Let’s say you wanted to write a Phish album in 2014. You might well work in the words “rolling” (high-five, club kids!) and “wombat” (because it’s a hilarious word, duh), and name-check recurring Phish-lyric character Wilson. Most important, you’d write optimistic songs that can be jammed all the way up to our depleted ozone in concert. Phish do all this on their 12th studio LP – struggling to transform the onstage magic into bits and bytes, and mostly nailing it.
After the reflective gratitude of 2009’s Joy, leader Trey Anastasio’s first post-rehab set, the party is back in full swing. Phish toast a crappy Eighties automobile (the title track) and pun on “The Fish TV show/You know, with Abe Vigoda” (“Wombat”). Geek-funk grooves spaz-out merrily, and producer Bob Ezrin keeps it feeling live. Lyrics remain an Achilles’ heel, but sometimes Phish hit profundity sideways. “The Line” is a soaring, Steely Dan-ish ballad inspired by Darius Washington Jr.’s famously flubbed free throws during a crucial 2005 college-hoop game. Yet the title metaphor also handily conjures an addict staring down his next dose. “A hero’s what I’m not,” Anastasio sings ruefully, before spinning out another set of guitar lines that prove him exactly wrong.