FISH – WELTSCHMERZ

October Album of the Month

(5/5)

The planets have fully aligned for this one: Narrative, vocal, music, arrangement and visuals work together in perfect harmony for an album that is both powerful and vulnerable, complex and yet stripped back. The party may soon be over, but with ‘Weltschmerz’ Fish bows out with his finest studio album in 30 years.

‘Weltschmerz’ is the most rounded album Fish has produced since ‘Clutching at Straws’ and ‘Vigil’– two albums I always regarded as being artistic siblings. Lyrically, Fish is at his very best with his new album and all the other moving parts seamlessly click into place. Framed by the artwork and the films, this is the complete package – a contemporary artistic statement where the sum is so much more than the parts. 

The album title translates as “a feeling of melancholy and world weariness” and it was created against the backdrop of unprecedented world events and shocks. The contextual challenges make the artistic achievement all the more impressive.

‘Grace of God’ is one of Fish’s better album openers. The song resonates with many of Fish’s multi-movement pieces but this one is impressive because it builds so well – and so naturally. Often with expansive prog pieces, the way movements segue into another can become clunky or disjointed, but ‘Grace of God’ is a fine example of a widescreen song growing seamlessly and with clear purpose.

Next up it’s ‘Man With A stick’ – a song already well established through an earlier EP release and critically named single of the year by Planet Rock. The song has a wonderful blend of the old and the new – a Genesis vibe from the keys, yet at the same time alert and modern in its spirit. A song that reminded me of the material on the ‘Suits’ album.

The rich music and arrangement on ‘Walking On Eggshells’ carries you on a journey; there are great moments of fine detail and the vocal here is flawless.

‘The Party’s Over’ is special. Lurking beneath the dancing pipes there are layers of depth and contrast. Given Fish is delivering his last album, this farewell song is both joyful and sad; it’s a goodbye but it also calls the work that still needs to be done to fix our world. There is real class in a farewell song not being over-blown: this is a simple song, a mixed-salad of many of the creative elements that defined a career and yet, in the end, there’s a smile – and that’s the right way to sign off.

With ‘Rose of Damascus’ Fish delivers his greatest lyrical performance for years with a song that is cinematic in both its narrative and soundscape. With some past Fish albums, I’ve felt the lyrics have, at times, done too much of the heavy lifting to carry the albums – whereas here there is unison, with the musicianship and vocal delivery as one. Again, the sum is greater than the parts. The master storyteller finishes here with a deeply expressive lyrical masterclass – it’s up there with ‘Warm Wet Circles’ and ‘Fortunes of War’ as one of his most evocative lyrical creations.

‘C Song’ took me back to ‘The Company’ – a folk feel referencing Fish’s Scottish roots that have been central to his story since the passion of ‘Internal Exile.’ ‘Waverly Steps’ seems to have an autobiographical element and the title track wraps the record – melodic, politically charged and fully arresting.

The album standout for me is ‘Garden of Remembrance’ – accompanied by one of the most powerful music videos I have seen in a long time. And here, the three music videos that have been prepared for this album are worthy of mention. Without doubt, the best from Fish’s career, these videos are not just promotional window-dressing, they add a dimension to the music. Fish’s music has always been visual: The art of Mark Wilkinson has always been part of the story, part of the songs. When I interviewed Fish in 2015, he expressed an interest in writing for film after his retirement from music. With film media being so central to the new songs, the videos stand as part of the farewell and, perhaps, they also signpost what’s possible in the new chapter.

Whilst many respect Fish as the supreme lyricist and associate him with involved album concepts, a crucial but obvious point not to overlook is his track record for creating great songs – standalone tunes that can stand on their own two feet. ‘Fortunes of War’, ‘Raw Meat’, ‘Family Business’, ’Just Good Friends’, ‘Credo’, ‘A Gentleman’s Excuse Me’, ‘Moving Targets’ – all of these are songs that could grace anyone’s playlist as great songs in their own right. And with ‘Weltschmerz’ we have a song that concludes this sequence of great stand-alone creations – ‘Garden of Remembrance.’

‘Garden of Remembrance’ is a poignant song with great emotional power and depth. The song references the issue of Alzheimer’s and its deep emotional impact. Anyone who has experienced Alzheimer’s and dementia in their family will be drawn to this song and will relate immediately with the depth and power conveyed by the song and the video.

Watching the video, the theme of ‘memory’ worked for me on another level: the gallery of art pieces depicting past albums and singles conjured up ghosts in my mind – memories of following Fish’s career over the years and the life events I associated with past songs and albums – like some kind of photo album in the mind. From the accompanying video, the scene depicting the main characters touching hands together reminded me of the West Berlin video shoot for ‘Kayleigh.’

In the age of Brexit and pandemic-induced home isolation, ‘Garden of Remembrance’ also perhaps takes on greater resonance and touches on a sense of remoteness and separation we all relate to. With Fish, the lyrics, the theatre, the anthems, the powerful visuals have always been there, but some of his most artistically defining moments have been those moments of stripped back vulnerability where less can be more.

In a funny – perhaps unplanned – way, I think time has been kind to this album. It’s been a long five-year journey in the making, but I have a sense this has given the songs the time and space to breathe. The album is more rounded than many of Fish’s previous albums. Perhaps the break from the relentless new-album /new-tour cycle has benefitted the music. It doesn’t come over as an album trying to impress. It just is – and it’s ready. Without doubt, this is an album that will grow with time. An album with legacy. 

This is perhaps the album that explains – with hindsight – why Fish had to leave Marillion all those years ago. ‘Vigil’ to me was the natural follow-up to ‘Clutching at Straws’ and it opened up a world of sounds and textures Fish had not employed previously.  With ‘Weltschmerz,’ Fish masterfully brings together the mix of genres, styles and influences that define what the solo chapter of his music career promised – and has now delivered. This isn’t just Fish’s best solo album, it’s possibly his career best. The most fitting final destination after a long and winding journey that has had highs, lows, laughter and tears – but concludes with a completeness that fully makes the final album a celebration of a life in music.

‘Weltschmerz’ also presents the world that Fish leaves us. 36 years after Fish penned ‘Fugazi’ there is still much to be done and, in these troubled times, we need rock music to testify once again. It’s now up to us to continue the fight and for rock music to hold a mirror up to the world. As the grey-bearded warrior bows out, it’s a time to celebrate a career and give thanks – but it’s also time for a new generation of rock n roll poets and visionaries to step forward, pick up the baton and continue the story.

Weltschmerz is released on Friday 25 September

Order CD, deluxe and vinyl editions at https://fishmusic.scot

Listen again: My 2015 feature interview with Fish on his solo catalogue and plans for the final album https://greatmusicstories.com/2018/01/15/feature-interview-fish-view-from-the-hill/

WELTSCHMERZ TRACK LISITING
CD1

  1. Grace Of God (8.29)
  2. Man With A Stick (6.35)
  3. Walking On Eggshells (7.12)
  4. This Party’s Over (4.20)
  5. Rose Of Damascus (15.23)

CD2

  1. Garden Of Remembrance (6.02)
  2. C Song (The Trondheim Waltz) (4.42)
  3. Little Man What Now? (10.20)
  4. Waverley Steps (End Of The Line) (13.26)
  5. Weltschmerz (6.42)

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