8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2005
Phish left us with this 50 minute document of music. I am not sure how much better they could have drafted it. Sure, it isn't incredible or especially creative but it is listenable and that all one could really ask for.
It is for this reason that this is as good as it gets at this point in time. Phish has long since been stumbling down from their highest peak. As phans we all must share in the enormouse achievments Phish has made throughout its 21 years of existance. This is it and we need to love it.
From a critical standpoint, this is definatly short of brilliance. Despite the wonderful work of Tchad Blake, the music itself simply isn't what we have come to expect. It is far less creative than it was even ten years ago. It is far less catchy than it was on Farmhouse. It is instead much more relaxed and laidback. Almost too perfectly performed. The solos dont go anywhere unexpected and the words are too cliche. At least in the olden days Phish could get by with bad lyrics because the soul layed within the musicainship. Now that the music is simpler, the words standout. Just as they did on Farmhouse and even more so on Round Room, the words from Tom and the rest are just words. Not really inspired atall. That is by far my biggest problem with the record. My second biggest complaint lies within the sound of the songs. I agree to some extent with those who say that this doesn't sound like Phish. It sounds more like The Trey Anastasio band featuring Page, Mike and Jon. I mean to say that each song sorta sounds like each one's solo stuff being reworked to conform to Phish. There seems to be considerably less sparks flying and magic in the air. Though there are exceptions, this style of song development kills the magic.
With the magic gone, you must say "how does one actually like the record?" That is simple. The brilliant minds of Phish make this an enjoyable listen. Unlike any of their other records, it can be listened to nearly all the time because works in so many moods because it is without a mood of its own. It is pop.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2004
"Undermind," from all appearances, was going to be the weak send-off filled with whatever songs the boys were struggling to produce. Having not been on tour since the comeback, I wasn't really expecting much from this album.
But, lo and behold, there are some cool song structures, solid lyrics and interesting choices on this album. It is in many ways like "Billy Breathes" - not that it could match the 1996 masterpiece - in that its songs are accessible and straightforward. No odd time signatures or muddled noises or multilayered loops.
This is an introspective and well-crafted disc. I highly recommend Undermind, Crowd Control, Nothing, Two Versions Of Me and Tomorrow's Song. After hearing "Undermind," I am feeling much better about the way the boys chose to go out. Not with a whimper, but with grace.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2004
It is no accident that the album cover for Phish's twelfth and final studio album looks similar to another Fab Four's final album: The Beatles, Let It Be. And like Let It Be, Undermind feels like a collection of songs documenting the different phases of the band throughout their history bringing it up to the present. While there has been many articles both critiquing and praising what Phil Spector did to the songs of the Beatles, most of what will be written about producer, Tchad Blake's involvement should be positive.
Mr. Blake who is known for his creative production work with Peter Gabriel, Tom Waits, Los Lobos and Soul Coughing, is coming in to work with Phish for the first time and brings a discipline (that was sorely lacking on their self-produced Round Round) while also letting the band try new ideas.
The highlights of this album are not in the places you might expect to find them. There are no epic jams or flat out rockers. It's the songs not penned by guitarist, Trey Anastasio and lyricist, Tom Marshall, which are the most enjoyable. Page McConnell's "Army Of One" sounds more than anything like a band that has been calling Vermont home for over 20 years. "Access Me" by bassist, Mike Gordon, is a bouncing, catchy tune that reflects his recent experiences playing as a duo with Leo Kottke. And just under two minutes, Jon Fishman's "Tomorrow Song" is an optimistic chant that would be at home in the streets of New Orleans.
The other songs on the album fall a bit more flat and don't seem to go anywhere the band hasn't already been. "The Connection" is the band's single and but doesn't feel very inspired. "Crowd Control" tells the listener "the time has come for changes, do something or I will." A little more direction should be expect from a band that has been able to mobilize over 80,000 fans to attend its concerts in the middle of nowhere.
"Scent and Subtle Sounds" reaches back to the era of Phish when lengthy and tight song composition was their primary focus in songwriting. And the album closer "Grind" has the band singing together in the barbershop quartet style that they often have done at their live concerts.
