Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Seasons End (Side A)!

Seasons End - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! It’s a new day, a new album, and hark – a new singer! Some bloke without even the common decency to name himself after an animal has taken over from Mr Fishusss. I have no idea what this change inherently did to the band – does Steve Hogarth have a different type of voice, or vocal style, or lyrical style which forces the band to pivot? Is he a Fish clone? Do the band stutter in their creativity and take an album or two to get into the swing or things? I guess we’re about to find out.

I don’t enjoy bringing comparisons into the discussion while talking about unrelated acts, but it’s a simple way to baseline my thoughts alongside what was going on in the band. At some point the Fish ran away with the spoon, and at some point Steve Hogarth joined. Lets briefly mention three of my standard comparisons. Pink Floyd famously split from Roger Waters, deep into their career, and the remaining Pink Floyd releases are more ‘floaty’ than before. Iron Maiden had two albums with their original singer – a singer whose voice was more suited to their in your face punk approach. Once Brucey joined, his theatricality seemed to usher in a new era of more expansive, creative music, and when he left in the 90s, the new fella’s deeper vocal gave us a pile of crap. Nightwish’s originally singer was a classically trained opera singer and music fit the grandiose nature of Opera. When Tarja left, she was replaced by a more conventional rock vocalist – the music shifted moderately while remaining epic. Once Annette moved on and Floor joined there was another miniscule shift. Long story short – changing your singer will probably amount to a change in the sound of your music, it may not be monumental, it may not necessitate a shift in direction. It’s stunning revelations such as this which keep you flocking back to my blog in your ones and twos.

Before we get into the songs, we have to check out the album cover. Bit of a mess, right? A sepia or black and white stormy sea, what I assume is a planetary orbit zooming on either side of four central shapes. Top left, a silhouette of a feather floating in a dessert, top right a blue sky with a small flourish of colour (is that meant to be a jester’s hat? I’m looking at a small picture). Bottom right, a familiar painting of a jester sinking into a puddle (telling), and bottom left a lizard flicking its tongue while a fire burns brightly behind. Logo. Album title. I’m sure it all means something, something about saying goodbye to Fish, but it doesn’t exactly catch my interest – too much going on, and none of it amounts to anything.

I enter the album with some trepidation – new singer and crappy album cover – but as the opening track kicked in, I felt that the band sounded confident. Any time a new singer joins a band you love… it’s that opening vocal that you’re waiting for. That first listen can be unfair and difficult – you can instantly shut the thing off and suddenly hate the band if it’s not a positive experience. Maybe you need to give it a few listens, maybe you’re sold immediately. It’s a weird human phenomenon amplified by a million other moments of your life. Whether it’s the first single being released or holding on until the opening track on the new album… I empathize with the nerves. Having only been listening to Marillion for a few months, I’m merely curious to hear how this goes. 

They make you wait, too. It’s not exactly like when (another of my favourite bands) The Gathering changed their vocalist and then opened their new album with an instrumental, but there is a long drawn out intro with at least fifteen seconds of silence at the start. The music comes in waves – something I only picked up on after I looked at the album cover – but it’s a calmer sea. At about one minute the bass comes in, then the drums tip a tap shortly afterward, a measured intro which keeps me on the edge of my seat, unsure of which direction the song will take. Once the lead riff finally drops, it’s pure Marillion. I’ve heard enough of Rothery’s guitar now that it’s more or less recognisable and by this point he has nailed the Marillion sound. What’s clear, even if nothing else is, is that the Production is clear, the sound full, and the playing confident. We settle into a groove and Mr Hogarth makes his first appearance.

I moved back and forth on my thoughts on his vocals on my first few listens. These listens were more or less focused on him rather than the song as I tried to establish some sort of set opinion. Initially, I admit to hunting for comparisons – a cross between one of the 80s Rock balladeers such as Richard Marx, with the higher tone of Steve Perry, but with nothing distinctive to set him apart. I couldn’t shake the feeling that he felt like a composite of other singers, but of course I was comparing him against Fish, who was very much his own thing (even if I did look to compare Fish with others). Even after listening to the album multiple times I haven’t fully latched on to H – he’s clearly a good singer, I love the smooth highs he hits in this song, and I get the impression that his vocals probably won’t jar as much with me as Fish did on occasion. Still, a little generic. I’m fine with this for now and I’ll continue to gauge in future albums. 

