and in-fact, very similar to the first half of the "Life Goes On" riff. I think the intervals might even be the same, or one off...whatever. it doesn't matter because either way, this still R.O.C.K.s in the U.S.A or what-have-you. The album is done, you can unfasten your seatbelts now.
If you sat down and listened to this album from start-to-finish and with full concentration, then congratulations on returning safetly from a journey. Yet, unlike STTA, this also makes good background music. Phish has created a disk that makes a great party selection, great "while-I-do-this-or-that-and-maybe-fold-some-laundry" music and great "I'll do nothing but listen" music. If you do the last option, you will find many many hidden treasures in this album making it trully a rewarding experience. And the album is formatted much like a collage or mosaic; lots of thought was put into it's song layout.
This is where we take the album and hold it at an arm's length away from us. The album is a painting, and so far we've been paying much attention to the objects in the painting, one object at a time, examining them individually up-close, analyzing, describing, rubbing to see if it's a fake, are there any blemish's, what's this one little diamond I see painted over here? Oh that's Train Song. And what's this treasure chest here? Ahh, it's labeled "Steep" Hmmm...and this bottle of intoxication? Oh right - that's Bliss. OK, so we've done all that. When you look at a painting too closely, and only from this vantage point, you tend to lose the big picture. What, you say? THE BIG PICTURE! But I thought this was an album, not a painting? It is, so lets hold the album at an arm's legnth and see what image we have of "Phish - Billy Breathes" the album.
It is this ability of an album - to stand up on its own, by itself and as a whole - that is crucial in making or breaking the album. This is what seperates the "I like it for now" albums from the classics that get played again and again for years. Seperates the Hootie from the Phish. The 24k Gold CD's from those found in the discount racks. You get the point. But just to make sure: some albums when you first buy them, you listen to them in heavy rotation for a period of time and then it's forgotten about. Other albums once they pass the "heavy rotation" phase, go onto a permanent rotation that, no matter how slow of a cycle (once a year, every so often, first warm day of the year, etc.) at least will never be sold at the local used CD store with all of those Def Leppards and the huge stack of New Kids. What I'm trying to say here is that Phish has finally made a true masterpiece. Why don't I just leave it at that? Because it takes some explaining and some trying on of different perspectives before I can justify this statement to any one who claims that this is Phish's Big Sell-Out Record or "they forgot how to jam." or whatever the gripe is. This will dispell any gripes, unless anyone has a gripe against spellbinding works of arts. People who dislike incredible masterpieces will probably dislike this disk. But to some, with a very definite idea of "what Phish should be" will be disappointed with this album unless they consider the following points. Open your minds to this now...come on, try it - you'll like it: Billy Breathes does not sound a whole lot like the Phish that I've been a huge fan of for years. Of all the many many concerts that I've seen in how many states and even in two countrys (USA/Canada), and of all the live tapes that began to clutter my room and my car three years back and only increased since then...this sounds *nothing* like most of that. Many people will use this as grounds to complain. To them I say, "Just listen to what you're saying...you complain when they play something and it sounds the same, and then you complain when they play something that sounds completely new, that they've never done before?" If Phish went in the studio and did a live take of Mike's->Hydrogen->Weekapaug, sure it'd probably have some incredible jam-filled moments and I'm sure I'd love it...but I'd feel safe saying that it wasn't anything I didn't hear before. The individual notes might have been different, the jam reaching unexplored places, but looking at it as a painting, from an arm's legnth...it'd be a painting of a picture I have seen countless times before. Maybe the shade is different, or a different color is used for something, maybe Page dipped his fingers in paint and ran his hand all across a corner, etc. but the painting would be of the same subject that Phish has painted for us time and time again...(hey statistic freaks - how many Mike's-> "f(x)" -> Weekapaug's do we have on file?) We go to show after show almost exclusively to see them do this - to see them take the same subject-matter and paint it entirely different each time. And we cry and complain when they do a paint-by-numbers job.
And yet, so far when they've gone into the studio what they've emerged with is a very nice, very pleasant paint-by-numbers job of Picassos that they've done live so much better. And once they've even given us a collage of some of those live Picassos (ALO). Phish started off as a blossoming live band and their in-concert persona went through an extremely quick adolescence, developed a busom at an early age, and matured rapidly. Simply put: Phish live is incredible. I *know* that there is no argument here; we all know this. But their albums didn't always match up. Their albums seemed like "kid Phish" compared to the giants we saw on-stage. With Billy Breathes, Phish has finally matured in the studio.
