In today’s age of social media and the technological prison we live in it is amazing that a band like Phish can still keep a secret, especially from their rabid fan base. When the band announced in early September that they were finally releasing their long-awaited studio follow-up to 2014’s Fuego, message boards and dedicated fan sites immediately began churning the rumor mill regarding which songs would appear on Big Boat. The band had, after all, written and performed many new songs over the last few tours so it would seem that fans already had things figured out. But in true Phish fashion the band hoodwinked them all by including some of those previously played tracks in addition to five brand spanking new tunes that had yet to grace the ears of the public.
The result, however, is a bit uneven and not as exciting as one would hope. The album, helmed by famed producer Bob Ezrin (who also produced their last album), is full of overly short versions and falls into the dreaded “Dad-rock” territory. This isn’t much of a surprise considering these guys are well into their 50s, but anyone who has attended their live shows knows they are capable of so much more. And their two previous releases seemed to have more punch and flow to them, while Big Boat tends to drift off course a bit.
Certain tracks like “Waking Up Dead”, “Things People Do”, “Running Out of Time”, and “Friends” are not all that interesting coming from a band that has been on a creative peak since their reunion seven years ago. What makes their appearance on this album more perplexing is that a small handful of songs the band have been performing live with great fanfare as of late were scrapped in their place, such as “Mercury”, “Let’s Go”, and the slightly older but solid tune “Steam”; which would have found a great home here in my opinion.
Criticisms aside, there are some great tracks on here. The band presents quality versions of “Blaze On”, “No Men in No Man’s Land”, “Breath and Burning”, and a stunning rendition of Trey’s ode to his late sister called “Miss You”. And despite “More” sounding eerily similar to “Sing Monica”, and “Petrichor” feeling like this album’s “Time Turns Elastic”, they make their presence known with strong productions.
Big Boat is a genuine and grown up entry to their vast catalog of studio and live releases, but it remains to be seen if it will be viewed with such reverence as some of their past projects. For their next album (whenever that may be) it would be nice to hear the band stop playing to the radio formula and just be Phish. The 3-4 minute songs on this album would have carried much more weight if they somewhere in the 7-10 minute timeframes (“Petrichor” excluded). They need to open up and free themselves from the constraints of the studio like they used to, which would be more appealing to their core fans. Because let’s face it; if folks are not into Phish by now they may never be.