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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Fish

Communion

Review by Gary Hill

Fish got his start as the lead singer in Marillion – or at least that’s when he got his first taste of fame. For my money, he is the greatest lyricist around. He’s also capable of delivering some of the most emotional vocals of any person I’ve ever heard. Those are really the biggest strengths of Fish – and they make him a giant. The thing is, the music that he and the musicians with whom he surrounds himself make is powerful, too. In the concert presented here the group did an acoustic show. It’s a great way to show off some unique arrangements that capture the emotion and charm of the music without relying on tricks or effects for augmentation. This music works quite well in this format. I’d recommend this to all Fish fans, but also to Marillion fanatics and prog heads in general. If you like emotional music and don’t fall into any of those categories, pick this up, anyway. You’ll thank me for the recommendation.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
The Field
This has a rather stripped down, balladic style. About a minute and a half in the track begins to take on some different textures, but the overall motif doesn’t change. It builds up very gradually. It’s about three and a half minutes in before it begins to approach a harder rocking sound. Even so, the chord progression and song construction don’t really change – only the arrangement and presentation have risen. It turns towards an almost Floydian hard edged sound around the four and a half minute mark – this bringing in some bluesy elements. It moves back to a more powered up version of the previous sound from there. They alternate between these two segments as it is moved forward, becoming more intense with each retelling. It drops way back at around the seven minute mark and backing vocals blend with the melody to create an almost gospel sound. This takes the track out.

Jumpsuit City
Here we get a cool rocking sound that seems to have a sort of “secret agent” texture in the musical theme. This is quite an intriguing and powerful song that works very well. They move it out into a typical Fish chorus, catchy and meaty at the same time. For my money this one is a step or two up from the previous number. We get a meaty, albeit non-crunchy, guitar solo in the midst of this number. While the group vocal segment that ends this is interesting, it seems to go a bit long for my tastes.
Favourite Stranger
 I’ve always loved this powerful track and this live performance catches all the drama and majesty of the understated textures. The more acoustic arrangement allows for a more intimate feeling to the track. The only complaint I might make is that at times the female backing vocals seem a bit over the top.
Shot the Craw
The first half of this track is essentially a folky ballad. They power it out towards more progressive rock territory for the more fully arranged and realized second half of the number. I like this one quite a bit.

State of Mind
Another favorite of mine, this one has a more acoustic approach, but it’s still every bit as powerful as in the studio version.  This takes on a bit of an R & B approach at one point. An extended acapella approach ends this.
Tilted Cross
This one starts in a folky balladic approach. The cut builds and grows, but doesn’t wander far musically from its origins.
Fortunes of War
Piano and guitar work together to create the introduction here. This track builds up into something not that far from the number that preceded it. Still, this has a poignant and powerful lyrical approach that is augmented by a dramatic melody and delivery.
Just Good Friends
This is another of my favorite Fish tunes. The motif in this show makes it a bit closer to the studio version than some of the other music here comes. This is still a beautiful and touching piece of music. The female vocal on this one is extremely powerful and when Fish joins her in the vocal line it’s simply sublime. This is without question one of the highlights of the whole set.

Incomplete
If parts of the last track were sublime, nearly this entire number feels that way. Between the interplay between Fish and Heather Findlay is perfect. The entire musical arrangement is also intense with drama and emotion. This is just about as good as it gets.
Change of Heart
While in some ways this doesn’t differ much from some of the other material here, they pump it up a few notches into the ether. Electric guitar glides across the powered up arrangement here. This is another strong one. Considering the competition it had with the track it had to follow, that says a lot.
Lady Let It Lie
This track is a slice of everything that makes Fish great. It’s got thoughtful lyrics. It has an emotional vocal delivery. It’s got a great musical arrangement that combines a catchy hook with proggy musical elements. With all those things going for it, how can you go wrong? You can’t!
Gentleman's Excuse Me
This is a beautiful and powerful piano and vocal ballad. No one does this type of thing better than Fish.
Disc 2
Rites of Passage
Here is another keyboard and voice based ballad. I’d say that this one is not quite as powerful as the number that closed the first disc. Mind you, that’s more based on how strong that number was than due to any weakness in this one. Of course, the classically based instrumental segment that closes things does help to bring this one up a bit higher.
The Lost Plot
I love the keyboard melody on this one. I also am very taken with Fish’s delivery here. The intro section is strong enough based on those two aspects, but when the rest of the group come in, they push it through the roof. This is a killer track and another highlight of the CD. Everything is just about perfection with this number and they turn it out into a smoking prog rock jam late in the piece.
Slainthe Mhath
The first Marillion song of the set, this one comes straight out of the last number and as delivered here takes on a definite Celtic texture.  While I wouldn’t say I prefer this version to the original, the change up is intriguing and adds a new vision to this cut.
Chelsea Monday
Another song that was originally done by Marillion when Fish was in that group, This feels slower than that rendition, but it is every bit as powerful. While the arrangement is quite different, it’s also similar somehow – at least in terms of its effect on the listener.

Scattering Crows
Lyrically this feels to me like “that love song” that Misplaced Childhood said Fish never wrote. He asks for one more chance to prove he can be true. This is an emotionally powerful tune in terms of the lyrics, the vocal delivery and the musical arrangement. Really, isn’t that what we’ve come to expect from Fish, though?  Fish takes the opportunity to introduce the band on the close of this one.
Tara
Here we get another beautiful balladic number. The arrangement powers up as the track goes along, but really the melody and the vocal delivery are the selling points here.

Raw Meat
This one starts in a similar balladic mode than some of the other tunes, but it grows out in different ways. This winds up rocking out a bit more than some of the rest. It’s a strong tune and makes for a solid closer, especially after they turn it into an acoustic progressive rock tour de force. I can’t imagine a stronger closer.
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