Review Summary: Fish's most recent crowning achievement.
Fish's legacy as an independent songwriter and increasingly talented lyricist will most probably last forever, or at least until the day he dies. I say this because, with each and every one of his solo albums, Fish has been making sure that the music becomes more and more diverse, the poetry of his lyrics is more and more meaningful, and that every one of the guest musicians appearing on his songs are doing their job in the best way they can. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but with “Raingods with Zippos”, Fish sounds as ambitious as ever, using no less than SEVENTEEN guest musicians, and even at times throwing in a few surprises to please both the willing and unexpectant listener.
“Raingods with Zippos” was released thirteen years ago via Roadrunner Records. Yes, you read that right, Roadrunner Records. A record label that is widely recognized by metalheads and mainstream rockers alike as the home of many of the world's biggest metal and rock bands. So it begs the question: Just what is Fish doing with a record label like this? Well for those of you fearing that “Raingods with Zippos” may just sound like a very mediocre album created purely for cashing in, you can think again. “Raingods with Zippos” is arguably Fish's true crowning achievement, and is criminally underrated in a world that unfortunately wouldn't dare listen to an album like this, for all its diversity and incredibly good sound.
As with every other Fish release, the lyrical content and themes here are very heartfelt and create various moods that may conflict with each other, but thankfully contribute to making this particular album the masterpiece it is. On the ever-changing opener 'Tumbledown', Fish's voice sounds as powerful as ever when singing “Raingods with Zippos, a tin man with a heart/an end with no beginning, a race without a start that you'll never win, that you cannot lose and you fall apart”, and his vocal style as usual, seems to fit whatever mood each particular song may represent. It is quite clear that there is an underlying concept in “Raingods with Zippos”, but whether it is a fantastical one or one that relates to modern life in Scotland it is uncertain. Nevertheless, Fish's lyrics do seem to touch on various themes throughout. On the quite upbeat 'Mission Statement' Fish sounds like he's having a lot of fun as he admits that “I've been in a downward spiral for a very long, long time/I've been stepping over dollars just to pick up a shiny dime”, whereas on the very relaxing yet somewhat mysterious 'Tilted Cross' a sense of fantasy arrives when Fish harmonically sings “They lie beneath the needles of the forest, in the fields where only shadows dare to play”. Just by reading the lyrics you can automatically get a sense of reading true poetry, and the music itself only helps to fully support these themes.
As said before, there is a gargantuan number of seventeen guest musicians, one of which being no other than Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson, who contributes largely to the guitar work but also adds a few keyboard interludes here and there. Now, the reason that various songs on the album sound heavy and aggressive could be that Steven Wilson's signature guitar playing comes through so powerfully and ends up being very memorable indeed. For anyone who's ever listened to “Stupid Dream” or even “Lightbulb Sun”, you can almost feel the haunting presence of Steven Wilson on this album, but fortunately for the listener, this never really takes away from Fish's musical genius. Aside from that, there is quite a lot that happens on “Raingods with Zippos”, instrumentally. There aren't any Celtic influences around, but this is only replaced by melodious string arrangements ('Incomplete', 'Rites of Passage'), beautiful keyboard work ('Tumbledown', 'Faithhealer') and even a brief Drum and Bass beat that ends 'Rites of Passage' and begins the grandiosity of 'Plague of Ghosts'. This is all very well executed, and in particular each and every instrument contributes to how well the songs themselves sound in general. It isn't just the instrumentation here that excels either. The female backing vocals courtesy of Elizabeth Antwi, Nicola King and Tony King amongst others give the listener a sense that this album has had a lot of work done to it.
However, whilst the first six songs do each work considerably well on their own, the true highlight of “Raingods with Zippos” is really in its last song, split into six parts, 'Plague of Ghosts'. It should be believed that 'Plague of Ghosts' is absolutely outstanding, and could even be the soundtrack to a wonderful dream. The opening ambiance of 'Old Haunts' and 'Digging Deep' give way to grandiose, epic atmospheres, whereas the sensual, soulful soundscapes of 'Waving at Stars' and 'Raingods Dancing' create every mood possible, combining them all into one marvelous twenty-five minute musical journey that almost moves you itself. This isn't all. At various points Fish narrates his poetry as opposed to merely singing it, yet his voice still has a sense of sorrow and is full of life. “We watched an insect stray to the edge of the world/ A lily pad stretched out over a green mirror/in which the ghost carp swirl like clouds before a storm” is spoken with such flow and emotion that its hard not to create a dream-like image in the listener's head, and even when Fish sings, it is largely complemented by his narrative voice, the two styles once again joining together to make each respective song a marvel of its own.
“Raingods with Zippos” cannot simply be listened to in parts. It must be listened to as a whole, and fully embraced as an album that flows with such cohesion and spirit that it haunts you for days after so much as listening to it once. The accessibility and memorable melodies are there, but there is so much more too. It is an album that just begs everyone to ask the following question: “Can Fish get any better than this?”. Fish has since released three more albums, all in the very modern 21st Century, but it can be said now that he hasn't reached the quality or standard reached on “Raingods with Zippos” ever since its release.