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Billy Breathes is Phish's seventh album, and the fifth studio album. It features a much quieter, more laid back sound than some of their earlier, rock and roll-oriented albums. In the same vein as Rift, it tries to be more than just a collection of the band's tracks. Unlike Rift, it seems to overreach, to try to be two albums at once--the "welcome to Phish" pop album that Hoist tried to be, and the "edgy spacey (and occasionally incoherent) jamming and noodling / If you haven't heard them live, you're not a true fan; you're just pond scum" album that Slip Stitch and Pass became. I think that Hoist and Slip Stitch and Pass each accomplished their individual goals better than this album does. Something about two great tastes that don't taste great together, I think. Thankfully, though, there is a clear progression, as in most Phish concerts, and anyone can see a well-defined beginning and end; if you're willing, you can buy it and own two short, mediocre (relative to Phish--still better than anything on the radio) albums for the price of one.

The track listing is as follows:

  1. Free
  2. Character Zer0
  3. Waste
  4. Taste
  5. Cars Trucks Buses
  6. Talk
  7. Theme From the Bottom
  8. Train Song
  9. Bliss
  10. Billy Breathes
  11. Swept Away
  12. Steep
  13. Prince Caspian

The first half of the album, up until about Talk, is very lyric-centered; the tracks are faster and a little tighter, and (dare I say it?) more radio friendly. The unwashed masses will enjoy Free, and may know it from the radio. There is joy to be gleaned from Character Zer0, and Cars Trucks Buses is a groovy Hammond Organ transplant from the 70s. Theme from the Bottom marks a solid transition--it's slow, but lyrical and includes Jon Fishman's exquisite drumming. From Train Song onward, caveat emptor unless you're a true phan. While the music is wonderful, the discordant bass line in Theme from the Bottom re-surfaces a fw more times in the album, between the otherwise beautiful tracks. It's make out music, but it loses the focus of the earlier songs, occasionally leaving out the drummer altogether, so as not to bother with pesky time signatures. Time passes without any clear milestone, and the songs fade into one another. It is enjoyable in its own right, but it's a different album after track 7.

Even though I own it on CD, it feels like a vinyl album. Side A is marked "Pop Sells", and Side B is marked "Stoned Phans". I blame this on Steve Lillywhite the producer who also made the Dave Matthews Band album Crash--a wonderful accumulation of great make out songs--into an overplayed commercial suckcess. As much as Phish and all of the fans disavow commercial radio and the MTV scene, signing up Steve Lillywhite was no accident. Phish made a great album, and Steve helped make it sell better. There's nothing wrong with artists making money; but when an album's layout is split so sharply between loyal fans and disposable income-laden teenagers eager for the next big thing, one begins to wonder how much of it is from the heart.

A Live One+-=*Billy Breathes*=-+Slip Stitch and Pass

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