Whenever a veteran artist professes disinterest in modern music, a safe retreat into the past -- a tired attempt at recapturing the magic of classic material -- tends to follow. Since Ghostface Killah towed that line after the two least-thrilling albums of his career, Fishscale seemed destined to be just another part of his discography; if his fans were lucky, they'd get a couple flashes of his mad maverick genius and nothing as clumsily foul as "Tush." Fishscale is much more generous than that. It's evident that Ghost knows where he's at in his career, and it's directly acknowledged by the Mickey Goldmill-like boxing coach during "The Champ": "You ain't been hungry...since Supreme Clientele!" Ghost responds by pouring all that he has, both lyrically and vocally, into every track on the album. The scenarios he recounts are as detailed and off-the-wall as ever, elaborate screenplays laid out with a vocal style that's ceaselessly fluid and never abrasive. This is especially remarkable since each one of Ghost's lines, when transcribed, require one-to-five exclamation points, and every frantic scene's details -- from the onions on the steak, to the show on the television, to the socks sticking out of the "big Frankenstein hole" in a shoe worn by an accomplice -- are itemized without derailing the events. Since no active MC sounds better over obscure '70s soul samples, Ghost was wise to select productions that are best suited for him, no matter how bizarre or un-pop. Just Blaze, Lewis Parker, MoSS, Crack Val, Pete Rock, Doom, the late J Dilla, and several others supply Ghost with a tremendous round of productions. "Underwater" is the loopiest of all, even by Doom standards; its balmy Bobbi Humphrey flute and slippery beat, aided by burbling water effects, backs a hallucinatory journey in which Ghost swims with butterflies, casts his gaze on numerous riches (rubies, the Heart of the Ocean, "Gucci belts that they rocked for no reason from A Different World") and bumps into a Bentley-driving, Isley Brothers-listening, girlfriend-smacking SpongeBob Squarepants before hitting spiritual paydirt. "Back Like That," featuring Ne-Yo, is the lone apparent crossover attempt, and it hardly compromises Ghost's character the way "Tush" did in 2004 ("In the summertime, I broke his jaw -- had to do it to him quick, old fashion, in the back of the mall"). Another completely unique track is "Whip You with a Strap," where Ghost recalls the pain of being whipped by his mom with more than a hint of misty-eyed wistfulness. How many other MCs are capable of making you feel nostalgic about leaking welts you never had? More importantly, how many MCs entering their late-thirties have made an album as vital as any other in his or her career?
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman