Fish - Sunsets On Empire

Year of Release: 1997
Label: Viceroy/Lightyear
Catalog Number: 54197-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 61:09:00

[Written contemporaneously with the album's release, Bobo looks back on Fish's Sunsets On Empire]

When Fish left Marillion he was vilified by a lot of fans. Either you remained loyal to Marillion or you became a Fish-fan. There simply was no inbetween. Looking back at things, it was time for a change and that change was made by Fish's decision to leave the band. When Marillion came back with Steve Hogarth, they no longer were the Marillion everyone new from the Fish-era. Those who latched on to Fish didn't hear the old Marillion sound on his Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors. It was time to progress in every way.

With Internal Exile, the distance from symphonic rock like we knew it became more apparent. The third important album had to make the BIG difference but unfortunately Suits didn't get the recognition it deserved, so it was kind of back to the drawing board. The period that followed looked like Fish was throwing in the towel, taking the easy way out by recycling his solo material to the fullest. There was an acoustic CD, a live recording, and the compilations Ying and Yang. Time for a full stop and a head filled with new ideas to really go for it and prove to the world that Fish is still alive, kicking and full of power!

Come Sunsets On Empire, an album with ten brand new Fish compositions, an album which, as Fish puts it, is the best he has ever done in his life! (Come to think of it, doesn't he say this about every new album he makes?) The big man asked Porcupine Tree leader/brain Steve Wilson to sit in the producer's chair, which was a very daring move indeed. Wilson not only produced a great sounding album, he also co-wrote six songs. However, it also proves that Fish is a man of our times, a man who wants to progress as far away from the bodice he created himself over the years.

Opening track "The Perception Of Johnny Punter" lyricwise is Fish at his best, telling a story rather than just singing, whilst musically it's something we wouldn't dream of coming from Fish! It's sort of heavy blues with real heavy guitars and an exploding orchestral piece during the chorus with backing vocalist Lorna Bannon almost sounding like Chrissie Hynde -- a winner! "Goldfish & Clowns" has sort of a Paris-Texas feel in the intro before it evolves into a story-telling rock song for a certain Mawgojzeta who might be a fictious person, or can also be someone Fish met whilst on tour in Poland. In the song he asks "what is the difference between playing away and playing at home? that's the difference."

In "Change Of Heart" Fish almost whispers, backed by a twelve string guitar before the song becomes a nice uptempo singalong track that will cause a storm during gigs I can assure you! Enter the eastern percussion in "What Colour Is God?," backed by loops and samples from the Steve Wilson household that make this sort of a song that could equally feature on a Porcupine Tree album. In a certain "rap" Fish is sort of our CNN reporter on the spot with the latest news regarding a shooting between two people, one black and one white. The song has a very repetitive addictive nature interspersed with radio fragments.

Calm settles in when Fish sits down to sing about his daughter Tara Rowena Dick in "Tara." I can sort of imagine Fish sitting on Tara's bed to sing her this song every night. When he's on tour, Tara will be able to put on the CD, close her eyes and imagine dad is only a couple of inches away from her. In the song he promises her every material thing in the world, but above all he promises her to be there in the morning, when the sun comes up. It's as if he feels guilty about not being able to be there for her when he's on tour all over the world, as if he knows that no material thing in the world can compensate for the little girl missing her father. I should also stress the fabulous string section arranged by Foss Patterson here.

"Jungle Ride" cries out for an eastern flavour, whilst yet again Fish tells us a story, an introduction to follow the plot better once the song really starts rolling. The chorus is ace and whilst Fish is speaking to us from his "mystery book," the tension builds with some outstanding harmonica by Fraser Spiers. "Worm In A Bottle" is a laidback track with wonderful Hammond on top of a snareless drum, crawling its way to the end, meeting the slide guitar of Frank Usher. Very Porcupine Tree from a rhythmic sense of view, "Brother 52" incorporates a telephone conversation between Fish and a certain "doc." Unfortunately there's very little I can understand which is probably the reason why I miss the plot altogether. [see notes below - ed.] I really love the folky violin which sort of lifts the song to another dimension.

