Fresh Fish, for starters…

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I just got back a couple days ago from a lovely 12-day vacation on the east coast of Spain and I loved every minute of it: the temperature hovered around the high 20s, the sea was blue and the sand white, my girlfriend and I proved we could share a caravan for the best part of a fortnight without tearing our – or each others’ – hair out and the food was, even for a vegetarian in a country that resolutely refuses to embrace the notion, excellent*.

A different kind of banquet arrived for me the day prior to my departure. The handsome package accompanying Fish‘s 14th album, A Feast of Consequences is yet to dispatch, but The Company were kind – and canny – enough to include a FLAC download as part of the deal and the link landed in my inbox and I’ve been listening on and off ever since. And (Fish)heads up, it’s great.

One of the main reasons Fish remains on my ‘must-buy’ list of artists is his ability to continually tweak and evolve his sound thru collaboration with other musicians.  each of his records marks a new departure in feel and style from its preceding release, whilst always retaining a distinctive melodic sensibility which by turns grandiose, brooding, wistful and soothing remains undeniably Fish. This is a very good thing; the mark of a serious artist. I don’t like everything he’s recorded by any means, but I’m rarely entirely disappointed by an album, frequently pleasantly surprised and occasionally blown away.

…Feast… represents something of a great leap forward from 13th Star, his last and somewhat flawed release. Where that album’s lyrics often stumbled and clunked like the Sixth-Form doggerel that Fish was sometimes unfairly accused of knocking out back in the ’80s, …Feast… is characterized by a richer, more nuanced emotional palate, with the musical recipe to do the flavours justice. There are more acoustic parts, for starters – guitar, piano and string accompaniments – plus more, and more effective backing vocals (courtesy of Elisabeth Antwi). And whilst there’s little of the naked bombast displayed on that album, there’s as much, if not more of another kind of musical muscle; better toned, more powerful and ultimately more impressive.

Perfume River begins the album in ghostly, windswept mode, replete with bagpipes. It maintains a mid-pace that plays as compelling rather than plodding and there are no big chords until well past the half-way mark when the acoustic guitars kick in and the tone lifts. For a 10 minute song that’s a long time, and it’s to Fish‘s credit that it doesn’t seem so. It’s all atmosphere, really – a touch of Opeth in the minor-key melody around the middle – and yet it utterly gripped me. An instant Fish classic, moody, steeped in foreboding yet perversely cathartic.

The following two songs are probably the least immediately impressive: All Loved Up a bare bones rocker, it’s borderline ham-fisted lyric conveying the sense of recklessness and self-importance engendered in the hoi-polloi by social media platforms. The ‘all fucked up’ fade out is curiously effective, though; and this from one who hates fade outs… Blind To The Beautiful is the kind of ballad Fish could write – and probably has – in his sleep. It’s accomplished enough, but it’s the one moment when the Scot seems to be resting on his musical laurels.

The ‘Symphonic Epic’ is something of a prog cliché – every ‘true prog’ act must produce their ‘Supper’s Ready’-style song-cycle: it’s THE LAW! – and it’s to Fish‘s credit that he rarely falls back on this ruse to prove his progressive credentials. When he does however, as previously with Plague of Ghosts and here with The High Woods Suite he pulls it off with aplomb. Lyrically, it – Crucifix Corner especially – raises the spectre of Iron Maiden’s classic ‘war epics’ such as Alexander The Great and Paschendale: a thrilling, gruelling, impassioned narrative that grabs the listener by the hand and leads them thru musical foggy, explosive, desolate and reflective musical terrains (The Gathering segment bears passing resemblance to Circular Ride by his previous bandmates, curiously). Fish‘s trademark spoken-word interspersions make an appearance too, and remain as characteristic and spine chilling as ever.

The Great Unravelling ends the album as it began; brooding, melancholy, infused with a dread sense of the past being inescapable.

As much as Fish avoids repeating himself, the previous works that resonated most in my mind whilst listening were Fellini Days, Raingods With Zippos and Field of Crows and that’s no bad thing – his Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors solo debut aside, those are by far my favourites and this, if anything is more consistently strong, writing and arrangement-wise. Time will tell, but Fish may have produced his best work to date: the vast majority of the listening public will remain blissfully unaware, but those old farts, the album aficionados, who still hold the career singer-songwriter in high esteem have every right to feel vindicated and content for a while longer…

I’ll probably update this review when the full package arrives, but until then, I’m confident that this will be one of my albums of the year.

(* We also took the opportunity to spend a night and day in Barcelòna on the way down, including a visit to Gaudi‘s La Sagrada Familia which was quite the most extraordinary building I’ve ever entered: like something out of a sci-fi movie, I cried when I saw it for the first time. Astounding – I urge anyone to visit.)

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