Returning to the song beyond the vocals – it’s a jubilant opening track. I don’t know if the intention was to show people, maybe specific people, that ‘they could still do it’, but it’s a confident statement. Melodic, dynamic, and with a euphoric chorus. One thing did gnaw away at me with continued listens, stay with me, with regards to the chorus melody. On the vocal ‘some go up’ he sings a G-A-G note series (and follows up with a G-B-A-G), but I kept expecting G-A-F#. This probably won’t mean much to anyone but the more I fixated on this the more I kept noticing it and questioning why the drop to F# wasn’t made. 

The guitars seem to use similar pedals and effects as on previous albums and the instrumentation is similarly layered, and the band remain willing to allow songs to flow in different directions. It’s around the five minute mark that the song seemingly abandon the central verse chorus structure and move into a softer mood piece. This is a brief two minute detour before we return to the chorus and fade out. It’s a solid opening track which admittedly took me a few listens to get fully on board with. 

Lyrically, I don’t know if I’ll spend as much time, or need to spend as much time talking about as I did with Fish. The song takes the appearance of a story with a simple rhythmic meter. There isn’t much room for extended description given the roughly eight syllables per line, unless you extend the idea over multiple lines. Extension doesn’t seem to be of much interest, at least in this song. I don’t know if this is another Concept album but this song didn’t strike me as meaning an awful lot on its own. Possibly the two dates mentioned are the key to unlocking what it’s all about – if indeed it is about anything. On the surface it’s the story of some bloke, a puppet king, possibly a magician, possibly someone dangerous. This story doesn’t really go anywhere and instead becomes some vague lyric about balance, fate, and circumstance. Mostly it feels like a bunch of words there for the sake of meeting the commitment of having vocals.

Easter is a sweet little song with a sweet little ear worm melody, almost folk style in its approach. I don’t recall another Marillion song which sounds like this – it’s 100% a ballad, musically, while any previous Marillion ballads spun off in enough different directions for them to be considered something else or something more. There’s a great guitar solo – every time it looks like it’s going to end, it shifts and continues on for a few more bars and in the background the surrounding music flows from the gentle sway of the main melody to darker more ominous places and finally onto the ‘do do do’ section. My first note on this song went along the lines of ‘Easter? Sounds more like Christmas – like Mistletoe & Wine’. There are moments in the chorus and ending which have a similar sway to Sir Cliff’s seminal festive hymn but this initial comparison quickly faded from my mind with further listens. With a name like Easter, with the folk style, and with the mention of Ireland, I’m guessing it’s another Irish influence song or that the lyric will somehow discuss Ireland’s history or current state. When you hear ‘Easter’ and Ireland in the same sentence, you automatically think of the Easter Rising if you’re from here. Or if you’re me, you just think about Chocolate. I’m mostly happy the band didn’t go down the hackneyed route of ‘having a fiddle’ and adding Irish instruments to make the thing sound more ethnic. Mostly because I can’t stand Irish music.

Lyrically, it isn’t hackneyed either, but it does seem to be about Ireland and uses enough familiar terms that it’s simple to grasp these references. I’m always curious when people see Ireland as this green place – to me it’s a very grey place, and especially once Autumn and Winter hit and much of the green becomes sullen brown and even more depressing. Any time I’ve been away for extended periods, the green does strike me when I come back. I must be accustomed to it by now. I don’t know who Mary Dunoon or her boy are, or if they are anyone at all, but it’s an Irish name and this reference leads into mentions of freedom, questions, borders, division, wires and guns. It’s all well meaning and if you’re going to write a song about Ireland, as mentioned in a previous post, it’s probably best to not pick sides. From a creative point of view – yeah, it’s fine, nothing leaps off the page as a stunning or particularly engaging turn of phrase, but the words server their purpose.

