Fish’s final album – he’s in his 60s and a realist, and the music business “is a very different beast now” – has been much delayed by acts of God. Various injuries and operations have frustrated his process, as have family tragedies. All that before the lockdown.
At last it’s here, and his intention to make his farewell statement his masterpiece (“like I did with Clutching, with Marillion”) has largely born fruit. Weltschmerz is a near-90-minute epic that dives into big, heavy themes like Tarkovsky on downers. Invited to the party are suicide, cancer, refugees, dementia and ageing.
Fish hopes a beautiful melancholy brings light amid the darkness, that flowers bloom in the dirt. Yet it’s safe to say it lives up to its title – German for ‘world of pain’ or ‘worldweariness’ – and that the world he’s documenting has acquired a shedload more of this weltschmerz stuff since he decided on that name years ago.
Produced by frequent collaborator Calum Malcolm (famed for his work with the Blue Nile), it’s played by regular Fish allies Steve Vantsis and Robin Boult, with guest appearances from Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell and Van Der Graaf Generator sax player David Jackson.
There are strings, there’s brass, there’s a vast canvas over which the lead character – ‘a grey bearded warrior, a poet of no mean acclaim’ in his own lyrics – tries to sift right from wrong and find hope despite the slippery slopes of a chaotic, melting, argumentative world.
Not every lengthy track here (for example Rose Of Damascus) hits on the elevation-via-repetition it needs, some of them just drag on a bit, without developing any proggy unpredictability, because he’s got more verses. The best ones, however, deliver the desired drama, with more passion, sincerity and eloquence than many critically approved artists could muster in a month of Sundays.
Man With A Stick traces the ages of man with a mediocre metaphor and a compelling, Peter Gabriel-esque shuffle; Garden Of Remembrance is candid and heartbreaking; Waverly Steps asks, in deft detail, where the time goes, as its protagonist loses his dreams across the years.
As the title song brings the curtain down, Fish strides past ‘the shells of cathedrals, the queues at the food banks’, but ends with unnerving ambivalence, declaring ‘the rapture is near’.
Often overwrought, sometimes profound, always aiming for admirable intensity, his music goes out as it came in. Go Fish.