(Editors Note: This review was originally published in a Phish Facebook group after a few sips of whiskey on a weeknight. The review has been altered to better fit the classy publication that is The Phunion™)
The new Phish album Big Boat is an embarrassment. Many Phish fans will disagree with this because to criticize Phish is to criticize their entire existence. While the Phish community is capable of so many amazing things, being critical of Jon, Page, Mike, and Sue’s husband is something most fans are simply incapable of doing. So with that said, Big Boat is a massive fucking embarrassment. Before we sink into what’s wrong with it, here is what works.
Big Boat has some tolerable moments. Tide Turns is shockingly catchy and the way the horns interlock with the guitar licks of Anastasio reminds us of that amazing Halloween night on the sacred polo fields of Indio. Blaze On should have been the first single based off both fan popularity and its FM radio sleekness but for some reason that didn’t seem to happen. Perhaps the band fears it would end up as their Touch of Grey, because three wrong turns can help you indeed get by. I Always Wanted It This Way is a breath of fresh air that finds Phish exploring new sounds and channeling the electro-pop masterpiece Give Up by The Postal Service 10+ years after it sunk into our collective consciousness. While it is exciting to hear the band go new places musically, even that song struggles at times because Trey will never have the pure song writing talent of Ben Gibbard.
The band also hits it out of the park with Miss You. Be it about Anastasio’s oldest daughter going off to college or some deeper meaning, it’s one of the better lyrical compositions the band has blessed us with over 30+ years. Yet the problem with this song and Big Boat in general is that it is an album that features 13 first set songs. Miss You will kill second sets from now until the final Fishman offspring gets their degree from a fancy four year institution that Bernie failed to make free.
Speaking of Fishman, Friends is arguably one of the worst opening tracks in the history of studio records. While there is some exciting instrumental play, Fishman is no Neil Diamond and simply isn’t strong enough to carry humiliating lyrics with his weak vocal performance. The unfortunate first single Breath and Burning sounds like a Blues Traveler song that wasn’t good enough to make the cut on a compact disc when H.O.R.D.E even with RAGE WITH PAGE using his keys to mimic the harmonica sounds of that fat guy who almost died masturbating long after he broke a trampoline.
Phish has been charting the dad rock waters for years now. If you look up Dad Rock on Wikipedia, it now simply redirects you to a YouTube video for the song Home. How can we rage with a guy who is singing about being Home? This song screams I am excited to get new linens from Bed Bath & Beyond as soon as I get off tour. Yes the song has a few decent sonic moments, but not even the key strokes around the 3:45 minute mark or outro jam can save this train wreck from killing all on board.
Not to be outdone by Home, McConnell also manages to rhyme ‘Interest’ with ‘Pinterest’ on Things People Do. Why producer Bob Ezrin tried to make this shit sound like Jack White’s Third Man Records recording booth is lost on us. This song should have been a 7 inch B-side actually recorded at Third Man for a Record Store Day release with Ass Handed being the A side as it fails to fit with the overall Adult Contemporary flow of Big Boat. This song also makes us wonder why Mike Gordon was incapable of writing his own bluegrass number instead of using the lyrics of the guy from Vida Blue.
Waking Up Dead is a metaphor for the vocal performance. Gordon singing this one makes Fishman sound like Eddie Vedder. Meanwhile, No Men In No Man’s Land has overstayed its welcome and the horns make it feel like an undersold TAB show. The song is so lazy it needs a stool to support itself at this point.
If you can make it past the first twelve songs on the album one would think the reward would be the closing 13 minute number Petrichor. Having not learned their lesson from Time Turns Elastic, this song stinks of an out of touch ‘holy fuck I am old here is my classical piece and me trying to pretend I am not a 50 something sober rocker wearing Banana Republic millionaire bubble’ that Phish now finds themselves entrapped in. Singing ‘rain washed it all away’ is not beautiful, it’s simplistic, but what do you expect from a guy who visits the McDonald’s near Haight Ashbury for Iced Fucking Tea? It’s as if Trey heard Umphrey’s McGee and wanted a participation trophy, and with how those guys are playing in the year 2016 can you fucking blame him? But hey, the flute sounds pretty sweet in headphones; way to go Ezrin.
Many fans will disagree and be hurt by this review of Big Boat. They will scream “stay home, more dance room for me!,” or “Go find a new band like Twiddle.” That’s fine, we can handle the blowback and in fact we encourage it. Much like “Joy” and “Fuego” before it, the shit on the lyrically water logged “Big Boat” will quickly sink to the bottom of the ocean faster than the coffee that leaks out of your cup. Thousands will fluff it, and while yes, there are a few nice moments, we have yet another album filled with piss breaks and opportunities to chat with your friends on par with other modern day Phish classics such as Halfway To The Moon, Yarmouth Road, and Kill Devil Falls.