The Uninvited Guest is the band at their most conventional. They sound like an American rock band. I’ve heard so many songs with similar melodies and rhythms – true or not they always make me think of solo artists branching out from a successful band, like there’s just enough of familiarity from what the person did in their previous band, enough of the band and enough of their own voice, but it clearly shows what is lacking and missing when the two are apart. What’s interesting is that this isn’t the solo – this is the band. This is more what I would have expected Fish to come up with, except with Fish being Fish I wouldn’t expect any of his solo stuff to sound as pleasantly commercial and generic as this does. No, I’m still not going to listen to Fish’s solo albums.

It’s not a bad song, but it is one of the most forgettable for me. This could be anyone – it could be a song by any of the solo artists I’m listening to as part of my Iron Maiden Members non-Iron Maiden listen through. Too plain, even with the ‘cuckoooo’, and very far from anything the band has done till this point. Like they’re aping a stadium rock band but feel very uncomfortable doing it, or like they’ve been pressured into writing a hit that the hair metal fans will enjoy. 

At least the lyrics are somewhat disconcerting. I don’t think there was any intention behind the song sounding like a serious of sexual threats, but there’s something unsavoury in the undercurrent. Beyond that, it seems to be about… demonic possession? Inviting an evil presence into your home? 13 is a spooky number… Banquo was a ghost… no idea what a fifteen stone first footer is, but I got an image of a giant foot flopping about on its own. Then there’s a bit about cheating, a bit about moral conscience personified, a bit about disease… does it eventually turn into something about AIDS or sexual disease as a ‘ha ha, you probably shouldn’t have cheated’? Who knows. 

Seasons End. The title track. The centrepiece. Until I reached this song, during my first listen of the album, I was steering towards the opinion that the album, if not the band, had lost the thing which had made them special. With Fish the driving force behind the lyrics and seemingly other creative decisions, the three songs so far were trending towards the more derivative side of Prog and into conventional rock. The band no longer felt like this enticing oddity, the naughty loveable dunce in the corner of Prog’s classroom. The first three songs made the band look like they were sitting somewhere near the back of the class – not at the front getting all of the attention, not in the middle following the trail everyone else had blazed, but a little lost and uncertain of things, squinting to follow along with the Prog 101 notes on the overhead projector. Not to belabour the metaphor, but they were starting to sound like just another band, another person in class with nothing particularly interesting to say. The moment the title track came on, I had to re-evaluate my opinions.  

Some songs have that ability to instantly grab you at first listen; maybe you’re doing something innocuous like waiting in line at the supermarket, flicking through TV channels before bed, or lying in a half-sleeping state while the radio dribbles goodnight kisses through the headphones. You catch a snippet of a melody or a voice and you’re snapped back to the moment with everything else fading out and it’s just you and the song. It’s happened to me many times over the years. This is as close an example as Marillion has come so far. I was zoning in and out of the previous tracks and not fully engaged, but that A minor opening guitar using a similar delayed effect tone as was  used on the previous album caught hold of me. I think I listened to the song five times in a row before moving on to the next track, and played it another few times before staring the album over. Long story short, I like it. It was the key to unlocking this album.

Given that I’ve already written two paragraphs without actually saying anything, I don’t want to add much more. It’s a good vocal performance – the highs can be a little scratchy and close to breaking point (something I usually love in my singers) but it’s the funeral synth, the lovely melodies which feel at once like a freezing night but also being huddled around a fire looking into the darkness of such a night, and the simplicity of the chords and structure. It’s exactly the sort of song I would have loved on the long dark night drives home when I was young, or sitting near the fireplace with my headphones on in my own little world while the rest of the family were watching TV. Wanky I know, but there’s no sense in lying about your feelings. I could happily cut the song before it enters its final few minutes – those minutes extend the mood of the song and take it in a more experimental direction, but I’m not sure they really add anything not already covered in the first five minutes. I’m struggling to think of another Marillion song I’ve enjoyed or listened to more till this point.

