The new Phish album Big Boat is officially out, marking the band’s 13th studio effort to date. Longtime Phish devotees certainly have a mixed bag of opinions with regard to the new release, as the album showcases the same band we know and love, as they take a more direct approach with their songwriting. With strong, conflicting opinions, our editorial team set out to thoroughly turn the tides of Big Boat, dissecting each and every song in a roundtable discussion, following NPR’s “First Listen” release. A bottle of tequila and street tacos were also involved because, well, “Breath and Burning” all but demanded it.
What you see here is an unfiltered transcription of this editorial discussion, held by Kendall Deflin, Andrew O’Brien, Gideon Plotnicki, and Dave Melamed. Critical at times, playful at others; at the end of the day, we’re all happy there’s new Phish to be heard.
You can stream the album in full to follow the discussion, or pick out individual tracks for each section. Without further ado…
Kendall: Oh God.
Andrew: I kind of love this song.
Gideon: The beginning of this song sounds how Phish sounds live, which is unusual for their records. This (intro noodling) is what they sound like when they’re jamming. Even though it doesn’t sound like Phish, it sounds like Phish.
K: But then the lyrics chime in and I immediately return to the days of adolescent angst. These words sound like they belong in one of those old high school movies. I do not enjoy them.
A: I could be biased, but I love anytime that Fishman sings. Objectively, it’s kind of terrible, but there’s something about it that’s comforting.
Dave: His voice is so reflective of his dress.
G: This song works as a studio song because it translates what they’re good at live, while also masking Fishman’s bad voice with studio effects.
D: The studio production is definitely a plus.
A: They do use this vocal filter the entire album though, and it gets really tired after a while.
D: It’s strange that they opened with a Fishman vocal track.
G: But it IS an epic track, even though it is a Fishman track. This isn’t a joke track, even if it is a little funny by nature of it being by Fishman.
A: If you think about what they’re talking about… It’s very silly and simple.
K: So is most of the rest of the album.
A: When I first heard this song in Philly, I thought they were saying ‘I’m a Big Boy!’.
D: I could see this song being the perfect time to take a piss break.
All: This is a piss break album.
2. Breath And Burning
K: This is why we’re drinking tequila.
G: This song does not feel like what Mexico felt like, for the record.
A: Tell us what it’s like to be made of sand, Gideon.
G: I suppose I can understand the desire to want to capture the feeling of what happened on those beaches, because it was such a strange and unique moment in Phish’s career, but it was not like this. I was in the water with all the fans, and it was crazy! I’ve never experienced anything like that in the many Phish shows I’ve attended, so I can understand wanting to write something about it. But what they came out with was a mediocre pop song.
K: I think the theme here is obviously Dad Rock. Sounds like Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville, Hawaiian shirt material.
D: Or dare I say…. Van Morrison.
K: It’s just too happy.
A: The metaphor has been over-done here.
G: I think the album strengthens after this point.
K: How is this even a song without the horns?
D: Where is the funk? This just sounds like Jimmy Buffett.
[We’ll dance in the light of the moon…]
K: There’s too much ‘light’ happening on this album.
A: A lot of light and water.
D: These are the cheesiest fills.
G: It sounds like Trey sat down to write about his thoughts about Phish in Mexico, and then just forced them into a song about that experience, whether it worked or not.
G: This is the best song on the album.
K: On first listen, I hated it. But after the 3rd or 4th listen, I could easily imagine myself singing every word and making fun of it all at the same time.
G: I like the Page ballads, I like “Halfway to the Moon,” I like the songs he writes that are trying to be more rock-y.
A: It sounds like a song that belongs on a Page solo album.
D: I could see this being a great middle-of-first-set song.
G: Or even in the middle of the second set. I see a lot of use for a song like this in Phish’s catalogue. Page has three or so songs on this album, and that’s substantial. If he’s going to write songs like this, then I’m happy to have them on the album.
K: I do prefer his songs over Trey’s at this point.
G: I’m happy to have something like this, with a composed breakdown at the end, than something like “Breath And Burning.” This song, to me, still sounds like Phish live, which is great. The songs might be cheesy, but, for better or for worse, this is what the band sounds like a lot of the time. So at least it translates on the record. It’s a pretty accurate representation of what they currently sound like.
A: Except for the vocals, which are super processed on every song.
G: Well, thankfully.
A: Thankfully or not, I think my appeal to Phish a lot of times is that their vocals don’t take away from their actual musicianship. None of them are incredible singers, so it’s really just the instruments that come up.
D: Like, is Trey gonna shred this part right here? Is that where we are?
