Fish – 13th Star Album Review

Scottish singer/songwriter Fish’s latest album, 13th Star , began as a loose concept album of searching, with the 13th star as a symbolic guide. As Fish told the Bristol Evening Post , “The start of the album is about being trapped in a kind of mundane lifestyle and how he breaks out of that shell, moves forward, finds a new love and tries to make that new love work and find some direction in his life.” The events of Fish’s own life that followed the album’s creation give added resonance to the concept.
On Valentine’s Day 2007, Fish became engaged to Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay. He then suffered a gut-wrenching break-up, as the bride-to-be backed out of the wedding after the invitations had been sent and just one week into the recording of 13th Star .

During this incredibly difficult time, Fish kept writing and recording music as well as documenting his emotional highs and lows through his Web site e-mails to fans. As his personal life was unraveling, Fish found the will to carry on and finish the record, even though the album’s “love” songs were being sung now to one who was no longer in his life. What could have resulted in an album of anger and accusation, instead blossomed into something of shimmering beauty and grace, maturity and vulnerability. One needn’t know the history to enjoy 13th Star , but knowing what the man went through makes one appreciate the finished product even more.

Fish co-wrote eight of the album’s 10 songs with bassist Steve Vantsis, who brought a new set of influences and sounds to the mix. The collaboration produced an album of songs that stand together as the best single disc Fish has made. It’s a an album in the truest sense, with a logical flow and no filler; it’s best enjoyed as a whole in one listen.

And the whole package is adorned with the magnificent artwork of Mark Wilkinson , who has created one of the most memorable covers and CD art in recent memory.

Opening with the crunchy rocker “Circle Line,” we jump right into the “search” for the 13th star as Fish laments the routine of 9-to5 life, “I follow strangers blindly through toward the so familiar doors… Navigator, need a navigator…” Song two, “Square Go,” is a blistering riff-fest, with screaming guitars and Fish narrating, “I want to just hit back at this world/One day I want a level playing field…”But we all know there is no rocker Fish without balladeer Fish, and the gentle “Miles De Besos” is the first of several romantic gestures, recalling a Chilean affair, where “A heart full of hope and the wings of a prayer” were freely offered. The swooping “Arc Of The Curve” is an aching song of bittersweet memory, with Fish singing, “It takes everything I have not to call you on the phone/Just to tell you that I couldn’t love you more,” while “Where In The World” recounts “This time last year I was in love, this time last year there was a dream/That was in motion that was oh so real.”

“Dark Star” is probably my favorite tune of the bunch. The song builds to a rupturing climax on a spooky keyboard part, with Fish trying to make sense of his world, recalling “A naked man, across the lawn, ghosts of morning walk a carpet of tears” and wanting to break free – “I want to be a meteor, want to travel at the speed of light.”

Not only are the lyrics some of Fish’s best, but the musical arrangements give them added dimension and vice versa, such as the dry punch of drums on “Manchmal” or the magnificent title track, with Foss Patterson’s dulcimer playing in the background like some Venetian love song.

To simply record 13th Star represents an enormous personal accomplishment for Fish, that it stands among his finest work is an even greater artistic triumph. At 50 years of age, Fish may just be reaching his prime.

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