Phish, Billy Breathes

I bought this CD off the rack in Penang, Malaysia (for RM39.90, if you must know), with the "diimpot oleh Warner Music Sdn Bhd, KL" sticker still on the jewel case to this day; I'd already cut my teeth on the intricate insanity of Junta and the breathless frantic energy of Picture of Nectar, and as I sweated buckets in the equatorial humidity of that June I figured our ichthyoid jam band would be just the distraction I needed. The difference here is the production, by the great Steve Lillywhite, and the result is something a little less off in left field, a little more controlled, which makes the moments when they go off the leash jarring instead of charming: the tightness of "Free" and the mature, melodic undulations of the title track clang against the unsettling imprecision of "Taste," the drop-off-a-cliff ending of "Train Song" and the noodly meander of "Talk." And I could probably do without the last three tracks entirely, even "Prince Caspian." Fortunately, "Character Zer0" and "Theme From The Bottom" still hearken back to the energy of Nectar in the in-between moments, "Bliss" is an undiscovered delectable void of harmonious dissonance, and "Waste" is as tender and earnest as any lyrics they've written. Ostensibly, Lillywhite wanted this to be Phish's great "stoner album" (apparently except for all the other ones), and while my solicitor advises I can't attest to that I can say that his production largely made genuine order out of what had previously been serendipitous chaos. And that got me through a lot of endless, sweaty nights in Asia. (Content: no concerns.)