A: This feels like where it would go.
G: This part is great, with the strings and orchestral feel! This is epic!
K: But this will never happen in real life.
D: This is a first set Phish, not a second set Phish. It’s a nice progression, I like it. Trey will shred it. I’m into it.
G: I do think perhaps there’s one too many verses.
A: Fishman killin’ it on drums.
G: This will undoubtedly be awesome live.
A: Are those ‘Your Pet Cat’ sounds?
G: See, this sounds like Phish the entire way through. You could see how they could play this song out forever.
D: Yeah, hit that note Trey!
K: I see the potential in this song. It at least has some direction and delivers several “WTF?” moments that I dig.
4. Blaze On
A: I’ve always loved this song, since last summer at Bend.
D: The studio version of this is cheesy, but we knew it was going to be.
K: But it gets stuck in everyone’s head, and that’s what a “good” song does.
D: We’ve all heard this song a million times. I don’t think we need to talk about this anymore… it’s time for another tequila shot.
[Tequila is served]
G: See, this song is what “Breath and Burning” is trying to be. It’s bouncy, it’s breezy, it’s fun, and it has the lyrical wordplay that we’ve come to expect from Phish.
A: The lyrics are so clever in “Blaze On”, Breath and Burning’s lyrics are SO lame.
D: It’s because they say “Blaze.”
G: The song ending at 4:20 is a little tongue-in-cheek, but maybe not such tongue-in-cheek commentary. ‘Blaze on’ can mean a lot of things, it can mean fighting for what you believe in, your passion, letting the fire within you burn, etc.
D: In addition to… weed.
K: I think I should quit Live For Live Music and become a bartender.
5. Tide Turns
K: I like the studio intro to “Tide Turns.” But on the field, the opening notes cue the perfect opportunity for a beer run.
D: This intro just sounds like TAB to me.
G: “Tide Turns” is infinitely better with the horns, and should be reserved to be played only when they have horns with them because it sounds so much better.
A: The horns just sound so good.
K: When was the last time they had horns on stage?
Dave: Dick’s 2014. Natalie [Cressman] and Jen [Hartswick] came out for one song, “Suzy Greenberg.”
G: “Tide Turns” just sounds so much better as a Motown-y ballad. The song itself felt like a ballad that’s missing layers [when played on tour this summer]. The song clearly fits perfectly with the horns, and does not fit without it. Those horns change the whole vibe of the song. If we were to play a live version of “Tide Turns”, it’s sleepy, it’s slow.
K: And that’s the only version we’re used to.
G: And immediately I like this song better with the horns.
K: It’s so lame though, and it gets stuck in your head. The last time my boyfriend sang this song to me, I withheld sex for a week. It got stuck in everyone’s head at the Gorge because it’s catchy and lame. All of these love songs don’t make sense to me!
A: Does that mean that it’s a good song though and we’re just missing it?
G: Have you thought that Phish in and of itself is weird and awkward and part of accepting them is accepting their weirdness and awkwardness? Now, as they’re older men as opposed to young and adventurous kids, their way of being weird is to be like this.
K: Is to be old “dad rock”?
G: Maybe we don’t understand it because we’re not dads.
D: ***sings chorus to Tide Turns***
K: The tide turns twice a day…
A: I’ll wait for you for, like, eight hours.
G: Sounds like a fun day on the beach…
[Trey plays melodic solo]
G: This right here is a tasteful solo.
D: Tasteful? We love when Trey is tasteful. Can’t wait for those tasteful jams!
A: I don’t want tasteful, I want too many notes!
G: It’s definitely corny, but as long as they don’t play this song in the second set…
D: Oh you know they will… right out of a huge “Tweezer” too. The bathroom line will be so long. So. Long.
G: The tide will turn in the bathroom, that’s for sure….I do have to give them credit though for realizing that they needed to add these elements to the album, because otherwise imagine what the album would sound like.
K: I guess it’s the nature of their music in general, it’s not about their studio albums. It’s like, here’s the platform, now we’re going to launch from it, and do it differently every time that you stand in front of us.
A: That’s why it’s so confusing to a lot of fans right now. It doesn’t sound like Phish, it sounds like something really polished and, you know, sincere. Doesn’t feel silly and adventurous like we’re used to.
G: It’s not musically adventurous, it’s emotionally adventurous.
6. Things People Do
K: I think this is the cutest song on the album.
A: This song sounds great live. We’ve heard it a couple of times, it sounds awesome, it’s a great little bluegrass tune. But it sounds nothing like this.
D: It’s like on the last album where “Wombat” sounded weird, very stripped-down and low-fi.
