FISH – ‘VIGIL IN A WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS’ (2024 REMIX EDITION)

July Album of the Month

FISH – ‘VIGIL IN A WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS’ (2024 REMIX EDITION)
(5/5)

Full circle. As Fish prepares to retire from rock music, he leaves us with a fresh and reinvigorated take on his first solo album. ‘Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors’ boldly marked the start of his solo journey back in 1990 – but 34 years on, time has given many of the songs legacy and, in terms of lyrical resonance, the material still speaks for the world we live in today.

In 2021, we called Fish’s final studio album ‘Weltschmerz’ as Album of the Month and, in truth, it is was probably an album of the year. Had it been chart registered, the album would have scaled heights similar to ‘Misplaced Childhood’ and ‘Clutching At Straws’ – and with ‘Garden Of Remembrance’ we have arguably Fish’s finest single release of his career. For me, ‘Weltschmerz’ and ‘Vigil’ are Fish’s two finest studio albums, it’s fitting perhaps that the first and last studio releases book-end a solo career that has had highs and lows – but the integrity and individualism of the music has been a constant. So to have a new take on the ‘Vigil’ debut to sit alongside the still-played ‘Weltschmerz’ feels like perfect symmetry – full circle. The new ‘Vigil’ remix represents an apt high-note on which we bid farewell to one of the great characters of British rock from the last 40 years.

The ‘Vigil’ album has always held a very special place in my heart. After the Marillion split in 1988, everyone was waiting for the ‘first sounds’ from the band and their former frontman. Marillion gave us a high energy Van Halen flavour with their debut single and I remember the wait for the Fish album seemingly taking forever. The suits and the labels were seemingly doing their thing to push one of the albums back. All I remember was the repeated trips to Exeter’s Our Price store to find the ‘Vigil’ release date had been put back again and again. Those were the days then the new release list in the record store was chalk on a board. Chalk, board, Our Price, record stores – readers of a certain age today won’t even know what I’m wittering on about. Those were the days before streaming, when people actually affirmed a monetary value to recorded music and made an effort to head to the shops on release day.

But eventually the ‘Vigil’ album did arrive – and those first impressions remain fresh in my mind to this day. The Mark Wilkinson artwork, his best cover to date, the importance attached to an artist’s logo making a brand statement – and then there was the anticipated first listen to the CD. Whilst the opener of ‘Seasons End’ offered signature promise, for me the album didn’t feel like a natural follow-on to ‘Clutching At Straws.’ But when the ‘Vigil’ album opened up I remember an emphatic and reassuring sense of “Ok, he’s back.” The album opener with the indulgent length and widescreen opus-drama of songs I’d come to love (like ‘Script’ or ‘Fugazi’ or ‘Forgotten Sons’) – and, of course, that purposeful, clever lyrical magic was back.

Then as to this day, ‘Vigil’ in artistic terms feels like the natural successor to ‘Clutching At Straws.’ Whilst many see the first three Fish-era Marillion albums as a loose trilogy, I see ‘Childhood’, ‘Straws’ and ‘Vigil’ as a creative trilogy that mark an evolution. And I’ll get this out the way – ‘Vigil’ I think is a better album than ‘Clutching At Straws.’ I think the music holds together better as a collection, for me there are more landmark songs and the marriage between music and art is more intriguing. I’m sure this will get the proggers marching up my drive with pitchforks but that’s OK, I know what I like. And I have a dog that has chased more than her fair share of Amazon delivery people down the road. So I’m safe in my house and I stand by my view on the two albums.

Now on to the new remix version of this benchmark album.

There is always a danger with re-mixes and remasters when they do a bit more than to refine or re-balance the sound. I went into full Victor Meldrew mode when the end of ‘Fuzagi’ was changed on that remix edition (with, yet again, the big miss that ‘Cinderalla Search’ wasn’t added to the album). Re-creating, refining or re-imagining a much-loved album is not easy – and sometimes it’s easier to get it wrong, or to make the changes so slight that the reissue is rendered pointless.

