Fish - Fellini Days - Round Table Review
This might well be the biggest Roundtable Review we have ever done. When the new Fish album was
received by DPRP no less than 5 people volunteered to review it, all of them long-time Fish
fans. This is something to keep in the back of your mind when reading these lenghty reviews;
these are the opinions of those who have always loved Fish' music .....
The reviews are presented as a track-by-track plus conclusion by Remco and Hester, and more overall (but no less lengthy) reviews by JJ, Ed and Mark. It might be a bit much, but I think that especially for this CD, it subscribes the fact that each reviewer does not stand alone in his opinions.
Country of Origin: UK Format: CD Record Label: Chocolate Frogs Catalogue #: Year of Release: 2001 Time: 57:07 Info: Fellini Days Website Samples: Demo Samples Only
The album opens with a projector starting, a sound that keeps up through out the entire album. A Sunset-like track follows, which is not half bad on the composition site, but the mix is too "fat" which is a bit annoying and is a flaw that the whole album suffers from. Fish' vocals are quite okay here, dark and warm, but somehow the interplay with the background vocals is not perfect, creating a bit of a chaotic sound. But the composition definitely is strong. The guitar work could have been "smoother" in my opinion, but that is just a matter of taste.
Hester: 3D was the song I thought sounded best of the six new songs that were
played during the Dutch fanclub day on January 28th. Now, hearing the final
version, I am less enthusiastic. I remember not being able to hear the keyboards
very well then and that may explain something, since I do not like the keyboard
sound at all. The electric piano gives me some strong, easy listening-like vibes and
that just is not my kind of thing.
The song gains strength in the choruses, but the not-entirely-synchronous backing vocals which are also wavering slightly above and below Fish's vocal line give the song a rather chaotic, out of tune sound. The atmosphere gets rather depressing because of that and considering the subject (cheating), maybe this was done intentionally. Still, on me it has the same effect as somebody scratching his or her fingernails over a blackboard has.
The guitar riff starting the first instrumental section is really good, but sadly played using an effect which makes it almost sound out of tune. Again, maybe this raw quality was intended, but it is slightly too close to the edge for me. Wesley's guitar solo a bit further on into the song does not seem to go anywhere for a long time. It therefore gets somewhat boring after a few bars. It does move to a nice conclusion, though, and the guitar sound does actually get slightly Pink Floyd- like at that point.
Hester: So Fellini is more to my liking, in fact, this is one of my favourite tracks
on the album. Nice, rocky guitars and a pounding drum rhythm set the scene. I can
almost see Fish's twinkling eyes while he is singing these slightly provocative lyrics.
It is a shame that the backing vocals are responsible for most of the "fireworks"
in the last line of the verses. The simple chorus works very effectively; it keeps
dwelling through my head all day long. Also, the addition at the end of the
track of a whole venue full of Fish fans singing the chorus is a nice and original touch.
A point of comment about the lyrics, though. I do not think that people who are not familiar with Fish's use of the expression "Fellini day" (as I understood it, a really special day on which some kind of weird coincidence occurs) will really understand what is going on. The lyrics to So Fellini do not really explain the term and it actually seems that Fish has expanded the meaning of the term, since I do not really see the connection between the verses and the "sooooo Fellini" chorus.
Hester: Some "bongos from a box" open Tiki 4 and although I guess that they are
only fitting to a song with such a tropical title, they just irritate me immensely
throughout the entire song. Fish's vocals are sounding off key every now and then,
whereas the backing vocals give the track an even cornier atmosphere than it already
had. The great imagery of the line "The darkness zips up the city like a body bag"
seems completely out of place amidst all of this. This ode to chilling out is one
of my least favourite tracks on the album.
Hester: The lyrics to Our Smile are really good and heart-felt, but the music sounds
a bit too ordinary for them. Something seems to be missing, although I cannot really
put my finger on what that could be. Maybe a different guitar sound (especially for
the solo) would have worked better. Still, why did there have to be electronic bongos
in this track too?