G: It’s interesting they decided to strip it down on the album. I don’t like bluegrass that much personally, but I do like the odd Phish bluegrass song on their albums. I think they always serve a purpose.
K: But what purpose does this song serve?
G: Well, I don’t actually think this song serves a purpose on this album.
D: It’s a two-minute little filler.
K: But they don’t need filler. They cut “Ass Handed” for this!
D: You know Bob Ezrin was like “no way I’m doing a song called ‘Ass Handed.’ Let’s try again, Phish.
G: “Ass Handed” is the Phishiest song they’ve come out with in a long time.
All: It’s the best one!
7. Waking Up Dead
A: I love this song. “Waking Up Dead.” When they debuted it in Philly, right away I was like, “this is the best new song by far.” I didn’t get the same feeling from this song on the album, but it’s still the most interesting I think. It goes to a few weird places.
G: I just don’t like Mike Gordon’s vocals on this track.
D: Yeah, he’s hitting that high register that’s just a little out of his vocal range.
G: The music is awesome though.
A: It sounds a lot like Overstep.
G: Well, didn’t he write this song with [Scott] Murkawski?
A: You can tell this is the Mike song on the album as soon as it starts.
G: I love the music on the track, just really don’t like the vocals on the track.
K: Who would do a better job of singing it though? Definitely not Trey.
G: I think Page would sound better on this song. I understand he’s not going to sing a song that Mike wrote, I just don’t like the way he delivers the vocals on the track. It’s too whiny.
D: [whining like Mike Gordon]
G: I’m not the biggest fan of his voice in the first place, like when they cover “Drowned” I feel like he’s just screeching up there the whole time, but, sometimes he wants to take ownership of a song and it works out.
D: I like him on most of his originals.
G: Yea, I mean, I like “Mike’s Song.”
D: “555” is a great one. So is “Mound.”
A: They’ve been on the verge of dropping a huge “555” for years now.
D: This song does have a lot of space for a huge jam in the live setting.
K: Waking up dead, it’s like me on Summer Tour.
A: What is good with Mike Gordon and sucking? He talks about sucking and suction almost every time he opens his mouth.
G: See, now that he’s not singing in that higher pitch, it’s much better. And this musical section is great.
A: I think this song has a lot to offer.
K: The Internet seems to think some of these lyrics are speaking out to the fans that depend on drug use at their shows. Like, “the end is looming, get your shit together, we’re still here, while you’re all waking up dead.” And something about “Miss You”? I thought that was interesting of the Internet.
8. Running Out Of Time
G: Well, this one is called “Running Out Of Time.”
K: Exactly! It’s hard to imagine that these songs are really love songs. It’s somewhat comforting to think that they are sending a message to their fans, though I don’t necessarily believe that’s the case. It’s just a nice theory. Hey Phish, we like you too.
G: I think the band’s last three albums were all about that in a way, where all the lyrics are speaking directly, emotionally, to the person or people that the song was written about, whereas Phish’s older lyrics were not about anything or anyone, so, I think a lot of people have trouble with that transition in their songwriting.
D: Yeah, those early songs they were just writing whatever sounded cool. Lump block clod.
G: The goal was to have random lyrics, the goal was to have Tom Marshall write random poems not inspired by the music and force them to fit.
K: Well, now there’s less Tom Marshall.
G: Well, there is some Tom Marshall, like on “Blaze On,” but the songs written by Trey that sound like this are, I think, emotionally different than the other ballads that he wrote earlier in his career. But look, people love “Waste.”
A: I honestly really like this one too, it’s pretty. It may not be the most interesting song, but it’s beautiful.
G: It’s really smooth, it fits Trey’s vocal range properly, he’s not pushing himself.
D: Yeah but it feels like something that you’d hear in a Starbucks.
G: Yeah that’s true, but don’t some of their other ballads as well? Like “Let Me Lie” sounds like something in a Starbucks, but that was written in the 90s, so maybe this side is something that’s always part of their capabilities.
D: So far, I feel like there’s nothing that hits you hard, nothing that we’ve heard so far at least. There’s some good jams but nothing incredible.
K: There’s no weird shit happening, there’s no stepping into any freezers, there’s no sharing in any weekapaug grooves. Instead, this album is literally waiting for you until the tide turns! Which, I repeat, happens multiple times a day.
A: I feel like the album is too on-the-nose. There’s not enough to go on a tangent with, not as many turns of phrase. It’s very clear what they’re talking about, it’s almost a little forced.
K: It’s not lyrically thought-provoking whatsoever.
