As Fish talks of bowing out of recording gracefully after one more epic album – and his interest in moving towards books and screenplays is rational given his long-held fascination with wordplay – he’s getting his post-Marillion house in order. The extensive polishing project continues apace: four solo albums from between 1997 and 2004 are spruced up with multiple additions, while two recent live albums capture his current temperature.
Remastering is by sensitive Blue Nile/ Prefab Sprout legend Calum Malcolm. Each three-or-four-disc set is a musical feast of consequence, but there’s also much intrigue to be had reading Fish’s sleeve-notes, in which his recollections are candid, self-flagellating and a genuine insight into The Making Of.
Sunsets On Empire (7⁄10) was co-written and produced in ’97 by Steven Wilson, in one of his first high-profile assignments outside No-Man and Porcupine Tree. The meeting of neo-prog and post-prog minds gels, as Fish sings with typically brutal honesty of temptation and urban decay. Despite a varied palette – there’s a hint of funk and rap at one stage – it didn’t sell, hitting Fish’s finances. Easy with hindsight to blame the overlong, over-heavy opener The Perception Of Johnny Punter, but get past that for drama and diversity.
On 1999’s Raingods With Zippos (7⁄10), young Wilson ‘merely’ plays guitar. A troubled patch for Fish sees him co-writing with all sorts, notably one Rick Astley, and covering Alex Harvey’s Faith Healer. It’s the 25-minute ‘suite’ Plague Of Ghosts that revives his muse, staring guilt and self-pity in the eye while musically pre-empting Kate Bush’s Aerial.
His love of film colours 2001’s Fellini Days (9⁄10), where the new century and the energised guitar playing of John Wesley rejuvenate him. 3D is an exhilarating opener, like Peter Gabriel singing for Sonic Youth. The Pilgrim’s Address knows you can’t go wrong slagging off presidents. This is arguably his most passionate, powerful album.
2004’s Field Of Crows (7⁄10) – with ex-Big Country guitarist Bruce Watson prominent – is less instant but has a gentler, more ruminative pull, with Shot The Craw an affecting ballad. All these are liberal with demos and live tracks.
His live outings of late have successfully balanced nostalgia and new songs. The Moveable Feast (8⁄10) documents European tours between 2013-14, and Farewell To Childhood (9⁄10) offers the Misplaced Childhood tour of 2015.
Once the scales fall from your ears, there are oceans of personality here.