By Peter Hemminger

Phish is dead. Twenty-one years in, long enough for someone to progress from birth to spitting distance of university graduation, the ’90s equivalent of the Grateful Dead has decided to call it quits. According to the band’s guitarist/singer/focal point Trey Anastasio, the band members simply didn’t want “to stand by and allow it to drag on beyond the point of vibrancy and health.”

Undermind, then, is the album that convinced Phish they were dangerously near that point. That’s not to say the album isn’t competent, their melodies more developed and the songs are tighter than expected from a band famous for improvisation. Even the album’s lack of energy isn’t the real proof of their demise. As Phish fanatics are quick to point out, the band’s vibrancy has never completely come through on a studio album.

The best evidence comes from outside of Phish. A quick listen to Oysterhead, Anastasio’s side project with Les Claypool and Stewart Copeland, or his 2002 self-titled album deflates the deceit of the Phish apologists. Anastasio can be exciting in a recording studio, with proper inspiration.

Undermind isn’t the greatest last impression for Phish to leave its fans, but it is a fair one. They’re as tight as only a band who’s played together for two decades could be, and more impressively, they have the songwriting chops to reign in the instrumentation. But above all, they were a band that you had to see live. They always thrived on stage and Undermind, like most of their recordings, doesn’t do Phish justice.