I recently took a deep dive into the solo career of ex-Marillion singer Fish. The music of Marillion has had an incredibly deep impact on my life going back to 1987. Fish, the band’s iconic vocalist, is a big reason for that impact. In life all great things do come to an end. This was most definitely the case when Fish opted to leave Marillion. A solo career for Fish was inevitable. Unfortunately I struggled with the music of his solo career for a long time. For many years I found much of his solo work underwhelming and disappointing. I bought album after album hoping for something to move me the way the music of Marillion had. Apart from an album or two this was not the case. I never gave up on Fish, but his solo career became less and less important to me.
Fast forward to the present day. Recently two events occurred that sparked an interest in me to take a fresh look at Fish the solo artist. This was the start of my deep dive. You can read about my reappraisal of Fish and his solo career here: https://shadesofnoirsite.wordpress.com/2021/01/16/a-fish-out-of-water-my-reappraisal-of-the-solo-career-of-fish/. After undertaking this deep dive I came away with a totally new and refreshing perspective on his solo output. I have a new love and appreciation for Fish as a solo artist and of his solo career. Listening with fresh ears and a radically different mindset has given me many hours of great music to enjoy.
Below is my ranking of his studio albums. This is not a “best” of list, but a ranking of my favorites from Fish. I start with my favorite and end with my least favorite. I have opted to focus on his studio albums of original content. For that reason the albums Yin, Yang and Songs From the Mirror are not included. As with most lists these ranking are not set in stone. Ask me at some point in the future and I am sure that I will have different rankings. For now this is how the Fish albums stack up.
Internal Exile ( 1991)
Unfortunately Fish’s debut album was not available in America at the time of its initial release. As a result Internal Exile was the first Fish solo album that I purchased. Solo albums can be a hit or miss proposition. Quite a few singers have stepped away from a prominent band and released less than stellar music. With Internal Exile, Fish created an album on par with his work with Marillion. Fish’s second album far exceeded my expectations. As a huge fan of his time with Marillion this was the style of music that I was expecting from Fish. A perfect mix of the neo-prog sound of early Marillion blended with mainstream rock and pop. Producer Chris Kimsey seems to bring out the best in Fish. His production on the Marillion albums Misplaced Childhood and Clutching At Straws helped to make them progressive rock classics. Fish sounds confident as he explores familiar musical territory as well as newer areas that go beyond of his past endeavors. Prog, pop, rock, folk and world music all come together synergistically. He put together a talented band that created music which perfectly complimented his lyrical poetry. Everything comes together for Fish here: great songwriting, musicianship, lyrics, vocals and production.
Album Highlights: Shadowplay, Credo, Favourite Stranger, Tongues
The third solo album from Fish displays a stylistic shift in direction. The neo-prog sounds found on some of the music from his first two albums is just about gone. The album sees Fish beginning to explore the musical styles that would be present throughout his solo career. Overall Suits is a very commercial sounding album. Fish sounds fantastic. The songwriting is strong and consistent throughout. Fish was beginning to come into his own sound stylistically. At times his influences show with some songs carrying a similar vibe to the solo work of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel. The album effectively mixes the sounds of classic rock, art rock and pop music. The 1990’s was a time of extreme change in mainstream music. At times the sound of Suits carries a 1980’s musical vibe. Fish was slowly transitioning away from his past. He was growing and maturing as a solo artist. Suits is an album that I initially dismissed when I first purchased it years ago. At the time I was still looking for Fish to produce progressive rock music. To my surprise the album has slowly grown on me over the years. Now it is one of my favorites from Fish.
Album Highlights: Lady Let It Lie, Fortunes Of War, Pipeline
Fellini Days – (2001)
It seems as if Fish stepped into the studio and put the acoustic guitars in the closet. The electric guitars are cranked high throughout this album. The music Of Fellini Days is a highly effective hodgepodge of classic rock and alternative rock. This is clearly one of his most rock and roll albums. The music rocks by way of a satisfying amalgam of the 1970s and the 1990’s. Fellini Days swings and grooves more than any in Fish’s catalog. Fish sounds absolutely fantastic. He sings with a relaxed confidence not found on any of his other solo albums. His vocals are augmented by a pleasing mix of female backing vocals. The musical mix of guitars, subtle keyboards, drums, percussion and programmed loops compliment the lead vocals quite well. Quality songwriting, memorable vocal melodies and great guitar riffs add up to deliver one of his most consistent solo albums. Fish delivers his uniquely poetic lyrics. At times the albums sounds and feels surprisingly upbeat. This despite the turmoil and upheaval that he was experiencing in his personal life and business affairs. At other times Fish delivers appropriately biting vocal commentary. Fish is not afraid to open his heart and soul for all to hear, for better or for worse. Fellini Days is the album that benefitted the most from my deep dive. I greatly overlooked the brilliance of this album for many years. Fellini Days is quite a musical statement for Fish as he declared his entrance into the twenty first century.