It's a solid final offering from the band but certainly not their greatest achievement. More than anything it hints at the interesting possibilities these four will achieve on their own after their last show as Phish is played in August.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2004
I picked this cd up thinking on the fact that it was going to be another round room but surprisingly it wasnt nearly anything like it. It's new songs such as Nothing and Undermind are very good bringing the old Phish flair back. Being a huge Vida Blue and Gordon fan i love the tracks Acces Me and the ever popular Vida Blue hit Army of One. Alot of the songs you'll be fimiliar with such as Secret Smile which Trey plays often on his solo shows. As for Scents and Subtle sounds and Two Versions of Me theyv'e been around for a while and any phan knows it, but lucky me back in 11.28.03 at Nassau Coliseum I was treated to a brand new song later to be featured on this album it was the first show they debuted Crowd Control at. So pick up this album enjoy it i will be at 8 of the 13 final sows, see you there.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2004
First listening of this CD requires a bit of patience... the album comes off as very poppy, very mainstream. But to let the album go off with that kind of skimpy review is like unto calling Phish just some other Grateful Dead wanna-be cover band, and this is not the case.
I opened the case with glee and energy and was exposed to this... stuff... and I couldn't believe my ears... it repeated what a number of Phish fans I know said - it sucked. Then again, the first time I listened to Story of the Ghost, there were parts of it I could have really left behind... and yet, having heard it several times since and having seen them perform the songs live... my opinion changed mightily. Honestly, look back at Junta and you have David Bowie. How awesome would that song be without the perspective of a live performance? I used to skip it... now I can listen to it with ease. The studio CD's give backdrop to the alchemy Phish performs on stage. Which is not to detract from this CD at all.
So, it was Phish, I had to give them a shot so I listened to it again... and a third time now. I see some of the music they have snuck into this poppy mainstreamable mix... it really is Phish in there. Maybe it's not as energetic in places as we might like it.. but I can hear the strains of live performance just waiting to happen on a number of tracks. This album is not as tightly cohesive as Rift or Story of the Ghost, but I can see the pieces linked together from track to track much better than what Round Room or Billy Breathes had. Perhaps it is a bit poppy, but isn't also Down With Disease? Have they not taken DWD live to serious jam-nirvana?
As for those not taken with jam-bands, well, this is one of the more potable Phish experiences you will have... just don't go to a show expecting to hear these songs as you hear them on this CD for surely they will jam some of them waaaaaay out. The music is nicely balanced and the audio is nice and clean... one question I have is... will they have backup singers when they perform some of these songs live? Likely not.
It is not the best they have ever made that I have heard, but as I listen to it more and more, their experimental desires clearly painted on this CD canvas, this is just where Phish has grown to... they haven't diverted but perhaps some of you have just missed seeing the growth happening all along. It's a good thing, this growth. We can't live by YEM and Harry Hood alone.
My suggestion to all who knock this CD - listen to it again... really listen. It will creep up on you and make you like it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2004
On the DVD that accompanies the CD, someone (maybe Trey) says they were trying trim down the complexity and get to a raw sound that reflected the personalities in the band. They were trying to replace virtuosity with direct communication. On this level, the CD succeeds. "Army of One" is one of their better piano ballads, and "Crowd Control" is a dead on piece of ascerbic wit (and an excellent explanation for why they're quitting). "A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing" sounds like an amalgamation of the playlist at a classic rock station, which is to say that its not bad but not all that original either. I agree with other folks who have written that "Scents and Subtle Sounds" is the gem of the album. The deflation and build-up at the end captures the spirit of what they're like in concert. I want to like "Secret Smile," but it sounds too much like a Neil Diamond song, which makes me giggle because I remember Fish singing "Cracklin' Rosie" 3-4 times in concert. The strings were arranged by Maria Schneider, whom I'm told is a brilliant arranger. I borrowed one of her albums from the library a long time ago, and my response to that was the same as my response to this song: I just don't get it. It just sounds like syrupy strings. Anyway, the a capella "Grind" is a perfect end to the album and to Phish's recording career.
Also, some people have said that this album is "poppier" than their others. Compared with some of their other work, I suppose this is true. However, with the exception of "The Connection," which has a Counting Crows vibe to it, none of these songs has a chance of making it onto commericial radio. I think some listeners and critics assume that shorter songs and polished writing equals mainstream pop. This album is too quirky for the mainstream.
With all that said, I need to add two brief complaints. First, I'm just not thrilled with any of their albums recorded at The Barn. I understand Trey is interested in creating a sound in which all the intstruments blend together, but it just sounds a bit too murky to me. I miss the interplay between Page and Trey that you hear on Junta.
