The Story of the Ghost Album reviews.
Release Date: 10.27.98
Record label: WEA / Elektra
Call the Exorcist
by: mark feldman
Unlike many of the great live rock and roll bands throughout history, Phish have often been just as meticulous in the studio as they are on stage. They started out heavily influenced by the free-form avant-garde rock of the '60s and '70s, but after three albums (excellent albums, by the way) they determined that they had mined that field dry. Since then, though their live audience has kept growing, many of their disciples have been alienated by their studio releases as they struggled to find a new sound, and their new albums, though none of them total disasters, became less and less important to the Phish canon. No longer should that stay true if The Story of the Ghost is any indication of the direction in which they are moving.
How is this new disc different? In short, they've stopped trying so hard. Much of the material, indeed,sounds like they could have written it in their sleep. But that hardly matters when it's this good. 1996's "Billy Breathes" had a similar relaxed feel to it, but went a little too far in being deliberately mellow. The new disc mixes in just enough trademark Phish energy that it almost sounds like a live show. "Birds of a Feather," a good choice for a single, comes alive in the studio with a Grateful Dead meets Esquivel arrangement. "The Moma Dance" is quite similar but occurs much later in the disc, creating sort of a bookend effect. "Guyute," the closest thing on the album to older style Phish, is a tighter, more focused jam than similar tracks we've heard in the recent past. Phish show a particular fascination for wah-wah guitar pedals on this album too, but vary the style and tempo enough that it doesn't get too tiresome. Whether it's a lilting reggae piece like "Brian and Robert," a funk rave-up like "Shafty" or "Meat," or a more Phish-like storytelling romp like "Limb By Limb," the feel of this album is spontaneous and fun all the way through. One can almost forget how indecipherable their lyrics are.
Let's face it, Phish are never going to make another "Picture of Nectar." But they are moving in bold new directions, with more success than most bands who have been together for 15 years could ever hope to. I, for one, am hoping for 15 more years of the collective Phish imagination, wherever it may lead.