On the lyrics, I think you could easily just read this as a Winter time song if not a full blown Christmas one. I suspect there is more to it – the sense of things coming to an end and rather than a Season being part of a cycle it seems more like a punctuated final stop – this is the final season. It’s a bit of a stretch to read this as some anti nuclear war song, though I couldn’t always shake that sentiment while I listened. It more obviously feels like a warning about environmental mistakes, pollution punching holes in the ozone, and making sure we are leaving a liveable world behind for future generations, one similar to the one us and our ancestors grew up in. It’s a subject area I don’t remember them covering yet, but the music mimics the sombre mood of such a topic. 

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

Back to another episode of the podcast. At time of writing this exact sentence you are reading (which is being written a few days after the previous paragraph), I have listened to the End Of The Fish Era episode, but not the Introducing Steve Hogarth episode. Probably by the time I post this post I will have heard that one too, but I wanted to wrap this album up by focusing on the two Seasons End episodes first. So this album gets the dual episode treatment – must be plenty to say.

Are A sides always Greatest Hits? Paul begins by explaining H pushed that band into new territory, or beyond their comfort zone. Is making a Prog band more commercial and making more simple songs pushing out of a comfort zone? I suppose technically – they are comfortable with Prog, but you could argue that bands are Prog precisely because they’re comfortable with pop/simple music and want to expand into more difficult territory. Enough!

Poor Phil makes an appearance in the Podcast again – we all had a Phil, right? I had a Simon, who wasn’t quite a Phil, but I did used to go to his house specifically to get the chocolate biscuits I wasn’t allowed at home. Or sometimes his Grandmother, who I don’t believe was called Phil either. I didn’t pick up on the feather being a Magpie. Paul gives his thoughts on the album artwork, more from the perspective of them feeling like an unfair appropriation of Fish imagery. It sounds like Sanja’s opinion on the cover is similar to mine. Nobody likes brown.

Sanja likes the opener – already familiar with H she was comfortable to be back with his velvety voice. Incidentally, when I was in St Lucia I did have an exotic laxative. Unintentionally as our guide decided to climb a tree in the jungle to grab a mango or some such, slice it open with a knife produced from God knows where, and slip a segment into my mouth. I’m not sure his hands have ever been introduced to soap. Enough!

I did go out of my way to try to avoid comparisons with Fish in this and the next post, but some comparisons are inevitable, especially in this first non-Fish album. Paul says how unique H’s voice is – to be fair I’ve only heard a single album by him so far, but while I found him a strong and diverse singer, I did find myself thinking he sounded like a composite of any number of other singers. Again, you can’t help but look for these comparisons when experiencing something for the first time. We’ll see how I feel in the future. Apparently his lyrics ‘grow’ but here he is something of a guarded writer. 

I picked up on the band feeling rejuvenated, particularly in the first song, but it’s obvious throughout. This is, subjective statement coming, the truest manifestation of what Marillion is. Again, I’ll judge for myself once I catch up with other albums. Paul doesn’t need a laxative when Sanja is delivering great theories like what she thinks the first song is about. To be fair to Sanja, I didn’t pick up much from it. Apparently the dates refer to Tiananmen Square. Okay, still the words didn’t give me much. Paul doesn’t particularly enjoy the lyrics either, so we’re all on the same page. I don’t know who John Whatshisface is either? Is he some other bloke who joined the band?

On to Easter, which was not necessarily written for Marillion. Yeah, they do sound like a completely different band but there’s enough o the band there to stop it feeling like some out of place solo track. Ah right. Yes, us English Lit graduates pronounce it ‘Yates’ and I’m aware of that poem – so if Yeats was a favourite poet and it’s named in honour of him – fair enough. The lyric again wasn’t specific and in general just seemed to cover some stuff about Ireland. Paul likes it, thinks it’s a little overdone or overplayed, though recognises it as a Marillion classic. We all have songs like that. I haven’t watched Outlander yet – too many kilts. Paul says it’s simply a love letter to the Irish. 

