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Undermind Review

by Rob Theakston

What's important to remember is that Phish is the kind of band whose hallmark moments don't happen in the studio, but on-stage where they feel most at home. That said, Undermind continues in the longstanding tradition of almost but not quite capturing the full band on all cylinders. It's the difference between watching an animal in its native habitat and in a caged environment: not quite as exciting, but still a curiosity to respect and observe with interest. Like previous endeavors, the band wastes no time settling into familiar territory, favoring simple song structures and sketches over lengthy instrumental passages (a trait they've deliberately focused upon since Hoist nearly a decade ago). However, Undermind lacks the stylistic diversity that graced many of their earlier albums, opting for a more cohesive sound and tone throughout. Gone are the uptempo, peppy jams and forays into diverse musical waters, replaced here by a band whose members seem to be running on fumes at some points and a full tank of fuel on others. As always, the musicianship remains top-notch, a testament to the high standards of quality Phish have consistently maintained over the past two decades. There are moments of typical Phish brilliance (e.g., opening and closing with an [unintentional?] homage to legendary Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks). Lyrics of surrealist imagery that border on haunting run rampant at times, and the album's closing moment ("Grind") serves as an uncomfortable swan song comparable to McCartney's happy accident at the end of Abbey Road. And while it wasn't publicly confirmed that Undermind was to be their last album (the bandmembers announced mere weeks before its release that this was to be their last record), shades of the band's winter could be subtly interpreted by various song lyrics (especially on "Undermind" and "Crowd Control"). And while the album is still more focused and a much-needed improvement over 2002's Round Room and their finest since Billy Breathes, Undermind is essentially the sound of four musicians growing tired of the limits they've imposed on one another after decades of albums and touring. However, if this is to be the band's curtain call, fans will find solace in a long line of live CDs for years to come.

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