'Sunsets On Empire' 3CD
'Raingods With Zippos' 3CD
(Fish Heads - fan club release)
Derek W Dick, aka Fish, is best known as the original lead singer of neo prog rock band Marillion, whose numerous hits include the 'Misplaced Childhood' album.
A tall and charismatic frontman, he is a standout figure, well read with a love of gardening, he is one of the nicest and funniest guys to chat to too.
That original album, 'Misplaced Childhood', is a release Fish has returned to throughout his lengthy and successful solo career. Putting it to bed with his current Farewell To Childhood tour, Fish is also taking a personal involvement with this remaster series.
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Part of that series, these two albums were originally 1997 and 1999 respectively, and have been expanded to the extreme.
Between extensive sleevenotes, top packaging with CD sized hardback book format, additional demos and live tracks across 2 bonus discs, just the look and feel of these packages screams Dog's Bollocks. Mutt's Nuts. Tyson's Testicles. You get the gist.
Following 'Script For A Jester's Tear' and 'Fugazi', Marillion became a household name in 1985 with 'Misplaced Childhood', and its singles 'Kayleigh' and 'Lavender'.
Shaking off the Genesis comparisons the band continued their success with 'Clutching At Straws', before Fish left for pastures new.
Fish's solo career kicked off in excellent fashion with 1990's 'Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors' (featuring Janick Gers). 'Internal Exile', covers set 'Songs From The Mirror' and 1994's 'Suits' followed, largely to an acclaimed reception.
Which brings us to the first set here; 1997's 'Sunsets On Empire'. Written and recorded with Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson on guitars, there's a hard edge to the sound, which may explain the album's and subsequent tour's relative flop at the time.
The 8 minute opener has a rough chunky riff with some softer segments. There are some moments of classic Fish, but the softly spoken monologue mid-song changes the flow. The song is also a little too long for the given tempo.
'Goldfish & Clowns' follows, a slow start but the song does pick up, the guitar work here really stands out. 'Change Of Heart', co-written by guitarist and mainstay Robin Boult, is an acoustic number with a gentle start, the drums kick in and it's quite a solid track. The electric guitar work over the acoustic is good too.
'What Colour Is God' opens with an interesting rhythm (a touch of new world?), is a good exploration both musically and lyrically, and rather enjoyable.
The change of feels and sounds do make for a good album, the occasional horns and violin fit in well. Fish's vocal range, like his vocal presentation, can't be faulted. The angle of the album, though, is more neo-prog than many Fish-Heads may be used to, it is a little angular in places. 'Brother 52' is, once it gets going, another great standout track.
Now, the package – fuck me. Seriously, you do not, in this universe or the next, get better.
The CD sized hardback book features a thick booklet, lyrics, pictures, and very lengthy notes about the album, its recording and release, track by track too, from Fish himself.
The Japanese bonus track, and 10 demos, are on the second disc, and the third disc is period live, featuring many songs from the album.
1999's 'Raingods With Zippos' is widely rated up there, along with Fish's debut. Again featuring Steven Wilson, the production is handled by Eliot Ness.
Opener 'Tumbledown' opens with a piano before the band come in, this is solid, bright and uplifting. It is the first of three on the album to feature Big Country guitarist Bruce Watson (they're a big family up there, if you know your Scottish rock family tree), Fish's phrasing alone instantly makes the album more accessible than the previous album.
'Mission Statement' has an uptempo rhythm (think Radar Love) that could easily get the more eccentric fan dancing. The blend of guitar and keyboards is smooth, thoroughly enjoyable.
'Incomplete' is more of a ballad, with lead vocals from Elisabeth Antwi.
Another stand out is a re-interpretation of fellow Scots Sensational Alex Harvey Band's 'Faith Healer'. Go buy. Get this album for his track alone. Go. Not only is it a good cover, a really good cover, faithful, but it's just one of the best rock tracks ever. It is a track Fish would have sung frequently with The Party Boys (featuring three or four of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band).
Another standout is the 'Plague Of Ghosts' suite, a side-filling piece in six parts. Part 1, 'Old Haunts' is an atmospheric soundscape, building into 'Digging Deep', a funkier number with a segment of narration and some excellent progressive rock.
Bar the excessive programming, it is everything a progressive side-filler should be; a musical and lyrical journey.
Again, this release comes with extensive sleevenotes, a disc of demos and a third disc of period live pieces.
This is an excellent start to a remaster/reissue campaign. While the second album is far more accessible and maybe a little more commercial while still progressive, both do rock.
The albums are available through the fanclub, something Fish takes a very proactive involvement with, and at concerts.
Sunsets On Empire:
Raingods With Zippos: