Issue 2004-015: Fish - Field Of Crows - Round Table Review
Tracklist: The Field (8:42), Moving Targets (5:46), The Rookie (5:35), Zoo Class (5:23), The Lost Plot (5:10), Old Crow (5:20), Numbers (5:36), Exit Wound (5:55), Innocent Party (7:37), Shot The Craw (6:00), Scattering Crows (5:05)
This is one of the most anticipated CDs the the recent months. Many of you will remember that all of the DPRP team members that reviewed were quite disappointed with Fish's previous album Fellini Days. That specific album - which probably hasn't entered my CD player more than twice since I reviewed it back in - almost made me unsubscribe from The Company (the Fish fan club) and made me skip several Fish concerts for the first time since I saw the ex-Marillion singer play live during the Vigil tour in 1990.
I didn't really get overexcited when I heard the Work in progress MP3s on the Field of Crows website a few months ago. And even when I played the CD the first two times I found myself thinking 'well, that's not all that special, is it?'. And then the album quickly started to grow on me and I realised that, compared to other Fish albums, the songs weren't all that innovative, but at the same time all the songs were actually quite good. And that's quite a change from all of the previous albums which always contained a song or two I have disliked fiercely. Fellini Days was different, that album only contained a song or two I didn't dislike fiercely. And this time everything sounded very good ...
Bart: Fish' albums have always seemed to follow similar curves as a third world country, going up and down all the time, though each time it goes up, it doesn't go as high as the previous time, and each time it goes down, it seems to go lower than ever before. Since Fish' Fellini Days album was probably the worst he has ever done, his next album had to be on a high curve again - the only question was, just how high would that curve go?
Dries: Contrary to the disappointment with each new album released, I kept my conviction that someone able to create an album like Vigil, would one day return to that quality. There are songs that I like on each album released but no album impressed like Vigil did. After each Fish concert I attended I was sure: it is still there, waiting to get out. And on the occasional track it did come out but each album also had some lesser tracks. While I am not saying that F.O.C. is as smashing as Vigil it is surely the one that comes closest. Thank you, Derek William Dick for restoring my faith in mankind!
Ed: A typical Fish opener, slowly building up the power and tension, like songs like Vigil, Shadowplay, Johnny Punter, Mr. 1470 and Tumbledown also did. There's a slightly folky Scottish feel to the track, like on the Internal Exile album, and the marching drums add to the fine tension building before the band fully kicks in after 4 minutes. The end of the song, with saxophone and a repeated 'we will take the field' chorus somehow feels quite like Supertramp/Roger Hodgson.
Bart: An excellent opener of the album. Although the vocal melodies in the first half of the song bear a striking resemblance to those of Rites Of Passage off the Raingods album, this is not off-putting. In fact, it gives the song a somewhat familiar feel. The collaboration with Bruce Watson is immediately noticeable, as this song has a typical Big Country atmosphere.
Dries: As Ed and Bart both stated there's is something of a familiar feel to this track. It is consistent with previous work without being a copy of it. The thing I like most is Frank Usher's guitar wandering off and doing small notes that seem to be placed randomly but in fact make up most of the melody.
Ed: Great tension building, good rhythm & groove and thereby sounding like some of the stuff on Sunsets and Raingods. One of the best tracks on the album with great lyrics performed in a fine dramatic way as in the Fishy days of old. And let's not forget the great shifting time signatures during the guitar break. The lyrics seems to explore different situations of hunting and being hunted; the killer, the soldier, the Casanova. Excellent !
Bart: Moving Targets is an up tempo song which resembles Mr 1470 off Suits. Special mention must go to the excellent drumming of Mark Brzezicki - he provides a great rhythm, with many cool fills. Brzezicki was also drumming in Fish's first backing band, in 1990, and his return is a welcome one. (even though through the years Fish never really had a poor drummer in his ensemble).
Dries: One of the reasons that this is such a good album is that Fish's voice is better than ever. All a tad lower than previous albums, Moving Targets is perhaps the best example of that. I must second Bart that Brzezicki drumming is great! I find it hard to sit still when this track is on. It is also a track that will do great live (and it did!): fists up high, yelling the chorus. As Fish explained this track is part of the original concept for this album.
Ed: In your face riff, stomping rhythm, penetrative organs ! The lyrics are quite aggressive. I haven't quite figured out what it is all about. It might be about Fish's own career but the chaotic middle section including some Arabic sounding humming might be a reference to America's war against terrorism and everything involved. The song ends with some spoken lyrics - not unlike No Dummy but this time in a decent song - giving it a bit of additional atmosphere.
Bart: A didgeridoo-like sound connects this song with the previous one, when a faint drum computer rhythm starts and... Kaboom! You're into the heaviest song Fish has recorded since the Sunsets On Empire album. The melody seems to have lifted from Worm In A Bottle off that same album, but musically we're in a completely different territory. Powerful drumming, roaring guitar and a truly outstanding Hammond organ warrant this will be a killer track to hear live.
Dries: Good music, intriguing lyrics and like Ed I would very much like to know what it is all about. It think it is about someone trying to get into the music business. Fish's views on this business (he is in is not a cheerful one) and he is writing down this ideas for a rookie that badly wants to become a star. The more I read the lyrics to more I get convinced that I am right, but then again with Fish you never really know and it might even be true now and false later.
Ed: Rock & Roll, think Mission Statement. It also reminds me a bit of some of Sting's up tempo, rap-like songs. The lyrics cleverly use the wordplay of comparing people and things to animals (e.g. gorillas in the doorway, lizards in the lounge, the clicking of a mouse), sometimes in a rather daring way ('dreamed of hunting beaver ... the snake in the long grass ate pussy, and that cat got the cream'). And it even contains the F-word. Blimey, Fish mentioning God and fucking on one album. Sure to raise some eyebrows. In the end section it's Tower of Power time, with the brass instruments being used to their full potential.
Bart: A rather groovy guitar starts the next track which, as Ed already stated, resembles Fish' earlier track Mission Statement a bit. Particularly interesting is the effective use of a brass section in this song, which makes the second half sound like a seventies' Bruce Springsteen track. Not something you'd expect from the tall Scot.
Dries: There's Business class, Economy class and then there's Zoo Class. That's the explanation Fish gave live. The song deals with the fuzz of flying and everything going on in an airplane. Looking at the text I think it is one of those "Fish changes the original explanation again". There's more to these lyrics than just that in my opinion. Musically I find this one of the lesser tracks. A sort of up-tempo version of Whiplash.
The Lost Plot
Ed: A song Fish wrote with Tony Turrell, who worked with Fish on the Raingods with Zippo's album and co-wrote the much respected Plague of Ghosts. This track, which is dominated by piano and keyboards, isn't very different from the second half of Plague and will therefore be a favourite of many people. It ends with a nice long guitar solo which might have been a bit more in the front of the mix.
Bart: Indeed, this song bears more than a striking resemblance to Raingods Dancing, with a similar piano theme and guitar solo. Nonetheless it is an excellent track and a welcome resting point after the three up-tempo songs.
Dries: Ed and Bart already said it: good track, sounding like Plague Of Ghosts, nice guitar at the end
Ed: First time I heard this I had a clear WTF?!-moment. By now it has become one of my favourites on the album. Old Crow is just a 'good fun' track. Happy, swinging, bouncing and very uplifting. It's even got a scatting Fish and a full brass band being released The most uplifting song since Internal Exile and the re-recording of Lucky. Party time !
Bart: This track had me thinking of latter day Peter Gabriel, especially The Barry Williams Show, but then with a Phil Collins brass section! It's a good fun track with a catchy chorus.
Dries: Contrary to my fellow reviewers, this track doesn't do it for me. I can hear it has live potential but I like Internal Exile more if it comes to starting a party.
Ed: One of the most aggressive songs on the album, not unlike What Colour is God, but much more 'in your face' and rocky. The song also includes a fine wah-wah guitar frenzy.
With this song Fish stays in a Peter Gabriel-esque territory. This song is a heavy rocker, with Fish reciting rather than singing the clever lyrics. It is a rather odd song with two weird 'choruses' where Fish' voice has so much reverb that you'd think something went wrong in the recording process. It takes a while to get used to.
Bruce Watson does a good attempt to recreate the guitar sound of Steve Wilson's on the Sunsets album
Dries: Statistics and numerical facts are ruling the world nowadays. This songs deals with all the 'facts' and statistics used to convince people that this or that course of action should be taken. At the start of 'the war against terrorism' we got a flood of information containing exact numbers. This being their way of convincing us they are absolutely right in starting a war. The facts don't lie do they?
Ed: A beautiful bluesy ballad with a very clever title which could mean two things: the place where a bullet leaves the body or the symbolic pain ('a hole in my heart') when a relationship ends. The desperation and sadness just oozes from Fish's vocals in this heart-wrenching track. Another fine piece of sax and trumpet combined with keyboard orchestration gives this a Supertramp-like atmosphere in the second half.
Bart: This is the type of ballad you'd normally expect to hear in a smokey blues café - not entirely sure whether it is such a good idea to have on a Fish album.
Dries: Smokey blues café or not, to me it does sound like a Fish track and I am glad Fish placed it on the album. It is however not my favourite track of the album.
Ed: Imagine an aggressive rock version of Jump Suit City. Venomous lyrical performance and a recurring break that somehow reminds me of View from the Hill. After the aggression the last two minutes of the song move into a different gentle shuffling rhythm accompanied by piano, thereby lengthening the song to almost 8 minutes without ever being boring. Another excellent song.
Bart: The album seems to lose its momentum a bit by this time. Innocent Party sounds a bit like a week cross between Faithhealer and Pipeline, apart from the great shift in tempo towards the end.
Dries: Bart's description is spot on: a mix of Pipeline and Faithhealer. And therefore it is one of my favourite tracks on this album. Fish must have been writing these lyrics with an actual so called Innocent Party in mind: there's very much emotion in the vocals. From aggressive to mellow, nice build up, nice track. The Fish I like - getting angry over something and putting it to lyrics.
Shot The Craw
Ed: Well .... probably the only song that's slightly disappointing. It starts okay, but soon falls victim to the 'Fellini syndrome' of dragging along for far too long. And the Pipeline-like guitar bit starts to get a bit too repetitive quite soon. A shorter arrangement or more variation would have helped here. It does however contain some very tasteful brass.
Bart: Shot The Craw contains a guitar-twiddle that is almost exactly the same as in the song Pipeline, off the Suits album. As the previous song already contained elements of Pipeline you could get a bit of a Suits déjà vu. Though the song itself isn't at all like Pipeline, it is more another bluesy ballad-type track, which sounds quite like the work of Sting at times.
Dries: Again I disagree with my colleagues, although I do understand the yet another Pipeline comment this track does not disagree with me. The refrain/chorus/refrain structure indeed is pretty straightforward, but the hopeful "baby's coming back" at the end of the song lingered in my head for days.
Ed: The album's second ballad and another beautiful track. The piano work once again makes this feel a bit like Plague and together with the acoustic guitar gives the song a fragile feel. In the second half of the song Fish continues singing 'I'll be scattering crows' while the band starts a new melody which is later picked up by Fish as well in his vocal melody. Nice touch !
Bart: Fish does Backstreet Boys? Highly unlikely, but the melody of this beautiful ballad made me think of 'boyband fare' first time I heard it. Although it feels a bit as the obligatory ballad, the song is a worthy closer for the album, but I find it lacking a real climax... A guitarsolo perhaps?
Dries: Ballad? Oh yes it does start of as a ballad (somewhat like Dear Friend) but if you consider the first half as the build-up for the rest of the song I can appreciate this ballad part very much. I think however that there would have been more potential to this song. Starting of slowly and fragile, building up to more up tempo and harsh, could have been taken much further. This idea should have been given more than the 5 minutes it was given now. The tracks has great promise but does not really fulfill that promise. Still it's a good track albeit a little to short.
Ed: Where Fellini Days was one big, dragging non-prescription narcotic, this album bursts with energy, great melodies and rhythms. If Felinni Days was a rather tasteless Italian pasta, Crows is a spicy Mexican dish. Most of the albums since Vigil had a few very questionable tracks. This is the first CD since Vigil that hasn't got any tunes I really dislike. Okay, Shot the Craw is a bit mediocre, but not really annoying.