Second, whereas Round Room was too loose an album, this album feels too constrictive. I just wish that their career ending statement could be an album that combines songs with tightly composed sections and jam sections that build and deflate. They excelled at doing this in concert. Oh well.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2004
First off, I'm told that my love of this band is comparable with a Southern Evangelical's love of Christ, so I might be a tad bit biased.
This is a very difficult thing for me to say, but in my opinion, this is Phish's best studio, I repeat, STUDIO album. I am by no means saying that this album contains their best songs or best overall work. Their last album, Round Room, was an attempt at bringing back their older sound as well as capturing a more live feel in a studio environment, which left a lot of people lacking. In this album,however, it seems like they tried to go back to the days of Hoist and Billy Breathes and concentrate on composing and producing rather than just plain jamming. Instead they created a new list of solid, smart, varied songs that they could then go on and make into jamming classics when tour-time comes round. Along with the help of super producer Tchad Blake, and bringing in what they learned from all of their various side projects in the last few years, they've created a masterpiece. The problem is that the sound is extremely un-Phish-like. The song Undermind has an undeniably poppy sound, whereas, Song I Heard the Ocean Sing has an eerie texture that is definitely influenced by such side projects as Oysterhead, Vida Blue, and Trey's band. If one listens close enough, you can even see how Dave Matthews influence has weedled its way onto this ablum. The only song that I would say has a quintessential Phish sound would be Scents and Subtle Sounds which I'm sure will be a live phan phavorite during their swan song tour.
To me, this album shows Phish has truly reached maturity and is going out on top. I love it, you might hate it. Decide for yourself.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2004
Undermind is the landmark album that will help launch Phish into the ears of many non-jam loving rock fan. All but two weeks separated the Phish world into believing this, but just two weeks before Undermind was unleashed Phish decided to call it quits after 21 years. This decision would be much easier for me to accept if it had come two years ago before the release of the quite disipointing Round Room and critics would say that Phish breaks up because they were unable to create new Phish songs. But with Undermind the music world and Phish fans are able to experience a new Phish and thus make the idea of the music-world without Phish much harder to accept. Undermind sounds more like the Beatles White Album then any of Phishs's previous 13 albums. To bring Tchad Blake, the producer of Undermind was an ingenious decision by Phish, and he really helped Phish venture into waters they have never before. Undermind is rightfully praised for songs such as the albums first single The Connection, a song that may at first seem popish is really the best crafted song on the album. The funky rock that links Undermind to the White Album is very clearly heard in the song Undermind. A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing and scents and Subtle Sounds are easily the two best songs on the album and are really the only songs that have real Phish feel. Unfortunately there are a few songs that might be better left out, such as the very pop-style Secret Smile and Access Me. Crowd Control is the hardest songs on the album and has a Hendrix-type feel. Even Nothing and Two Versions of Me are fun songs that really help give the album character. Undermind is an extremely well produced and preformed album that lets the Phish fans see the two versions of Phish.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2004
Most reviews of this album will be positive, but inevitably express regret that Phish has strayed from its college hippie rock roots to explore a basically different kind of music (pop). Of course, this criticism has been leveled at every Phish CD for the past ten years. However, taken as a whole, this group of songs is better than any studio release Phish produced in its soon to be complete twenty-year history.
I bought Lawn Boy in 1993 and was blown away. It broke new totally new ground, and along with Junta, Rift, Nectar, and Hoist, formed the soundtrack of my college years. There were accessible songs on these CDs, but most of the music was a template for a free-form rock-jazz-bluegrass that happened at Phish concerts. And the concerts were great, because each was new and unique and aside from poor quality analog tapes, it was tough to hear the band live away from the actual concert. This made the concerts valuable. I went to about 15 before 1998 and they are all highlights. I remember them all. Eventually, however, the scene became a bigger deal than the musical underpinnings for most fans. Length of jam became a proxy for quality of show, and, in my view, the band and its tour had become exaggerated characictures of themselves by 1999/2000. A proliferation of digital copies of shows made every "Mike's Song" and "Harry Hood" sound the same. The whole thing became a cliche, and thus, we had the hiatus, where Phish was going to reinvent itself.
Sadly, this reinvention didn't happen. The undervalued Farmhouse was followed by the disappointing Round Room, and Phish shows started to sound even hollower than before. Over the winter of 2003/04, the guys recorded Undermind, though, which is a total gem. It caught me totally off-guard. Every song is perfect and the whole CD sounds totally fresh and new. Some highlights:
Undermind: Traditional Phish, jazzy and jammy, clever lyrics
The Connection: Perfectly executed country pop. Easily top 40 in the 1990s.
