Wednesday 06/18/2014 by bertoletdown


“There’s nothing to say / And nothing to lose.”

It’s been nearly eight months since Phish stepped to the line and unveiled nine of the ten songs that would come to make up Fuego. Lots of words have been written and lots of air expelled in the intervening time debating whether they got nothing but air or nothing but net that night. Finally, the album’s release gives us all an opportunity to release from those modes ourselves, and examine these songs anew. As they richly deserve.

I’m not sure why it took the band this long to get around to it, but I can guess. Whatever your take on the Joy songs in the live setting, it was a milestone album for Phish. It is their resurrection hymnal, their Easter Mass – both a celebration of their new life and an exhalation of relief for having stared down artistic and human mortality as brothers and prevailed (at least for now).

So how do you follow that act? Another concept album? About what collective passage or triumph, exactly? What do you have to say?

What’s your point?

[Oh, and please hurry up! The fans are waiting.]

If Joy bore witness to Phish’s urgent rebirth, Fuego bears witness to their settled maturity. They are now a band with very little if anything to prove. That state of mind has pros and cons. You’ve got permission to fall flat on your face without the fear that you won’t be able to get back up. But it can also diminish your edge, your urgency, your desire to go out there every night and deliver your audience the proper rock rogering they deserve.

Both dynamics are on display here, among many others. With the exception of a few tracks, this is not a party record. There is no “Down with Disease,” or even a “Moma Dance.” A gauze of melancholy drapes over most of the material. Fist pumping opportunities do not abound. On the other hand, Phish is most definitely taking bigger risks than they were in the Joy sessions, and some of them pay off.

The opening title track is one such risk. You have to look back at least as far as “Scents and Subtle Sounds," and “Walls of the Cave” before that, to find a Phish composition as densely proggy and with as much potential for improvisation as “Fuego.” Producer Bob Ezrin – a bona fide wizard and Badass Motherfucker – gets out of the way here, resists the temptation to gild the lily, and lets the song’s Rorschach inkblot essence emerge.

The result is absolutely spectacular. “Fuego” can be deeply appreciated from a number of different angles: its hooks, its movement, or its lyrics, which offer plenty of slack line for delving interpretation, but can just as easily be experienced viscerally, like an abstract painting. Hear it as GAF View-Master flashes of a midlife crisis gone horribly awry. Hear it as the triumph of abandon over madness. Hear it your way, but hear it, because it’s the goods.

What follows “Fuego” is a six song progression that might be described as relentlessly polite. Or purposefully sedate. Phish for waiting rooms. These songs are not bad, in fact they all have their charms. They simply tend to blend into one another.

Phish has a few cool “moment of truth” songs – from “Llama” to “Limb By Limb” – and “The Line” is a swell addition to that quiver. As a college hoops nerd, I fantasize that one day it will replace “One Shining Moment,” and I’m not convinced that wasn’t Phish’s ulterior motive for writing it.

Devotion to a Dream” benefits quite well from the studio treatment; I just wish I could put my finger on what it reminds me of once and for all. The elegant “Halfway to the Moon” boasts a chord progression that goes down like a complex whiskey, revealing new flavors ever so subtly as it rolls past your tongue and into your throat. Gun to my head, it’s my second favorite track on the album. Superb.

Winterqueen,” a delicate ballad in the vein of “Anything But Me," marks Fuego’s energetic low ebb, but suddenly we are awakened by new sounds: horns! We’ll hear these horns a few times more, but here they herald the start of the climb upward toward the album’s climax. Densely layered keyboards lend a bit of gravity to the pop confection of “Sing Monica," and “555” serves to remind us that Phish still has a dangerous rhythm section. More horns and a cascade of gospel voices lift this joint right over the top – so convincingly that it’s already hard to imagine the song without them.

Waiting All Night” is eerie and impossible to ignore, like one of those hyper-produced 10CC breakup songs from the mid-70s. Phish paints something here that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen: a lingering, cool, but intensely psychedelic portrait of distilled sadness. Yes, there are reasons not to love this tune on paper, but it is compelling through headphones.

Though it earns bonus points for its goofball ambition, the first half of “Wombat” suffers from a dearth of musicality. It’s not the first time the band has sounded as if they’re satirizing themselves or taking the piss, but it sounds the way an ill-fitting suit looks. The second half (“post explosion” – those who’ve listened will know what I’m talking about) is viral and greasy but over all too soon. It will be interesting to see what direction this tune goes over the next tour or two.

