First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2000, Volume 7, #12
Written by John Metzger
With the release of its eighth studio effort Farmhouse, Phish has run full-throttle into the realm of pop music. Of course, this isn't entirely unexpected as it's a direction toward which the band rather heavily began to lean five years ago during the making of Billy Breathes. It's also easy to argue that pop music has played a role in its compositions since the group's inception. After all, Bouncing around the Room and Fee most assuredly fall into this category.
There's no question, then, that Phish is a rather proficient outfit when it comes to creating bubbly, pliant melodies. Such is the case with Farmhouse, which quite frankly is loaded with them. The songs prance, shimmer, and shine with infectious, often beautiful grooves that simply suck the listener into their amicable panoramas.
That brings us to the first problem with Farmhouse: Its musical themes are a little too familiar. The title track borrows its guitar solo from The Beatles' Let It Be and its melody from Bob Marley's No Woman, No Cry; Twist rewrites Phish's own Maze; The Inlaw Josie Wales draws from Jefferson Airplane's Embryonic Journey and The Beatles' Blackbird; Piper pulls from the The Feelies' When Company Comes; Heavy Things pilfers the Grateful Dead's Franklin's Tower — you get the picture. It's as if Phish has spent so much time dressing up for Halloween in other artists' material that its members have forgotten how to be themselves.
This, of course, isn't the worst thing that can happen. Rock music has been around for so long that most songs aren't really new and different; they're simply blends of what has come before. Even The Beatles borrowed heavily from the music of the '50s for its first few albums. Phish's reliance on rock 'n‘ roll's past, however, is difficult to overcome.
Why is that? Well, this brings us to the second, and much larger, problem with Farmhouse: At times its lyrics are downright stupid. Granted, Phish, or rather principal lyricist Tom Marshall, has never been at the cutting edge of musical poetry, but he and the band showed tremendous promise and hope on both Billy Breathes and The Story of the Ghost. Alas, on Farmhouse all of this progress has fallen by the wayside. Gotta Jibboo is pure gibberish, and while Twist Around starts out in the right direction, the group runs out of things to say after the first verse. The worst offense, however, leads off the disc, sticking out like a sore thumb and diminishing everything that follows. Witness this "gem" from Farmhouse: "Welcome this is a farmhouse/ we have cluster flies, alas/ and this time of year/ is bad./We are so very sorry/there is little we can do/but swat them." Okay....
Naturally, Farmhouse is not all this bad. These are simply the worst examples, glaring as they may be. Yet, after hearing Farmhouse, one rather large question comes to mind: Did Phish peak with Billy Breathes? Only with the passage of time will we really know the answer, but fans can only hope for the best. At the moment, however, it appears as if Phish is now devoid of ideas, as if the band's members are unsure of how to proceed. That's a difficult obstacle to overcome, and perhaps it just might be the reason the group planned an extended hiatus after its fall tour.
Farmhouse is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box