Long Cold Day
Hester: A great, raw guitar intro sets the scene perfectly for Long Cold Day. Fish
is angry at someone (someone he loved) who has betrayed him and brilliantly makes that
clear in the intensity of his vocals. At the end they are almost drowned out by the
backing vocals, though, and that is a shame. One of my favourite tracks, although it
does get slightly monotonous towards the end.
Dancing in Fog
Hester: The beginning of Dancing In Fog seems to be the prelude to an exciting song, but after the intro the song changes into a rather average, somewhat boring track.
The raw sounding guitar interlude brings a few sparks back into it, but the music calms
down again soon after. For some reason, there are bongos on this track as well...
Hester: Obligatory Ballad sounds a lot like another Rites Of Passion, including its sometimes very out of tune vocals. The metallic guitar sound (the electric guitar
is the only accompaniment of the vocals during most of the song) does not really help
and only tends to underline the false notes.
Hester: I remember hearing after the fanclub day that Pilgrim's Address would sound "huge" in its final version. It should contain ten (!) tracks of guitar sound, even
though Fish and John Wesley performed an acoustic version of the song in January.
The final result is not as impressive as I had expected, though. Yes, the guitar
sound is pretty "big", but it tends to make the entire sound rather muddled (which
is actually something most of the CD suffers from).
I have always been very appreciative of Fish's way of bringing issues out in the open, like he did in, for instance, The Perception Of Johnny Punter and What Colour Is God?. Still, I think the way he did that in those two songs was so much more impressive than the way he now brings the fate of the many half-forgotten soldiers all over the world into the limelight. The song is way too long for its rather unvaried structure. I actually find myself thinking "Yeah yeah, Fish, I do know what you mean by now" after some three minutes and I do not think that that is the desired effect.
Clock Moves Sideways
Remco: Finally a surprise follows: Clock Moves Sideways (ehhh, didn't Wilson do an album with an almost similar title?). Why a surprise? Because this is a fantastic track. With a bit depressing New Age like chord sequence, it reminds a bit of the final sections of Plague, and Wilson's efforts. Very dynamic and powerful, Fish finally finds the guts to scream his lungs out, for the first time on the album. With some really interesting bridges and climax-building, this is absolutely the highlight of the album (and he even uses the phrase "Fugazi" again. Is he coming to terms with the past?).
Hester: A drum machine, some more raw guitar and a haunting keyboard line create an eerie
atmosphere on Clock Moves Sideways. Fish's sneering vocals fit in perfectly.
The chorus is a great outburst of thundercloud-like threatening sound. Sadly, the
drum machine is way too high in the mix and it becomes rather irritating after a
while. Live it is drowned out by the "real" drums in the heavier parts, but here
it is audible at all times. If the sound would have been like the ticking of a clock,
I could still understand that, but it is not. I do not know whether it is because of
the drum machine, but towards the end, the track becomes a bit too repetitive
which makes me think that it could as well have been two minutes shorter.
In conclusion: an album of very variable quality. Some tracks are good like the first two, some are mediocre, or even boring, and there is one killer (the last one). Now to the grading. Of course you always keep in mind who created the album and the level you can expect from them. If this were the record of an obscure Russian band, it would have gotten a 9, but since it is the ex-vocalist of Marillion when that was the greatest prog-band in the world at that time, and he proved with a couple of other albums (Vigil, Sunsets and Raingods) that he still knows how to deliver a wonderful album, this one disappointed me somewhat. Still, I do recommend it to Fish fans, and I am sure that a couple of tracks of this album will be in your favourites one day. On the other hand, the album has too many flaws when compared to previous work. So ....
Remco: 7.5 out of 10
I think that it was not very long after the last "real" tour (as opposed to the small tour surrounding various fanclub days last January) that Fish announced that everyone could follow the entire process of making Fellini Days via a special Fellini Days website. Great idea, I thought, but I was slightly disappointed every time I checked the site since there was not that much information on it. Even now that the album is finished, one cannot find the final versions of the lyrics on it...
All in all I must say that Fellini Days is bit of a disappointment to me.