The mistake of many a band, *especially* the so-called "jam-bands" is that when they go into the studio they try to capture their live essence. And time and time again for I don't know how many great bands I have heard repeatedly that the album "failed to capture the spirit of the band's live performances" C'mon, I've heard this line more times than I've heard Sample in a Jar; At that repitition, there must be something here - D'OH! YOU DON'T TRY TO CAPTURE THE LIVE EXPERIENCE ON A STUDIO ALBUM any more than you try to paint a canvas with a brush, when you're working with ceramics. A studio and a concert stage are two very very very very different mediums. "What?" you say, "It's all music." Sure but an acrylic and a water-color are two paintings...with entirely different technique, (or so I would imagine.) A great poet doesn't always make a great sit-com writer. Not too many "jam-bands" have realized this yet. Phish have "come-to" and in doing so are one of the only, if not *the* only, band I know who have, with the release of Billy Breathes, become master skillsmiths of both mediums. Billy Breathes is an album. It's an album whose every component was carefully placed in working towards a unified whole. Each song presents a piece of a puzzle that, together, the album completes. I have never heard Phish do alot of the stuff they've done here before, and that aspect of always doing something new, always suprising in an unexpected way, has been and always will be something that I love about Phish. Sure, my favorie parts of the live shows are the improv. jams. I cringe nowadays when I hear "Sparkle" It's a great song, but live it doesn't really change much, at all even, and doesn't "awe" me like it used to. The songs on this CD they could *never* do live just like they have them here. That's right, I'm saying Phish _the band that can do it all_ have indeed something that they (for once) *can't do*. ISn't it liberating to know that they're not super-super human....well, probably not. (ok, so what if they are? h'uh!) :) Anyway the reason why is that, in learning how to use and abuse a studio, they have done quite a bit here that is unique to a studio - live there can not be Multiple Trey Syndrome and if you think you hear more than one of him at a time (and it's not just digital delay) then you're either A.) tripping balls or B.)the band has reverted to the "Milli-Vanilli" ingrediant. In which case we're all screwed, but chances are it's A. and not B. Live they can't have their overdubs, their second chance to make perfect impressions, their "blob" bubbles or volcanic eruptions amidst a construction site or whatever it is at the end of Steep and before Prince Caspian.
When they play in front of 70,000 people on an Air Force Base, they play much differently than they do when they play a small club in Amsterdam stoned on hash bud where they play much differently than when they're in an indoor hockey rink. Why should the studio be an exception? They played the studio like it was a studio...lots of toys, lots of time, no people to impress with machine-gun jams. There is also a plethorea of hidden tracks, subtle colorations, that you really need to listen intently to hear. I must have heard some of these songs close to ten times before I finally noticed something way off below the surface, be it a single note from a clavinet or be it a banjo run, a human voice making a noise or an undeterminable sound. This constant buried treasure hunt is what makes this album so rich with freshness. So, double double your enjoyment boys and girls, and now Phish kids too. And in-keeping with tradition, they've taken yet another aspect of "Phish" that met frequent criticism and conquered a weakness...this time it was depth and range of emotion, soft and stunning but mellow melodies, and songs that, when played for "normal" people, the people understand the lyrics immediately. No "watsiyem's" here folks, sorry.
I'm thankful that the album comes out the day before the first show of the tour....this way we only have 24hrs. for people to post to the net saying, "Oh my god, they've gone in a new direction, they've sold out, they're not going to jam anymore" D'oh! Of course they're going to jam, and even harder, even better, even more gloriously than ever before. Live, Phish will still "rock out" They will still shock and persuade our souls to ignite. And oftentimes even explode. Album is album. Live is live. Get it? Got it? Hood!
Finally, in going back to the beginning, this is the first Phish album that really creates a specific image when looked at as a unit rather than of individual songs. 'Rift' attempted this in so far as it was a "concept album." Billy Breathes, on the other hand, paints a mood, it offers an impression, it seems to be saying something... ...shh, what's it whispering...wait it's saying...it's saying..... "Billy Breathes."
Yes, she most certainly does. Softly sing sweet songs and of course, as the album states in no words,
Walk with light my friends, Benjy