“Wingsuit” makes a much better ending than it did a beginning, back when it was a “title track.” The song is, after all, a benediction – an exhortation to cast aside fear and live fully. Trey’s concluding solo is nothing short of breathtaking, and a graceful denouement to it all.

Of all the Phish fans I know, precious few regularly listen to the band’s studio output. Fuego may not do much to change that, but maybe that’s beside the point. Maybe the point is illustrated by the album’s cover, which depicts a team of giant old-timey baseball players warming themselves around a thermonuclear fireball.

Or maybe there is no point. And maybe that’s okay.

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, comment by frankstallone
frankstallone nicely done
, comment by ProfPhan
ProfPhan The jam at the end of Devotion to a Dream rocks and now I'm excited to see this live.
, comment by HotPale
HotPale love fuego, love phish, love life!
, comment by SymphonicDelight
SymphonicDelight Trey utilizes the same hook in Sing Monica as he did for Tuesday.
, comment by InsectEffect
Particularly well-stated about 'Wombat' -- after the Halloween debut funk-fest, the first half of this tune notably falls flat on the album. Perhaps this will only serve to highlight the tune's live development, but it still seems like a strange choice. Otherwise the record is impressive, and I'm looking forward to becoming more familiar with it. And to my utter delight, my wife --not a big fan-- likes this one too!
, comment by ucpete
ucpete As usual, excellent work Chris. I agree that Devotion to a Dream has a familiar feel to it -- I will figure out what that is, mark my words. If its intention is to give a déjà vu feel to the listener in a dreamlike fashion, then mission accomplished! I have to be an ass and pick a single nit: the whammy in Trey's first jam of Fuego bothers me. Not just the whammy itself, but the fact that it's now immortalized in a recording means that whammy jamming in Fuego, at least in the short term, becomes the de facto default for the tune -- and Fuego is going to be a second set opening jam vehicle by Fall. Generally speaking, Trey's whammy use gets to me when it becomes his "crutch" and not "just another weapon in the arsenal", and by recording a whammy jam, the whole thing becomes less of a "there were some shows where Trey wouldn't stop dicking around with his whammy pedal" thing and more "official" to me -- even though the jam in question isn't particularly harsh on the ears. Anyway, I don't want to turn this into another whammy circle jerk because the circle jerk is worse than the whammy itself at this point. Overall, I couldn't be much more pleased with the album. Some of that has less to do with the songs themselves than that the album exists in the first place -- they're working on new things together, and only good can come from that.
, comment by Brandonclick77
Brandonclick77 You Never Know would have really added to that album!
, comment by Rift_Rules
Rift_Rules Well written review. I will say this, Sing Monica was not my favorite on Halloween, but this version has more layers and is profoundly more interesting. Still love The Line as well. They captured that song perfectly.
, comment by RoundMound
RoundMound Good Fair review! I think the "familiarity' of Devotion to a Dream is because its cut in a similar mold of Chalkdust and Kill Devil Falls. At least that what I hear ...

I cant wait to see the song placement. I really think that will be the key of how each of these songs grows or shrinks. Just for Fun, I thought of where I think each song will end up in the setlist.

Feugo- Mid to early second set jam vehicle. I dont see any other spot for it. Similar to where we have seen epic Carinis lately

The Line- I think it will end up in a mid first set position, but there is something about the chorus and ending of the song that kindof feels like it could be a late second set, or even in a penultimate spot in the the second set before the show closer.

Devotion to a Dream- I think its the only song on the album I can see as an Opener as I mentioned before in the mold of Chalkdust or KDF. So odd to see it in a Mike's Groove....So who knows.

Halfway to the Moon- Mid Second Set song. The Darker tone fits well with a later in the night slot perhaps, especially in the summer at outdoor venues. Could fit anywhere between and opener and closer in either set in an arena show.

Winterqueen- This is a tough one. I can see this being a mid-late 1st or 2nd set breather, but then I can see it just appearing out of a 20 min jam song (Like Architect at SPAC 7/5/13 out of carini). I would guess it would be found in some sort of "breather" or "sandwich" spot. Then again I can see this as part of a multi-song encore

Sing Monica- I dont see Sing Monica being placed anywhere but early first set. Its just got that feel.

