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Fish - Songs from the Mirror CD (album) cover





2.43 | 150 ratings

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3 stars Recorded in 1992, Songs From the Mirror was a product of a tough time in Fish's life. Not only had his long-standing manager and close friend Andy Field died at the start of the year, but a string of business setbacks put his career in a very fragile state. Worse yet, Internal Exile had underperformed on the market, and Polydor were no longer so excited to have clawed him away from EMI.

Fish and his band were already workshopping the material which would eventually become the Suits album, but they needed more time to finish the job - but Polydor wanted new product. In the extensive liner notes of the 2017 reissue, Fish explains the catch-22 situation which ensued: Polydor wanted a new album, and soon, but Polydor didn't want to pay the money which would have been necessary to finish Suits, but at the same time they were dismissive of Fish's alternative idea - an album of cover versions that could be put out as a stopgap whilst work on Suits continued. He even offered to restructure his contract, locking himself into Polydor for Suits in return for less advance on that, if they agreed to the cover album plan.

They didn't bite - but eventually they agreed to accept the cover album, which Fish duly delivered. Songs From the Mirror is that album, and it's appropriate that Fish chose not to have it bear a Mark Wilkinson cover (the only studio album in his discography not to have one!) because, much as this doesn't look like a typical Fish album, it doesn't sound like one either. Though there's a few prog selections on the track list, he very much takes the same approach that David Bowie did on Pin-Ups here, picking out old songs which had inspired him in his earlier days rather than trying for material that was particularly close to his usual style, so it's really more of a straight down the line pop- leaning art rock release.

That said, it's as bad as people make it out to be - Fish and his band offer a perfectly competent, serviceable runthrough of some nice selections, a few of which are "big" songs which were very popular in their day but others representing deeper dives. Bowie's "Five Years" (which Fish actually tried to get Bowie to play the sax solo on, since Bowie happened to be in Scotland at the time, only to be rebuffed by Bowie's management) is an interesting choice for two reasons: the 1992 recording sessions would mark some 5 years since the release of Clutching At Straws, Fish's Marillion swan song, and 5 years before the release of Sunsets On Empire, often regarded as Fish's artistic comeback album.

If you are very, very invested in the prog side of Fish's work and the idea of him producing an album of mellow rock numbers performed in a fairly straight-ahead (if well-polished) style would be deeply annoying to you, well, you're going to be annoyed by Songs From the Mirror. For my part, I think this was probably a necessary detour to recharge his creative batteries, and the least bad outcome of his professional crisis of this era. At the end of the day, it meant he'd met his contractual obligations to Polydor and was then free to make Suits his first indie release, and as the aforementioned liner notes make clear, whilst dropping out of the major labels had its disadvantages things could have gone much, much worse.

On top of that, I think many artists benefit in the long run from moving a bit outside of the genres they are usually associated with in order to expose themselves to a wider set of approaches which they can then bring back to their more usual stamping grounds. Consider how Fish's former bandmates in Marillion would move away from prog for a bit before making an emphatic return to proggy territory on Marbles, which was as good as it was in part because they'd taken the time to get some distance and try some new things. Consider, for that matter, how Fish himself would work with Steven Wilson to blend elements of more modern musical genres into Fish's sound on Sunsets On Empire some years later.

All that said, whilst I don't think this album deserves some of the brickbats thrown at it, I can't say it's on the absolute top rank of Fish's work. Call it three and a half stars or so - but knock a star off if you are simply not interested in Fish putting out a non-prog album.

Warthur | 3/5 |


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