MUSIC REVIEW: A fine farewell from Phish
Phish recorded “Undermind” before making the final decision to call it quits after a 20-year career. But on this final album, released this month, it sounds like the band knew it was the end of the line, covering old ground and revealing some of the reasons why this was the right time for Phish to disband.Twelve of the 14 songs are written by Trey Anastasio, the band leader and the one whose idea it was to retire, and Tom Marshall, longtime Phish lyricist. Bassist Mike Gordon contributes one, and keyboardist Page McConnell one other.Anastasio has said the band had stopped practicing, and he couldn’t keep putting the same energy into it, because the returns were diminishing. It feels like Anastasio is holding something back on this album, saving some of his better material for his solo career.
Still, “Undermind” revisits much of what makes Phish unique. Enigmatic themes, clever word plays and intelligent lyrics pervade the album. What other band would write a song almost exclusively using words with the prefixes “un,” “mis” and “re” as Phish does on the title track?Musically, the highlight of “Undermind” is “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” where we get a hint of composition similar to some early Phish classics. It’s a reprise of the intro to the album, featuring grabbing interplay between guitar, keys, bass and drums and ending with a looping verse that, played live, would likely morph into a long jam.McConnell’s contribution, “Army of One,” seems to come out of feelings from his recent divorce. It’s an emotional, Beatles-esque tune on which McConnell croons like Paul McCartney.
Gordon sings the type of lyrically immature song we’ve heard from him before – something you can listen to once or twice before it becomes a skip-over track.The only real “jam” on the album comes on the chaotic “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.” But on other songs, you can here the direction the band might take them when playing live.”Crowd Control” is an upbeat, danceable tune that, in concert, would likely turn into an extended celebration like favorites “Simple” and “Water in the Sky.”
Then there’s “Two Versions of Me,” clearly about death, but in that Marshallian way that makes it more an intellectual than sad exploration.The album ends with a short, barbershop quartet song called “Grind.” Knowing what we know now, it stands as a fine farewell – the four members without their instruments, harmonizing a cappella, singing about their teeth.The last line? “… I’m sad that they’re dead.”Many fans are.
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