D: Maybe that’s just the difference between twenty year old people vs. fifty year old people.
G: Maybe they discovered a desire to write about their own emotions instead of someone else random writing lyrics.
K: Or maybe they’re just…”Running Out of Time” [sung]!
9. No Men In No Man’s Land
A: We all love this song! You were saying there wasn’t any funk on the album… here’s the funk.
D: This is the only funk song on this album though.
G: This is also a perfect representation of what Phish is right now. As opposed to “Blaze On” which sounds very cheesy and produced, this sounds like them live in the studio, playing this song as they would in concert.
K: I always wonder how many takes they do, jamming on it.
D: There aren’t horns on this track are there? I don’t remember.
A: They don’t need horns to help sell this track. We’ve heard them jam it out, we’ve heard them play it short. This is a Phish song now.
D: You’re right, this is the song we all heard to begin 2016.
[Enter horn section in second chorus]
A: And…there they are.
K: They’re good.
D: I think they add a lot on the track, it makes it feel more of a studio thing. This is, so far, my favorite song on the album.
G: It’s definitely the best combination of all things Phish on one track.
A: I can see picking this song out of a playlist. The rest of the songs, I’ll listen to when I listen to Big Boat.
D: Let’s be honest. Are any of us going to listen to Big Boat after this, right now?
[Track plays to an awkward silence]
D: It’s been a while since I’ve listened to Fuego, that’s all I’m saying.
K: What does it mean to be a no man in no men’s land?
G: I know that Trey talked about the theme of the album being that they know they don’t have that much time left.
K: I mean…. they’re in their 50s?
G: I believe the quote is that they’re aware of their mortality, and even though they’re not scared, they’re still aware of the closing time. So I understand thematically, how “No Men” fits into that. They’re in new territory, they probably thought they were never going to be here, they already broke up twice. What do they do from here? So I understand the emotion.
K: These lyrics are becoming far too present-minded.
A: They definitely sing about Pinterest on “Things People Do.”
K: Right? It says something about “scanning Pinterest.” That freaked me out.
D: He rhymes Pinterest with interest. It’s the first line of the song.
K: I’m so glad you brought that up! I heard it today and chose to forget.
A: I get it. It’s like “Stealing Time” talking about a Cliff bar and cold green tea. They’re trying to bring you into the space that they’re in, where they’ve actually been writing. But you don’t need to name drop your Pinterest, Page.
D: Really what’s disappointing is that they rhymed Pinterest with interest. The word Pinterest is pinning your interests, that’s where it comes from.
G: What if they, like, created a new word?
K: But they didn’t.
10. Miss You
G: As a lover of “Bug,” this is a song I like.
A: I really disliked it at first, but then I think it was The Dude [of Life] posted something about how it was about Trey’s sister who died, and it immediately changed my view. Knowing that it was about his sister made me feel where it was coming from a little more, and I like it more now.
D: I have to say though, when they debuted it at Wrigley, it was somewhat of a set breaker.
G: It works better as a first set ballad. It also works really well in a studio recording. Phish records their ballads very well.
D: Yeah, I agree.
G: Look, if My Morning Jacket released a song that sounded exactly like this on their album, everyone would be talking about how great it is.
D: That’s because it would be better. Jim James would kill this song. [Impersonates Jim James]
G: That’s my point, Phish fans are very weird with their ballads. I think there’s a place for a rock band to have great ballads and love songs. It’s a huge inspiration. It would be a great Jim James song though.
K: Can we call him?
G: Someone get Jim James in here.
A: Again, it’s just a little too on-the-nose for me. I think they could have a little more nuance, some layers. “The memories we’ve had, I’ll never forget.” That’s the refrain of this song? Obviously the sentiment is beautiful, but you can execute a little more interestingly.
G: But hey, maybe it really impacted him to lose his sister, and that’s his artistic expression.
A: I don’t want to hate on this song at all, because I understand how meaningful it is and I have so much respect for Trey.
D: At the end of the day, it’s great that this band is still creating new music after 30 years and it’s good. Is it as good as Phish was when they started? It’s different. They shouldn’t be where they were when they started, that would be weird for an artist to stay exactly the same.
K: But if we were all to listen to this record having this been a new band, having there never been a Phish…
D: How many people are listening to this record as their introduction to Phish? No one.
G: Have you ever listened to an Eric Clapton album? Because this is what it sounds like. We are in this category of heavy-listening Phish fans…
D: Everybody is a heavy-listening Phish fan. What is a light-listening Phish fan?
G: But listen to Eric Clapton’s record, or a mainstream guitar player, and their ballads sound like this.
