Kettle of Fish, the “best of” Derek W. Dick, is the first and only CD I’ve ever had stolen from me.
I got it cheap, something like $7 brand new, from one of our stores. Then a year later, someone stole the CD player from my car, with the Fish CD inside. Emotionally distraught, I sought to replace it right away. The best I could do was $30 for a replacement copy shipped from Fish’s official site. How crushing. I wondered with bemusement what the thieves thought of Fish’s progressive rock poetry. I imagine they tossed the disc into a snowbank.
While Kettle of Fish is no replacement for Fish’s debut solo album Vigil In a Wilderness of Mirrors, it is a fine collection of the man’s first decade as a solo artist and an enjoyable listen through. It also boasts a nice colourful booklet with all the relevant singles covers, photos, lyrics and liner notes by Derek W. Dick. Incidentally my original copy was missing pages. I wonder if that is how it ended up in our store? A defective run, sent off to a clearance somewhere, that eventually found its way into one of our warehouses. Missing pages notwithstanding, it’s an excellent packaging job.
Since the album is made up of singles (and two new songs that we’ll get to), you will always find that critical deep album cuts are missing. “Vigil” was not a single, but it’s one of Fish’s greatest achievements. There’s no “The Company”. “I Like to Watch” is missing in action. Instead the CD is arranged to give roughly equal time to all of Fish’s output to date. Tracks from Internal Exile, Suits, Yin, Yang and Sunsets On Empire are given fair representation.
Some of the best tracks are the lesser known variety. “Brother 52” is hip and modern, yet still obviously Fish. The loopy drums are perfect for the track, lending it a 90’s groove with a rock integrity throughout. The spoken word parts of “Brother 52” are sometimes distracting, but are by and large incorporated as part of the song. A vibrant violin solo goes for the kill and that’s all she wrote. The Celtic jig “Internal Exile” is another immediate favourite. The lyrics evolved from a song Marillion were working on for their unfinished fifth LP called “Exile on Princess Street”. It was the kind of stuff Marillion were getting sick of. According to Dick, “The lyrics started to follow a more political lean with a distinctly Scottish nationalist tone. The band weren’t happy.”
I saw a blue umbrella in Princes Street Gardens,
Heading out west for the Lothian Road,
An Evening News stuffed deep in his pocket,
Wrapped up in his problems to keep away the cold.
Grierson’s spirit haunts the dockyards,
Where the only men working are on the documentary crews,
Shooting film as the lines get longer,
As the seams run out, as the oil runs dry.
The finished lyrics make you feel it. Yes the music for “Internal Exile” is bright and chipper, with a tin whistle to take your worry away. It sounds nothing like the morose music Marillion coupled it with. Maybe that’s what made all the difference.
Tracks including “Credo”, “Big Wedge” and “State of Mind” are varied and of very high quality. You might think you put on an unknown 80s Phil Collins single if you play “Big Wedge” unannounced. Of the two new songs recorded for the album, “Chasing Miss Pretty” is the most enjoyable. It’s simple silly light rock for the summer time. Fish seems to have dropped the ball a little bit on the lyrics, but “Chasing Miss Pretty” is still far more poetic than anything Jon Bon Jovi has ever written.
First of all, I caught her reflection in the window of the pharmacy store,
There I was locked up in my pick-up in the rush hour on the Delaware road.
It must have been the scent of her perfume or the glimpse of that French lingerie,
A product of my imagination, I blame it all on a hot summer’s day.
Unfortunately the other new song “Mr. Buttons” is forgettable musically and lyrically. A song about hackers and e-crime in 1998 is going to sound quaint in 2017.
The weight of Fish’s early career casts a large shadow on everything the man has done since. Vigil was a triumph in every way for the singer. The early songs generally outshine the later songs. You will find favourites in the later material, but the early stuff will probably keep you coming back for another listen. The new songs are a nice add-on, and the packaging makes it worth a go, especially if you don’t own any Fish. Proceed!