Album Highlights: Tiki 4, So Fellini, Our Smile
A Feast Of Consequences – (2013)
It would seem that Fish saved the best for last. His penultimate album feels like the kind of music many expected from him earlier in his career. No experimentation, no dance beats and a bare minimum in regards to generic guitar riffs. Just a focused and serious Fish laying out his lyrical poetry over effectively complimentary music. The album has a good mix of mid tempo tracks, ballads and up tempo rockers. Fish is in extremely fine form vocally. The music is a highly efficient mix of guitars, keyboards and piano. From a songwriting standpoint A Feast Of Consequences is one of his most consistent albums. So why isn’t the album higher on my list? The songwriting is consistent, but overall the quality of the songwriting is superior on some of his other albums. I have nothing but positive things to say about the album. There is something about the albums higher up on this list that speak much more to my heart. That said this album features a mature, focused and confident Fish singing over a captivating mix of classic rock influenced, modern mainstream rock. From a production standpoint this is one of his best sounding albums. In every aspect this is primetime Fish.
Album Highlights: High Wood, Crucifix Corner, Thistle Alley, Other Side Of Me, The Great Unravelling
According to Fish this will be his final solo album. Weltschmerz is his boldest and most complex musical statement as a solo artist. The whole of his solo career has been a slow build to this powerful album. The sound of Weltschmerz is dramatic, refined, focused and mature. The music takes it time to play out and unfold. The pacing of the album is slow and deliberate. Fish has the listener hanging on every word, every note, every chord and every beat. This feels like the album that he was meant to make. At this point in his career Fish has nothing to prove. He lays out a series of emotionally charged vocals with a delivery that is unhurried and controlled. Fish confidently weaves his vocals around the lushly constructed music created by his well chosen set of musicians. The band mixes bits of classic rock, progressive rock, folk music, art rock and jazz. Musically this is the most cohesive set of songs put together by Fish. Every piece fits perfectly together. There are no excursions into unrelated musical genres. The songs of the double album fit together like long one long piece of music. Many critics and fans have declared Weltschmerz to be Fish’s best album to date. I am leaning in that direction, but I want to spend more time with the album before I can make a definitive proclamation. What a wonderful way to close out a long and fruitful career.
Album Highlights: Man With A Stick, Walking On Eggshells, Rose Of Damascus, Waverly Steps (End Of The Line)
Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors (1990)
Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors is, at times, a surprisingly mainstream album. Some aspects of the album are exactly what one would expect from Fish’s debut album. Other times the album offers a curious mix of Peter Gabriel/Phil Collins inspired pop songs. It is a solid, well produced debut album that has one too many ballads. Fish is in fine form vocally and lyrically. Overall it is an album that Marillion fans should appreciate. The album does illustrate one of the biggest issues with some of the solo albums of Fish, inconsistent songwriting. There are some great songs, some good songs and one song that could have been left off of the album. Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors is a good start for the solo career of Fish. However, he never found songwriters as strong as his ex-bandmates in Marillion. As songwriting partners, the words of Fish and the music of Marillion fit together perfectly like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The opening track of the album illustrates an issue that Fish would have for portions of his solo career. His musical collaborators did not always create music that perfectly complemented his lyrics. The chorus on the song Vigil is quite a mouthful. Fish makes it work, however his vocal delivery is slightly awkward. This was never an issue with Marillion. The moments on the album when everything gels vocally and musically are fantastic. Fish’s debut is a solid album that as a whole sounds like a mainstream version of his work with Marillion.
