Album Review

Phish, 'Joy'

September 14, 2009

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Phish Joy
ESSENTIAL “Kill Devil Falls’’

After years of downplaying comparisons to the Grateful Dead, Phish finally says, “The heck with it,’’ and busts out unmistakable Deadisms alongside affectionate appropriations of Neil Young, the Who, and the Beatles on “Joy,’’ its first album in five years. Phish sounds like it’s having a ball. The songs give off good vibes, even when alluding to the missteps that undid guitarist and main writer Trey Anastasio and ultimately his band. That lack of friction is a problem with Phish. In mid-career, Phish traded texture for consistency, producing smooth, listenable music that erred on the side of tasteful, which can detract from a band that established itself earlier by being adventurous. On “Joy,’’ Phish is nicely contoured and inviting, with a fine thread separating those compliments from an assessment of soft and dull. “Joy’’ rewards the faithful with splendid playing by Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman, and keyboard player Page McConnell. Most songs are stuffed with lyrics that can be read as both Phish rebirth hagiography and more general affirmations. But there is no joy in the bloated epic “Time Turns Elastic.’’ (Out now) SCOTT McLENNAN