Review Summary: In calling out to the internal exiles, Fish uses imagery, poetry and excellent songwriting to prove that he is proud of his own Scottish heritage.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
Derek William Dick, or as referred to by pretty much everybody but his closest relatives, 'Fish', has gone through one hell of a successful musical career over the last three decades or so. Marillion's first four albums were better examples of the Neo-Progressive Rock movement throughout the 80's, and even when Fish left the band to concentrate on his solo work, his music had only become much more diverse and progressive. “Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors” astounded its many listeners by introducing vast Celtic influences and some well written poetry that generally differed the Fish we now know from the young singer that fronted Marillion. So just how could Fish follow up an album as largely ambitious and widely appreciated as his very own solo debut album? Well, without disappointing his dedicated fans, or indeed alienating them in any way, “Internal Exile”, an album that is dedicated to no other than his very own daughter (who herself is succeeding very well with a promising model career), very rarely falls short of expectations.
The magical and epic introduction to 'Shadowplay' surely proves that Fish is both one of the most talented songwriters and lyricists to come out of not only Scotland, but Europe itself. Long-time fans of Marillion will be aware that his lyrical content constantly achieves its aim by using imaginative poetry, powerful imagery and heartfelt emotion poured into his voice when singing each word. With barely any sounds in the background, Fish almost whispers mysteriously “Hunched Fetal in the corner of my soul/My fingernails are bleeding from climbing up the wall/This time you really hurt me right down to the core/And I'm desperately trying to find a reason to forgive you for it all”, whereas much later in the very same song, alongside male backing vocalists David Paton, Mr.Crimson and Robin Boult, Fish gives a direct reference to his own national heritage, singing in the chorus that “I saw your life as a shadowplay/In a trance I was held by the shadowplay/In the spell of the shadowplay from Celtic illumination/I see the Celtic illumination, the Celtic”. Such themes as the significance of one's own national heritage and their desire to make their own country seem important are more than a little prominent in “Internal Exile”. The most obvious examples of this is in the superbly uplifting title track, where Fish sounds proud of his Scottish nationality, singing that “Grierson's spirit haunts the dockyard/The only men working, documentary crews/Shooting film as the lines get longer/As the seams run out, as the oil runs dry”, before ambitiously calling out to the public and asking them “Hey there, laddie, internal exile/When will you see that we got to let go?/Hey there, lassie, internal exile/When will you realize we got to let go?”. Here, both listening to and reading the lyrics, you can almost imagine standing by a Scottish dock, and embracing the natural smells, sights and sounds that Fish quite cleverly and poetically introduces with his own lyrical talents. The theme continues with 'Credo', another uplifting song that features Fish's harmonic vocal style, especially when singing “An assegai slick with sweat and blood/A shotgun barks at a rabid dog/A shallow grave hugs a highway/Beneath a bleaching sun”, once again using poetry and imagery to get his ideas across. However, this is but one of many themes running throughout “Internal Exile”. There is also long lost love in 'Just good friends' and 'Favourite Stranger', true friendship in 'Dear Friend', and even disorientation or loss of communication in the very mysterious 'Tongues'. These themes and lyrics are all important if you really want to understand an album like “Internal Exile”.
Fish has been known to write some exceedingly good songs, and this certainly shows on “Internal Exile”. Not only is there a very mysterious and somewhat unsettling atmosphere on songs such as 'Shadowplay' and 'Tongues', but there are also more melodic, more accessible tracks such as the excellent 'Credo' and soothing 'Just good Friends'. Of course, some may baulk when reading the almost cheesy, predictable lyrics of both 'Favourite Stranger' and 'Just good Friends', and unfortunately it may put some off listening to the album altogether. However, when there are only really one or two songs in an album virtually full of diverse and adventuarous song structures, it is very easy to ignore such minor irritations. As said before, the uplifting nature of 'Credo', 'Lucky' and the title track offer a nice change to the slower, more relaxing nature of 'Something in the Air' and 'Just good Friends'.
The instrumentation on “Internal Exile” is used quite brilliantly, and by taking one look at the number of guest musicians who contributed on this particular album, you'll be quite surprised and indeed intrigued to listen to the album all the way through. The Celtic influences are more prominent than on Fish's solo effort, the beautiful fiddle flowing as freely as a fish does in water on the title track, and even the box accordion is used frequently, offering a lot of substance and flavour to various songs throughout. In particular the title track fully embraces Celtic influences, and even sounds like it could have been comfortably placed on any compilation album of Celtic folk ballads, for all its excessive use of bagpipes, fiddle work and the box accordion. Alongside the bass and drum work, the guitars are very well executed, even at times providing more aggressive sounds with their heaviness and technique, the mysterious likes of 'Shadowplay' and 'Tongues' being fully supported by this. The drums and bass never really show off, but they do help to give each and every song that extra edge, that wouldn't have been there had it not been for Fish's talented approach at writing the songs themselves. The keyboards are also used spectacularly, and although they do sometimes give a bit too much melancholy or melody than one would want to hear, they are still played with excellent musicianship.
“Internal Exile” may well sound too grandiose or melodious for some listeners, yet for the very same reasons as “Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors”, it succeeds on so many levels. The beautiful imagery and poetry of the lyrics, the excellence of the songwriting and musicianship, and even the significance of Celtic influences and instruments all contribute to Fish's second album being something that is arguably completely different to anything else that was recorded at the same time. It goes without saying that this should be in your record collection if you are a fan of Progressive Rock, but anybody giving this a listen would be wise to read the lyrics and listen to the album more than once, to fully understand its importance in the genre.