K: I just think like, if someone were to send me a press release and said here’s the link to my new album…I would ultimately be unimpressed.
D: When have you ever opened a press release and said, “I’m going to listen to the album of this band that I’ve never heard of!” Immediate delete. Sorry to all the publicists I don’t know!
A: My roommate, who went to his first show on New Year’s Eve, was with me when “Breath And Burning” came out. I listened to it, and I was kinda rocking to it, but when it finished I was like, “that song kinda sucked.” He said, “I was hoping you’d say that. I didn’t want to shit on your favorite band, but that song sucks!” I hope that new people don’t get turned off of Phish that way.
G: You know what, I listened to this album once through before this. I had it on in the apartment, and my girlfriend was enjoying it. She said it was her favorite Phish album that I played for her, but it doesn’t sound anything like they do live.
D: Is that a good thing though?
G: The songs are more relatable to a wider audience. We’re just expecting them to be weird.
A: There’s no distress tubes, there’s no Pictures of Nectar.
G: There’s no slicing nipples.
K: Where are the antelopes, the possums, the sloths?!
D: We’re pretty deep into a conversation about what Phish should be, and the song is only like two-thirds over. We stopped listening to the song and got into the essence of core Phish philosophy. Phishosophy.
G: For me, this is the kind of ballad that I go for, but I think it has potential for good placement. Second set in the middle of a 40,000 person Chicago show isn’t the right placement for it.
D (out of the blue): Where is “Mercury?”
A: Yeah man, and “Can’t Always Listen.” They played it at MSG once and never again.
G: Now this sounds like Phish live.
D: It sounds like “Number Line” or “Bug.”
K: It does feel familiar. I think I’ve only seen “Bug” live once.
K: Maybe twice, only once.
G: Maybe they’ll play it in Vegas.
D: I’m just hoping for a “Miss You” themed Halloween.
11. I Always Wanted It This Way
G: Here comes the most “controversial” song on the album. Welcome to STS9.
K: It brings me to a mysteriously unknown dance floor, for sure.
A: At least it’s not like yacht rock, Jimmy Buffett.
G: I am stoked that this song is on this album. I think adding an uptempo synth heavy track like this is great for Phish. It’s crazy, it’s different.
A: It sounds like Vida Blue.
K: Honestly I love it, but I don’t think it’s Phish. When I first heard it, I wished I was at an LCD Soundsystem concert. In fact, I still wish that.
G: But doesn’t that make you like Phish more? That they can incorporate this disco-y dancing sound.
K: I’m not hating on it, but it’s very weird that they did this. We are not at a discoteque in the late 80s.
A: I can’t wait to see what this sounds like live. Are they going to start using vocal filters on their mics or are they just going to drop all of this?
D: I think the vocals will sound different live.
G: What’s interesting is that the vocal delivery is like he’s singing a ballad, but against a dance track.
A: It does sound like an LCD Soundsystem song in that way.
K: Right? I just want to dance myself clean.
D: It’s just so out of nowhere.
K: It’s out of nowhere but it might be the only one I listen to again. I’d playlist the shit out of this for my “gym jams.”
A: It just feels like this whole album is anachronous. It should have come out in 1986, and then it would have been a huge pop album. As a 2016 Phish album, it just sounds kind of strange.
K: It doesn’t feel like it’s in the present moment.
G: The last album they came out with, they hadn’t played any of the songs first. That’s the mistake they made with this one. If we had just been hearing “Blaze On” and “No Men” for the first time, people would be more excited about the album. But because people know the songs so well, it takes away a little bit.
A: It’s like when a preview for a movie has all the really good scenes.
G: That’s a really good analogy. The thing about Fuego that made it so good, and the previous album Joy too, you hadn’t heard any of the songs before they played them. Now, two of the landmark songs on the album, we almost consider them to be skip over tracks.
D: We drank tequila during “Blaze On.”
G: We blazed on during that. I think that that’s important to note, because, as Phish fans who are really into the band, we aren’t taking those songs into account.
K: No but I like this. I wish that this song was coming from a band that I could listen to their full record. I dig this weird spacey dark disco stuff, though it’s incredibly alternative to the Phish we’re used to.
D: Is Trey even playing on this song? I don’t hear any guitar on this track.
K: He’s probably on the Marimba Lumina. Thing’s gotta go.
G: Kendall’s gonna shut it down.
A: I like it once in a while. There was one point on summer tour after a big Marimba Lumina jam where I checked the set lists, and they’d played it at like nine out of fourteen shows. It was most of the shows, Trey played the Marimba Lumina.
K: Trey should be on the guitar!
G: I actually really like this one.
A: Yea, this is another new one we haven’t heard live yet.
G: This album has a bunch of ballads, that I think have a place in the catalogue, but it’s a little weird to have all of them bunched together on an album like this.
D: There’s no Phish funk on this album, man. One of the songs we already knew, that you just called a skip-over track because we know it so well, “No Man’s,” is the only funk on the album. I wanna hear FUNK.
A: I don’t know about you guys, but when I hear that “tilt to the left, lean to the right” part, I think of like, Fat Joe. It just sounds so out of place.
K: Yea, like what is this dance they’re trying to teach me? I would just like one bump of funk.
D: And how about one bass bomb here.
All: [Imitating Mike bass bomb sound.]
G: I think this song has a lot of potential to be a good first set closer, because it’s a ballad but it picks up and has a kind of epic ending. I see the utility for a lot of these songs, but its certainly not their best album, or their best work in general–which may just be behind them.
D: Harsh words.
[Vibrating/Pulsating with love and light (vocals)]
K: These lyrics keep me up at night. “I’m vibrating with love and light”? Man. You got a hoop to come along with that flow?
A: “Pulsating with love and light” sounds like how a wook would sign a thank you card.
D: “Thank you for vibrating me with love and light”. I think this is just him looking at a shiny glow thing in the crowd at a show, and decided to write a song. I’ve definitely been to a TAB show where he said he’d been staring at someone’s glowsticks in the balcony all night and thanked them.
G: I really like this song even though the lyrics are a little annoying. The music is quite good.
A: Right, that’s why this is perplexing, just like a lot of the album is perplexing. Where there’s good points in every song, there are points in every song that just seem so out of place that the whole album feels a little strange as a Phish record.
K: “Some good points, a whole lotta bad points…. But it all works out, I’m just a little freaked out….”
A: This end jam sounds like something that would come out of a “Loving Cup” closer and everyone would cheer and dance, but then you get to those lyrics and I feel like cringing.
K: The lyrics are downright offensive.
A: I think I would like this song better with literally any other words. “Te-quil-a and ta-co-time”!
D: This is what Dad rock sounds like.
K: [Sings “time to put your Wingsuit on!”]
A: Okay, this one’s gonna be rough to get through. We’ve already been kinda tearing into this album. Petrichor could get ugly.
K: I don’t know, I have some nice things to say about the middle section.
G: I think this song is pretty.
A: I think it should’ve stayed in the orchestra.
G: I just think they should’ve written something specifically for the band instead of using another orchestra song. The problem with “Time Turns Elastic” was that Trey wrote it for the orchestra, and he did the same with this track.
K: Wait, I know nothing about the history of this song.
G: OK, so he wrote this as an orchestral suite, and toured with it with different orchestras a couple years ago. And once again, another producer was like “You’re Phish, you should have a long composed song!” So instead of writing a new song, he took a song from his life as a composer and repurposed that for Phish. Which, in all fairness, is how he started writing music for Phish in the first place.
D: Yeah, I don’t have a problem with that.
G: But it just doesn’t feel like they’ll be able to do this song justice as a Phish song without changing it.
D: Well, in fairness, they haven’t tried yet.
K: The beginning of this song sounds like Christmas to me. And I hate Christmas music. But, then there is a shift in the middle that I like, I dig. That being said, I might be able to fool my Mother into playing Phish at the dinner table over the holidays, because this song just sounds like Christmas.
G: The song definitely has the potential to be really awesome live if they arrange it properly for just the four of them. It’s a really impressive composition.
D: The lyrics are more like refrains.
A: Yeah, they could’ve treated this like a “David Bowie,” and had mostly composed instrumentals and then said just absolute gibberish lyrics. It would’ve made it more interesting than what they said.
K: This is like Santa Claus, just rollin’ on his sleigh.
D: Yea but like, chill Santa.
A: It’s like Cool Guy Santa with sunglasses on.
G: This needs to be like a first set closer.
A: Yea, this could be cool live. Like, here’s where there would be glowstick wars…
K: Cue glowsticks!
A: Maybe it’s just like every long Phish composition where it’s weird, and then we see it live and we get used to it and we love it… It’s composed in that same style as a “Reba” or a “You Enjoy Myself” where there are distinct sections that sound very different, but I guess I just feel like the individual sections don’t pack a punch as much as those classics, so it feels like it just stretches on.
D: I don’t know, this part is pretty epic.
G: This will be excellent live, but i think having the orchestral parts in there almost mutes how awesome it’s actually gonna be with the just the four of them.