Field of Crows isn't a really progressive album, it's not as experimental as Sunsets and Plague of Ghosts were. It doesn't have a lot of things that the big Scot hasn't done before, still that is probably what makes this such a good album. Field of Crows combines some of the best things of Fish's 15 years as a solo artist in 11 fine new tracks. Of course, there's some veterans from Fish's previous bands that help create the solid sound, like Mark Brzezicki (drums), Frank Usher (guitar), Tony Turrell (keyboards) and Steve Vantsis (bass). Maybe the fact that besides Watson all of these are veterans help make this a real Fish album, compared to the many line-ups of newbies between Sunsets and this album.
What Fish needs most to make a good album is a good band and creative co-writers for the songs. On Field of Crows he clearly teamed up with the right people and co-writing with Bruce Watson of Big Country works remarkably well, unlike the work Fish did with John Wesley. It's even good to hear Frank Usher's growling guitar again, something which I got a bit fed up with in the mid nineties.
Field of Crows also shows that a good song doesn't have to be longer than 5 minutes and the tracks don't outstay their welcome like on Fellini Days. There's an excellent balance between uplifting, 'happy' tunes, aggressive and dark songs and emotional tracks. There is a lot of musical diversity on this new CD, while at the same time it sounds comfortably Fish-like. The usage of brass instruments like trumpet and saxophone - the first major return of horns since the Vigil album - really add to the overall sound, power and colourfulness of the CD.
There's a clear line running through the album with the symbols of The Field and Crows, which appear in most of the songs. And of course everything is very symbolic, though I often wonder exactly what or whom a song is about. Lots of symbolism and parables for all the lyrical aficionados.
This is the best album since Sunsets and I'm still trying to figure out which of these two, Field of Crows or Sunsets, should be on the second position in my Top 3 of Fish albums, right after Vigil. Time will tell.
Ladies and gentleman, Fish is back ! With a vengeance ! Faith has been healed. I'm off to get tickets for the next tour.
Bart: Like Ed, I welcome the return of Fish: the songwriter, after the mediocre Fellini Days, however, unlike Ed for me it isn't all euphoria yet. The beginning of the album is very strong, but after Numbers the songs seem to lose some of their strength.
I do welcome the return of the excellent (and long) lyrics, full of imagery and metaphors. Ever since Suits the choruses of the songs became shorter and simpler, culminating in the one-word choruses of many of the songs on Fellini Days. On Field Of Crows the choruses are part of the story of the lyrics again, and there are even a few songs that don't have a standard verse-chorus structure.
Fish' voice is also stronger than it has been in a long while. The effects of age and lifestyle can clearly be heard on all of his solo albums, with his voice seeming to loose some of its strength on each subsequent album. But you can hear Fish has been working hard to get his voice in shape for this album, and the efforts pay off big time.
I second Ed in his opinion about Bruce Watson. Although Watson has collaborated with Fish on many previous occassions, this is the first time he actually co-wrote songs with Fish, and the result makes you wonder why they never did that before!
So just how high this the curve go up this time? In my opinion the album is on par with Sunsets On Empire (though a completely different style) but not in the same league as Vigil.
Dries: In the last few weeks I have learned that amongst Fish fans there is not much consensus on which are Fish's better and lesser albums. I know a lot of people that have high regards for Sunsets on Empires while I find it one of the lesser albums. There is little to no discussion that Vigil is the best album (so far). If you look at the way Field of Crows is received there could be some consensus rising that this might well be his second best album. Just speaking for myself: I think it is one of his better albums. So my top 3 of Fish albums just became: Vigil, Field of Crows & Internal Exile. This all is based on the fact that the album has some very political aware and well thought of lyrics while Fish's voice is better than ever. There's a consistent feel and idea to all tracks on the album and most of the tracks are just plain good compositions. So yes, Fish is back, but for how long? (See the interview, which will be published this coming Tuesday). For now I'll just enjoy this album and expect it to remain on my playlist for a while.