I really miss the brilliant dynamics, the subtlety in build-up and the hypnotising
spoken parts as demonstrated on the album Sunsets of Empire and in Plague
Of Ghosts. Most tracks on Fellini Days have about the same speed and
do not vary much. The lyrics consist of many expressions and themes you will
probably recognise from other Fish (and early Marillion) albums; some new ideas,
but a fan of the Scotsman's music has definitely heard most of it before.
The ideas behind the album are good, but it all feels as if the end result could have been much better. A few extra takes would probably have resulted in more sparkling, in key vocals and more synchronicity in the backing vocals, for instance. Apart from that, the keyboards could have been mixed more to the front and the overall sound could have been made less muddled. Luckily, the songs sound much better live and knowing that Fish usually produces a live album after every tour, I am looking forward to the release of the next live CD.
Hester: 6.5 out of 10
To put this review into the right context, let me inform you that I have been a Fish fan for a long time. I've been a member of The Company ever since it started. I've seen many concerts, have all of the studio albums and at least one of the official bootlegs of every tour. Twelve long years of joy and twelve long years of doubt. Continous doubts about a lot of ups and downs. The mediocre Songs from the Mirror album, the many compilation albums and continuous stream of re-releases and re-hashing of the same material, the doubtful quality of some tracks that would be mingled with classics on the albums. And now the big Scot seems to have reached a new all-time low.
I was delighted by the result of the cooperation with Porcupine Tree's Steve Wilson on
Sunsets of Empire, which I consider Fish' best album since
Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. On the next album Fish
reached another peak with Plague of Ghosts, although I still think that the
Raingods with Zippos is little more than that marvellous track
plus a handful of bonus tracks that never reach the same level of quality.
And now we have Fellini Days. I should have known what was coming after seeing Fish play live with John Wesley in Vredenburg in 1999. I really disliked Wesley's guitar play at that gig; all of the subtle and emotional guitar parts were destroyed and mangled into one unpleasant layer of noise. That same layer of noise returns on Fellini Days. Wesley might make a fine rhythm guitarist but he hardly plays any descent lead guitar part on the album. His continuous 'string rape' covers the music like a thick festering layer of mud, drowning out any melodic contribution of bass and keyboards. Imagine somebody trying to play acoustic chords on electric guitar all the time.
The album was produced by Elliot Ness, and although he obviously did a good job on Raindgods, the production and mix on Fellini Days is a mess. As mentioned, the music often just turns into a wall of noise, with some instruments becoming almost inaudible.
I had high hopes for the new album since John Young was joining the band. Young is a fine singer/songwriter and plays great keyboards (maybe not as good as Mickey Simmonds, but lots and lots better than Foss Patterson). He's composed some great stuff, some of which was used by John Wetton. Unfortunately, John's role on this album passes by almost unnoticed. He seemingly wasn't much involved in the writing process (almost all of the songs are credited to Fish & Wesley) and the keyboards mainly play a supportive role on the album. Only very occassionally does he get the chance to shine, like in the short piano solo at the end of Long Cold Day. Because of the lack of piano, the album misses a certain emotion. As someone said to me, the throw-away Obligatory Ballad would have been much better if it would have been piano/vocals-only instead of piano/electric guitar-only. Imagine what a track like Gentleman's Excuse Me would sound like if the piano parts would be replaced by chords on electric guitar.
But that's not all folks. There's much more that's not quite right about the new Fishy product.
Most of the melodies and ideas on the album are not that bad, and some of them are even very
enjoyable. However, most of these ideas are far from original; we've heard it all before.
A track like 3D (which I probably consider the weakest track on the album) sounds like
a cross between Favourite Stranger and Jungle Ride, Obligatory Ballad
sound like a weak version of Say it with Flowers, Dancing in Fog sounds like
something that could have come straight out of Plague of Ghosts and features a melody that sounds an awful lot like the verses of Worm in a Bottle, Our Smile
sounds like another Favourite Stranger-clone, and so on.
