So here I am once more for Fish's final swansong. The Scottish songsmith and progressive rock's poet bows out with his final release, Weltschmerz, roughly translating from German to mean "world pain". It would seem such an apt title given the world we're living in today - one surrounded by a worldwide pandemic, inept leadership and pressure from activists surrounding the political and business class from all sides.
Weltschmerz has been in the works for several years and since Fish's original announcement that this record would be his last, he's experienced several setbacks including the death of his father (addressed on Man With A Stick) and dealing with two separate bouts of sepsis. Such personal experiences appear to have allowed Weltschmerz to become a properly crafted effort, shaped and sculpted to perfection at every opportunity. There's no doubt that it's a record that's been worth the several year wait - it's an album that looks to age like a fine wine.
It's notably a good old-fashioned double album that, if you purchase the deluxe edition, comes with a book of over 100 beautifully crafted pages of sleeve notes, lyrics and incredible Mark Wilkinson artwork. What's certainly clear right from the outset is that the big Scot has really gone for its for his last hurrah. This isn't just confined to the presentation of the deluxe edition and is best summed up by the centrepiece of the double album itself. So much has happened both in Fish's life and the world around him and us in the last few years that confining such content to a single CD or double-sided vinyl would've been restrictive.
Its brilliance being spread over 2 discs, 10 songs and an 85 minute running time is certainly something to become entranced by, as is the incredible content itself. Weltschmerz's beginning is typical "Fish", opening in an eerie way similar to that of Script For A Jester's Tear or Pseudo Silk Kimono. With Grace Of God, the harsh reality of life is laid bare for all to see, starting with the sound of an ECG machine and doctor's chatter, before moving into sinister synth and arabesque acoustic guitar that will be later seen on the 16-minute epic Rose Of Damascus. There's something awfully cold about Fish's delivery here that'll become a running theme across the album's duration, but as the track reaches its middle point, it opens up in a transition last seen on 1997's Sunsets On Empire and even before then. Grace Of God has got the kick-in-the-teeth harshness of The Perception Of Johnny Punter and the attitude of What Colour Is God? in spades with its brooding nature making for great entertainment.
The following Man With A Stick draws on personal experience, being inspired by Fish's late father, and as he describes it "our relationships with sticks in our lives and how they go from being associated with fun and play to becoming something more sinister and symbols of power eventually supporting us as our strength weakens and old age takes its toll." It's a damning criticism of the brutality and feeling of authority that can arise with everything from a "bamboo staff" to a "bloodied shillelagh" and the way the meaning of a symbol can change in an instant. Musically speaking, those low guitar drives and the constant evil drum pattern makes for an enticing listen. Walking On Eggshells' affirmative acoustic guitar and cold vocal sound like they could be from 1984's Fugazi and that really isn't a surprise especially given the timeless nature of Weltschmerz's sound. However, its bluntness and attitude soon transforms into a triumphant tale of a relationship, backed by strings, before descending back into that originally menacing story of toxic co-dependency last seen on the likes of Jigsaw.
It's not all declarations of sadness however with This Party's Over giving a joyful two-fingers to the world with Fish proudly declaring "Best regards, but it's time to go home.". As one of only two tracks under five minutes, you might argue that This Party's Over is one of the more digestible tunes on Weltschmerz, but to sit and class such art as a "digestible track" would be doing it an enormous disservice. Its happy-go-lucky Celtic melody is nicely contrasted with the up-yours attitude of Fish's lyrics in a similar way to Internal Exile did almost thirty years ago now. It's contrasted beautifully with the epic Rose Of Damascus, the track I was most excited to hear in the lead-up to Weltschmerz's release. Coming as a multipart masterpiece, it's a grand suite that tackles terrorism, immigration, religious fundamentalism and political upheaval with a nice mix of Calum Malcolm's big production and minimalistic spoken word pieces that of course comes wrapped with some incredible lyrics and storytelling.
There's yet more parallels from the past with the soft, delicate and beautiful Garden Of Remembrance returning to a heartfelt timidness last seen on 1989's A Gentleman's Excuse Me. Thirty one years later, dementia and loneliness are Fish's talking point here and the entire package of vocals and piano make for an incredibly emotional listen. It's on tracks like this where the otherwise charismatic Scot excels the most - the fragility present in his delivery certainly proves that he's still more capable of producing some amazing moments and that it isn't even the full-to-the-brim prog epics that are required to do it. Simplicity and purity is the name of Garden Of Remembrance's game and it does it so wonderfully and in a way that no other artist could. C Song (The Trondheim Waltz) continues the resistance last seen on This Party's Over but Fish chooses this time to take aim at cancer. "I won't let you bring me down." he proclaims several times, reinforcing the idea that prog's greatest poet has still got some fighting spirit left. Despite its nature as a waltz, there's nothing lethargic or noticeably dragging about what is one of this release's standout tracks alongside Garden Of Remembrance and Walking On Eggshells amongst others.
Little Man What Now? returns to the sinister sound that's threaded through the first half of Weltschmerz with its strained saxophone and spoken vocal. It once again cements Fish's place as an excellent storyteller, drawing inspiration from German writer Hans Fallada and his 1933 novel that discusses a young couple gripped by the clutches of the Great Depression. For this track, as Fish discusses, "I applied my own take and created my own ‘Little Man’ who was struggling to come to terms with his life; the heartaches, betrayals, the constant battle against his own inner demons and inherent weaknesses that seem to take him down at every turn." It's a properly broody and captivating listen, not least aided by the sax and strings that help to weigh this track down brilliantly. Waverley Steps (End Of The Line) returns to something a little more autobiographical, with Fish tackling the dark topic of depression in a multipart epic that you'd think was the last track on Weltschmerz. It's undoubtedly packed full of Fish's heart and soul and this comes as little surprise considering the song's incredibly personal subject matter. That being said, however, Waverley Steps does come bundled with some more theatrical elements as the song reaches its glorious climax, before taking a slow descent back into the deep, dark depression of the song's beginning.
Fish's proper last hurrah comes as the album's seven-minute title track that is packed solid with pomp, attitude and theatre; it's a fitting culmination of a forty-year career both as part of Marillion and as a solo artist. Think of it as a call to arms for a revolution, a rallying cry from one artist to his followers to take action against the world we're currently living in. The do-nothing leaders, the self-serving political class, the big businesses - it's all here, laid bare.
With those final utterances, it's almost like we've come full circle since Market Square Heroes and that very first Marillion release.
"Are you following me?" he'd cry - we most definitely were then and have done for the last four decades. The impact of the Scottish songsmith on not just my life, soundtracking my life for the last eighteen years, but every fan in the land's, has been profound, and Weltschmerz certainly seems like a fitting end, not least one that makes for the best album of his solo career.
"The rapture is near."
If you want to pick up a copy of Fish's swansong, then you can do from his official store at https://fishmusic.scot/ or through Amazon here (affiliate link) or, if you'd prefer, I'll leave a Spotify link here:
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