Any self-respecting Phish-head knows that the true heart and soul of Phish lies in their live shows; marathon sets showcasing the group’s stunning musicianship, improvisation, diverse influences, and most of all, a chemistry unrivaled by any band on the planet.
Phish’s studio albums have always been considered a lesser forum for their talents, with shorter compositions and little room for the the jam sessions that created the band’s legion of devoted fans. So I’m sure I was not alone in being somewhat wary of their 11th studio release, “Joy,” following the band’s breakup in 2004 and recent reunion tour. But overall, the album is on par with the majority of their other studio recordings; it has good, catchy tunes mixed in with a few more mellow numbers, and one lengthy, progressive track. The most telling feature about the album is its title – guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman seem truly happy to be back together making music.
The first track, “Backwards Down the Number Line,” sets the tone for the rest of the album, opening with the lyrics “Happy happy oh my friend…” There’s a good hook and some enjoyable Jerry Garcia-esque guitar soloing and I found it hard to stop myself from nodding my head along with the chorus.
The title track slows things down a bit, and lyrically it seems directed at Phish’s fans: “We want you to be happy
‘Cause this is your song too…”
Something I always look forward to with Phish albums is any song by Mike Gordon. Gordon songs are to Phish what George Harrison songs were to the Beatles – always a little skewed, and certainly definitive of their author. “Joy” only contains one Gordon song, “Sugar Shack,” a reggae-tinged little ditty that harkens back to a Phish sound of old.
Other songs like “Ocelot” and “Kill Devil Falls” bounce playfully around, but are little more than Phish versions of pop songs (because despite their mainstream sound, even songs like these never get radio airplay).
The previously mentioned progressive rock-like track, “Time Turns Elastic,” clocks in at a little over 13 minutes, thereby taking up nearly half of the album’s relatively short length. It twists and turns in a variety of musical directions, but like other longer studio tracks in the past such as “Guyute” and “Walls of the Cave,” it really demonstrates the band’s cohesiveness and ability to meld each musician’s talents together into a beautiful composition.
So while the album is far from one of Phish’s best studio recordings, it has a good sound and for Phish fans who have had to go 6 years since hearing a new Phish album, it will surely bring some modicum of “joy.”
Joy gets 3 out of 5 stars