Umphrey's McGee - Similar Skin

Umphrey’s McGee – Similar Skin

I picked this album to review because although I’ve never bought anything by Umphrey’s McGee I’ve heard a bit of their live stuff from various sources and been quite impressed. They are considered to be one of the top jam-bands in America, often bracketed with Phish and Gov’t Mule (who are one of my favourite bands) and jointly credited with inspiring the ‘improg’ genre.

In a recent interview in the prog press they talk about having a 175 song repertoire which allows them to play as many as five consecutive nights without repeating a song and of having a streaming archive of 1100 live shows. They have a system of on-stage intercommunication involving physical signals and band-only talkback microphones which includes their lighting engineer. Audiences can also hire headsets receiving the soundboard mix during concerts.

It’s obvious from all this that we’re dealing with a band which is a bit out of the ordinary, and with such an emphasis on their live shows (a hundred or so every year) I was very curious as to why they chose to record in the confines of a studio, particularly as two or three of the tracks on this album are apparently well established live favourites.

So, then, to the album. What does it sound like? Well, you know when you’re off sick for a couple of days and sitting feeling lousy and bored in equal measure and you find yourself watching one of the so-called ‘rock’ channels on cable TV with its seemingly endless succession of videos by indistinguishable bands you’ve never heard of (and, if your luck holds, will never hear of again) churning out soulless identirock? Well that, unfortunately, gives you some idea of what this album sounds like to this reviewers jaded old ears. For those of you fortunate enough never to have experienced the aforementioned scenario the nearest lazy one-band comparison I can come up with would be Steely Dan, a band I loathe, so Umphrey’s were always up against it as far as this listener is concerned.

Normally when reviewing, rather than do track-by-track descriptions, I prefer to pick out three or four songs that have made the most impact on me and concentrate on them but I’m afraid that’s impossible here as the whole thing just merges into a big soft-rock blur, a kind of spot-the-soundalike competition. Amongst the answers are :- Track 4 – Billy Joel, Track 5 – Arctic Monkeys, Track 6 – Level 42, Track 7 – Bachman Turner Overdrive, Track 8 – The Police, Track 9 – Oasis and on and on it drags.

No definition of “prog” that has ever been attempted could possibly be stretched to include this album. It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to write such a critical review, but ‘disappointed’ doesn’t even begin to cover my reaction to this release. The only positive thing I can say is that as I said at the beginning of this review, the live stuff I’ve heard is much superior to anything here, and in that respect they are definitely, as the old football cliche has it, a band of two halves. However, as far as Similar Skin is concerned I’m afraid, to coin a phrase, the proof of the pudding is in the deleting. The downloaded copy I was sent to review is sadly no more.

01. The Linear
02. Cut The Cable
03. Hourglass
04. No Diablo
05. Similar Skin
06. Puppet String
07. Little Gift
08. Educated Guess
09. Loose Ends
10. Hindsight
11. Bridgeless

Brendan Bayliss – Guitar & Vocals
Joel Cummins – Keyboards & Vocals
Ryan Stasik – Bass
Andy Farag – Percussion
Jake Cinniger – Guitar & Vocals
Kris Myers – Drums & Vocals

Studio Releases
Similar Skin (2014)
Death By Stereo (2011)
Mantis (2009)
The Bottom Half (2007)
Safety In Numbers (2006)
Anchor Drops (2004)
Local Band Does OK (2002)
Greatest Hits Vol. III (1998)

Live Releases
Hall Of Fame Class of 2012 (2013)
Hall Of Fame Class of 2011 (2012)
Hall Of Fame Class of 2010 (2011)
Jimmy Stewart 2007 (2008)
Live At The Murat (2007)
Local Band Does OKlahoma (2003)
One Fat Sucka (2001)
Songs For Older Women (1999)