First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2006, Volume 13, #3
Written by John Metzger
Is it terribly surprising that on Shine, the fifth studio effort to bear his name, Trey Anastasio delivered a streamlined, 12-track, 50-minute slice of slickly produced, pop-oriented rock? Not really. As far back as 1989, when he capped Phish’s Lawn Boy with the joyful elasticity of Bouncing around the Room, it was readily apparent that he had a knack for crafting irresistible melodies. As its career progressed, the group increasingly made concessions to mainstream, commercial radio, the most notable of which were featured on its final two outings Farmhouse and Undermind. Were it not for his former band’s quirky tendencies, a hit single might have been within his grasp.
In essence, then, Shine is merely the culmination of Anastasio’s journey, though, in hindsight, that might not prove to be such a good thing. For starters, the album boasts the first set of lyrics that he penned without outside assistance, and it clearly shows. Although Phish was never known for the depth of its material, Anastasio’s writing dips into cliché far too frequently, and given the set emphasizes songs over jams, there’s nowhere to hide its most embarrassing turns of phrase. Then again, there are plenty of pop songs that have endured almost in spite of their lack of substance.
Therefore, the biggest problem with Shine undoubtedly stems from Anastasio’s chosen producer Brendan O’Brien. After deftly guiding the creation of early works by Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine, O’Brien squandered his credibility by becoming ridiculously good at manufacturing mega-selling albums. It isn’t his record, however, that is at fault; it’s his method of operation. Stripping away any semblance of originality, he reduces his subjects’ material to generic mush. In varying degrees, he has done it to Train (Drops of Jupiter); he has done it to Bruce Springsteen (The Rising); and now he has done it to Trey Anastasio.
That’s not to say that Shine is totally bereft of merit, and buried beneath its glossy sheen, there definitely is a better (though still far from perfect) outing that is struggling to break free. Not only does Anastasio manage to sneak numerous inspired guitar passages into the otherwise bland arrangements, but he also succeeds in retaining his melodic sensibility, thereby casting a warm glow upon the sterility of the affair. Sure, there are times when he regurgitates the past: Tuesday’s recurring riff is drawn straight from Phish’s Free; Sweet Dreams Melinda is undeniably reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama; and the vocals on Invisible smash Smile-era Brian Wilson against The Who’s The Kids Are Alright, while its upward spiral of guitar is decidedly Garcia-esque in tone. To his credit, however, Anastasio transforms each of these nicked ideas into something that he can call his own. Nevertheless, O’Brien slathers the album in so much glitter that he jettisons its organic essence and loses any semblance of its character. As a result, he makes Shine’s finer moments sound utterly inconsequential. ½
Shine is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box