Paul doesn’t like Uninvited Guest. I called it forgettable, Paul calls it boring. Yeah, it’s just meh. Even with the ‘cuckooo’. Yes, it’s a bouncier track in the context of the album. Would I skip this? Well, I think the album only has two songs I’d have on a playlist. Actually, as you’ll see in my next post, I have heard that Bell In The Sea song and pretty much make the exact same statement as Paul. Is the song about AIDS? One nil to me. I absolutely got the humour from it, it’s very silly. Yeah, I can understand the ‘trying to be Fish’ with the lyrics. So that’s what the first footer refers to, and who. Nice. It’s funny, and juvenile, but lets all try to get along.

Seasons End, I hope the guys like this one as much as I do. Or more. Yes, I picked up on that apostrophe after writing my bit about the song. It was a grower for Sanja, while it was an instant win for me. It never really needed to grow on me because it was there from the start. So the last few minutes was a bit of a loose faff – still could do without it. It’s a bittersweet backstory for the song. The whole thing is lovely. Paul took time to warm to the song too. I can’t imagine the outro being all that exiting live, but Paul says it is, so there you go. 

That’s about it for today, folks! Let us know your thoughts on this one in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Shut Down Vol 2 – The Beach Boys!

ShutDownVol2Cover.jpg

Greetings, Glancers! At the time of writing this, the Northern Ireland Covid Shutdown Summer 2020 Special is drawing to a thunderously dull close. It’s currently pissing down outside, and the prevailing colour all around is GREY. What better way to chase away the grey blues than with a dose of sun, sand, and summer, courtesy of The Beach Boys? I know I haven’t been a huge fan of the albums I’ve listened to so far, but I still love most of the singles that I’m aware of, and maybe this record will include a few golden oldies to bring back the warmth to my bones. I realise this will probably make no sense when I get around to publishing, but in truth, it’s always kind of grey, dull, and wet here. What do we have here?

Fun, Fun, Fun’ is exactly what I’m talking about. The Chuck Berry intro quickly morphs into a song which just reminds me of the Popeye & Sons show I used to watch. Nostalgic, melodic, light-hearted, sunny, and fun – exactly what I think of when I think of The Beach Boys.

Don’t Worry Baby’ opens like a summery Motown song. I don’t recall hearing this. But I instantly like it – it again has that quintessential Beach Boys tone and feel. Great chorus harmonies, lovely all around. The chorus sounds like it was ripped off by – was it McFly – It’s All About You song.

In The Parking Lot‘ follows the harmonic, summery style where the previous song left off. Then it takes off at a charge for a whipping verse. There’s another 50s Rock influenced guitar break in the middle, then it switches back to the slower pace to close.

Cassius Love vs Sonny Wilson‘ is a mess. I’m not sure why this is on the album. I’m sure hardcore fans love this, but it’s pretty cringy for everyone else. It’s like a compilation TV episode, except featuring snippets of all their big hits. This would be a much more fitting B-Side or novelty extra, but absolutely has no place in the middle of an album.

The Warmth Of The Sun‘ is a slower ballad, but retains the harmonic style of the opening tracks. The transitional notes between words in the vocals, sometimes they don’t land and feel whiney. Musically, there’s nothing adventurous here and feels like the band is on auto-pilot. Still, it’s very nice and inoffensive, but you’re not going to remember it, and it’s the first example on the album of things feeling samey.

This Car Of Mine‘ means they’re back to singing about cars again. Sure, there are mentions of cars in earlier songs on this album, but this is more overt. It’s a basic 4 bar rocker, mid paced, nice harmonies. Nothing special in the melodies, the lyrics are atrocious, but they sound earnest.

Why Do Fools Fall In Love‘ is a cover, obviously. I love the original – it’s one of those classic golden melodies. This offers some assorted varying percussion and a range of harmonies so that the song is different enough from other versions you’ve heard. It’s not as good as Frankie or Diana’s versions, but it’s decent.

