Phish announced they were calling it quits a month before dropping their 10th official studio album in 2004. Their last release under Elektra, Undermind was a brilliant work, moody and driving psyche rock studded with upbeat pop and the odd goof-off. But its dark and melancholy moments were too much a reflection of Phish’s own unhealthy state at the time and the shadow of their imminent demise hung over the music, making it easy to appreciate but hard to enjoy.
This year, Phish reunited, hit the studio with producer Steve Lilywhite (who’d worked with the band in 1996 on the masterful Billy Breathes), and laid down the tracks to their 11th full-length, Joy, which finds the foursome revitalized and at ease with each other again. It shows in the songwriting, their lyricism more introspective and sentimental than ever before. Much of Joy deals with the passage of time and touches upon grim subject matter — like the death of frontman/guitarist/singer Trey Anastasio’s older sister and his recovery from his very public substance abuse problems. But the dour cynicism and melancholy you’d expect are absent. Instead, the tone of the album is bright and buoyant as the band reminisces about the past, celebrates the present, and appreciates friends and family who’ve been there throughout.
The band eases in and out of bouncy rhythms and blues, and offers plenty of unadulterated good time moments all throughout, like in the funky, island-flavored groove and sway and spot-on ascending harmonies of “Sugar Shack,” the Southern rock grit and wailing solos of “Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan,” and the ambient electro opening of “Light,” which kicks into high gear with rollicking rhythms and spiraling notes rising to a climactic, fast-paced jam rock crescendo.
The album is a cohesive, well-produced, heartfelt effort and one thing is certain: Phish has brought the joy back to their music. (Out Sept. 8 on JEMP Records).