Amfibian: Skip the Goodbyes

By: Josh Potter

For the vast majority of his songwriting career, it has been impossible to speak of Tom Marshall without mention of Trey Anastasio. From their near mythical creative rendezvous at the Rhombus in Jr. High through the penning of "McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters" (which in turn gave birth to Anastasio's Gamehendge saga) and on to the 100-plus songs Marshall co-authored with Anastasio, it is a major oversight to consider the depth and breadth of the Phish legend without including Marshall's humbly surrealistic, emotionally cryptic lyricism. Over the course of two decades, we watched Anastasio burn like a supernova, shed his youthful absurdity, become a father and access the muse of middle-age, while, somewhere offstage we heard Marshall's ventriloquist voice narrate his own metamorphosis. With Phish in the past tense and Trey's personal tribulations dominating the present, Amfibian (Marshall's solo band) are geared for the future. Skip the Goodbyes (Relix Records) is an assertion that the ventriloquist has always been a song and dance man who's ready to come out from behind the curtain.

There's nothing Phishy about Amfibian. With a couple lackluster releases in their past, STG is more than a platform for Marshall's cult celebrity and midlife rock & roll aspirations; it's an unabashed rock album. Born of a freshly forged songwriting partnership with guitarist Anthony Krizan, the band nods to the Beatles, Bob Dylan and even Van Halen before alluding to the bulk of Marshall's back catalog. Between his polyurethane voice and uncharacteristically direct lyricism, the Marshall of Amfibian may as well be a new animal altogether. The opening track, "Sheep," seems plucked directly from the Lennon-McCartney songbook, with a hook echoing "You Never Give Me Your Money." While Marshall plays keys on most songs, the album is largely guitar-driven. "See You in Sydney" and "Memory of a Smile" evoke the follicly inclined bands of the mid-'80s that Phish tended to avoid. Only the title track bears a trace of latter-day Phish, no doubt a product of Anastasio's cameo guitar work.

Most striking is the new found pop sensibility in Marshall's lyrics. As the former king of the obtuse couplet, years have passed since he penned a "Gumbo" or "Stash." Ever since "Sleep," Marshall's storytelling has materialized more and more in the waking world. Dimensions of adulthood, especially the trials of love, have come to dominate thematically, and while Dionysus is granted an occasional furtive glance, it's not without a nostalgic sigh. The rhyme schemes complete themselves with surprising ease, and while once a voice "calling to me from the deep" would be "tempting me to fall asleep," it now garners (as in "Skipping Stones") the suspicion that "maybe you're just talking in your sleep." That said, we catch a glimpses of the Marshall we once knew, like "Pieces," where two characters assemble a hilltop puzzle from the pieces they cut from cloth and trees. In "Graffiti," lines are traded back and forth with the kind of playful anaphora (a la "Limb by Limb") that Anastasio once performed with Page McConnell or Mike Gordon.

While tracks like "Bystander" and "Pieces," may refer to Marshall's relationship with Anastasio, Amfibian is the statement of a bold, (mostly) Trey-free Tom Marshall, owing as much to his collaboration with Krizan as to his independence from the former. Without slipping too far into the realm of graying men with dark sunglasses, Skip the Goodbyes is a mature chapter in Marshall's long history, not to mention the likely genesis of a serious, streamlined Amfibian.

JamBase | Wetlands
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[Published on: 10/6/07]

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