The second weakness of the compositions is that a melody which in itself might be quite pleasing is just stretched out and repeated far too often. There's not much variation in the songs, and the same melody is just repeated over and over and over again. Thereby, almost all of the tracks are twice as long as they should have been, and interesting melodies like in Tiki 4, Pilgrim's Address and Sooooooo Fellini lose out because of continuous repetition.
Although in my opinion Fish' voice doesn't sound weaker than in the past couple of years, he certainly has lost the power he used to have. He obviously is struggling with more aggressive songs like Long Cold Day and Clock Moves Sideways, which nevertheless are the best songs on the album. Especially Clock Moves Sideways is the only track on the album that contains some interesting ideas that actually work, and also gives us a good-old angry Fish. By the way, note the lines from Fugazi and Auld Lang Syne in Clock Moves Sideways.
To sum it up, Fellini Days is too repetitive, not original, has a bad mix and production,
is too much guitar orientated and overall ranks as Fish' most disappointing studio album to
At the same time, the guy continues proclaiming that this is better than the previous two albums. Who is he kidding ? Does he actually believe in what he's telling his fans ? I've just paid my annual subscription for The Company a week before I heard Fellini Days. If the CD would have arrived a bit earlier I probably wouldn't have bothered to re-subscribe at all.
Ed: 6.5 out of 10
Regrettably Fellini Days doesn't meet my expectations. Maybe my high expectations are to blame, maybe the record hasn't become what it could have been. I'll explain the shortcomings in my review, but not before I've told what I do like about the album. A false, one-sided image of my opinion could arise from this review otherwise.
Fellini Days is a very cohesive album, contrary to Raingods, which I always thought was a bit unbalanced in a way. Fellini Days also has some great hooklines, like the choruses in Clock Moves Sideways and So Fellini, two of the best tracks on the album. These lines stick in your head and (like the Raingods With Zippos-line on the album with the same title) deliver great audience-participation moments, when played live. The current tour proves this. Both tracks mentioned are powerful moments in the set. With this I come to another positive aspect of the album: its power. I never thought Fish was good in delivering "poppy" albums, which is what I always thought was one of the weaker points of the Suits album. Fellini Days goes back to the power-approach of Sunsets of Empire, although in a different way. Both 3D, with its Led Zeppelin-like (do I hear anyone say Kashmir?) ending and Long Cold Day feature -besides the already mentioned tracks- Fish in an aggressive mode, spitting out the lyrics. Another approved recipe is the combination of rock-elements with dance-beats. In Dancing In Fog, this is done in a fine way, which would have fitted on Raingods very well.
Other elements that deserve an explicit positive mentioning are the Fellini-element that has been woven into and between the songs (I bet there's a lot to discover here), the atmospheric female backing vocals (3D and Clock Moves Sideways), the nice, romantic melody of Our Smile, and the possibility to post-order a bonus disc with extra material (out-takes etc).
This takes me to the difficult part: explaining what disappointed me on the album. Simplifying it and summing it up in one word: production. The album is too full of raw guitars (although it works in Long Cold Day), and Fish's voice is at some points too low in the mix. 3D is the best example of this. When I heard this track live at the fanclub-convention I immediately liked it. However, on the studio-version Fish isn't up-front in the mix, where he should be. In other tracks, Fish almost gets lost in the background vocals (Tiki 4 and Long Cold Day). One example of the 'wrong' guitar-sound is Obligatory Ballad. The personal nature of the lyrics almost beg for a gentle, fragile approach, but here the nasty guitar-sound doesn't create the right atmosphere for me. To be honest, I don't think John Wesley is very lucky on this record at all. I'm convinced he's a great acoustic player and a fine rhythm-guitarist, but I often don't like his sounds (end of Long Cold Day and solo in Dancing In Fog), don't find his solos too inspiring (for example 3D and Our Smile) and at moments he's not reserved/simple enough (sometimes less is more). John Young's keyboards, on the other hand, could have been more prominent in the mix (and in the compositions!). At moments I get the idea he's only there to start the sound-effects or the drum-machine (Dancing In Fog or the too loud drum-loop in Clock Moves Sideways). All these things are linked to the production by Elliott Ness, who -strangely enough- also was responsible for Raingods with Zippos, which sounded a lot better. Other recent prog-productions by producers like Rob Aubrey (Jadis, IQ) or Karl Groom (Landmarq, Pendragon) for example, sounded more transparent. Finally, there's two songs that simply fail to catch my attention: Tiki 4, with its ongoing beat/riff lasts way too long and Obligatory Ballad, where I don't like the vocal melody, with Fish strangling his voice as well, for an unclear purpose.
