The wait is over. After going on an indefinite hiatus that ended up lasting over two years, Phish has reunited and, with astonishing speed, recorded 'Round Room', their first studio album since 2000's acclaimed 'Farmhou... more »se'. Elektra. 2002« less
The wait is over. After going on an indefinite hiatus that ended up lasting over two years, Phish has reunited and, with astonishing speed, recorded 'Round Room', their first studio album since 2000's acclaimed 'Farmhouse'. Elektra. 2002
"I received Round Room last Thursday from Phish Dry Goods and have had a chance to listen it through five or six times. It's great to hear the boys back together again, and there is some good stuff on this disc. However, it's a different story than their last three studio efforts. Beginning with "Billy Breathes", Phish really began to use the studio as a tool rather than simply a way to wrap their live concert sound onto an album. This is a good thing: Phish's studio recordings never could match their live concert energy, and given the easy availability of high quality live concert recordings - "the real thing" - why would you want that in a studio album anyway? "Round Room" is a departure from that approach. Obviously, this stems from the remarkably short timeframe in which this album was created. Traditionally, many of the songs that eventually find their way onto Phish's studio efforts have either been in their concert rotation for months or years, evolving during that time, or been carefully crafted offline. In contrast, much of this album sounds like it's in the formative stages. In some cases, this works. The title track, "Pebbles and Marbles", and "Waves", are smooth, rich musical textures where the vocals and the instruments almost merge into a tapestry, even if they aren't particularly complex. The title track, "Round Room", is a latin-flavored ditty that grows on you and has unexpected depth on repeated listenings. "Seven Below" is a good jam. A couple songs, particularly "Mexican Cousin", have me reaching for the "skip" button. Most of the rest is somewhere inbetween: some interesting melodies and rhythms; but nothing that feels quite finished. "Walls of the Cave" has potential, but ultimately feels like it's been pieced together from scraps leftover from other songs. This isn't a new idea for Phish, some of their concert classics such as "Fluffhead" and "You Enjoy Myself" are defined by distinct segments. But here, it feels forced: the styles are so different from beginning to end, there's no cohesion. By the time you get to the last segment, you'll think your CD player is playing "Loaded" instead of "Round Room". What's consistent throughout the whole album, though, is the feeling of being unfinished. Nearly every song starts and ends in such a way that you feel like you've walked in on a jam session. And that's essentially what this album is: a somewhat refined jam session. The result is, it's fun to listen to, and some of it grows on you. But at its best, it never feels much like you're listinening to a finished product, but rather interesting melodies that the band has worked up a little bit.Ultimately, it should prove to be fascinating as the band begins playing and evolving these songs. But for now, think of "Round Room" as a swim in the primordeal soup of Phish's creative process. Any fan of the band will enjoy this album and I definitely recommend it; I've given it three stars because it's simply not a cohesive album or fully evolved works."
As "raw" as it gets
T. Laxson | Arizona | 12/11/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Having been a Phish fan for years, I've come not to expect much of their studio work. They always (since "Rift" at least) seem to be trying to please the college kids who want to listen to them just because it's the cool thing to do. Since most of the world doesn't appreciate a good looooonnnggg meandering jam, Phish doesn't produce them for commercial release. Their last few albums have been nothing more than short, composed versions of their most exploratory material. Their early studio works were nothing more than complex compositions with no room for true "jamming." This album is neither; it's an audacious experiment in pushing the envelope.Other bands have recorded songs at one setting, without editing, but Round Room was recorded as the band was learning the music; no mixing or dubbing or editing of any kind went into it. They took four days to learn new material that each other had written; they recorded it for the sake of practice; and they released it exactly as it was. That fact alone is worth a five star rating.Yeah, there are a few "mistakes" on the album. For example, Trey wasn't near his microphone when the chorus to "Pebbles and Marbles" comes in; Mike forgets a few notes here and there; Trey hits a couple of wrong notes; and so on. However, the structure of most of the songs is so complex that any other band would have taken those four days to record only one track that they already knew.Like I said, the compositions are very layered, but there is still a lot of room for jamming, and the band takes advantage of that jamming space on most of the tracks. For Phish, there is an unusually large amount of ballad-type songs on this album, and they naturally don't explore much on them, but they're nice anyway. The other tracks portray the spirit of Phish more truly than has ever been done before. One cannot describe what that spirit is. Phish's esoteric magic is something that you just get or you don't, there is no in-between.That said, the highlights of the album are "Pebbles and Marbles," "Waves," "Seven Below," and "Round Room.""
