Album: Fish - Weltschmerz: Derek W Dick's last hurrah is a mix of successes and excesses
By Russ Coffey for The Arts Desk
"This party's over" snarls Fish on Weltschmerz, and, this time, it seems the big man really means it. After threatening retirement for many years, the ex-Marillion singer has finally called time on his recording career. His final present to the fans is a double album that looks back on his 32 years as a solo artist.
Over the decades the charismatic Scot has moved steadily from mainstream to cult status. He's dabbled in pop (e.g "State of Mind"), hard rock ("Faithhealer") and punk ("The Perception of Johnny Punter). But, of course, the Bard of East Lothian is best known as an old prog-rocker.
That's the style that dominates on Weltschmerz. But it's where Fish reminds us of his art-pop side that the album sounds best.
The tribal drums on "Man with a Stick" resonate with febrile energy, while "This Party's Over" combines early Peter Gabriel with Celtic sounds. The musical highlight is the title track, which starts off like a Muse number before the vocals take over with a blend of weariness with stirring defiance.
Thereafter, the mood becomes slower and more intense. The piano-led "Garden of Remembrance" (about Alzheimer's) moves at a crawling pace but is also undeniably poignant. "Little Man What Now?" draws on the work of a Weimar Republic-era German author to describe a man crushed by the 'system'.
These tracks, though, are bubblegum-pop compared to the big prog epics. For the album's long-form numbers Fish has opted for free-verse, with melodies that are twice as abstract. "The Rose of Damascus", the story of a Syrian refugee, has six sections, weighs in at a hefty 16 minutes, and contains a lengthy spoken-word section. "Waverley Steps" is almost as long and even more challenging.
None of this, of course, will faze the fans. The faithful will embrace the album's successes and excesses equally and will revel in its considerable length (84 minutes). Many will also be looking forward to the big man's next artistic chapter. Literally - there are rumours Fish will soon be penning his memoirs.