|Strangefish: Fortune Telling
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-07-08 00:36:52
Talk about hooks - this record has melody lines that will live with you for along time after it's finished playing.
Fortune Telling is pure neo at its strongest: Genesis-based music played (mostly) by the standard rock ensemble, very strong guitar work, a big emphasis on keyboards and tons of 'Trons and Hammonds, a strong progressive orientation in the song structures with all the attendant shifts in tempo, key and time signatures, all fronted by very expressive mid-range vocals a-la Gabriel. That description sounds like a generic description of progressive music but, as with most neo, this record is somewhat dependent on vocals and there's a song orientation that lend it more of a pop/rock orientation than the more avant garde forms of prog. Strangefish's last CD led us to comment that "Yes, Virginia, there is good neo progressive rock. Early Marillion was an excellent example – and now, so is Strangefish.". The performances, the songwriting and the overall maturity of the band have improved considerably since their debut album, yielding a very solid body of work that stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of neo progressive rock's big names.
This is a concept album, and although the liner notes do a good job of trying to explain it, the storyline still isn't very clear - which is a pity, because it seems to have a lot of potential. So you're better off thinking of it as a theme rather than a story. The basis of story is that a man is basically happy with his life, expressed in the opening song "Happy as I am". He goes gambling, wins lottery - per the song "Random". He's cautiously happy about his new fortune - as expressed in the album's standout track "Keep The Exits Clear". After living with his wealth and with the rampant consumerism it attracts, he does some soul searching and wants to get back to his previous status - per the songs ". Reflection This Is Me - Part I" and "...Part II - which reprise themes from "Happy As I Am". Given the sketchy descriptions in the liner notes, though, your interpretation of the story may be different.
The song structures are rich with mood shifts and in places Steve Taylor's singing will have you wondering if this was IQ performing under a different name. Taylor recently won the Classic Rock Society's best male vocalist award - again. He's very good, his delivery is pitch perfect and his emotional expression is powerful - but it's hard to see him as the best in the business.
Closing track "Lighthouse Jig" is an idea that has been used by many artists in the past. It's a sort of rocked-up version of an Irish jig that has nothing to do with the rest of the album, but aims to end it on a high note - just as Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells ends with the "Sailor's Hornpipe". It's an excellent piece of music but given the depth of the message and the heavily complex often brooding tone of the music that describes it, this piece is out of place and should perhaps have been saved for a different album. Programming your CD player to skip track 11 causes the CD to end on an appropriately reflective, plaintive, piano line that.
Despite the small criticisms we've raised, Fortune Telling is a fine piece of music and ought to be heard by every self respecting fan of modern music. The construction of the piece, the powerful vocal expression, and the overall musicianship elevate Fortune Telling to the top ranks of its genre, and point the way for Brit-Neo's future.