A: I can’t wait to eat my words when I see this live and it blows my mind.
G: Hey, if they can nail a 13-minute composition, I’ll be stoked no matter what.
K: This could be the next YEM…
[Awkward pause and laughter, then the lyrics begin]
A: Here’s where I start to cringe. This is kind of where I get turned off honestly.
K: “The rain came down and washed it all away.”
G: Lyrics like this are what made “Time Turns Elastic” just go away.
A: Yea. What I love about Phish is the layered lyrics, all the innuendo, and puns, and plays on words. And this is just so straightforward and almost listless, that it kind of just falls flat.
G: I really hope that for the next album, there’s more contribution from Tom Marshall. He makes such a big difference. His absence is felt on this album for sure.
A: The theme of all this has been that the lyrics are just kinda corny, so not having their most prolific lyricist is a big thing. On Fuego, my favorite song was “Sing Monica”. Not because it’s particularly great musically, but the lyrics are just so clever. It’s all plays on words, it all fits together so nicely. You get that a little bit on “Blaze On”, but that’s really the only place on this album that you get that.
D: Now here’s the rain coming.
G: We’re halfway through the song, and I like it. This sounds like Phish to me.
K: I don’t know if it necessarily sounds like Phish, but it’s got that kinda homey feeling. It’s not orchestra…it’s piano concierto, you know?
D: Yea, I like this part a lot.
G: It’s epic.
K: It’s got roots, this is classical music. There’s not jazz, or bluegrass, or funk, or rock mixed in, this is pure classical music.
A: This is music that you get in the form of a score. This isn’t a song where you write it and then play it for the band and they pick it up. This is all meticulously written out.
D: That’s not anything new for Phish, I think this part is just a lot more piano-heavy, where a lot of Trey’s compositions are more guitar-heavy. The question is where are they gonna be able to to open the song up, and add some funk and really jam. Because that’s quintessential to the long Phish songs, there’s always a pocket where they just go into a big jam, like the funk breakdown in “Reba” or the end of “Harry Hood.”
A: I feel like this song will go the way of “Time Turns Elastic”, and they’ll try it on for size a couple times but ultimately it won’t get played much.
K: I would like to see this song take off and have a life in the live setting, but agreed that it probably won’t happen.
[Hair-metal rock guitar solo portion]
A: Maybe this is where they jam it out.
G: It kind of sounds like Queen.
D: It is very Brian May, that guitar part.
G: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that. It may be a little cheesy. Hey, Queen is a little cheesy.
D: I could hear Freddie Mercury coming in right here.
A: Yea, where are the background vocals here?
K: Yea, like a gospel choir or something.
A: There’s so many ooh-aah backing vocals on this album, seems like they missed a prime spot for some.
G: It sounds like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
[Upbeat vocal section]
A: This is definitely where they’ll jam.
K: I’ve restarted this song like 5 times, because at first I’m like, ‘this is weird’, but then it picks up steam and I keep thinking ‘wait, is this the same song?’ Is this the same song?
G: This kind of sounds like the Beatles.
D: (along with the music) “Well she was just seventeen…”
G: Yeah! Not to say Phish is the Beatles.
K: They’re not the Beatles!
D: The Beatles were a big influence on Phish. They’re a big influence on like every band that’s come after them.
G: But you can’t deny the sound.
D: Yeah I like this song.
K: Me too. What does the Internet have to say? Are they hating on it?
A: Well I’m hating on it, but I think I’m in the minority. I usually end up being a fanboy and loving everything, but as of now I can’t get behind this one.
K: This is the song that I’ve returned to the most though. Just to understand it, to wrap my head around it. I really hope my Mom plays it at Christmas.
A: These last two minutes are my favorite part of the song. Like, I think that this pretty little refrain here, under the lyrics for “Breath And Burning,” would’ve made a better song than “Breath And Burning.” I think they should’ve fleshed this out a little more
K: Without the lyrics.
A: Oh, without the lyrics for sure. There are just certain phrases that writers always try to avoid that are cliche, like “and the rain came down”, “and I miss you”…all these things that they say on the album!
G: Like, figure out other ways to talk about these common themes.
D: In summary, we miss Tom Marshall.
K: And now we’re back with the reindeers.
D: Yeah, they bring it back to the beginning part. They’re all about that symmetry.
G: Well, congratulations, Phish, you made an album that’s….OK. With some good moments.
D: You made an album that we sort of like.
K: Is it their worst album?
A: Alright, well, I’m always shamelessly positive about Phish, but can you name one of their albums that isn’t better than Big Boat?
A: I love Joy, that’s one of my favorites!
