Fish - 13th Star

Year of Release: 2007
Label: Chocolate Frog Records
Catalog Number: CF1402207
Format: CD
Total Time: 55:30:00

Although I'd been keeping up with Fish via his periodic email updates, I'd sorta lost track in terms of the results; that is, I've not yet really heard Fellini Days or Field Of Crows but for a brush on my way to NEARFest. They are now queued up (and yes, it's a very long queue) and should see review sometime soon. But, because of his NEARfest appearance, I needed to brush up on at least the latest release, 13th Star. However, I think my "distance" from Fish has been good, from a reviewer's point of view. Rather than approach this as a die-hard fan, I can get a bit more perspective; look at it with, I hope, greater objectivity. That same objectivity I get with artists I know nothing, or very little, about going in.

I think Fish is at his best when he's least happy romantically. Perhaps not what he would want to hear. Nor really should one wish the worst for him, as I would hope that whatever he's got going at present, if anything, is good. But, much of 13 Star comes from that same place that Misplaced Childhood did, even if it's not as? far ranging topic wise. 13th Star is not a return to Misplaced Childhood (reference intentional). Oh, heavens no. It's much darker than that album. If anything, it has a fleeting, passing reference to Clutching At Straws. But even still, this is darker than that. I probably don't need to remind you that MC and CAS are two of my all-time favorite albums, right? (New readers, file that fact away for future reference? ).

Because I'm on the Fish email list, I know all about his trials and tribulations with his one time fianc?, Heather Findley. Well, when I say, all, I mean all that Fish has shared. So, you know that has coloured all the songs. Well, not all; that's just an impression. "Zoe 25" isn't about the breakup; neither is "Circle Line" or "Square Go."

13th Star a dark release, for the most part. There are 3 ballads, one of which is the ? nope, I'll leave that for last. The rest are churning, smoldering? Fish was angry, it's evident in presentation, the instrumentation. This mode begins with the funky "Circle Line," where gritty guitar phrases lead the charge over a sultry, throbbing bass line. This same groove is pretty much evident in the other dark tracks, with various other elements added to the mix. A grinding rhythm that gives the album almost the feel of a concept album (ballads and less dark pieces break the flow)*. In some ways, this piece is a "throwback" to Fish of old (by which I mean Sunsets On Empire and Suits) and yet also holds a modern feel. The link is the distinctive vocals of Fish.

So linked are these darker tracks that "Circle Line" becomes "Square Go" with hardly a break. It could be the same song with a different chorus. Well, on the surface. Fish's vocals are gruffer, and the slow burn puts bass and drums up front with bursts of hard edged guitar. But, I like the danger in this piece and it is more successful at creating a dark energy than "Circle Line." Continuing in this fashion is "Manchmal" (German for "sometimes"). In fact, if possible, it's even darker than the other two. Here guitar and percussion are the lead instruments, creating at times a wall of distortion and there's quite the angry snarl to the vocals, reflecting the gnashing guitars. Underlying this, emerging at the beginning of the track and at calmer moments are some electronic drums (or so it seems) which give this track a mainstream rock character? though I personally think analog drums would have been? nicer to hear. I find there's often something "flat" about electronic drums (not always, but sometimes, and in this case). But, despite that, this is one of my favorites on the album.

"Open Water" begins with Fish speaking in deep, Scottish-accented tones -- he does this a bit on an earlier track (and sounds more like Sean Connery than himself) -- then embarks on another musical journey lead by the pulse of drums and the buzz of guitar. It jumps a bit more and is a bit funkier than "Circle Line," however. If the electronic drums were? a tad annoying in "Manchmal," a parpy keyboard phrase in "Open Water" is even more so, it sounds a bit like someone "whooping" in the background (or some strange dog barking). It just doesn't fit for me; the jazzy, organ-like keyboard phrases heard elsewhere in the track are much more fitting.

The final chapter in the darker path is "Dark Star." Not about the classic SF movie, nor a reference to The Grateful Dead. About this song Fish said in introducing it at NEARFest that a past girlfriend (likely Heather) collected faeries; something caused one of the faeries (in the studio, if I recall correctly) to break and loose a wing. The girlfriend was quite upset, he said. After the breakup, he had cause to fling the statue away (out into the garden, I think). But that episode and the faeries inspired some of the lyrics of the song. It's a piece that recalls his Vigil In A Wilderness of Mirrors period. It's not his best work, but I still like it, the slow burn groove and when this track explodes in the chorus - well, it's the Fish I became a fan of.