555- Total flex song. Could be anywhere except probably a set opener or closer. I can see this showing up anywhere else.

Waiting All Night- See Winterqueen

Wombat- This one is interesting because placement is going to be really important to the growth of the song. If I had to guess i think its a first set song, mid set. I could see it, if it grows into a funk jam vehicle, fitting nicely in a funk heavy second set.

Wingsuit- Sound so much like a song that will morph from a second set jam. I can also see it in an Encore spot.

Interested in seeing what others think.

But the best part about it? At least we have something to talk about. And Tour is right around the corner so it wont be long to see how far off I am
, comment by WickerAndCork
WickerAndCork "post explosion". Nice way to put it. Interesting to see if they bring that effect to the stage. "Does comedy belong in music?" Yes, it does. Stand up Wombat.
, comment by chametzoo
chametzoo @RoundMound said: [quote]Good Fair review! I think the "familiarity' of Devotion to a Dream is because its cut in a similar mold of Chalkdust and Kill Devil Falls. At least that what I hear …

I hear Number Line….
, comment by lizardneck
lizardneck @RoundMound said: [quote]Good Fair review! I think the "familiarity' of Devotion to a Dream is because its cut in a similar mold of Chalkdust and Kill Devil Falls. At least that what I hear

I hear the Jerry Garcia band through and through......
, comment by gtrips
gtrips Meh.... Wombat still sucks.
, comment by conormac
conormac The author has removed all of the text from their comment
, comment by conormac
conormac Devotion to a Dream is absolutely # line like, but with a shade of Chalkdust thrown in there with the two chord change. It's actually my favorite track on the album; I think Trey sounds best on that track. Fuego is muy pequeno in my opinion, and I agree with ucpete on the whammy ("Damnit Trey, why did you use that?" ;)
FACTSAREUSELESS Great review, Chris.

Your descriptive prose rivals the subtlety of the album itself. Thanks much.
, comment by TheFuckinBook_Man
TheFuckinBook_Man Sing Monica sounds a bundle like a certain REM song. But hey, that was like 20 yrs ago. Great album.
, comment by CooGarn
CooGarn I love every bit of this album, except for "Wombat," to be honest.

I was psyched for the studio treatment of this song after the live debut. It had so much potential! All it needed was a bit of polishing and tightening up. Instead, they sound terribly out of key and time through the intro, they've included this ridiculous explosion sound effect, and the jam, the best part, is faded out almost as soon as they get into it! I know it's a goofy song and they're just having fun, but they could have taken it a bit more seriously, and totally knocked it out of the park. This version will grow on me with repeated listens, I'm sure, and it will be awesome live, but for now... harumph.

Also, I'm bummed that they left off "You Never Know." I really thought it would make the cut. It's such a fun track! Oh well, saving it for the next album I hope? :)

Again, overall, I love this album. The more confident, groovy, mellow vibes come as a welcome change to the straight ahead pop rock of 'Joy,' and the bits of Floyd and Zeppelin I'm hearing from Page are lovely :D

Stoked for the tour!
, comment by CooGarn
CooGarn Also, the gospel singers and horns! HELL YES!
, comment by CooGarn
CooGarn And another thought... where the hell is STEAM??
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown That is a great question.

Steam would go nicely with Fuego.

Too late now...
, comment by Ravinus
Ravinus @CooGarn said:
And another thought... where the hell is STEAM??
On tour.
, comment by Gobig
Gobig Once on Chris!
, comment by phunkytime
phunkytime I have to agree with you on most points, or do I? But really in my opinion it is much as you explained and an enjoyable piece of art as I feel most phish studio albums are. Different then the live experience but still the music I love. @CooGorn @bertoletdown I believe steam would've substituted in nicely for "the line" or "winterqueen" and changed the albums feel for the better. Steam is begging for the layered Bob Ezrin treatment. Shame it didnt make the cut.
, comment by tek9rifleskills
tek9rifleskills I have always held the Phish albums up on high. We really only had albums to listen to before Hoist was released, and maybe 5-8 tapes between us, not full shows mind you. The album "version" was the set piece, the live show versions derived from the studio recordings. Now that we all got to hear this album in real time (watching it, actually, at home on Halloween), the effect of the new album is way different for me. I didn't get to hear any of the Hoist songs before I got the album; those tapes just didn't make it to me in time. Back then it was "man, these songs are cool, but I wonder what they sound like live?" They played them live before the album dropped, only people on tour or with quicker access to tapes heard them.