With Vigil, they get it spot on.

The remix version is loyal and faithful to the original, but there are meaningful yet subtle tweaks that actually improve it – and in a fully authentic way. A bit like the re-issue of Toto’s ‘Turn Back’ and the legendary ‘Toto 4’, with ‘Vigil’ it feels like a sheen has been removed. The music feels closer to you, it feels more alive and the balance between drums, guitar and bass lends it greater warmth and weight. This is a fine job done well. It’s different enough from the original to encourage you to revisit the 1990 original, yet it sounds fully contemporary and alive for the world in 2024. For longstanding Fish fans, the 2024 ‘Vigil’ edition marks a fitting way to say farewell to a friend – and for a new generation of fans, this new edition cements longevity for an album and an artist that is assured the thing so many artists crave – legacy.

The new version of album opener ‘Vigil’ starts well. There is immediately more atmosphere, the small details making a big difference. The drums feel different; less bombastic than the original yet there is a stronger feel of ‘band’ and more drama. The finishing touch is also great – it’s good to hear the final line of the lyric, which is really important to the framing of the song, yet is too faint to hear on the 1990 original.

‘Big Wedge’ turned heads when released as a single. I have clear memories of Fish performing ‘Kayleigh’ at the Nelson Mandela concert at Wembley Stadium in 1998. That live version had a horn section and I could sense Fish really enjoyed presenting a rock favourite in a very different way. I wondered then if this enjoyment of new sounds might be something Fish embraced when he embarked on his solo journey. In this sense, it wasn’t a surprise to hear the horns on ‘Big Wedge’ a year or so later. What’s great here is the jazz vibes feel more alive and interesting – and yet, in a way, the 2024 ‘Big Wedge’ feels more a rocker than before. A great song and lovingly presented for the new edition of the album.

‘State Of Mind’ is a big improvement on the original. I never really understood why this was picked as the first single, but the new and improved version really should be a single today. The lyric almost has more to say for our world today than it did in 1990 – a sad reflection on society but also a tribute to the power of a great lyric. Musically, the new version of ‘State Of Mind’ has more substance as it opens. The balance and mood of instrumentation allows the verses and choruses to align better. The song has more weight and body throughout, and it is better for the new treatment.

‘The Company’ is a song it would be dangerous to play with too much. For those that joined Fish on his journey and became part of The Company, this is a song that needs no introduction. It’s become so much more than a song – a statement of unity and communion between artist and audience. The original was fine and this song has been fully respected in the new edition. Subtle improvements and it finishes better.

And now onto ‘A Gentleman’s Excuse Me’ – along with ‘Garden of Remembrance’ and ‘Fortunes of War’ – here we have a trilogy of lyrical masterpieces – for me the best Fish has ever done. ‘A Gentleman’s Excuse Me’ was a single that circled the Top 20 in the Official Singles Chart and the marriage of lyric, sentiment and instrumentation are quite exceptional. Hard to do every night on tour, but like a fragile vase or beautiful art piece the studio version of the song is how this one should be enjoyed. As a ballad, this knocks the socks of anything Fish wrote previously and was only equalled a few times after. For the new version, the piano feels more ‘in the song’- and the balance between the parts is better.

I also think (and this is the beauty of music) that everyone attaches a different meaning or visual narrative to songs they connect with. For me, this song was always about the jester saying goodbye, with that heartbreak and nostalgic melancholy that lived beneath the façade of jester’s smile. Following ‘Script’, ‘Jigsaw’ and ‘Kayleigh’, this song is where I felt I said goodbye to the jester. “I’m tired of dancing, we’ve finished dancing”…

‘The Voyeur’ appeared on the CD version of the original album. It feels meatier here, more visceral. 

‘Family Business’ was one of a number of songs where Fish just knocked it out the park on his debut album. And a live favourite for decades to follow. The drums, bass and guitar offer a better balance on the new version of this song. It has greater weight but is faithful to the original. Throughout this album, exactly the right calls are made on the songs to have a fiddle with – and the arrangements to leave alone. Full marks.

