Fuego – The Best Album Since???

Just paddling towards a big Fuego ball

Upon first listen I wanted to say Fuego is my favorite album since Farmhouse but after I got past the initial excitement that there’s fresh Phish material on a new album produced by rock legend Bob Ezrin (Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed) I realize their two 2.0 efforts–Round Room and Undermind–were also pretty good albums. After talking to some people who have heard the early release copies or the NPR album audio, it’s fun to hear how they stack up Fuego to the last five albums. One thing everyone seemingly agrees on is that this is the best album 3.0 has offered us.

The ten-track CD that was originally thought to have been titled after their song “Wingsuit” was instead named after the opening track, “Fuego”. “Fuego”, as the name suggests, is quite a hot number. Although the first thoughts that came to mind while listening to the multi-segmented composition is that it would have possibly fared better getting the Black Eyed Katy treatment–having no lyrics. The discombobulated and intensely “Phishy” words in the song are alright. But they’re just alright, while the instrumentals of the song are great. It also leaves open a lot of room for speculation on jammed-out this song is going to be this summer. There’s a lot of room for fast, 3.0-Piper-like improv.

The entire album goes together pretty nicely and one thing that is noticeable throughout is how full and solid the band sounds. Mike and Page sound especially prominent throughout the album with great piano segments and thick, powerful bass lines. The bass is especially noteworthy on the swankier of grooves: Mike’s very own “555 and “Wombat”. “555 is perhaps my favorite Mike song (outside of Mike’s Song of course). His odd voice fits the song perfectly, the bass is powerful and fun throughout, there’s some excellent horn work (GCH this summer?!) and great room for live interpretation in either a first or second set. This isn’t a Sugar Shack, this is more of a groove that I think is easily adaptable to any live situation. “Wombat” is the song that sounds like it came out of a 1997 funk jam and includes one of my favorite moments on the entire album when the music drops away and they come back with a huge explosion sound effect. BOOOOOOOOM. Mike should program one of his pedals to have this sound for when they play it live; BOOOOOM -> jammed-out dance party. Okay, back to the album and not so much about how I want to see these songs live… “Wombat” has silly ‘Phishy’ lyrics like “Fuego” only I think they fit just right with this song–it also has fantastic horn work.

"Waiting All Night" inside art. Note: there is a lyric book inside to follow along all the silly Fuego words

There are also more contemplative compositions like “The Line” and “Waiting All Night”. “The Line” is well done and quite catchy (“Sing Monica” is also very catchy) while “Waiting All Night” is well done and whimsical. Whimsical, almost psychedelic, similar to an extended Frankie Says groove or a mid-jam Dog Faced Boy. When Phish released this track ahead of time I wasn’t impressed with the first listen but I quickly came to love it, picturing it as a track seemingly lost from Story of the Ghost. The potential is also incredible for the track. It could be a mid-jam eerie oasis, a comforting landing pad after a life-changing jam, or a jammed-out song on its own. So much potential for the summer!

There are some songs that don’t quite hit the mark. A lot of 3.0 songs suffer from sappy songwriting from Trey and “Winterqueen” and “Devotion to a Dream” are hurt by this. I think when Trey tries to get too cute with lyrics, it can take away from otherwise good musical compositions. “Wingsuit” straddles the line between cheesy Trey lyrics, silly Phishy lyrics, and psychedelic whimsical. The music is contemplative, throbbing, and moving. The lyrics fit pretty well, but when they all sing “put your wingsuit on, put your wingsuit on, put your wingsuit on”, it starts pushing into the cheesy TAB realm and I start envisioning that animated “Valentine” music video of a cartoon Trey flying all over town.

Outer album art
However, even with the few small detractions that are in any album, this is the most solid effort since at least 2004 as far as both instrumental and lyrical writing goes. Page’s “Halfway to the Moon” even gets a spot, making the entire album impressively well rounded between all the different sounds it offers. I also like the fact that songs like “Steam” didn’t make the cut to be on an album because it adds to the long-standing mystique of Phish’s songs–some of their best songs not available anywhere but a live concert. I think they did this album really well on all fronts and it gets me very excited for their upcoming summer tour which Trey rumored to be very heavy with original Phish material. I think it’s time to let some of the new members to the cataloug breath in second sets and open concerts. I love all eras of Phish music, but I’m excited for them to let some newer stuff take the improvisational wheel.

You can still pre-order the album for $9.99 here on CD or MP3. The album will be released June 24.