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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Label: Chocolate Frog
Length: 10 tracks / 55 minutes
Fish came to fame with Marillion, a band that we locals did not originally take too seriously: they seemed to be a Genesis rip-off before tribute bands could gain huge respect. Plainly – with help from the fine singles “Kayleigh” and “Lavender” – they soon gained a strong following. Time has moved on somewhat and, counting Marillion and solo discs together, this is his thirteenth collection.
Fish still has a voice that could win a Peter Gabriel sound-alike competition, especially on the couple of ballads, where the guitar also has an Anthony Phillips feel. He still has a refined proggy attitude that is happy to average nearly six minutes per track and include a few guitar solos. Now he has extra texture in his rhythm section. Opener “Circle Line” uses rock instruments to create a rich groove that would grace any dance track; in “Square Go” the bass remains low, fat, relentless and irresistible. This quality of production continues and producer Calum Malcolm uses the whole dynamic range in the sounds he creates.
There is a shadow to this disc. It is reportedly about women who have influenced his life, but it only seems to be about one woman - it has the odour of disappointment at his failed relationship with Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay. The original title of “Zoe 25” was “Micklegate,” the place where their wedding was due to take place. He sings, “At the Micklegate, with my heart in chains, the dream was killed”. Straight after that song the nimbus clouds roll in to cast deep shadows. He has already said that he wants to fight the world in the first few tracks and talked of how his heart is icy, broken and scarred. In “Arc of the Curve” he shows how totally smitten he was, and in “Open Water” he is shipwrecked:
I went down with all hands in the morning;
The nimbus breaks in “Dark Star.” Listening to its lyrics is like overhearing a phone conversation where someone is rowing with his partner. You almost wince, and in the following track you almost hear the pieces of his heart falling on the floor: “Where in the world do I go from here?” There are more of the many lyrics that talk of being lost, walking in circles and having no direction.
Sonically, there are flashes of late Floyd, particularly in the title track, when the female backing singers chime in and Fish takes on a Roger Waters style. There is also a spooky, arresting moment that only lasts for two seconds, when it sounds like he is about to break into Bowie’s “It Ain’t Easy”.
With its richly-hued packaging and expansive production, this disc is well-rated among Fish fans, but it could do with a few more memorable melodies and hooks. It is like taking a train ride through striking countryside with compelling views, but only being able to remember fleeting glimpses of the sights by the end of the journey. That aside, it is lyrically and sonically lush, a highly literate experience that vividly conveys Fish’s desperation, and a disc that asks to be put on repeat.