Oh man, and at finals time too...
T. Laxson | 12/10/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is a good example of why you can't ever get your friends and family to like Phish; some parts of this album are embarrassingly bad, and some parts are incredibly good. The guitar solo on "Mexican Cousin" and the song "46 Days"--undeniably rocking and filled with genius etc. Unfortunately, Phish's "sweeter side" seems to have taken over, which some folks might like, heck which I myself might like, if they were hitting the notes vocally--they have to strain a lot, and they not-quite make it a lot, and who wants to listen to that? They should not have put this album out like it is, it's just narcissism, showing off, "look we can come back together and put out an album and sell a million copies...." i'm disappointed in the DVD too, which was just a copy of the webcast of that show; this "album" and the DVD both serve to show that either Phish has become crass and materialistic and try to cover it up by singing about "faint lights that flutter," or that they're not really in charge of what gets put out. some of the songs are also just awful conceptually, like Friday. my only hope is that they're conciously trying to help disperse their followers a little bit, so only the "hard-core phisheads" will follow them around, because this one is going to lose them some fans."
Michael Indgin | Westchester, CA United States | 12/12/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Do the boys sound excited to be jamming in the same Round Room again, especially on Walls of the Cave? Yes.
Is this album rough and spontaneous-sounding? Yes.
Are some tracks a bit wussy? Yes.
Are Trey's vocals in bad need of overdubbing? Yes.
Would it have been better as an instrumental album? Yes, except for Walls of the Cave.
Are you better off buying any of the LivePhish series first? Yes.
Are the jams excellent and evocative of their live sound? Yes.
Will I buy anything they release because they are still the best band in the land? Yes.
Do I need extras for L.A. and Vegas because I got shut out of mail order? Yes."
Not liking the excuses I'm hearing here -- or the album
C. Miroslaw | Kalamazoo, MI | 12/24/2002
(1 out of 5 stars)
"There is a great moment in the documentary film "Bittersweet Motel" where Trey is given the task of reading bad reviews to the camera. He finds one where the band is accused of "urinating in the ears of the audience" (and the audience, of course, is accused of indiscriminately lapping it up). It's a disingenuous remark, to be sure -- especially since they weren't doing anything of the sort at the time. I've always seen fit to defend the right of the band to do anything they wish with their collective creativity (within reason; I'll still speak up about work I don't care for). However, after a few spins through this new piece of "product" entitled "Round Room", I think that I (and many other fans) have been cutting the band WAY too much slack.Interesting how almost every positive review here is laden with apologies, such as the fact that it was only recorded in four days after two years off, etc. My question is, why do the circumstances of the recording matter? Surely Phish were not forced to record the album in four days, nor were they forced to take two years off. In ten years, no one will remember the circumstances, but the recording will always exist as a testament that the band felt needed to be shared with the public. Ultimately, the music is what counts, and the music is unremittingly awful.The opening track, "Pebbles and Marbles" is at least a finished song (I think). Ditto "Round Room", which at least shows a few signs of life. Elsewhere, laziness runs rampant. Songs are obviously unfinished and unlearned, the vocals are constantly off-key, the sound is awful (who mixed this thing?), and the lyrics sound composed on-the-spot. This is simply one of the laziest, most indifferent major label releases I have ever heard by ANYBODY. I find it hard to believe that a band I always believed in and stood up for would release this junk to the public. There is certainly good, bad, and indifferent Phish music of all varieties, but I have never before heard them not care about their music or its presentation. Not an auspicious beginning to their reunion.I apologize if this review sounds vindictive toward the band themselves. However, I think it is unavoidable as a listener to feel insulted when I shell out my hard-earned money to be confronted by a disc where the band didn't even bother to learn or finish the songs before recording them. I look forward to the tour, because the band clearly has some amends to make. Otherwise, this "reunion" may be the final nail in the coffin of a once-proud and innovative band who decided to forsake any and every artistic pretense they ever had in a headlong rush for the almighty dollar. That's as sad a thought to ponder as this album is to listen to."