Title track "Sunsets On Empire" could well become a gospel song if a huge choir were added. Instead, Lorna Bannon is drafted in again to deliver her backing vocals in the same way as the female voices added an extra dimension to Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon. The psychedelic slide guitar this time is from Steve Wilson, who else? The album closes with the dreamy "Say It With Flowers," a song without drums where the rhythm is created between the guitars of Robin Boult and Steve Wilson whilst Foss Patterson adds a little bit of harmonium to give it an extra flavour. It's sort of "Fish unplugged" if you like, so if during concerts the power is cut off I'm sure you will still have a great night out.

The last words Fish whispers are "I'm tired." After recording such a fantastic new album I'm sure he is. After a long period of touch and go, I'm sure Fish has taken a big gamble in taking in Steve Wilson as producer. In the end, it's probably this move that has made Sunsets On Empire what it has become, namely the direction he should have taken years ago. For years Fish has been recycling himself without looking at the future. With Wilson he has created the music for the future with the intensity we have known for years. The big man is back or should we say he's finally arrived where we have expected him to be long ago?

[Doc was a tattoo artist and Fish fan living in the US that Fish befriended while touring here; Doc died from liver cancer about a year or two ago. The story of Brother 52 is an example of the tensions between the US government (FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, etc.) and those freer spirits who are said to be "anti-government," such as the various militia groups here in the US. Brother 52 was killed, shot, but Doc suggests it was made to look as if he shot himself. More well-known similar confrontations are refered to in "short hand" as Ruby Ridge and Waco, to name but two. - ed.]

Reissued in 1999 by Roadrummer (RR 8679-2), remastered with one bonus track ("Do Not Walk Outside This Area"); reissued again by Snapper (SDPCD 218) in 2007 incl. bonus track.

The Perception of Johnny Punter (8:37) / Goldfish & Clowns (6:36) / Change Of Heart (3:41) / What Colour Is God? (5:50) / Tara (5:12) / Jungle Ride (7:34) / Worm In A Bottle (6:24) / Brother 52 (6:03) / Sunsets On Empire (6:54) / Say It With Flowers (4:15)

Fish - lead vocals
Steve Wilson - guitars and keyboards
Foss Patterson - Hammond, piano, keyboards, backing vocals
Ewen Vernal - bass
Dave Stewart - drums
Robin Boult - guitars
Frank Usher - guitars
Dave Haswell - percussion
Chris Gaugh - cello
Brian Hale - violin
Marytn Bennett - violin
Terence Jones - French horn
Fraser Spiers - harmonica
Doc - voice (8)
Lorna Bannon, Katherine Garrett, Don Jack, Chris Thomson, Annie McCraig - backing vocals

Vigil In A Wilderness of Mirrors (1990)
Internal Exile (1991)
Songs From The Mirror (1992)
There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop
?Swears He's Fish
Toiling In The Reeperbahn (1993)**
Derek Dick And His Amazing Electric Bear (1993)**
Pigpens Birthday (1993)**
Uncle Fish & The Crypt Creepers (1993)**
For Whom The Bells Toll(1993)**
The Funny Farm Project - Outpatients '93 (1993)***
Suits (1994)
Sushi (1994)**
Acoustic Session (1994)**
Yin and Yang (1995)
Fish Head Curry (1996)**
Krakow (1996)
Sunsets On Empire (1997)
Kettle Of Fish (1998)
Fortunes Of War Acoustic Set UK '94 (1998)
Tales From The Big Bus (Live From K?ln 1997) (1998)
Haddington Corn Exchange 1998 (1999)
The Complete BBC Sessions (1999)
Raingods With Zippos (1999)
Candlelight In Fog (USA 2000) (2000)
Fellini Days (2001)
Sashimi (Live In Poznan, Poland 1999) (2001)
Fellini Nights (2002)
Mixed Company (2003)
Field Of Crows (2004)
Bouillabaisse - The Best Of Fish (2005)
Return To Childhood (2006)
Communion (2007)
13th Star (2007)
A Feast Of Consequence (2013)
The Moveable Feast - European Tour 2013-2015 (2016)
Farewell To Childhood - Live In Europe 2015-2016 (2017)

NEARFest - Fish Live In The USA (2009)
Leamington Spa - Sunday October 21st (2013)
Fishheads Club Live (2013)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: April 10th 2001
Reviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

Artist website:
Hits: 1504
Language: english


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