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Fish - Sunsets On Empire CD (album) cover





3.80 | 208 ratings

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4 stars Sunsets on Empire was released in 1997, and, to me, rather clearly marks out the first instalment in the second part of Fish's duel solo career. This career started promisingly with the rather good Vigil in A Wilderness of Mirrors (itself, a logical follow up to Clutching At Straws), but rather swiftly degenerated into a morass of record company splits, dubious musical direction, and, frankly, a descent into commercial oblivion.

So, when this was released, I did not have too many hopes, but had seen some decent reviews, got it, and found that said reviews were fully justified. Although I do not feel that Fish has, unlike his former band mates, released a bona fide indispensable masterpiece, this is most certainly the first in a very consistently excellent series of albums, that has continued to 2013's Feast of Consequences.

What does, of course, set this apart, right from the crashing and heavy tones and riffs of The Perception of Johnny Punter, an overtly political piece about the shocking ignorance of the British general "bloke", is the involvement of a certain Mr Steven Wilson, he of Porcupine Tree fame. Not only did he lend guitars and keyboards, thus creating an altogether harder edge to more "traditional" Fish music, but also co wrote six tracks and, crucially, produced it, providing us with both a lush sound (the vocal harmonies are never anything less than beautiful), and a glimpse of his own future career direction. Certainly, I don't think that anyone else aside from Wilson could make the monologue of Jungle Ride sound so enticing and exotic. And, talking of political, the title track is a gloriously expansive pure rock track referencing, and, of course, celebrating the decline of that great institution, the British Empire, with bittersweet lyrics reminding all of said decline.

It is difficult to pull any particular track as a standout. I personally love the commercial prog rock of Goldfish and Clowns, the powerful funk of Brother 52, and the lush Celtic love of Tara, but, in truth, all of this is damned good, and quite how it flopped commercially so badly (Fish had to close his record company as a result) is a bit of a mystery, except, I suppose, that the musical sins of the past had rather caught up with him.

I am rather clear about this superb album, one of his best. It is well worth revisiting if you haven't heard it for a while, and, if you do not have it, buying to add an excellent, hard, bitter in places, and never less than fascinating release to your collection. Certainly, those of you "'ard and 'eavy" proggers (neo? Too soft for me, mate!) will find a great deal to enjoy here (What Colour Is God? should have been a PT track, it is that hard), and I really do wish that there was a hope of a further Dick/Wilson collaboration in the future.

lazland | 4/5 |


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