A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing: A New Harry Hood, effectively evoking stormy oceans and "ten years before the mast".
Army of One: Page's lyrical talent shown in Vida Blue fully exposed.
Crowd Control: Perfect straight-forward pop. Awesome.
Nothing: Smooth, lyrical and subtle. Version at Brooklyn 6/17 showed this could eventually turn into a new kind of live Phish.
Two Versions of Me: Trey and Marshall's most introspective song to date.
Access Me: Mike does his most mature and complex songwriting ever. I think I'm starting to maybe even understand what makes him tick?
Scents and Subtle Sounds: Perhaps the most trad. Phish song on the album, but jazzy & interesting.
So why the hell are they breaking up now? I think because on one level they knew that they had to leave the "show" behind permanently to grow. I think it says it all that now that they know it's over, they're playing the best live shows they've ever put together. Brooklyn and SPAC blew my mind. This is because the live shows HAVE VALUE again- because it's almost over. This album will never be fully embraced by fans (I've read some crap comparing this to "Touch of Grey"- lol) and that is the problem. I think Trey says it all on Crowd Control: "The time has come for changes: do something or I will." Well, he did, but before pulling the plug on the overdone hippie tour scene, the guys gave us one last CD- the best they ever did. Maybe they should pull a Beatles-1967 and release CDs only and play a couple surprise shows a year at Nectar's. Good luck guys- thanks for twenty years of awesome music. "Two Versions of Me / No more Phish in the sea..."
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2004
Wow-I'm having trouble understanding why some people are displeased w/this one. I think the cohesiveness that is evident, particularly after the too-rough and just plain boring "round room" is several notches higher than Phish had laid down in the studio in a great while. Well-produced, nice variety and plenty of weirdness as you'd expect from these guys-to me the standout tracks are Scents/Subtle Sounds (although any live version will work this one over..), Crowd Control, Nothing, Access Me, Army of One, and then possibly Undermind. Most of the other tunes are tight, too, notably Two Versions of Me. A lot of peeps aren't into Mike's lone songwriting credit solo, "Access Me", is as clever and nice on the ears as ANY Mike, and that's quite a complement-and really the whole album's cohesiveness, tune selection and track order, and cripness of the instruments is worth hearing. I'd place this one up just behind Story of the Ghost,Lawnboy, and Phish's first studio offering referred to as "the white tape". Not bad at all. I might add that page is coming thru loud and clear here and sounds more "there" sound-wise, better than any earlier studio LP. And Trey is just ripping it up-the guy can lay it down with the best on any style of guitar, from melancholy to licks not unheard in early Van Halen, with nods to Hendrix and just really heeaavvyyy sounding guitar-great stuff. Fishman and Mike don't go unnoticed, either-real solid contributions all around here.
Just as an aside since this is "it" for the band as a whole, I will say that listening to Undermind makes me feel pretty sad, and maybe it's just me that gets much of that sadness from the actual lyrics and the tone of the songs collectively. REally the finest and most thought-provoking words he's come up with-there's not anything remotely like a whimisal tune like "fee" or "Reba"-i suppose these guys have grown up a lot as we the listeners have--even Mike's "access me" is a little more serious despite still being a standard eclectic gem from him. So maybe you too will feel a little twinge of sadness like I did when hearing this. That'a not a bad thing but sure feels different from the other hundered trillion times I've listened to and immersed myself in Phish. That said it's sweet they're going out really strong and intact as opposed to dinosaurs like the stones and kiss and crap like that that needs to be shelved. And I'm a little melancholy about this album and the whole deal because as a life-long pacific northwest resident we never got the same doseages of live experiences as the East, which is fairly standard save the dead and string cheese. It sure would have been a nice thing to have the chance to see just one or three or more shows out here since we love phish just as much as you guys over on the wrong coast-one more swing thru should have been arranged so appropriate goodbyes could be had by all. Just my thoughts.
Anyway, Undermind is real solid and a terrific listen and it's likely that you'll keep this disc in steady rotation for a good long while because this music simply does not get stale, ever. Went w/ 4 stars because 5 is saved for the holiest of the holiest albums like Layla, Electric Ladyland, Who's Next and stuff like that. But as far as Phish goes studio-wise you could do a lot worse than giving Undermind a fair shot. Thanks for your time and thanks Phish for everything.