Fish out of Water
4.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
The only solo recording released to date by Yes bassist Chris Squire, 1975’s “Fish Out of Water” has been given the classic album treatment. The updated reissue now contains a DVD including promotional videos, an interview with the artist about the making of the album, and a commentary recorded in 2006 by Squire analyzing the songs. And yes, the remix gives “Fish Out of Water” a whale of a sound.
Following 1974’s aggressively dark “Relayer” album and tour, the five members of Yes took a long-deserved break to pursue solo projects. Keyboardist Patrick Moraz, the newest member, released “I,” a mostly instrumental concept album; guitarist Steve Howe drafted Moraz, drummer Alan White and former Yes drummer Bill Bruford to record “Beginnings;” and singer Jon Anderson waxed “Olias of Sunhillow,” a dippy sci-fi concept album that followed an alien civilization’s journey to a new world. Alan White seemed to have the most daunting challenge as a solo act because he wasn’t known as a composer. But with a little help from his friends, including vocalists Anderson, Alan Marshall, and Peter Kirtley, White patched together “Ramshackled,” a satisfying effort that touched upon every possible musical influence. Embracing his creative freedom, “Fish” (Squire’s nickname) commandeered Bruford, Moraz and boyhood friend Andrew Pryce Jackman, (who like Squire was a member of early prog rockers The Syn) for his solo album. The lanky bassist recorded five intricate orchestra- based songs hailed by critics as being the closest to the Yes sound. Fans agreed, pushing sales of “Fish Out of Water” to a respectable half million copies.
“Hold Out Your Hand” opens with dramatic fanfare as Barry Rose lays down the Catholic mass meets Phantom of the Opera chords on the St. Paul’s Cathedral church organ. Squire breaks in with Jack Bruce-like authority, thumping against the rushes of the orchestra. He uses his bass as a lead instrument throughout the album (a la Bruce, Andy Fraser and Rick Grech), and “Hold Out Your Hand” has many of the ingredients that made Yes’ music so distinctive – the robotic, rhythmic drums, keyboards that simultaneously conjure up prog and Renaissance music, and futuristic, other-worldly vocals. Although Squire sang counterpoint or back up to Jon Anderson, he wouldn’t get a lead vocal until “Can You Imagine” from 2001’s “Magnification” album, which ironically paired Yes with a concert orchestra. (It took a few decades for the other Yes men to catch on.) Squire’s voice is easier to take than Anderson’s, deeper, but with a choppy cat-like quality.
“Hold Out Your Hand” drifts non-stop into the ballad “With You By My Side,” which features a romantic nymph-like flute solo and elegant broad strokes from the strings. The eleven minute “Silently Falling” uses the string section to further set a dramatic tone. Squire’s vibrating bass remains the pace setter with Jimmy Hastings’ genteel flute whispering in and out of the arrangement. When the orchestra pulls back, Moraz takes over with a feverish organ solo. Moraz goes full tilt, racing up and down the keyboard like an exterminator chasing a field mouse. Moraz, Squire and Bruford feed off of each other’s talents, gang-tackling a frenzied jam mid-way through the song without stumbling over one another. Jackman pulls the swirling arrangement back to earth, establishing the song’s melodic piano foundation. The strings follow Squire’s doleful voice on a downward spiral as he extols “Silently falling…falling down...down…down….”
Saxophonist Mel Collins (whose blown for the likes of Bad Company, The Alan Parsons Project, King Crimson, Eric Clapton, and Clannad, and provided the high-stepping sax on the Stones’ “Miss You”) adds his sweet tones to “Luck Seven,” which features more thick leads from Squire’s bass and effective, mechanical thwacking in 7/8 time from Bruford. Collins bleats happily, and the strings add icy tension, facing off against Squire’s blurting bass.
The nearly fifteen minute epic “Safe (Canon Sound)” has Squire multi-tracking his vocals, climbing the scale as oboes, violas, flutes and horns each take a few bars to solo. Squire plays an extended solo on his Rickenbacker against the dramatic thrashing of the orchestra. It’s an equally stunning effect when the two soloing factions, Squire’s ringing bass and the thunderstorm of an orchestra meet and mesh into one. The song ends quietly with Squire playing a harmonic harp-like solo.
The only criticism that can be made is a matter of personal taste -- mine. Squire admits in his interview that he asked Bruford to come aboard because he was familiar with his jazzy style and felt he could provide the beat to the songs while Bruford added polyrhythmic asides (usually the drummer provides the beat). Bruford, who sounded like he was playing garbage cans on Yes’ “Fragile” album, has better equipment for “Fish.” Here he sounds as if he’s been upgraded to playing cardboard boxes. Ironically, prior to Bruford’s departure from Yes, Squire and Bruford argued to the point of drawing blood. On “Fish” they communicate like identical twins. But if Bruford has the heart of a champion, a Joe Frazier, then Alan White is Muhammad Ali, smooth, skillful and powerful when he needs to be. White undoubtedly would have given the music on “Fish” a more of a knockout punch.
The extras for “Fish Out of Water” include a version of “Lucky Seven” edited for release in the U.S., and a pair of promo films for the first two songs on the album, “Hold Out Your Hand,” and “With You By My Side.” Actually it’s one film, since the two songs are sequenced together. A youthful, caftan-clad Squire is center stage with Patrick Moraz at the synthesizer, Bill Bruford lightly swiping at his kit and Andrew Pryce Jackman dressed for a formal concert in a tux and top hat, is at the piano. The London Symphony Orchestra stretches out in the shadows behind the band, a questionable expense since Squire is lip synching and everyone else is faking it as well, although the overall effect is impressive to watch. You’d never know its mime time except that Bruford misses a few cues now and then. Squire’s face could stand a little more lighting, but overall the film has held up well.
Thirty-one years down the road, Jon Kirkman conducts an interview with Squire about the making of the album. Among the many subjects they discuss are Squires’ distinct sound (“twangy and trembly”), other bassists who influenced him (Paul McCartney, John Entwhistle and especially Jack Bruce. Squire admits, “I went for a Jack Bruce sound on the first two tracks”). They also talk about the important contributions by the late Andrew Pryce Jackman, who drew up the charts for the orchestra and according to Squire, was “A great organizer.” Squire’s memory is sharp as he recalls specific points about each track; such as Patrick Moraz being the first to play bass on a synthesizer on “Silently Falling,” and how the grandiose ending of “Safe” reminded him of “A Day In the Life.” Feeling guilty about “The big finish,” Squire tacked on the beguiling sonic ending by experimenting with the pick ups on his bass. Squire is much heavier than you’ve probably ever seen him before, grayer, slightly bearded, and keeps smacking his lips as if he’s working in a new set of dentures. But he’s also pithy, informative and good natured about the success of “Fish Out Of Water,” saying, “A lot of happy accidents happened on this album.”
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Give him “Fish Out Of Water and you’ll entertain him for a lifetime.