Even fanatics might be forced to agree that a proper ‘best of Fish‘ would have to be centred on his output with Marillion, for whom he was an inspiration, a charismatic front man. The trouble here is that Bouillabaisse, quite apart from earning null points for the title, focuses almost entirely on his solo output in the fifteen years since the parting of the ways.
Still, it’s a deserved anthology, much more comprehensive than 1998’s single disc best of, A Kettle Of Fish (again, null points!), and a worthy introduction for anyone wanting to get to the music behind the man. The man, real name Derek W Dick, seems to have kept his affinity with fairy tales that characterised much of his material with Marillion.
This quality appears on both discs, divided into ‘Rocketeer’ and ‘Balladeer’ sections. Immediately evident on the rock disc is the edge that Fish brought to Marillion’s best work, and which is only present with the tougher guitar music. The euphoric Big Wedge makes a cracking start, the powerful vocal given bold, brassy clothing. Incommunicado, still a live favourite for the band, sounds great here too, acrobatic synth line and urgent vocals combining well.
Unfortunately, try as I did, it was difficult to muster a huge amount of enthusiasm for the newer songs, in particular the exhausting thirty minute suite Plague Of Ghosts.
The latter would obviously work better live, but here it rambles on, despite an impressive head of steam generated by the more intense guitar work, and a still central section, where Fish intones a plaintive folk melody. When this becomes accompanied by weird lapping noises and a semi drum and bass rhythm however, the game is up. Many a rock artist flirted with this electronic trick in the year of composition (1999), few making it out the other side with credibility intact.
‘Balladeer’ has the soft rock hits – Kayleigh and Lavender the two most memorable, along with A Gentleman’s Excuse Me, containing the pertinent lyric “Do you still believe in fairy tales?” A lot of the words and music here imply they still hold a fascination for Fish, which makes it all the more disappointing when too many of the ballads underproject into dreary soft rock by numbers. Scattering Crows, a recent track, scores with atmospheric orchestration, but Tara, though seemingly a song of personal value, is soft in musical content. Worst of all is Raw Meat, like most tracks pushing five minutes in ‘single edit’ form, but here featuring an eminently removable central passage with change of key and bagpipe solo.
No, Fish for me was best with a guitar turned up and a full band behind him. Anyone hearing live recordings of Marillion tracks such as He Knows You Know and Sleinte Mhath, neither of which appear here, would be forced to agree – here Fish drowns in soft rock, his brand of soup gone cold long before the end.