Whatever I feel about his recent behaviour, I’m still a fan of the former Marillion frontman’s music. And Fish has just come up with an absolute blinder of an album.
He finished recording his 13th album, 13th Star, in the aftermath of his very acrimonious split with Heather Findlay. He tends to produce his best work when he’s angry and bitter over something, so I was expecting him to deliver a strong album. Which he has.
Fish is primarily a singer and lyricist, and not much of a composer; therefore the quality of his albums depends very heavily on whoever he’s got as his songwriting partner. This time round, much of the music is written by bassist Steve Vantsis, who’s been with Fish’s band for years, but hasn’t had much in the way of writing credits before now.
Musically, parts of this album are very heavy, approaching metal in several places. Some songs have an industrial feel, with drum loops, heavily processed guitars, and groove-orientated basslines. The opening pair, ‘Circle Line‘ and ‘Square Go‘, are typical of this approach, In contrast, ‘Miles de Besos‘ and ‘Zoe 25‘ are more reflective keyboard-led numbers that wouldn’t have sounded out of place around the time of “Sunsets on Empire”.
‘Arc of the Curve‘ begins with the same opening line as his 1985 hit with Marillion, ‘Kayleigh‘, and the similarities, both musical and lyrical, don’t end there. From then on the album builds in intensity with the angry and emotionally charged ‘Machmal‘, the powerful driving rocker ‘Openwater‘ and ‘Dark Star‘, before winding down with the ballads ‘Where in the World‘ and the title track.
As for the lyrics, more than half the songs are directly about the breakup. With all the very unpleasant washing of dirty linen in the media at the time of the split, I had feared the worst. Had a large part of the album been an attack on Heather, I would have found it unlistenable, no matter how good it might have been musically. (As regular readers of this blog should know, I’m a huge fan of her music, and have met her several times) But while it does get uncomfortably personal on some lines of ‘Dark Star‘, most of the lyrics are concerned with his own feelings.
Fish isn’t the world’s best singer by any means. And nowadays he lacks the range he had in his younger years. He makes up for this with his impassioned and emotional delivery; frustration, anger, sadness and ultimately hope.
This is very much an album that stands as a whole rather than a random collection of songs. Every song works in the context of the album, and There’s no filler at all. It’s certainly Fish’s best work since at least “Sunsets on Empire”, and is a very strong candidate for album of the year.
This album will not be available by retail until early 2008, it’s currently only sold online from The Fish Shop, or at gigs.