Originally published on October 16, 2013 at 11:54 pm
(While music is not something normally covered here at talkbacker, I decided to write this for a number of reasons. This special edition contains not only the CD, but a making of DVD, a gorgeous 100 page hardcover book, and the slip case for it. The artist, Fish, is also an actor as well-The Jacket, and 9 Dead Gay Guys to name a couple)
In my life, there are very few who I really look up to. There are many I admire, but few worth idolizing. Former Marillion front man Fish, is one of them. From the moment I first heard his voice and lyrics I was a diehard fan. Even after his split with Marillion in 1988 I followed his solo career and got everything he released as soon as I could (though most of it had to be special ordered as his American releases were few and far between and about as hard to get as an import). Much of it I’ve loved, all of it I’ve liked, and there are only a handful of songs I don’t care for.
His newest album, the first in six years, is a culmination of a long, and bumpy career. It’s perhaps the magnum opus every artist hopes to create but few ever do. Against the odds, Fish has created an album of such depth, emotion, and beauty it can take your breath away. While it’s not perfect, even the lesser songs can hold their own.
“It’s a perfect nightmare, a perfect nightmare in an imperfect world”
Perfume River the opening track clocks in at over 10 minutes without a note wasted. Forlorn bagpipes open the song, and ushers you into a world inspired in part by the Tet offensive , yet also mirrors the lengths one man goes to in order to escape reality. With several tempo changes and fantastic guitar work from Robin Boult, Perfume River is both a meditation and a rocker. Perfect album opener.
All Loved Up
“In my world of wall to wall celebrities I get the feeling I already know
One day I’m sure they’re going to be my real friends”
All loved up is a fast paced bit of humor that although catchy and likable also seems to be a bit out of place. With a fantastic bass line by Steve Vantstiss, we hear Fish’s opinion and take on the X-Factor generation. Despite it being a bit of a cliché topic, he manages to make it seem fresh, while chastising the youth for expecting fame and fortune for doing nothing. In spite of a slightly ill fit (considering the rest of the album), I crank this up and bounce around like an idiot. Regulars of talkbacker will know who I instantly thought of the first time I heard this song.
Blind to the Beautiful
“I stopped believing in miracles a long, long time ago
I lost my faith and sacrificed my soul”
This is without a doubt my favorite song on the album. Combining a statement about global warming (without being overly preachy) with thoughts of a lost love intertwined, Blind to the Beautiful is ironically one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard. Accompanied by just a guitar and piano, with stunning background vocals from Liz Antwe, heart strings will be pulled. This is a song that lingers long after the album ends. Simply a stunning piece of work.
Feast of Consequences
“We were running out of pills, running out of smoke
Running out of fine white wines”
What would a Fish album be without the requisite bad relationship song? He’s written many over the years (Long, Cold Day from Fellini Days one of my personal favorites), and this may be one of his best. Like those relationships with peaks and valleys, Feast bounces around melodically but mostly maintains an up tempo song. When he sings the last line, “Looks like I’m dining alone,” you hear the emotion as clear as a bell. Gavin Griffiths does some great drumming, with the rest of the band sounding top notch.
If the first few songs were an entrée, then the High Wood Suite (composed of 5 songs but taken as a whole) is the main course. Fish’s Grandfathers on both sides of the family, each fought in WWI, and the extended sequence parallels the Battle of the Somme in 1916. While you can’t get an entire history of that battle in 27 minutes of song, reading about it, greatly enhances the structure and storytelling (a quick overview can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Wood).
I: High Wood
“The wood will rise, the wood will fall
The circle is unbroken
The wounds will heal in rings of time
The circle is unbroken”
The first section deals with the first attempt and failure of capturing the high wood from the Germans. The imagery Fish evokes, of ghostly soldiers haunting the woods is as chilling as it is powerful. The Druidic chanting of “the wood will rise” will stick in your mind, for a long time.
- Crucifix Corner
“I promise you we will meet again,
In the shade of Crucifix Corner”
Much like battle with periods of deepest quiet before Hell comes knocking, Crucifix Corner starts, slow and quiet. As the second attempt at capturing this stronghold builds, so does the song until it explodes with gritty, dirty guitar work, deep bass and smashing drums. It’s a brilliant composition which compliments Fish’s outstanding lyrics. A definite highlight of the album.
III: The Gathering
“I’ll long for my youth and my innocence
I’ll long for a brave new world”
After the relentless intensity of the first two pieces, The Gathering starts with an upbeat brass band sound. With another defeat, the King calls for all able bodied men to enlist with the promise of the King’s shilling (money makes the world go round after all). It’s a song of false hope, as these men know they’ll most likely die. Still, like the loved ones they reassure of their return, we want to believe them.
IV: Thistle Alley
“Heaven above, Thistle Alley below
Motionless survivors motionless on the bloody killing floor”
Perhaps the hardest sounding and certainly the most hellish of the five, Thistle Alley is the final push-the last gasp. Fish rips through the lyrics, nearly spitting them out with such passions and conviction, it sends shivers up the spine. And as the music slows for a moment he growls and carves the silence. A fantastic vocal, and one of my favorites of his ever. Special kudos to Gavin Griffiths for some fantastic work.
- The Gathering
“Lest we forget”
With the battle over, soldiers return home, theyreceive their metals, widows receive their letters of condolence, and the horror of the war is hidden behind dead eyes. Some very nice piano from Foss on this one. Sounding as heavy and bleak as much of the suite, the last line, “Lest we forget” is something you can’t help but always remember.
“I sensed someone there, I turned around, it wasn’t you”
As Fish was getting close to finishing the album (according to the accompanying DVD) it was running long, and this was a song in danger of being cut. While not a particular favorite, it brings you down from the intensity of the High Wood Suite. Other Side of Me is a slow ballad of self discovery with some nice violin work and the incomparable Liz Antwe proving some more backing vocal. There’s also a nice Zappaesque guitar solo by Robin Boult. It also has a very Pink Floyd sound to it as well that I really like.
“I know that I will have to leave and give up to the light”
And so we come to the closing track, and to my mind, it’s a somewhat weak one. I’m not sure why this one doesn’t resonate with me, but it leaves me a bit cold. I didn’t quite understand it lyrically when I first heard it, and only when Fish talked about it on the DVD, did it make sense. Still, I could have been satisfied without it, or having it earlier in the album.
A few quick words about the Special edition I have and basing this review on. It comes with a 100 page hardcover book (beautifully designed and made with illustrations by Mark Wilkinson), a DVD about the making of the album, as well as a hard slipcase to store the book in. The DVD and CD itself rest in cardboard folders within the book, which I don’t care for, but the entire package put together makes one of the best packages, of one of the best albums of this year.