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Fish: 13th Star

It would seem that nothing inspires Fish to write some of his best material quite like personal demons; and so it is with 13th Star, far and away Fish's best album in a decade. The ex-Marillion front man recently went through a rather public breakup with fiancé Heather Findlay from Mostly Autumn and one can't help but assume that the new album is a direct result of the end of that relationship. Filled with anger, bitterness and regret but also suffused with moments of tenderness in remembering happier times, the big guy opens his heart like he hasn't done in a very long time.

13th Star is very neatly split between rockers and ballads. The heavier songs contain Fish's most muscular arrangements since Sunsets on Empire while the ballads are among the very best he's ever written. Crunchy guitar riffs, sequenced keyboards and spacey interludes are sprinkled into pieces like "Square Go" and opener "Circle Line". "Square Go" recalls "The Perception of Johnny Punter" in its menace and simple but heavy groove.

"Manchmal", a song of betrayal, is probably the heaviest cut on the album and calls to mind recent Porcupine Tree. The lyrics are particularly clever here as Fish tells the metaphorical tale of a turtle and a scorpion agreeing to cross a riverbank together before the scorpion stings the turtle just as the pair reach the other side. To make his meaning clear, Fish breaks through the metaphor with: "I can sense you're going to leave me, I know you'll break the deal, I'll drown in my sorrows and I'll drink at your shrine".

"Openwater" continues the bitterness with a bluesy infectious heavy rocker that's almost uplifting…unless you're paying attention to the desperate lyrics. "Dark Star" is an imposing moody piece of self-recrimination that builds and builds to an awesome Middle Eastern tinged finish.

The ballads, likewise, do not disappoint. "Miles de Besos" is a soft jazzy piece that tells of a torrid brief love affair in Chile. "Where in the World" speaks most directly of his recent split with Heather Findlay: "This time last year I was in love, this time last year there was a dream". The hauntingly vivid "Zoe 25" tells of a pair of tragic figures and each time I hear it, I can't help but think of Peter Hammill's "Curtains".

For many listeners, the true highlight among the ballads will be "Arc of a Curve". In a different world, this would yield Fish a mainstream hit: wonderful lyrics, a beautiful musical arrangement and also a catchy enough chorus for top forty radio.

The somber title track is equally impressive. As Fish contemplates following the 13th Star, he becomes so emotional that one can hear the singer choke up at one point. Furthermore, it can't be a coincidence that the opening line begins "with a heart full of sky" because it is the name of the current Mostly Autumn release.

The key to the success of the album is that Fish has aligned himself with a strong writing partner in Steve Vantsis. Vantsis has been Fish's bass player for 10 years and it's amazing to think that prior to 13th Star, Vantsis had never written a song with Fish. Calum Malcolm's production is likewise superb and he manages to get the best vocal performance that Fish has given in years. The entire package is first rate: the limited edition version contains classic Mark Wilkinson artwork. There's also an informative hour long DVD on the making of the album.

Is 13th Star a "prog rock" album? Who knows and frankly who cares? If you're looking for long complex songs, look elsewhere. This is, above all, a songwriters' album. What I do know is that Fish's new disc will go down as one of his major accomplishments. Welcome back Mr. Dick. My faith in you has been completely restored.

Track Listing

  1. Circle Line
  2. Square Go
  3. Miles de Besos
  4. Zöe 25
  5. Arc of a Curve
  6. Manchmal (Sometimes)
  7. Openwater
  8. Dark Star
  9. Where in the World
  10. 13th Star

Added: May 8th 2008
Reviewer: Steve Pettengill
Related Link: Official Fish Site
Hits: 11907
Language: english

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Fish: 13th Star
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2008-05-08 07:16:34
My Score:

Before I begin this review I have to admit that I had lost a little of my gung-ho steam in following the solo career of Fish as not only are his releases sometimes hard to come by, but the last couple were not doing for me what it had done in the beginning of his efforts and had left me wanting a little bit more since around the time of "Sunsets On Empires". I enjoyed his life concert release "Return To Childhood" as the singer poet revisited some of his most stunning work with Marillion but as far as solo music I was seeking a little more. This view would change the moment that I heard the beginnings of "13th Star" for while it's arrival would come at the cost of many upheavals in the singers personal life it is true that while tragic, these pitfalls of life often make for the best song-writing. At least when it comes to Fish it does. The album comes after the very public engagement and breakup of the singer and Heather Findlay from Mostly Autumn and it is clear that this is one of the key motivators behind the often dark and angry passages we find on the release. Fish mixes it up in terms of tempo and while he is expressing discontent at times this is not an angst laden release but instead one that often finds him mulling over the past happenings. It opens with "Circle Line" and delivers a powerful line about while "I'm living out the dream to earn my freedom from the rat race, all I do is survive". Just another day indeed and shows where apparent fame and slight fortune are really not much when it comes down to it. "Square Go" is one of the heavier numbers and it comes into ballad territory right after with "Miles De Besos". The track is one that lines out the story of a love affair and that while long over, it has left its mark on him and will not soon fade away. It must be pointed out that with all Fish releases, the true treasure lies in the words that he has given us because the message can easily pass you by if you just listen to the album while doing something else that your day requires of you. Fortunately the release comes with a booklet loaded with the words and images to allow this to be done easily. One of my favorite numbers comes by way of "Arc Of The Curve", and had this been a more open music industry where quality outweighed quantity, Fish might have very well had a hit single on his hands with this one. "Manchmal" is definitely the heaviest of the albums output and it refers to the popular fable of the turtle and the scorpion who need to cross the river bank.

It's clear that one of the most poignant numbers comes to us via "Where In The World" and it is also perhaps the saddest of the albums offerings. Fish sings of how last year he was in love and the plans were being made and now instead he lives in a different reality of stolen dreams and questions about what went wrong. This track reminded me of the way Fish was singing to a particular person in his life but in one sense he seems to be singing to himself as he searches for the answers on his own accord. The song is brought to more dramatic life by atmospheric guitar and backup singers. When the album closes up with the somber "13th Star", we find Fish not sitting idle in his sorrow but instead choosing to press forward into life's trials ever further as a man given strength by the resolution of his frailties. He reminds us that we are all too human on each of the tracks presented and that sometimes redemption, while always possible, is not as clearly lined out as we would like it to be. This is in my opinion the best that we have gotten from the singer in a number of years and it will be a release that goes down as one of his strongest and most powerful musical statements to date.

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