Album Highlights: The Company, Family Business, View From The Hill, Cliché
Raingods With Zippos – (1999)
Overall a solid album that features some wonderful songs. As a whole the songwriting is not as strong as other Fish albums. Raingods With Zippos makes for a great album title, but a not so great song lyric. There is not a bad song to be found, but neither are there any all time Fish classics. I have no desire to skip any songs, but there is a noticeable difference in the quality of the songwriting from song to song. The vocals and vocal melodies are somewhat inconsistent as Fish explores different musical approaches and genres. Some approaches work better than others. For this album the up-tempo rockers tend to be the weaker songs. Fish comes across as trying a bit too hard on these songs. Fish closes out the twentieth century with an album that is best described as a stepping stone. He was shedding the last vestiges of the sounds of the 1980’s and looking to the future. The album serves as a midpoint marker in his solo career. As the 1990’s began Fish entered into his solo career focused and full of confidence. As the 1990’s were coming to an end Fish was in a totally different position. A radically different music scene, along with personal and business issues were slowly whittling down the singer’s confidence. As a whole the album does not feel as cohesive as most of the other albums in his catalog. There are some absolutely wonderful moments found throughout the album. But that quality does not carry throughout the course of the entire album. Rain Gods With Zippos does end on a high note with the multi-part suite Plague Of Ghosts. The six part mini epic is a rare instance of Fish dabbling in his progressive rock roots.
Album Highlights: Incomplete, Tilted Cross, Rite Of Passage, Plague Of Ghosts
Field Of Crows – (2004)
A good album plagued by inconsistent songwriting. Field Of Crows contains some great material, but overall the songwriting is not as strong as other efforts by Fish. There are no bad songs to be found. However, a few songs fall into the category of being just OK. Some of the vocal melodies are less than stellar. A few vocal passages come across as a bit silly. Overall Field Of Crows contains some of my least favorite vocal performances from Fish. From a qualitative perspective the album is a bit of a roller coaster ride. One great song is followed by two average songs followed by a good song. The album’s low points are the moments that lack a cohesive melody or memorable musical motif. In those moments it feels as if the songwriting process was rushed. At times the album delves a bit too much into roots rock. Perhaps this genre is not always a strength for Fish. There is no growth without exploration, but Fish may have stretched himself too thin on this album. A good, enjoyable album, but far from Fish at his best.
Album Highlights: Moving Target, The Lost Plot, Exit Wound, Scattering Crows
13th Star – (2007)
13th Star is a very curious Fish album. At times the album is a bit noisy. Several of the songs lack Fish’s typically melodic vocal passages. Subtlety is not a strong suit of the album. Outside of a few ballads, Fish and his current band play it loud and proud. This is a guitar heavy album. The keyboards take a backseat to the loud guitars on several songs. I love heavy riffs, guitar pyrotechnics and long guitar solos. But as a fan of Fish those are not the things that I am looking for in his music. There is a curious mix of hard rock, heavy metal and grunge featured in varying degrees throughout the album. Not the kinds of sounds and influences one would expect from a Fish album. Fish has proven himself to be a versatile artist over the course of his career. Overall the sounds of the album work, but as a whole 13th Star is far from the very best of Fish. On some of the quieter songs the songwriting excels. These quieter moments give fans a glimpse of the Fish that we would expect. At times it seems as if Fish trades volume for melody. This is not an album aimed at the mainstream. The guitars are heavy and the production is raw. Fish was aiming for something different with 13th Star and that is what he delivers. Unfortunately the songwriting does not equal his ambitions.
Album Highlights: Square Go, Miles de Besos, Arc Of The Curve, Manchmal
Sunsets On Empire – (1997)
Let me begin by saying that I am not a fan of Steven Wilson. I know that Sunsets On Empire is a popular album, but this is a collaboration that does not quite work. Overall Fish sounds great, however the music it just not to my taste. Perhaps this would have been better suited released as a band project and not a Fish solo album. At times the album feels like Fish and Steven Wilson trying to hard to make something happen. The music leans in the direction of being a bit too weird. Some of the guitar solos are dull and overly long. Some of the guitar riffs are bland and uninteresting. The only essential song on the album is Tara. This fantastic song sounds out of place among the alternative rock busyness. The title track is the album’s other highlight. Oddly enough the song does not sound at all like a Fish song. It is more akin to a Pink Floyd outtake from The Wall or The Final Cut. I applaud Fish for trying something different. There is no growth without trial and error. Perhaps Fish was trying to find himself, musically in the shifting musical climate of the 1990’s. That said, this is the one Fish album that I could take a pass on. Sunsets On Empire is not a bad album. The music does not make the best use of the vast talents of Fish.
Album Highlights: Tara, Sunsets In Empires