I feel totally privileged to have heard these songs in their first form, pre-studio, and am very excited to hear them on album to hear the studio treatment. OP, the Phish albums get heavy rotation in the car, and after your review, I can't wait to have this one in the stereo for a few weeks straight!! And, I can't wait to hear it and reminisce about the years that have gone by and all the changes the band has gone through, and to reflect on the tour> studio/studio> tour/tour> studio> tour treatments we've gotten from these great guys over the last 30 years :)
, comment by RoundMound
RoundMound @chametzoo said:
@RoundMound said: [quote]Good Fair review! I think the "familiarity' of Devotion to a Dream is because its cut in a similar mold of Chalkdust and Kill Devil Falls. At least that what I hear � I hear Number Line�.
I cant hear that too listening to it again...
, comment by StrawberryJam
StrawberryJam The beginning of Devotion to a Dream reminds me of Allman Bros' Jessica. Maybe that's just me though...

Great review
, comment by MDosque
MDosque Wingsuit has absolutely the feel of early 70's psychedelia. Page sounds terrific and Trey's voice is right there. Effects in the background. Just a wonderful studio track.

I'm a huge fan of Devotion to a Dream and I think it's in the Heavy Things/Numberline category. If Phish would ever have a radio hit (I know....) it would be this. Great tune.

Those are my two favorite tracks and I like them a lot. Great and fair review and I enjoyed reading it - thanks.
, comment by conormac
conormac Keep spinning Halfway to the Moon and Devotion to a Dream. The Whammy pedal is used much more tastefully in the end of Halfway to the Moon than in Fuego. Halfway to the Moon has staying power for sure!
, comment by tubescreamer
tubescreamer Any one else hear Fire On The Mountain at the start of the winterqueen jam??
, comment by ReadIcculus_
ReadIcculus_ Really great being able to see tunes like Halfway to the Moon, Yarmouth, and Say something before long before the album release. Was not able to make it to halloween or new years so looking forward to hearing the rest of Fuego this summer.

Wharf > Oak Mountain > Alpharetta. Gittin sum' suthern pheesh
, comment by Uakari
Uakari Thanks for nothing!!!
, comment by funkbeard
funkbeard Great review.

I have this weird feeling that Wombat will be little brother to Tweezer, a ridiculous song that ..... well, when you're at a show and they bust into Wombat, fans will be singing "Want that! Had that!" Getting all excited and shit..... and then into type II...... can happen.
, comment by funkbeard
funkbeard One thing that the review failed to detail is the wonderful narrative that connects the album. Every part and statement fits like a piece of a greater puzzle, and a beautiful story is implicitly conveyed. I may write of this on another occasion when I receive the CD next week.
, comment by elephant
elephant your review would fit well in a music magazine or something of the sort, but i was surprised to read very little about the aural quality of the album. i cant chime in because i havent listened to the album in a format besides the npr stream, and the way i see it, it was a fun chance to catch a peek of the sound but not even remotely an accceptable substitute for listening to the real deal which for me will be the vinyl, a vinyl digitized recording, or even a cd quality flac will be ok at minimum. so, my point here is that phish music is a lot more than albums or songs, it is sounds, and subtle ones at that, and fuck, scents too but thats neither here nor there. i am a fiend for great sounds, crunchy leaves and chirping birds mixed into the rhythmic sway of wind rattled branches....again, neither here nor there, ha! i hope that in the future there is a movement in popular culture and reviews of things such as songs, albums, concerts, jams that focuses on the sounds, the subtle ones, and less jibber jabber about the peripheral stuff. im probably in the minority, and in that case bask in what i call the peripheral and enjoy, but if anyone wants to add their thoughts about the sounds that all those people worked so hard to perfect for us to devour, im all ears. ill share mine once these ears have received a proper bathing in the fuego. stay well yall.
, comment by phunguy
phunguy Good review! The layered sounds on Monica sound like an acoustic electric with effects, I like that fat chorusy sound to it.
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown @funkbeard said:
One thing that the review failed to detail is the wonderful narrative that connects the album. Every part and statement fits like a piece of a greater puzzle, and a beautiful story is implicitly conveyed. I may write of this on another occasion when I receive the CD next week.
I didn't detail it because I didn't perceive it. I totally welcome your insight -- I think it would be really well appreciated here.
, comment by bertoletdown
bertoletdown @Uakari said:
Thanks for nothing!!!
Please proceed...
, comment by TelaJewel
TelaJewel Nice review. I have to say I love the sound and feel of Waiting All Night and Wingsuit on the studio version. To me they seem like the direction things are heading the band as a whole. Fuego for sure the Phishiest tune for me.

