Trey Anastasio has fallen victim to the conspiracy of the Sony Music Record Company. In a corporate tirade against creativity, they have stipulated tight recording rules: when a recording artist signs to Sony, he will be required to record a single steeped in the theme “everything will be okay.” It was true for Modest Mouse’s bouncy “Float On” (from 2004’s “Good News For People who Love Bad News”), and it is most unfortunately true of Trey Anastasio’s power-charged new single, “Shine,” off his new mainstream album of the same name.
Before his new CD, Trey Anastasio wailed on his guitar for the fine people at Elektra Records, the same company that produced all 30-plus Phish CDs, as well as Trey’s Oysterhead side project. During his time on Elektra, Anastasio exuded innovation and creativity, rather than just technically talented guitar playing. With Phish, Trey earned a reputation as jam-band guitar king, often spring-boarding from a simple chorus into prolonged (but never excessive) guitar solos. In his reign as jam-king, Anastasio complimented his free-wheeling guitar licks with a fun and often goofy vibe (considering “Funky Bitch,” enough said).
Unfortunately, Anastasio’s newest release, “Shine,” would never dare to explore an 11-minute jam. The longest song on the clean and processed album is the relaxed six-minute tune, “Wherever You Find It,” whereas almost all of the other songs fall short of four minutes. The saddest part is that these songs all beg to be extended — eight of the 12 songs end with Anastasio wailing into a slow fade. It is as if the songs were all recorded as full-length seven minute tracks, and a record company suit arbitrarily hit the stop button at the four minute mark.
Even before playing the CD, any hardcore Phish fan will be disappointed at the unfavorable ratio of songs to album length. Further disappointment can be found on the CD liner notes, where somebody foolishly thought it’d be a good idea to print the lyrics. Anastasio is no doubt a guitar genius, but it is equally obvious that he is far from a lyrical one.
Oftentimes it seems Anastasio stretches for meaningful imagery: “Tried to replay all that was good when the lullaby ends in darkness” (from “Black”). His attempt at writing a love song is perhaps worse on “Sweet Dreams Melinda,” with lyrics, “Lonely days are through/ ‘Cause when you walked into that room I’d never seen two eyes so blue.” With words like that, the coverslip is better suited for guitar tabs rather than lyrics.
But the CD is not a complete failure; at times, it’s head-bobbing riffs are actually quite enjoyable. In the centerpiece song, “Wherever You Find It,” Anastasio offers impressively resonant solos that provide a satisfying climax to each chorus. Here, Anastasio’s string-bending and guitar screeching is at its best, especially when contrasted with the charmingly simple piano chords which back up his sometimes wobbly voice.
Another successful riff is found in “Spin,” where Anastasio has an interesting musical dialogue (complete with a call and response chorus) mirrored by a string-bending lick in the background. The song ultimately has a more carefree groove that doesn’t seem as forced as some of the synthesized up-tempo beats of the first half of the album.
With these few strong songs, it may be easier to overlook some of the faults of “Shine” (or more importantly, the faults of Sony BMG). In order to understand the genius that BMG has stripped from “Shine”, just keep a few things in mind: 1) ignore the lyrics, 2) picture Trey’s hands gliding carelessly on the guitar neck, 3) imagine Trey Anastasio performing the songs live in their full seven-minute glory.