After several spins, my pitiful conclusion has to be that Fellini Days, although "it's a grower", fails to convince me in the way his previous albums did. Fish still is a skilled songsmith, and I do like large parts of 3D, So Fellini, Our Smile, Long Cold Day, Dancing in Fog and Clock Moves Sideways, but most of these songs have some shortcoming in them, which is distracting. Some appeared to have overcome these shortcomings in a live-rendition, like 3D and Clock Moves Sideways, some haven't.
JJ: 7- out of 10
It's hard to imagine, but it is a fact that Fellini Days was produced and mixed by the same team that did such a fine job on Raingods with Zippos. I'll start with a few words about the continuous sound of a film projector running underneath the tracks. When I first played the album, I skipped 3D and moved straight to So Fellini. Towards the end of the song, I became aware of an intrusive noise, which had me thinking the received promo copy must have been a very bad print. Imagine my annoyance when it turned out this was not due to faulty factory production, but intentionally added throughout the length of the album! It is especially irritating during the quieter parts, as in Obligatory Ballad or the start of The Pilgrim's Address. But there are other pressing matters to underline concerning production. Instrumentation has at times been mixed to an awful instrumental jumble, as at the end of 3D and during the chorus of So Fellini. Vocals are badly handled in the second half of Long Cold Day.
I have nothing against John Wesley. I own his first solo album, which I enjoy playing from time to time. But his overall performance on Fellini Days is below par. A few examples: guitar is good in 3D, but I dislike the solos; Our Smile has some particularly weak parts and again the solo is pretty lame; it's too repetitive in Tiki 4; and annoying in Obligatory Ballad. On the other hand, I find Wesley's performance quite good in The Pilgrim's Address, Long Cold Day and Clock Moves Sideways.
The added value of the use of a drum computer escapes me; it succeeds in sapping quite a bit of strenght from Clock Moves Sideways which otherwise would have been a particularly strong track. Some of the female backing vocals are just no good. This goes for 3D, So Fellini and Our Smile. Then again, they add some strenght to Tiki 4. Whilst John Young adds some nice touches (Dancing in Fog, Our Smile), I think more could have been done with his talents. Fish's performance is fine as usual, though he misses the edge displayed on earlier albums.
A very compact track-by-track to make some statements not made above. 3D has very good verses, but the chorus doesn't impress. It is also too long, the result of the afore-mentioned instrumental jumble. So Fellini retains the charm it showed at concerts, but the sing-along bit has by now been done to death. Tiki 4, whilst it has some impressive instrumentation and a strong end sequence, I find a rather silly, repetitive song. Our Smile is enjoyable, but suffers from redundant backing vocals and Wesley's lame solo. Long Cold Day is pleasantly nasty, but has the badly mixed second half. Dancing in Fog is OK, I guess, but can't live up to Plague of Ghosts, which it seems to want to imitate in parts. Obligatory Ballad, well the title says it all. This guitar-vocals combo can be disregarded without remorse and skipping it in its entirety is prefereble, thanks to the mentioned intrusive projector-noise. The Pilgrim's Adress is good. And finally, Clock Moves Sideways is as stated one of the best tracks, if you can live with the digitized percussion. But screaming "Fugazi" doesn't help, as it has me wondering why I'm not playing that album instead anyway.
I honestly never thought the day would come when I'd have this many critical remarks to make concerning a studio release from Fish. But all in all I'm glad DPRP received a promo version for the purpose of this review. Because I'm not going to spend my money on this particular product. I got few "Fellini moments" from Fellini Days; rather, if you want to talk movie slang, it provided me with some "Alan Smithee days". Thumbs down.
Mark: 6 out of 10