What a way to end a career! Once more reflecting on life, the state of the world and, as happened more than once in both his solo career and before that, writing lyrics that are relevant, that matter. While surrounding himself with great musicians, with his cooperation with top bass player Steve Vantsis back on track and sharing writing duties for this album, together with Robin Boult, they together laid down the basis for another career highlight. That at least was the view Fish held when he started creating this final album. Going out in style with an album filled to the brim with great music. Just like he did when he left the band he was part of, with probably their best album with Fish as their singer.
Ending his career with an album released this september. And there it was. Surely, with everything that Fish went through in his long career, experiencing more than just a lot. Building his own studio with all the investment that took, with losses, in both financial and personal way, through the years, he still decided to make this last one an album crafted with his own team. Not a product released by any major company, released by his very own Chocolate Frog Records. No giant distribution via large web based companies, but distributed all the way from his own house. Go figure. The small team, with Fish’s lovely wife Simone being his rock, took on the challenge and pulled it off. With the numbers of pre orders and orders, that is quite a feat.
Let us also take into account that the big man saw to the possibilities of life in this modern day and age. Want it the easy way? Go ahead, you can find the album at your favourite streaming outlet. So even while you may still be awaiting arrival of your order not having received it the second it was released, there is the easy way for you to find it. Decently at the ready. But boy, do you miss out! Of course you realise that the streaming version does not give you access to Mark Wilkinson’s cherished artwork, neither to the, as always, great lyrics by the man himself. Mark has again shown to really tune into Fish’s lyrics and made art to really go with the album and its flow. All there for those of you wanting to really hold the album as it is. See mystery given shape by Mark, sometimes enhancing the lyrics to a song, or giving them an image. All still there, elements that are essential parts of any album by Fish or by the band he was part of at the time.
True, a new album is all about its contents, both musically and lyrically. That clearly is what this album is about as well. Lyrics always mattered with Fish. They are thoughtful and at the same time thought provoking. Fish’s lyrics may have had their fair share of puns, sometimes seemingly resembling a lexicon as for complexity, rhyme set to rhythm yet they have changed over time. Yes, of course, they do not wholly go without metaphors or puns, but they are all much more about the essence of the words, about the story he wants to share. It’s about the images he wants to share. He spoke about just that in this interview published in 2019.
Some of the songs on the album, three to be exact, were already familiar for those following Fish and having bought the A Parley With Angels EP. We won’t go into these tracks individually as detailed as in that review. But what matters is, is the way these three songs fit the running order of the album. They had their own running order on the EP, yet they have found their place on the album, torn from the EP setting and the way they are included, it really adds to the build of the album. With the darker two tracks, Little Man What Now? and Waverley Steps (End Of The Line) just before the album’s last song, the title track, the album running order could not have been more of a hit. Yet, as a matter of fact, how does the album as a whole turn out?
Compliments must surely be given to Fish, Steve Vantsis and all who assisted in making this album what it has become. Yes, A Feast Of Consequences came before this one and that may just have been the magnum opus of Fish’s career up to that moment. Still, the EP as an ouverture, a work in progress for Weltschmerz already had left us wanting more. Simply put, these ten tracks are among the finest Fish has ever penned and set to music. Expectations had been great in advance. Fish, always in for rockier and uptempo tracks next to a ballad? For sure, that is what we are getting now as well? I mean, remember Feast’s All Loved Up being part of the same album as High Wood, with its stunning opening. Yes, we want that diversity now as well. Bring it on!
History teaches us that life is about much more than just comparing what happens to expectations. You might have noticed with this certain virus now around. Yet, music lovers, it is not up to us to determine the ebb and flow of an album. That is solely up to those writing the music. The everlasting fountain of inspiration they drink from, mixed with whatever good they want to add to that, determines the outcome, determines what effectively we will be served for listening. Weltschmerz is clearly the ultimate album that Fish wanted to make. Ten songs varying a lot from each other and not to be mixed up by any chance at all. The songs may not have great differences in pace, yet let that not fool you as to the diversity of the album or either as to its attractiveness. It may well be a matter of personal preference or a matter of expectations as to how you experience the album. This is an album that is a grower. Time may well be of the essence. This is not one that’s shouting from the rooftops, creeping up on you, blasting out from each and every radio station. It is like changing from meals going with meat to vegetarian. Perhaps your expectations might limit you in appreciating what is served, yet, if you open up to what is actually presented, the variety, the spice, you will be absorbed by what is on offer. Discover the album, give it time. As a matter of fact, do take the time to listen to the songs as they come and find how just much of a gem they are on a close and attentive listen.
