Bouillabaisse: The Best of Fish

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This double disc by the enigmatic Fish -- aka Derek William Dick from Edinburgh, Scotland -- is exactly the perfect kind of constructed best-of for a performer who is as theatrical, dramatic, and utterly exposed as his lyrics, through all of his musical phases. Divided thematically between ballads and harder tracks, Bouillabaise showcases Fish the poet on "Balladeer" (disc one) and the rock singer on "Rocketeer" (disc two). Each disc includes moments from his years fronting Marillion. The ballads on disc one include "Kayleigh," from Misplaced Childhood, as well as "A Gentleman's Excuse Me," from Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. But the finest moments occur in his duets, with the beguiling and sublimely talented Sam Brown on "Shot the Craw," from 2004's Field of Crows, and "Scattering the Crows." Then there's "Incomplete" with Elizabeth Troy Antwi, from 1999's Raingods with Zippos. "Tara" is also here as well as an edited version of "Raw Meat," from Suits in 1994, and thankfully, his wondrous cover of Sandy Denny's "Solo" from Songs from the Mirror in 1993. The combination of Fish's lyrics in these songs and the grain of his completely vulnerable and bewildered voice makes him a singular talent. In these, the protagonist, right or wrong, has his heart torn and bleeding all over his delivery. On "Rocketeer," the angrier side of the singer comes through. Check "Incommunicado," from Marillion's Clutching at Straws, or "Long Cold Day," from Fellini Days. Or the truly amazing suit "Plague of Ghosts" -- in six parts from Raingods with Zippos. The performer can be funky, a raging messianic prophet, a confused wailing voice in the desert, a megalomaniacal streetwise punk, or simply a man who takes the world and its workings with a huge boulder of salt. But his persona can also be an uplifting moment of sanity in a confusing, violent world -- check "Brother 52." The other revealing thing abut this collection is how Fish continually surrounds himself with musicians of the highest caliber, capable of hard rock, prog rock, funk, and of course the kind of swirling theatrical sound that can support a performer as over the edge as the subject of this retrospective. For those who have been wondering about Fish, or for those who have forgotten him, Bouillabaise makes a startling and demanding case that here is an artist who carries a banner for big rock that has all but been relegated to the dustbin. Fish, in his way, is certainly in the company of Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen. Fish makes records that become movies in the mind, big statements about whatever he chooses, because of his utterly and shamanistically convincing ability as the singer and songwriter who conceives and weaves them.

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