Phish’s Joy Reviewed (A-)
After their much anticipated 3-day Hampton Coliseum run in early March of this year, Phish dug into recording their newest studio offering, Joy. The 10-track offering is the exploration and summation of the where the boys have been – good and bad – during the past 5 years apart. Produced by Steve Lillywhite (who last worked with the band for the impressive 1996 Billy Breathes and recorded at Chun King Studio in NYC), the album is a sprawling collection of songs that find the band playing cohesively as a unit and once again having fun. I received their disc a few weeks ago and couldn’t wait to pop it in. Since my first listen until now, I have probably listened to the album in its entirety a total of eight times, which was somewhat intentional, as I wanted to let the tracks breathe a little.
Backwards Down The Number Line kicks the album off with a sentimental and heart warming ode to friendship through the years. A straight forward, rocking number that features an intense guitar solo from guitarist Trey Anastasio, showcases nice keyboard flourishes from Page McConnell and asks, “do you remember why we’re still friends?”.
Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan steps up to the plate in the number two spot and knocks the ball out on the first pitch. After Page runs his fingers down the ivories, Trey just nails a wicked, unexpected and nasty riff. “I got a blank space where my mind should be,” Trey informs us. This song is jaw dropping and only gets better with repeated listens; you almost forget about the strange product placement contained within the song. Clif Bar, anyone?
Joy is up next, giving us a nice breather and a soothing number. It’s sweet and gentle. The band cares and wants us to be happy, and dammit, this is our song, too! Joy also could be interpreted to be somewhat inspired by the passing of Trey’s much loved sister, Kristy, for whom the album is dedicated. Very pleasant and heart warming/breaking .
Sugar Shack is bassist Mike Gordon’s lone submission to the album; it’s also the most “Phishy” song on the album. I saw Mike open his show (Variety Playhouse; 9/17) with this tune and I’ve gotta tell ya, it smokes. While some of the versions from this summer’s tour may lack in punch, let me assure you that the album version is solid. There’s a funkiness to this song that reminds you that Phish can bring the funk too. Maybe that’s why it’s batting clean-up.
Ocelot is perhaps the catchiest and most accessible to a wide audience song that Phish has ever recorded. Every time the band would fire this number up this summer, I’d think are they playing “Tennessee Jed”? Good, happy music and hey, “don’t be the only one left on the block”.
Kill Devil Falls is what you get when you mix “Chalkdust Torture” and the “Saved By The Bell” theme. A rockin’ tune in which Trey promises “that this time will be different” because “he learned his lesson.” It must be mentioned that Page’s playing on this number is very focused and tight, yet loose and airy.
Joy doesn’t utilize too much in the way of studio gimmicks. Everything is pretty straight forward until you reach the album’s seventh track, Light. The 86-second buildup before the song kicks in is pure bliss, especially if you’re wearing headphones. The “light grows brighter” before dissolving into a vocal sound collage.
“Hey Page, where ya been?”, Trey asks as I Been Around starts up. Page almost irritatedly answers, “where’ve I been?” and then launches into a lounge lizard with a piano piece. Trey then joins in with a little solo. Leave it to Phish to have a killer little guitar solo in a 2-minute song. Its brevity adds to its charm. Novel tune.
Time Turns Elastic is Trey’s war horse on this album and clocks in at thirteen and a half minutes. A complex piece that reminds you that this is the band that conquered Y.E.M., Divided Sky and Reba. The song itself is an impressive piece that has many peaks and valleys. Excellent playing by Fishman throughout. It should be interesting to see how this song progresses in the coming tours. I must also note that the song contains some beautiful lyrical phrases penned by Trey. Example:
“Now that the leaves turned to gold,
The moments all glow, frozen and free from time.
And out here on my own, I watch it ebb and flow.
Here with the fire burning low,
In the honey mist that breathes
Crooked maple fingers trembling all around
I feel the winds that blow.”
Twenty Years Later catches Trey “still upside down” and reflecting on life. The song shifts into what sounds like a late period Zeppelin tune, minus Percy. An excellent track that nicely rounds out the album.
Joy feels like it was made with Phish’s dedicated fan base in mind, while staying true to who they are now as a band. Old school lot warriors and newbtastic phans alike should rejoice in its glory and depth. All of the old wounds have healed and they are now a focused band with an intensity and fire that is burning brighter than it has in quite some time. There is a newness to the tracks that is refreshing. They have bounced back from adversity with a strength and drive that this time it will be different. They are a strong band of brothers, that have lived to fight another battle and are gloriously triumphant.