But things are not all dark musically. There are the three ballads I mentioned - the sparse and delicate "Miles De Besos" (comparable to "Cliché" and "Gentlemen's Excuse Me" - in tone, not subject). Intimate with vocals and piano, a hint of guitar; an all-to-brief acoustic guitar solo is quite nice. And the latter moments of the track are rife with potential, but soon becomes a bit more chaotic. You can, however, feel the emotional pain in Fish's vocals. The second mellower, softer piece is "Where In The World." This is a sad, reflective composition, also intimate in feel with a softer vocal approach. There are some nice musical touches here, in particular a piano phrase at the 3:30 mark. It builds from this mellow feel, to something more lush - piano, sparse percussion, acoustic guitar? **. And then there's the third ballad? nope. Will wait a bit more.

I think I've mentioned every track but three, not that I really set out to do that. A quick mention of "Zoe 25" - inspired by a "Page 3" girl (The Sun often (always?) has a picture of girl?topless? on Page 3). This is mellower than the dark stuff but more mid-tempo than the ballads, so it falls in between. It many ways, it's "classic Fish." When this track blossoms at the 4-minute mark, it really becomes something special. A lush mix of guitar, rolling piano-like keys, and shimmery percussion. It's on this note the track ends.

Okay then, my two favorite favorite tracks I've left for last. "Arc Of The Curve" and "13th Star." Maybe it will be obvious when I say why, but? "Arc?" recalls the music Fish made with Marillion, specifically Clutching and Misplaced. But don't latch on to those references because this, on the whole, doesn't sound like any track from those albums. It is an expansive and open track, musically looking skyward. It makes one think of a starry night with nothing but sky overhead (and yes, stars are actually mentioned in the lyrics, which makes it just a perfect melding of "sight and sound." It's not airy, but mellow. Mid-tempo. Sweeping. just It's vintage Fish in fine mode creating a fine song. A highlight of this album.

But, Fish saves his absolute finest moment for the title track that closes the album. "13th Star" is marvelous. It opens with a guitar phrase that references "Sugar Mice" but goes in different directions (again, I'm not certain it's a deliberate reference). It's a ballad, the last of the three and the most effective of the bunch. At the outset, it seems even sparser and more intimate than the other two - if that were possible. But it's a classic piece of Fish that I think will be and should be a staple of his live set. This becomes a bigger, lusher epic as it progresses. It takes on a bit of a western aspect - not country, but there is a bit of twangy-ish guitar, a bit of fluttering mandolin. My thought after hearing this a few times was "Oh yeah, baby. This is the goods!" This is the absolute best track on the album. It's the kind of track that couldn't lead off an album, because the rest of the material would seem to pale in comparison. No, one must build up to it.

If what I've missed in the Fish catalog is even half as good as this album, then I've been really missing out. My favorite Fish albums have been Vigil and Raingods With Zippos? and now add, "flaws" and all, 13th Star.

*in fact, there is an arc that Fish described in a July 3, 2007 newsletter: "Lyrics to 'Circle Line,' 'Zoe 25' [?], '13th Star,' 'Square Go' and bits of others came to be and the story of the character's journey from banal, aimless, uninspired, directionless living ('Circle Line'), the frustrations and repressed anger ('Square Go'), the source of initial loss ('Miles de Besos'), the fantasy and daydream ('Zoe 25') , the new love and new journey ('Arc of the Curve'), the insecurity and lack of trust and the disengagement ('Manchmal'), the return and reciprocated disengagement ('Openwater'), the analysis, sense of loss and anger ('Dark Star'), the questioning and desire to rekindle the love ('Where in the World') and revelation, the plea for reconciliation and the promise of the future and the new journey ('13th Star') all started to make sense" (All of Fish's missives are published at his website, so you can read the whole message there).

** yeh, another footnote. Coincidence or reference? There's a lyric "where do we go from here." Yet another thought of Clutching.

Circle Line (6:04) / Square Go (5:31) / Milos De Besos (4:22) / Zoe 25 (5:19) / Arc Of The Curve (4:29) / Manchmal (5:42) / Openwater (5:07) / Dark Star (6:48) / Where In The World? (6:05) / 13th Star (5:41)

Fish - vocals
Steve Vantsis - bass, drum loop and programming, samples, upright bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keys, clavinet
Frank Usher - electric guitars, acoustic guitar, loop guitar, lap steel
Foss Paterson - piano, keys, organ, strings, music box, dulcimer and accordian, samples
Gavin Griffiths - drums, percussion
Chris Johnson - electric guitars, acoustic guitars
Lorna Bannon - backing vocals
Dave Haswell - percussion

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: June 29th 2008
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 3222
Language: english


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