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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Fish

13th Star

Review by Gary Hill

I first became a fan of Fish in his Marillion days. For my money the CD’s that group released when he was the front man were the best of their career. That is no insult Mr. Steve Hogarth who replaced Fish, but rather a testament to Fish’s lyric writing prowess and his ability to deliver intensely emotional vocal performances. Just as I always preferred Fish era Marillion to the Marillion music that followed his departure from the band, I’ve never felt that his solo work (as good as it has been) came up to the level of Marillion – until now that is! This is without question the strongest solo album Fish has produced. There is no weak song here and depending on the day I’d pick a different track for the best one every time. It comes close to heavy metal at times, but you know if Fish is involved it will be classy. If you were a fan of Fish era Marillion and have yet to make the plunge into his solo catalog, this is the disc to do it with. If you have followed his solo career but have yet to pick up 13th Star, stop waiting – this one is simply incredible! I can tell you it will definitely be in my list of best albums of the year, and there is some stiff competition this year.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Circle Line
This rises up gradually, but then the hard rock edge kicks in and we’re off. There are some Eastern musical tones here at times. This is vintage Fish with a metallic crunch. I hear bits of Hawkwind in the mix here – at least on the guitar line. This is an intriguing piece of music. It wanders between so many diverse sounds. We get a seriously metallic jam in this, but also the closing segment is atmospheric waves of sound. There are points here the sound just about the closest to old Marillion of anything Fish has done solo. It’s a cool way to start off the disc and definitely a highlight of the CD.
Square Go
Seeming to continue a musical theme, this one comes in quite metallic. It drops back to a bass driven section for the nearly spoken vocals and this portion really sounds a lot like vintage Marillion. You could just about call this track heavy metal in a lot of ways, but then again, if it’s Fish you know it’s classy. There is also some cool funk in the midst of this one. Like its predecessor, this tune runs through a series of intriguing changes, but other than the sedate keys and voice outro much of this could fit under the category of “heavy metal.” Of course, when you consider that Marillion consistently made the British heavy metal charts, I suppose that’s appropriate.
Miles De Besos
I suppose the simplest way to describe much of this tune would be as a progressive rock ballad. That only goes so far to conveying this piece, though. It has keyboard and vocal arrangement early and acoustic guitar is added later. This allows Fish’s vocals to truly shine. We get some great acoustic guitar soloing later in the track and when they power it out for a time it resembles early Marillion quite a bit. This is a killer tune and one of the highlights of the disc.
Zoe 25
Fish starts this one acapella. After a verse some piano enters to join him tentatively. Another verse is sung and then the keyboards take on a more consistent role. This becomes a beautiful ballad as it carries forward. After about a minute and a half more instruments join, but it’s not like they change the song around. Instead these are more tools to tell the same musical and lyrical tale. I purely love Fish’s evocative vocal delivery on this one. It shifts out towards more pure progressive rock in a soaring arrangement later. While every song on this CD is incredible and it’s hard to pick pieces that stand above one another, this one really resonates well with this reviewer.
Arc of the Curve
As if to demonstrate just how difficult a statement like that is with a disc this strong, here comes “Arc of the Curve.” This is without question another of my favorites here. In fact, the first few listenings I would have picked this one as “the” favorite. As time wore on though, other tracks began to shine equally. This is another that really resembles Marillion quite a bit. It’s a powerful ballad-like piece that is about looking back at the seeming promise of a now lost relationship. It’s powerful both in terms of its emotional lyrical content and its musical delivery.
Manchmal
This starts with one of those spoken word passages that Fish is so well known for, calling to mind old Marillion again. Rather than leave us thinking we’ve wound up in a Marillo disc, though, a techno sort of rhythmic pattern joins as Fish continues. Then a little further down the road this shifts out to metallic fury making this another song that has a lot in common with heavy metal. This is perhaps a bit less obvious choice for standout cut as it takes longer for it to grow on the listener. That said, this has a rather angry delivery at times and is one of the most experimental pieces on show here. Even amidst this concept, though, they work in some more melodic mellow textures that are more in keeping with the music we’re used to getting from Fish.

Openwater
Another of those spoken Fish deliveries, this one with some intriguing music backing it up, leads this piece off. They turn this into a prog powerhouse as they carry on. At times this borders on metal again, but we also get funky jazz keyboards on the tune. It’s another standout, but then again what here isn’t. We even get a rock and roll guitar solo straight out of 1976.
Dark Star
Much of this track lives in the understated music with vocals over the top part of the universe. Still, they power it out here and there in hard edged progressive rock fury with a more full arrangement. This is a powerhouse in a lot of ways. The vocals carry a lot of weight and the music purely soars at times. The final hard rocking section of the song reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd at times, but with a Fish twist on it. They move it back out to the mellower soundscape to end.
Where In the World
The first half of this song is delivered as a pretty straightforward ballad. This musical motif might not be the most dramatic thing you’ve heard, but it is pretty and allows Fish’s lyrics and vocals to truly shine. Later in the track they rework the music into a more powerful approach and as they move it out into the “Where do I go from here?” segment I am reminded of Marillion’s Clutching at Straws album.
13th Star
In a lot of ways this is one of the most cohesive tracks on show here – meaning not that the others meander, but that this stays closer to its origins than a lot of the other music here. For some reason I’m reminded of “Sugar Mice” from Marillion quite a bit. This is a powerful piece that’s essentially a rocking balladic cut. It has some segments that are extremely gentle and others that rock out quite well. There is a world music element to some of this. It’s a great way to close out an exceptionally powerful CD. It leaves you feeling like you need to hit “play” and start it all over again.

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