Review Summary: Albeit with some filler, Phish holds steady to the rails.
Whenever a good, respected band disappears from the scene for a time and then announces their return in the form of a new album, there are always going to be high expectations, not to mention some intrigue. “Will it sound like the band we know and love; are they finally returning to their roots; are they trying out something different?” are amongst the commonly asked questions, and all 3 of these questions were asked by Phish fans when the Vermont quartet released a certain “Wingsuit” on Halloween of 2013. Indeed, as a very experimental, adventurous group, fans weren’t exactly sure what the answers to their questions would be. And after eight to nine months, the fans finally got the answers.
Unsurprisingly, it is the “same” Phish; Fuego
is a complex, intricate album with a lot of different melodies, musical subtleties, and sounds. Why “Wingsuit” was chosen as the first single is beyond me; despite the pleasant jazz overtone to the tune, emphasized by the easy piano and slow-moving drum beat, it is ultimately the very weakest and most sensitive of tracks on Fuego
. A tune much more fitting of the album’s overall style is “Devotion To A Dream”, a major-key track that is noticeably crisper and brighter than anything Phish had done on Joy
five years back. Melodically, it is a piece of piano rock, interspersed with upbeat, funk-laden guitar, organ, and bass; all of this overshadows lyrics such as:
It’s today the vows are broken, it’s today the charade is over,
It’s today the curtain’s coming down.
It is brightly-paced, it is catchy, it is slightly unnerving, and ultimately the album’s strongest point, although not the only good chunk. The opening nine minutes of the album comes in the form of “Fuego”, and the title track certainly gets the album started on a high note, with its multiple rhythms, motifs, and refrains; one minute it is eerie and almost futuristic, the next minute laden with rejuvenating guitar and bass lines. The shocking arrhythmia actually works in the song’s favor, and it never feels like it circles the drain for all of its nine minutes. A certain lush song, “Winterqueen”, rides a moderate, comfortable beat and melody that could just as easily have been written by Pink Floyd, an unexpected delight. “555” is also pretty fine it its own right; it is the embodiment of groovy funk, with its uplifting chorus, call-and-response refrains, and the unbelievably rich, smooth
sound to Mike Gordon’s bass in the verses. Ultimately, some tracks on the album really, really work, the kind of music that Phish is very, very good at.
The album has its downsides; one of which is that it is not terribly consistent. Very good tracks are constantly interspersed with lesser ones, making it something of a confused hash of an album. Although you cannot blame “The Line” for sounding weak, being adjacent to the huge “Fuego”, you can blame “Waiting All Night”, a very slow, tired-sounding tune (that sounds uncannily like post-Gabriel Genesis at points) that not-so-subtly kills the momentum of the album and does so in a way that doesn’t feel natural or necessary at all. Another issue that of the album’s length; while Phish is definitely a jam rock band, first and foremost, some tracks are simply too long for their own good. Indeed, the album clocks in at almost fifty-five minutes, a great deal of which is comprised with instrumentals.
All told, regardless of its faults, this is a good way to keep the fairly well-liked band alive; it is a revitalized sound, a sign of Phish holding steady to the rails even after their 30+ plus years of being together; it is also full of nuanced, groovy tunes that do manage to keep your attention – in spades. Indeed, the album’s sheer length and occasional lack of vocals bog it down and make the fifty plus minutes one might spend on the full album a little challenging, but hardly a difficult or unlikable task.