November 17, 2005

Trey Anastasio: Shine

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It is no secret that Trey Anastasio is a fan of classic rock and is undoubtedly influenced by it. This is precisely the reason why Shine, Anastasio’s first studio album since the breakup of Phish sounds incredible despite the fact that much of the material on the disc lacks in the songwriting department.

Phish spent the bulk of their career compiling albums that were heavy with intricate, complex and at times, long-winded compositions. They settled, however, towards the end of their existence, into writing shorter, simpler rock songs. They were heavily criticized for doing so, especially among their fan base, who embraced Phish as much for their carefully planned music as they did for their extended improvisational sections. This, along with a multitude of other factors, led to Phish’s eventual demise. Now, more than a year removed from the band with which he climbed to the top of the “jamband” scene, Anastasio is trying to create a new musical identity for himself, one in which he can play the role of the introspective singer/songwriter as well as the regular rock and roller. While his efforts are laudable, it seems that Mr. Anastasio may be suffering from a terrible case of identity crisis.

There are no songs on Shine that are particularly bad, but there are no songs that are life-altering either. Anastasio’s musical image is strangely and uniquely dichotomous. His compositions know no bounds; at times, they sound so out there that they could not possibly be resolved, yet they always come back to something beautiful. His regular rock songs on the other hand are almost always repetitive, predictable and pedestrian. Any Phish fan will tell you that the three-minute number “Bouncin’ ’round the Room” was an ideal time to take a bathroom break.

Anastasio’s self-titled solo effort, released during Phish’s hiatus, featured a funkier approach, with a bubbling horn section capable of buttressing even the most lackluster of numbers. On Shine, Anastasio employs a more traditional rock band with bass, drums, keyboards and of course, his own signature guitar lines.

The good news is that the songs sound different enough from each other to keep the listener mildly interested. This is likely the result of producer Brendan O’Brien who co-wrote four of the album’s 12 songs and from the fact that Trey simply knows how to make his songs sound impeccable, no matter how flawed his writing is. There are verses, choruses and bridges galore, but the songs still pale in comparison to those written by Anastasio’s influences. There are some weird moments too, like the outro on “Spin,” but it hardly pushes Shine into the prog rock vein. Trey’s shaky voice and limited vocal range weaken some of the better written numbers, such as “Sweet Dreams Melinda” and “Black,” and perhaps explain why a man with such extensive musical knowledge writes such basic vocal melodies.

Shine is an album with all the necessary parts in their respective places. The instruments were recorded well and sound great. The album’s production is its saving grace, and to the non-discerning listener, can certainly pass as a decent rock album. For fans and admirers of Anastasio, this will likely be a disappointment.

Archived article by Scott Eisman
Sun Staff Writer