Review Summary: Neo-Progressive Rock at it's best; it's an album Fish has never been able to top.
The 80's were truly the golden age of neo-progressive rock. Artists such as Pendragon, Pallas and Twelfth Night were finding moderate amounts of success in album sales but without a shadow of a doubt, Marillion were clearly reigning supreme in the genre. Their popularity peaked with their third studio album, 'Misplaced Childhood', a commercial and musical success which can mostly be attributed to guitar led ballad 'Kayleigh' and piano led ballad 'Lavender'. But it couldn't last; due to differences between charismatic frontman Derek W. Dick, aka 'Fish' and the manger, the band parted ways with the Scottish vocalist and each of them forged their separate paths. Marillion would go on to write and release many more albums over the years, however none quite finding the commercial success of 'Misplaced Childhood'. Fish meanwhile assembled his band of merry men to begin his solo career, including keyboard virtuoso Mickey Simmonds, guitarists Frank Usher and Hal Lindes along with Job Giblin on Bass and Mark Brzezicki on drums. Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers even contributed on one song. The result was a creation which stands still to this day as possibly the best thing Fish has ever done, a worthy contribution to neo-prog rock genre.
I think it's the down to earth nature of the whole affair, crossed with the diversity that made me enjoy this so much. Every song is something different and exciting; there's no formula. Things kick off with the obligatory progressive rock epic and title track, 'Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors'. Lush, heavily laden synths and organs lead into the song, and after a few Pink Floyd-esque guitar licks, things really get going. The chorus comes in strong and grand, with gigantic guitar chords, and it's all filled out with an array of piano lines, trumpets, bells and another serving of that gloriously warm synth. But it never becomes too much; everything interplays so well, and I'd go as far to say that it matches some of Meatloaf's slower numbers as far as majestic symphonic rock goes. It's here when you first notice how brilliantly produced this album was; it's a very rich and full sound and this was only enhanced when it was later remastered. Next up is lead single 'Big Wedge', a big cheesy pop rock number, very upbeat and direct to the point, while 'State of Mind' also delights, with a deliciously funky bass riff. Just when you thought things couldn't get better, along comes 'The Company', with subtle folk rock influences and a chorus that you'll be humming to yourself for days. The traditional sounding folk interlude in the middle is truly inspired, and it leads on to a lush melodic string solo.
Fish also has a softer side, aptly demonstrated in 'A Gentleman's Excuse Me' with some dainty piano work and soft crooning from the rugged Scotsman. Derek W. Dick appears very rough around the edges, with the build of a lumberjack, so it's certainly a shock to hear such a man singing about flowers and fairytales. However it's the diversity like this that really makes this album the special listen it is. Also worth a mention is what I'd consider the polar opposite of 'A Gentleman's Excuse Me', 'The View From A Hill', and with future Iron Maiden guitarist, Janick Gers, at the helm I'd expect nothing less. While some of the other tracks focus on creating a melodic backdrop for Fish to demonstrate his powerful vocal chops, this is very much a guitar driven song, with a slow acoustic buildup to a heavy hitting chorus and a rocking guitar solo in the middle. The album closes with 'Cliche', a cruisy, bluesy laid back jam. It's just the brilliant songwriting and fantastic vocal performance from Fish that make this album. Mostly when bands split and each member goes off to start a solo career, things fall a little flat, and lack in creative energy. However Fish has selected a stellar ensemble for his debut solo effort. And the result" Masterpiece.
Virgil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors
A Gentleman's Excuse Me