Fish walks alone across a wheat field. His countenance has a mix of serenity, seniority and self confidence, with that aura of being always thinking. This “Field of Crows” is his seventh studio album (I won´t count dozens of live recordings and compilations) and both his personal and artistic situation have reached a point of inflection.
No matter what Fish can do… he´ll always be linked to his work with Marillion or with his two first and essential solo album. Those who are a nasty piece of work will try to piss this album off comparing it with previous albums and the rest of his discography. And well, Fish´s solo career consists of two masterpieces (“Vigil…” and “Internal Exile”) and a fistful of tasteless albums. But it´s also true that Fish returned to the correct path thanks to “Raingods with Zippos” later tarnished with “Fellini´s Days”.
But unlike Marillion, Fish doesn´t deny himself listening to eventual siren´s calls from NME. He remains faithful to his logo, to Mark Wilkinson and to his style. Okay, he´d lost musicians like Rothery or Kelly for composing music for his lyrics and vocal melodies, but he replaced them with other inspirited musicians such as classic Mickey Simmonds, vanguardist Steven Wilson or notable squires like John Wesley or John Young. This time, in the umpteenth tight of the screws of his career, he rescues Frank Usher (0% image, 100% talent) and surprises us with a gang of skilled unknown guys named Bruce Watson – guitars and e-bow; Steve Vantsis – bass; Mark Brzezicki – drums; Tony Turrell – keyboards; Dave Haswell – percussion; Danny Gillan – backing vocals; Richard Sidwell – trumpet; and Steve Hamilton - sax
Was “Raingods” a coincidence?, can Fish still release good albums?. After listening to “Field of Crows” several times I can bet he can. Perhaps he won´t release more Vigils or, of course, more Fugazis anymore… but he can still offer us eleven tracks that, after listened without prejudices, assure a very comfortable listening. Of course if you listen to the album with sharp ears looking for weak points in order to piss it off, perhaps you´ll find some, but it´d be unjust.. almost every album has some weak points. The album, as you will guess reading the titles, has crows as Leif motiv although the tracks are not linked at all.
From the outset, the amazing track "The Field" (8:42) transports us to scottish mists with a melody in crescendo a la "Shadowplay", "The Company" or fragments of "Plague of Ghosts". A great song. "Moving Target" is an easy songmatic track; "The Rookie" (5:35) has a rhythm pattern with powerful guitars supported by good keyboards and a catchy refrain that will be sung along by the crowd during the forthcoming tour. "Zoo Class" (5:23) is an unimportant swinging song with R&B bar aromas, wind section and honky tonk piano. In the lastest Fish´s albums there are always songs like this. "The Lost Plot" (5:10) is an atmospheric track plenty of dramatism with a great final guitar solo played by Frank Usher. The wind section (aggghhh, how I hate trumpets!!) returns with "Old Crow" (5:20), an up-tempo song with Fish, keys, guitars and winds having a good time clowning around, and it´s not a bad song at all. "Numbers" (5:36) is another highlight. Dressed as another “rocking” track a la "Faith Healer" but with amazing instrumental moments where we can even listen to a double bass drum beneath Usher´s amazing guitar work. A sad tune is the beginning of "Exit Wound" (5:55), a very beautiful and intimate ballad with a melody that reminds me a lot of Kiss´ "I still love you" (yeah, yeah, the ballad inside “Creatures of the Night”). The sax and the keyboards/guitars arrangements provide the song a plus of emotiveness.
And Fish goes away dressed in black clothes but before saying goodbye he gives us the best tracks of the album, along with "The Field". The first one, "Innocent Party" (7:37), brings the most Marillion-like Fish since “Vigil…” even the bridges and the chorus reminds me of "Incommunicado". Usher, Brzezicki, and Turrell rock very hard here; the second one "Shot the Craw" (6:00) is catchy and melodic but also a nice track that could fit into Jon Anderson´s voice; and the third one is the overwhelming "Scattering Crows" (5:05), a beautiful and heartrending song that leaves a pleasant taste of mouth after the final croaks.
And here he is once more.. in the playground of the broken hearts, but this time he´s not a jester.. he´s a scarecrow scattering crows. Fish is not a singer, is a performer. That´s the key of his charisma, a charisma that he hasn´t lost yet, and the key of his success with Marillion. The point, my dear readers, is that songs like “Kayleigh” not have been born to be well sung, they have to be spit out with the rage of singers like Fish.
Of course this album will generate the controversy (if you take a look at the current results of “best albums of 2003” you´ll see that people consider the album among the best or the worst in equal shares) of every Fish or Marillion´s albums, and I´m sure I´ll receive lots of e-mails from both sides of readers. I won´t wash my hands.. in the same way I say that he released mediocre albums (and some of them too mediocre), this new Fish album gives me lots of hope for his future. And, please, don´t keep on thinking of new “Fugazi” or another “Misplaced”, that´s the past, okay?, at least Fish doesn´t want to be a pop star and he keeps his essence practically untouched. In fact I can´t wait to watch this living legend in his forthcoming tour. The album hasn´t astonished me, but I like it a lot.. will you?