Fish: Sunsets On Empire (3CD expanded remaster)
Arriving in batches of two, Sunsets On Empire, originally released in 1997, is the first (alongside Raingods With Zippos) of an eight album reissue campaign from enigmatic Scottish singer Fish. As is often the case with the one time Marillion man, it was an album that found him at a crossroads, something his excellent, insightful and candid liner notes go into in great detail. Three years on from his previous studio album Suits and having reappraised his (and Marillion's) catalogue to date through the Yin and Yang compilations, Fish teamed up with a certain young song writer named Steven Wilson, the multi-instrumentalist not yet finding fame through no-man or Porcupine Tree. At first it seems an odd combination and yet with the craft, skill and persistence of the pair, a set of songs from Wilson were slowly broken down and rebuilt into something more reminiscent, if still daringly different, to what the singer's faithful following would expect.
The results were deep, dark, angry and involving, songs like "What Colour Is God?" and "The Perception Of Johnny Punter" covering themes of division and inequality, whether through creed, religion, colour, or social standing – and the catastrophic results they cause. Unfortunately the themes hit as hard today as they did nearly twenty years ago, if not more so. Something which can also be said for the loss of life through the police's in proportionate show of force that is "Brother 52". Musically things are equally radical, Wilson, alongside band members Frank Usher, Foss Paterson, Robin Boult, Ewen Vernal and Dave Stewart altering Fish's approach by some distance, loops and samples used to build atmosphere and threat – two things this album is positively brimming with – in great swathes; "Jungleride" still proving a tour de force. "Tara" and "Change Of Heart" offer a more emotional, heartfelt outlook, while "Worm In A Bottle" is a dreamy space out which shows a glinting, razor sharp edge. Add in the slow build of the album's title cut, tender "Say It With Flowers" and eerie unsettling explosion of "Goldfish And Clowns" and Sunsets On Empire still, for me, stands as one of the three (alongside Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors and A Feast Of Consequences) crowning glories of the Fish solo canon. Here in remastered glory, I have to say it sounds sumptuously magnificent.
As if that wasn't all enough, disc two offers up six of the Steven Wilson demos from which the album was shaped, and while the songs are instantly recognisable, the differences are stark. Wilson's, of the time, Porcupine Tree touch is everywhere, spartan atmospheres bursting with anger and regret, Fish shaping a set of not yet finalised lyrics to match their mood. It's a hugely interesting listening experience, the feel of a set of songs in full evolution strongly evident. I'd also suggest it's as interesting a listen whether you're a died in the wool Fish fan, a dedicated follower of Steven Wilson, or someone interested to see how songs often take on new life as collaboration and fresh ideas set them a different course. Unlike so many reissue bonus discs, this is stuff genuinely worth revisiting over and over, especially with the wonderful b' side/Japanese album cut "Do Not Walk Outside This Area" showing up in both full Wilson mode and final condition. Radio edits of "Tara" and "Goldfish…" and a questionable dance remix of "What Colour Is God?" add further value, as does a US version of "...Johnny Punter" which features altered and less controversial lyrics.
Disc three on the other hand finds nine of the ten ("Say It With Flowers" the omission) main album cuts performed live, with two from 2006, one from 1999 and 1998 apiece, while the remaining five are from the Polish leg of the 1997 tour to promote the album itself (these five featuring on CD for the very first time). Therefore we get a variety of line-ups and settings for the songs, the live environment allowing Fish and his band to continue the evolution of the songs, and the listener to track how that affected them. Personally the Scottish date of the 1997 tour (in a ridiculously rammed Edinburgh Venue) is still the most potent performance I've seen from any configuration of the Fish band and that comes across strongly here.
Put simply, this is a stunning reissue of an immense album. I didn't think that it would be possible for a collection of songs that I've long held a true affinity with to be any more impactful. How wrong I was. This is how reissues should be done and that there are another seven to revel in is reason to rejoice.
1. The Perception Of Johnny Punter
2. Goldfish And Clowns
3. Change Of Heart
4. What Colour Is God?
6. Jungle Ride
7. Worm In A Bottle
8. Brother 52
9. Sunsets On Empire
10. Say It With Flowers
1. Goldfish And Clowns (Demo with Steven Wilson)
2. Sunsets On Empire (Demo with Steven Wilson)
3. What Colour Is God? (Demo with Steven Wilson)
4. Do Not Walk Outside This Area (Demo with Steven Wilson)
5. Perception Of Johnny Punter (Demo with Steven Wilson)
6. Say It With Flowers (Demo with Steven Wilson)
7. Perception Of Johnny Punter (USA version with alternative lyrics)
8. Do Not Walk Outside This Area (Japan bonus track)
9. Tara (Radio edit)
10. Goldfish And Clowns (Radio edit)
11. What Colour Is God?( History Of Guns remix)
1. Change Of Heart (from "Communion" St Mary's Church, Haddington)
2. Tara (from "Communion" St Mary's Church, Haddington 2006)
3. Worm In A Bottle (From Haddington Corn Exchange, Company Convention 1998)
4. Goldfish And Clowns (Poland 97)
5. Jungle Ride (Poland 97)
6. Perception Of Johnny Punter (Poland 97)
7. What Colour Is God? (Poland 97)
8. Brother 52 (Poland 97)
9. Sunsets On Empire (From Sashimi 1999 recorded in Poznan)
Added: December 6th 2015
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: The Fishheads Club
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