Music can be just ever so beautiful if we take the time to listen to it. These ten tracks, stretching even beyond 84 minutes. Ten songs carefully crafted by Fish, Steve Vantsis and Robin Boult together with some very fine musicians (Foss Paterson, Liam Holmes, Dave Stewart, Craig Blundell, Liam Bradley, John Mitchell, Doris Brendel, David Jackson), ten songs that really matter. Yes, and they do so in the way they are brought together here. You may trick yourself into thinking about skipping the three tracks you already know from the EP, but it truly is the full run of the album that does it. Opening track Grace Of God hits you as it presents itself with some dark and somewhat sinister sounds, great keys, bass and guitar. And then there is Fish’s voice, soon to be accompanied by Doris Brendel. A great string arrangement really matches the track. Not too much, yet very much on the spot. The exact right place then to add Man With A Stick. The percussion, the staccato effects of the song, the guitar sounding like it’s on fire and the fantastic bass, it says it all.
Effectively upbeat, yet very much in a relaxed and acoustic way is the lovely Walking On Eggshells. A nice song to ask yourself what expectations you may have had when listening to the album for the first time and how much these expectations did (or do) matter. A lot is happening in this song about love, even though it may not hold that change of tempo you maybe thought you were to find. Nevertheless it is a song that tells of how love can evolve, how it can be a matter of striving for balance, not speaking out on behalf of love, or is it it in spite of? The song holds a tension within that is illustrated by the way the music builds itself. A very beautiful track!
Rocking may not be the right word for it, yet in all its Celtic appeal, This Party’s Over is definitely upbeat. In its feel it takes you back to Internal Exile’s The Company. Not everyone will agree on that, but I love Fish integrating his roots into his music. Rose Of Damascus has Fish returning to familiar ground. The effects of war on people and the chances people have in a situation of war and unrest. Very much one of the great epics, Fish style. There’s a lot going on. Beautiful arrangements for string and for copper instruments. Growing up in the Seventies Fish got impressed by Blood, Sweat & Tears and by the way the horns added to the sound. This very song and the album as a whole takes that sound to the here and now. Great in the way the song turns out to be with very strong lyrics by the man himself. Fantastic drumming and very beautiful background vocals. This may not be what you had expected it to be in terms of progressive rock, yet what it is, is the album Fish wanted to make. WIth that goal in mind, it truly is a great effort. Together with his buddy Steve Vantsis and producer Calum Malcolm Weltschmerz has very much become a very worthy closing section of Fish’s life as a singer and songwriter.
Zeitgeist caught in lyrics and in music: very much Fish’s forte. A poet who understand that not all can be said in poems and that we sometimes just need stories to comprehend, to confront us with who and what we are, how we behave, and how we sometimes take for granted who and what surrounds us. Fish being the one to touch upon even difficult subjects, to inspire and who, even in merely walking upon a stage can captivate and mesmerize an audience and simply spread his magic. People turn silent, sometimes impressed by his appearance, become silent on listening Fish singing Garden Of Remembrance, silent perhaps, if only on the inside, if they get the thoughts behind The C Song (The Trondheim Waltz) even as it is as much a celebration of life. This is an album, as a whole, that can have you fall silent whilst enjoying it. It has two great tracks of the EP one following the other just before the final track, the title track. What a closing track! Been there, done that. That certainly is not what this album is about. It is Fish once more sharing stories with us, with societal relevance, stories about the lives of people. He picked the way this album was going to sound. That sound is very much emblematic of Fish’s oeuvre. he has meant for the way we experience progressive rock. That was not just while being the lead singer of that former band, he certainly also did so with his own albums. Not to follow a path that was already trodden, but choosing to make music the way he envisaged it. There have been quite a few magic songs and albums along the way. This album most certainly is part of the magic. Take your time, pour yourself that Nero D’Avola, place the vinyl on the turntable and drop the needle, gently. And then enjoy these ten tracks from the man from Haddington. Should you listen to the track in another way, via streaming, then naturally, head straight to Fish’s website. There you will be able to order the real deal, artwork, lyrics and all and house delivered. What else could you possibly want? This Weltschmerz is one mighty fine album. So long and thanks for all and everything, Fish!