For this new edition ‘Cliché’ and ‘View From The Hill’ have been swapped around – and it works. For ‘Cliché’, the drums are more immediate, the song feels more in-your-face than the original. ‘View From The Hill’ is the standout on the new 2024 version of ‘Vigil’ in terms of the most improved song. The opening guitar has a different tone, but the song rocks so much better. The keys are less front-of-house as the bass drums and guitar feel more centre-stage in defining the character of the song. And this is a song that has to deliver on the album. With ‘Big Wedge’, ‘State Of Mind’, ‘Gentleman’, ‘Company’ and ‘Family Business’ we have a superb run of song-craft tunes, but the album needs a banger to ensure the overall balance of the album. The new take of ‘View From The Hill’ delivers this in a more muscular form than the original. A real highlight on the 2024 edition of this album.

We also have bonus tracks added to the album – and they all make a most welcome return.

‘Jack And Jill’ I always thought should have been on the album. As the B side to ‘Big Wedge,’ the track maintained Fish’s (and his former band’s) tradition for delivering good B sides to singles. ‘Cinderella Search’, ‘Grendel’, ‘Freaks’ and ‘Tux On’ to name just a few. For me ‘Jack and Jill’ fitted the narrative of the album – the hill – and like ‘Punch and Judy’ it employed a children’s metaphor to tell an adult’s story. The original was very synth driven – it rocks more here, having a heavier anchor with the drums and guitar.  

I’m pleased an early version of ‘Internal Exile’ is also included on this album. The best artwork for a single that Mark Wilkinson did for Fish, a lyrically superb song with a nod also to Market Square Heroes. I much prefer this version to the original 7” single (or was it CD singles by 1990?). This version has more weight and somehow feels ‘more Fish’ without losing its Scottish heart. ‘Internal Exile’ in my book is better as a rock-folk song than a folk-pop song, as was released to radio to announce the arrival Fish’s second album. 

The last song ‘Whiplash’ is just delightful. I have always loved this one – along with ‘Poet’s Moon’, the surprise and delight of B sides from early Marillion and then Fish always made single releases something to celebrate. A bit of jazz blues for ‘Whiplash’ and also a sense of Fish having fun – which you need sometimes as a counterpoint to the heavy and involved stuff.

So there we have it. Fish’s iconic debut album ‘Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors’ is back for 2024 sounding more alive than ever. Beyond the album which makes up just one disc of broader collection of material, do take time to explore the range of CD and vinyl formats available. And ‘Vigil’ is released in July alongside the remix of Fish’s second studio album, ‘Internal Exile.’

Fish is himself preparing for his retirement and a new life. It’s good to see an artist in control of their farewell and doing it in style. Following these album remixes, Fish will tread the boards for one final tour at the end of this year. He is an artist that has survived the seismic and, at times, brutal changes to the music industry over the last 40 years – an industry that today seems more about social media personalities, data, numbers and bots than it is about the art of the music and the industry properly investing in artists on musical merit. But Fish has done more than survive. He has created a body of music on his own terms, he has stood tall for the issues he cares about. Through his songs, he’s been the poet, the prophet and the visionary – and he’s seen the view from the top of the hill. The original release of ‘Vigil’ marked the start of the journey and its re-release celebrates the rich and enduring legacy his catalogue will have for decades to come. With the ‘Vigil’ remix, we may have finished dancing but from me – a mere voice in the crowd – to Fish, a big thank you for shows and the recorded music that, for so many people, have been a soundtrack to happy lives well- lived.

To pre-order CD or vinyl versions of the ‘Vigil’ and ‘Internal Exile’ remixes visit https://fishmusic.scot

Tour date information at https://fishmusic.scot/road-to-the-isles-tour/

Listen Again: ‘View From The Hill:’ 2016 feature interview with Fish

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