Phish released their new album, Joy, on Tuesday. I bought the digital files Tuesday night for $3.99 ? Thank you Amazon! I couldn?t listen to it yesterday, of course, because yesterday was Debbi day / Beatles? day and my ears were solely dedicated to another groundbreaking quartet of amazing musicians and writers.
So this morning I eagerly clicked my way to Joy on my poor, aging iPod (:hint: birthday coming ? I could do a lot of things with 160 gigs :endhint:) and, with windows down and car stereo very, very, very loud, I sped off on my way to work.
The first song up happened to be the very first new Phish song I had heard post-Coventry. Trey and Mike played Backwards Down the Number Line at Rothbury, nearly three months before The Announcement that Phish was getting back together. Backwards is a pop-y kind of tune and not really in keeping with the Jamtasticness that is Live Phish but I really like this song. It reminds me of my friends:
Laughing all these many years / We?ve pushed through hardships, tasted tears
If you walked backwards down my number line, you?d walk past years and years of laughter, tears, hugs, shouts, red cheeks and more. And all my friends. We go back a long time, not so much because we started early but moreso because we?ve had many years since. When Phish opened with this song at Deer Creek ? the first show back for all the friends I was sitting with who go way back down the number line with me ? the association became cemented. For me, that song is about Mel and Danielle and Craig and Peter (though he was absent from the show). And that?s who I think about when I hear the song now.
Next song is Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan. My husband really likes this song. I?m meh on it but it does have a really great line that is begging to be turned into a bumper sticker, if it hasn?t already been:
Got a blank space / where my mind should be
This is a harder rocking song, so no wonder my husband likes it. Have you noticed guys generally like their music a little louder and a little faster than gals? I don?t have a problem with that, just an observation. And yes, there are exceptions to Everything.
The title track follows in the third spot. Now, I like this song, it?s a little less loud and a little less fast. My husband, of course, doesn?t like it so much. But this song hits a little deeper when you find out that it was written toward the end of Trey?s sister, Kristy Manning?s, battle with cancer. She died April 29th of this year, less than two months after Phish conquered Hampton. I don?t know if she was an older sister or younger but I assume they were close in age and if he?s 45 years old (and he is, born September 30th, 1964, Happy Almost Birthday Trey), she died too young. Fuck cancer!
-- Sidenote: while looking up his age on Wikipedia, I discovered that the name Anastasio derives from a Greek word for Resurrection. No kidding? That?s poetic.?
So anyway, Joy, the song. It?s funny, I would not have pegged these lyrics to have come from the emotions Trey must have been mired in when he wrote the song but I can hear it in the music. A little bit haunting, a little bit tender with a cheerleader chorus trying very hard to see out the other side of tragedy:
We want you to be happy / Don?t live inside the gloom / We want you to be happy / Come step outside your room / We want you to be happy / ?Cause this is your song too
Phish doesn?t have many emotional songs. They have fun songs and they have story songs. This is a new kind of song. While I?m still firmly in denial of the fact, this song reminds me that we are all mortal and only getting closer to the edge of the coil. And that we can?t just pshaw inevitability. I don?t know if that?s in the lyrics or the music.
The next song, Sugar Shack, is a Mike song and it sounds like a Mike song ? part bluesy, part silly. I like it. I don?t love it but I like it.
Following Sugar Shack is the song that drives my husband nuts: Ocelot. Now, I may be a big reason why he loathes the song. When I first heard, it was catchy enough that I sang it often ? but I only knew one refrain ? so that?s what I sang a lot:
Ocelot, Ocelot / Where have you gone?
To me, Ocelot is a quintessential Phish song and deserves its place in the pantheon of silly Phish-animal tunes. Let?s see ? they have Ocelot, Possum, Llama, Sloth, (Run Like an) Antelope, Bug, Birds (of a Feather), Vultures ? Lizards. And I?m sure I?ve forgotten several and before you say it, Dog Faced Boy doesn?t count. They really like animals.
Following Ocelot is Kill Devil Falls which has earned much praise from fans. Jamworthy is the highest praise a new tune can get and this song has been linked with that word on several message boards. Another song I?m meh about. I get it and Stealing Time mixed up.
The next song starts off completely different than the live versions I?d grown used to; I thought Amazon had snuck a Thievery Corporation song into my shopping cart. I like the song, Light, but it isn?t one that sticks out in my mind. I can?t say I really know the words or the meaning and the tune is fairly generic to my ears ? but I like it.
Following Light is another Mike song, I Been Around, from the sounds of it, all 1:57 minutes of it. It sounds like the lyrics to a country song on repeat and it isn?t long enough to annoy me, so that?s good huh?
Onto the opus. Time Turns Elastic. Phish is a very symphonic band for being the rock band they are. Trey clearly dreams of being remembered for his compositions as much as his guitar greatness. In general I like his lofty compositions, even love some of them. The instrumental portions in songs such as Harry Hood, The Lizards, Divided Sky and Walls of the Cave are many of the reasons I spend as much time and money as I do on Phish. There?s something just otherworldly and yet so succinctly human about standing in a sea of people swaying to perfect music.
Unfortunately, Time Turns Elastic isn?t swaying me. There are, what? Three, four separate sections in this song? And the only part I really like in the nearly 14 minutes comes in the last three and a half minutes. Up to then, I?m just not feeling it. But then again, if memory serves me, when Phish released Walls of the Cave prior to the release of the Round Room album, I felt the same about that song. But I hadn?t yet heard that song live ? it was the live version that reformed my thoughts about it. I?ve heard TTE live, a few times. I really only enjoyed one of those versions and that may have been because I was in the lawn with husband and friends and simply enjoying the company.
I hope this one grows on me because I know they intend to play it a lot for awhile. I?ll keep an open mind and try to find more good in it than just the last three minutes.
Which brings me to the last studio song on the album and definitely my favorite: Twenty Years Later. Okay, is it just me or is practically this entire album about growing older and having memories? Get out of my head, Trey!
This song isn?t so much look back and laugh as Backwards is but rather more of an I-can?t-believe-twenty-years-later-and-I?m-still-upside-down* This is a song that soars. Eagle with outstretched wings circling high over the Grand Tetons, the whole deal. I love the chorus, it sounds like all four guys are singing on it. I have this thing about songs that escape the ABAB CDCD trap. Give me some lyrics that just barely fit into the refrain and only nominally, and not necessarily rhythmically, rhyme and I?m intrigued. This isn?t Britney Spears people! Twenty Years Later will be a welcome addition to any shows I am able to hear, most especially if I am at the shows. I will enjoy it very much.
The album ends with a live version of Backwards signifying that they do indeed expect that to be the one song that would get radio play if they were any band other than Phish. I?m cool with only the one version of the song on the album but they didn?t ask me.
So, since this morning when I listened to this album the first time, I have heard it two more times as I drove around to various locations for work and then at the gym. I don?t usually have the attention span to listen to an album so thoroughly but feel that I got an immersion in Joy today and it was joyful. I really like it. I really do. Bravo and welcome back!