Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
A world without music would be totally unimaginable, the void left unfillable. From the disposable charms of pop music to the soul stirring heights of classical music, all human life is here.
Every generation throws up its own towering talents and each brings something that can entertain or move us in a way that most can only faintly aspire to.
Throughout a four-decade recording career Fish has provided the soundtrack for so many lives, his understanding of the human condition and willingness to expose his own raw feelings the saving of countless listeners.
Here is a man who not only understands what we are feeling but has been through it too and articulated these emotions into music of such intensity that it’s glare on our own souls is almost too much to bear.
World weary, battered by an eventful life and bone tired, the Scotsman declared it was time for him to bow out of the medium that has been his all-consuming focus for the vast majority of his life to concentrate on other projects and is leaving us with this one final album.
To say that ‘Weltschmerz’ is a triumph would be to understate its grandeur and importance. In a career full of extraordinary music, the ten tracks presented here show just where the hard work has brought him, his talent as a singer and a songwriter honed to something that all aim for but so few achieve.
With ‘Weltschmerz’ Fish has produced something that stands shoulder to shoulder with the melancholy and bittersweet splendor of more recent swan songs by David Bowie, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen, all displaying performers at their peak who still, very much, had something to say.
Unlike those three artists though, Fish is still very much a vital and living presence and the album is not just a treatise on the sorrow of the human condition but something that sprinkles light between the showers, bursting with glorious life.
From a man who has spent his life observing and commenting on all aspects of the world, there is still very much a mix of the intimate and the global, the words and music painting a vivid picture on both small and broad canvases.
An album with a myriad of emotions and styles, this is the most varied and mature album the singer has recorded, a shining beacon of what can be achieved when you get the right talent and the right material, all grounded in reality.
You really have to just immerse yourself in the experience as each successive track brings new sounds and sensations, the brilliant production by Calum Malcolm adding aural fireworks whilst never at the cost of the heart beating strongly at the centre of the material.
It’s this very human physical response that drives the album, from the ECG at the very start of the dreamlike ‘The Grace of God’ up until the fading notes of the title track, the visceral always runs at the very centre of the human engine, pushing the narrative forward.
Themes are echoed from previous work and there’s a sense that some tracks are a coda to subjects explored on both his own solo work but also with Marillion.
This gives the material a warm feeling of familiarity but very much pushes things on, the viewpoint both older and wiser but still as passionate as it ever was.
For instance, ‘Walking on Eggshells’ talks of the experience of navigating the minefield of day to day living in a relationship well past its healthy sell by date, every minute trying to find a fragile truce between the two parties rather than embracing the end, its darkness a theme dipped into when with his old band.
Elsewhere ‘Man With A Stick’ shines a powerful light on the brutality wielded by some authoritarian figures and the epic ‘Rose Of Damascus’ looks at the political and religious rifts that have torn the Middle East apart, it’s ‘Kashmir’ levels of dynamics and swelling strings bringing the tension of the soundtrack to vivid contrast.
On a smaller, more intimate level, ‘Little Man What Now’ journals the very personal journey made by Fish when he lost his father, its gorgeous and smoky saxophone adding to the poignancy.
The heartrending ‘Garden of Remembrance’ similarly traces the autobiographical events that surrounded his father’s slip deeper and deeper into dementia, the track one of the finest and most affecting of his entire catalogue.
There’s a touch of folky World Music in the joyous rhythms and feel of the dodged-the-bullet themed ‘This Party’s Over’ the melodies a celebration of dancing away from the edge of a precipice that has taken many in the music world and ‘Waverley Steps (End of the Line)’ is as huge and bold as anything that The Who did on ‘Tommy’.
When the album comes to its very final climax with title track ‘Weltschmerz’ you can sense that this is a firm ‘’goodbye’’ and that Fish and all involved had put every fibre of their being into it, a lasting testament to the man and his music.
An irresistible guitar pattern floats under the narration, the great man laying everything on the line, at times a life story, at others a commentary on society. As the songs moves to its inevitable end, it seems as though the world is too, closing line ‘’The rapture is near’’ spelling out a Biblical level conclusion to all life on Earth.
For this one last waltz around the floor, Fish is at his dazzling best, the lyrics a masterclass in style, wit, soul and rapier sharp intelligence. His vocals too have never sounded better and he’s joined by long time guitarist Robin Boult whose own displays of mastery of his instrument are the perfect foil to bring over the textures and emotions of the work.
Also joining the fray is backing vocalist Doris Brendel and her outstanding contributions pepper the album with passionate light and shade, the Ying to Fish’s Yang.
It’s hard to quite take in that this is the last time we’ll hear new music from this most eloquent of travelers along the byways and highways but the future will be a new chapter in a new book and in that we must rejoice.
With a past packed full of gold standard releases, this last one somehow manages to top them all and assures its place both in history and in hearts. Parting is, indeed, such sweet sorrow but when your musical legacy has left such a deep imprint that it will never fade, you’re going to be remembered for endless generations.
‘Weltschmerz’ is a classic on every level, joining the giants and standing as an equal, its brilliance there for all to see. Absolutely stunning.
order here: https://fishmusic.scot