Umphrey's McGee



by timbo8 USER (48 Reviews)
December 27th, 2009 | 8 replies

Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Ambitious, yes, but still the biggest disappointment of 2009.

Before Mantis, we didn't see Umphrey's McGee as one of those jam bands. They weren't the kind to launch into overly meandering prog rock journeys or have a 30 second "Preamble" track. From their onstage jam sessions ("Jimmy Stewarts") to the compact radio-ready songs of Anchor Drops and Safety in Numbers, UM has stayed user-friendly; everyone's Rock with a capital R. For all it’s familiar elements, however, Mantis trades the warm and accessible for unfocused rambling that flies by in a messy blur.

The lead up to Mantis quickly revealed that the album would be a game changer for the band. Rather than road testing new songs, like they had done their whole career, UM was mostly hush hush on new material, instead crafting them in the secrecy of the studio. It was an inward-looking recording process that is not inherently misguided, but is surely risky considering the band's preeminence as a live, crowd-pleasing group (you know, a jam band).

Mantis is still recognizable as UM, but only in a piecemeal form. Trademark UM melodies and propulsive rhythms dot the landscape, but they are soon absorbed into aimless experimental riffing and spacey detours. "Turn & Run" is Umphrey’s McGee in true form until around the two-minute mark, when spacey synths transplant the steady groove into alternate dimensions for the next 5 and a half disjointed minutes. In fact, "disjointed" appropriately describes much of Mantis, from the bloated 12 minute title track to the forgettable meandering of "Spires". I’m sure the frequent tempo shifts looked great on paper (I would think so too), but in practice, they more often leave listeners lost and confused.

Even the album's several bite-sized tunes can't register the energy and excitement of previous records. Its flat chorus renders "Made to Measure", the first song and single, utterly forgettable and "Prophecy Now" is a dull mood piece. Closers "Red Tape" and "1348" simply pack in the prog-inclined exercises of the longer tracks into tighter quarters. Could it be that the most enjoyable track is the tight, bass-driven dance beat of "Cemetery Walk II"" Well, "Cemetery Walk" is the only long-runner here that doesn't collapse under its own weight, but altogether, Mantis delivers few of the really memorable, hook-adorned tunes that proliferated Safety in Numbers ("Nemo") and Anchor Drops ("Anchor Drops", "In the Kitchen").

Had this prog rock experiment worked out better for UM, Mantis could have its long-runners, but smoother transitions, more patient tempo shifts, and more cohesive song structures would have to be part of the equation. When the songs aren't submerged in obtuse prog foolery, Mantis at least shows that Umphrey's McGee can still be catchy and fun as hell. But listening to the band's latest outing, as the minutes pass by, I shouldn’t be asking myself: "What song am I listening to again""

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Comments:Add a Comment 
Staff Reviewer
December 27th 2009


enjoyable read as always timothy

December 28th 2009


I've always loved this band, guess I won't check this one out. Nice review.

April 8th 2010


Album Rating: 4.5

Funny how people get confused when artists change. I absolutely love this new piece. I can't get enough of Mantis, Made To Measure, Cemetery Walk & II, 1348... and those are the ones that come to mind while I have Dire Straits blasting... I love how they got heavier and what some may say further into Prog rock. I guess I'm not the typical "JamBand" fan...

One of my current albums being played consistently.

June 13th 2010


Album Rating: 4.0

WOW, i honestly didnt expect to see any reviews for this album below a 3.5! its an epic journey, and if your criticizing the prog-rock influence then you obviously dont understand what umphrey's are all about!! Mantis is one hell of a track, and upon further listening one will definitely find themselves attached to the other songs on this album. As for "preamble," is it not unheard of to find intro songs on any album?! IMHO an unfair review for a masterfully constructed album, props to UM for continuously pumpin' out awesome tunes!!

Haha, we need a lil more love for UM on this site!

June 13th 2010


Album Rating: 3.5

this is umphrey's best album IMHO, though they will never make an album that is as good as their live show....

i can kind of see where this reviewer is coming from, but i don't think he did a good job at explaining it, it just seems like one long "the songs are too long and change too much" statement, without much else.

June 27th 2010


Album Rating: 2.0

I don't think I was unfair in reviewing this, I'm just not particularly fond of it. And it's not like I said the stronger prog-rock elements are inherently bad, I just think they could of done much better. And no chaduah, it's not at all unheard of to have an intro song, but what I say here is that having such a track, especially a simple 30 second one like "Preamble", gives off the idea that the band is going for something more serious, more dramatic, like they are making more of an artistic statement. That's why you generally don't see similar intro tracks on generic pop albums ;)

I believe I do say a lot more than just "songs are too long and change too much", but this point, however, is a huge one and is this album's main flaw. I've listened to this album many times and yet cannot be endeared to many of the songs because they morph so awkwardly and frequently that they lose personality and the charm that prior UM albums had.

April 14th 2011


Album Rating: 3.5

i know this is a few months late, but i just re-read the review and have no clue why i said that...guess i was blinded by my opinions

i guess i look at this album as a prog-rock album and enjoy the transitions, where as if you are more of a fan of their previous albums this is a change

either way, i think we both can agree UM live will always be the best, i just bought the iclip stream of UM Bowl II, and i highly recommend checking it out

August 3rd 2014


Album Rating: 1.5

'Mantis' was a great track until right around the 4 minute mark.

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