Most people don’t relish eating scraps off the floor, devouring grade-F meat unfit for normal consumption, licking the wrappers of eaten candy bars. So why should we listen to a band’s musical leftovers, dumbly allowing ourselves to be tantalized by what was left on the cutting room floor? Phish’s album Trampled by Lambs, Pecked by the Dove (attributed only to guitarist/singer Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall, a longtime Phish collaborator) attempts to answer that question.
Phish is only making Trampled available over the Internet (www.phish.com). Perhaps that’s because the album will only appeal to those hardcore fans who seek it out. At its worst, the music is limp and unpolished. At its best, it’s purely raw. This is truly bare-bones music, the ribs and pelvises and fibulas of what would develop into muscular, fleshy compositions.
Many of the album’s songs have never been heard before. “Saw It Again” and “No Regrets” represent the band’s new, darker side. The short, lighthearted romps of “Blue and Shiny” and “Windora Bug” are silly treats, too impromptu for a serious album, while “Flat Tornadoes” and “I Don’t Care” are fuzzy wastes of time. Throughout “Olivia’s Pool,” you can imagine Trey doing an Elvis-like hip gyration to the twangy existentialist lyrics, “The terrible thing about hell/Is that when you’re there you can’t even tell/As you move through this life you love so/You could be there and not even know.” “Somantin” captures the essence of what made Phish the beloved band that they are today, replete with playful lyrics, vocal harmonies and ear-tickling guitar licks.
The rest of the songs on Trampled have already appeared in concert or on previous CDs. Some of these early cuts offer little more than blander demos of songs better remembered in their final versions, such as “Brian and Robert,” “Limb by Limb” and “Vultures.” However, “Story of the Ghost” has the raw power of a dingy garage band, and the twinkling ice-cream truck bells over “Water in the Sky” add a new charming dimension to the song.
For better or for worse, it’s hard not to feel closer to a band while listening to them practice. While Trampled can degrade into tedium, it also provides a window into the band’s mystique. It humanizes the musicians, inviting you to take a seat by their side while they struggle, fool around and experiment together.
E-mail Joshua Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.