Devotion to a Dream: to me sounds like a cross between Traveling Wilburies and a few of the studio cuts from GD Go to Heaven like Alabama Getaway or Don't Ease Me In . . . ish.

I strongly disliked Monica when I first heard it but the studio version is growing on me. i like the word play in it. ....stole my manhood - de sired me - lol.
, comment by TwiceBitten
TwiceBitten I've only listened to the stream on NPR through my laptop's speakers (not ideal) so I'm very excited to play it through the hi-fi soon. I'm surprised how much of this is appealing to the inner dad-rocker in me, especially cause I don't really like the Joy material. Waiting All Night, Devotion to a Dream and Sing Monica (and Halfway to the Moon naturally) are really great in that regard. As much as I enjoy the music to Fuego, I just think the lyrics are really not very good. Nonsensical in a way that I feel is different from earlier Phish nonsense. It's funny, part of me feels like I have the same criticism here that many non fans have about the band's material. I guess it's just that the production of the album is so perfect that I almost wish went 100% serious with this one. Oh well, I haven't been 100% in love with any Phish album since I started really listening to their live shows 15 years ago, so I'm not surprised that this one is no different. I guess that's kind of a mixed review.
, comment by TwiceBitten
TwiceBitten *in reference to "Fuego" the song in the above post regarding the lyrics
, comment by tek9rifleskills
tek9rifleskills Trey's use of the Echoplex is amazing on this album, best use of a new effect of his since Story, at least one that has such an effect to my ears. The Fuego was actually recorded on 10/30/13 at Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City?!?! Amazing version then!!! Best version I've heard of it, what a damn scorching solo. I hear no 'whammy' bar, does Trey have a guitar with a whammy bar on it? I mainly hear wah pedal and echoplex on this album.

Mike's tone is unbelievable. Just truly some of the best Mike sound I've ever heard on a recording before, I think even better than Moss and Overstep even. He's in the mix so perfectly. Speaking of mix, anyone notice how amazing and dominating Page is on this album? All tracks except for Fuego, to us listening to the whole album all the way through last night for the first time, have Page way out front in the mix, so much so that on The Line, we couldn't really even hear Trey's guitar lead on the solo. Trey is there, but its so well mixed it just sounds like the whole band is in an orchestrated, "I'm not stepping toes," jam/solo.

The lyrics of the album overall are pleasant. I like the quirkiness of Fuego, it's mysterious, it makes us feel like there's meaning to it, and it means nothing at the same time. But the thread of "stealing" or "things stolen" is in many songs (if you include "you never know," this theme is actualized perfectly). And the stolen car references, very interesting. The basketball game was "stolen" from the team from those missed shots. Fuego is a stolen car...??? "Steal away/Let's steal a car.." opening lyrics to Wingsuit. Phish even "stole" a segment of the Fish TV show opening theme for Wombat (if you hear them back to back, it's so close). Phish is obviously a little too much fun :)

Lastly, the number of songs written by all 4 members, and that's the majority of the songs, should be something we all should be rejoicing over! Let's give it up to the 4 minds' creative genius that gelled together to create this sick, sick, sick album.
, comment by AbeVigoda
AbeVigoda I don't really ever like comparing Phish's music to other bands but this album has constantly reminded me of other acts. The beginning of Fuego reminds me of a Beatles song, Devotion to a Dream has a Grateful Dead feel, and I immediately heard Bob Ezrin's Pink Floyd influence in Wingsuit. Just my thoughts, I really do love this record!
, comment by malachai
malachai Has anyone noticed how they purchased banner ads to advertise the album? Real slick marketers these guys are using these dated tactics from 7 years ago, I wonder who sold them on that?! Honestly though, advertising those coins on Instagram got me to buy one, but banner ads to buy the album... LOL. Why would anyone buy it when you can listen to it on Spotify... I did buy a coin though, I mentioned that right?
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