G: Yea, I guess I do like Joy too.
K: So what was the theme of the album? Was there one?
D: I think the theme of the album was “Hey, we’re kinda getting older.”
K: But they’re not that old!
D: Yea, but they’re getting older.
A: What I took away from it was that this, more than any other album, lacked a certain silliness and playfulness that’s always there with Phish, whether it’s live, or studio, or whatever. Joy had “I Been Around”.
G: That’s true.
K: Fuego had “Wombat.”
D: Yea, “Sing Monica” was silly too. Even “Fuego” is pretty weird, lyrically.
A: Serious Phish isn’t really something we’re used to, at least for a full album. Its really sincere, they’re saying the words they really want you to hear, and they want you to feel what they’re feeling. And something about that directness left something to be desired as a Phish fan that’s used to the silliness, the strangeness, and the “WTF” aspect that we all love. It feels like everything they talk about here is stated in clear terms.
G: I guess I agree with that. Phish, one of the things about them is their whimsical, unique, kind of off lyrics, and nothing in this album is like what I just described. It is very direct, and it kind of just sounds like all other music. Which is funny, we’re critiquing an album that, if it wasn’t Phish, would probably be considered to be okay. But it’s Phish, so we’re expecting it to be weird, we’re expecting it to be off, unique. Even though Phish fans usually care more about the music than the lyrics, the album doesn’t hold up as much because the lyrics are so different from what you’re expecting from a Phish album. If you were going to sit down and listen to a Phish album, this wouldn’t be the one, because it doesn’t have that funniness that is so characteristically Phish. The other day I was listening to Lawn Boy, and on “The Oh Kee Pah Ceremony”, which is just a silly little song, in the background there is actually a recording of them hysterically laughing, and it’s just part of the sense of humor of Phish to have stuff like that in there. So I get why some fans aren’t so receptive to songs like “Tide Turns” and “Miss You”, they’re very direct and nostalgic and not necessarily positive, but different.
D: There’s a lot of nostalgia.
K: I’m bored by it.
A: Because it’s kinda boring. And I know we all feel the same way. We all really want this album to be great. We’re sitting here hoping. We planned a thing and all got together and ate tacos and drank tequila to try to get into Big Boat and like it. And it’s fine. But I wouldn’t call it “great”.
K: Like it’s not something to write home about. You wouldn’t want to take it home to your parents, with the exception of “Petrichor”.
D: I think the opposite. I think the problem is that you would take it home to your parents, because it’s so sterile. My mom would like this album and she can’t stand Phish.
A: Yeah I could see someone’s dad being like, “oh this is that Fish Band you like so much, I really like that new tune ‘Miss You,’ it’s a real earworm!”
D (singing): I’ll wait for you til the tiiiiide turns.
K: I just mean, you wouldn’t ever try use this album as an example of the band we love so dearly.
G: No. One thing that Kunj [Shah (founder of liveforlivemusic.com)] always says is that the funny thing about being a big Phish fan is that it means, in some way or another, liking their worst stuff, because you still like them even when they’re bad. And I think that’s kind of true.
K: That’s a life lesson right there.
G: I think we’ve all always overlooked certain elements of badness because of all the goodness. And now, they sort of have this new element of being boring. But if you go see them live, they’re not boring. Even if they play these songs, there are still plenty of aspects that are amazing and exciting.
A: We’re all sitting here talking about how Big Boat is boring. But we’re all gonna spend our money to fly to see them in Las Vegas this Halloween, we’re all gonna sit through “Tide Turns” so that we can hear “Run Like An Antelope” and “Tweezer” and have the best time of our lives, like always, and we’re gonna end up kind of loving these new songs because they’re part of the show.
D: The album wasn’t so bad.
A: No, it wasn’t bad. I don’t think anyone’s saying it’s bad. It just wasn’t a great Phish album.
D: If you played all these songs as a set, it would just be… no.
G: Just like Joy, I think, it doesn’t really fit with Phish’s catalogue, as an album.
A: I don’t know, Joy really had a theme. Joy was the addiction and recovery suite. Every single song is about recovery and finding yourself and coming back from bad shit. It has a theme that holds it together. And I can’t find one with Big Boat. Maybe I will. Hopefully we will.
D: I think the theme maybe is just “life is half over.”
K: It’s weird. I mean we can’t expect them to be young and weird and freaky forever–we just want them to be.
D: We’re all just trying to get weird, man. That’s why we’re Phish fans.
G: But not Big Boat fans, because Big Boat’s not getting weird.
All: Let’s just call it a night and play Rock Band.