Pom Pom Play Girl‘ has a few temp changes and pauses to try to change things up a little. There’s a loud handclap accompaniment to the guitar solo, the lyrics are silly – at this point we can expect the lyrics to be, not the most intelligent, but they’re apt for every juvenile subject they cover. It’s another fine, but forgettable song.

Keep An Eye On Summer’ starts with a slightly dreary choral section, it’s definitely reminiscent of decades earlier than the 60s. Unusually, it feels more like a Christmas song than anything Summery. The guitars take a different faster strummed approach. It’s too sleepy for my tastes and lacks a killer hook, plus the lead high pitched vocals line should have been re-recorded as it’s not the cleanest and not 100% on pitch, especially when the key changes at the end.

Shut Down Part 2‘ is the title track, and surprisingly not part of a prog album. If there was a Part 1, I’ve already forgotten what it sounded like. It has a silly countdown, a huge horn which sounds like, well, a car horn, then it becomes an actual song. Or possibly an instrumental song. See, the thing about this and a lot of Beach Boys music is that they’re just picking their riff and then playing it in four bar scale repetitions. That was of course the hallmark of 50s rock, but once again it makes this band sound dated. Think of the other bands who were musically innovating in the 60s – I previously believed The Beach Boys were part of this group but based on everything I’ve heard so far there has been precious little innovation or invention. This is a simple, quick jam, nothing more.

Louie Louie‘ is a cover, – they’ve done two instrumentals and have run out of ideas so are dragging out a cover. To its credit, I guess, it’s quite different from the original. You can make out the lyrics at least. The vocals sound like they’re taking the piss, other than that it’s just an unexciting cover.

Denny’s Drums‘ closes the album, and it’s another pointless instrumental. To make it worse, it’s a drum solo. Fine if you’re into drums, not fine for anyone who isn’t John Bonham. I mean, as far as drum instrumentals go, it’s perfectly okay. But it’s not anything anyone will ever choose to listen to more than once.

We started out with a banger, and gradually go worse, eventually descending into the creative void of covers and instrumentals. At this point for me the band is very much a singles band. I’m still waiting to hear anything which makes them the supposed rivals of The Beatles in terms of creativity, and they’re barely more than a boy band who happen to be able to play their instruments and once or twice an album make a pretty tune. I get there will be people who love this – mainly people who bought it at the time and are already predisposed to love it, but I’m saddened that the band isn’t turning out to be the big musical revelation I hoped it was going to be.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Fun Fun Fun. Don’t Worry Baby.

Nightman Listens To – Litte Deuce Coupe – The Beach Boys!

LittleDeuceCover.jpg

Greetings, Glancers! Wow wow, ease on the breaks there and pull the vehicle over to the kerb. Wasn’t Little Deuce Coupe the name of a song on the last Beach Boys album we listened to? I know they were writing and recording constantly, but are they already resorting to releasing the same material across two albums just to bulk things out? Maybe they just liked the name so much they thought they would take the song and name and build an album around it – because if there’s one thing that sounds like a great idea to make an album about its…. a car? Why not a microwave, a wheel-barrow, or a whoopie-cushion? Those are things people use. Anyway, I don’t know anything about this album, so lets get started.

‘Little Deuce Coupe’ is the same song as on the previous album. I don’t think it has been re-recorded or anything. It’s fine, fun, breezy, but you get the impression that these boys would have been excruciatingly boring to hang around with all this car talk.

‘Ballad Of Ole Betsy’ is another car song. They’re really going all in with this shtick then. I suppose it’s supposed to be clever in making you think it’s about a girl. It’s slow, dreamy, has the easy listening harmonies and melodies. It’s just nice, doesn’t stand out in any way, but is so saccharine you can’t hate it too much.

‘Be True To Your School’ is an odd title for me. That’s one major difference I see between the USA and the UK. Or at least Northern Ireland. I don’t know if it’s really true but I’ve spoken to enough people and seen enough that it certainly seems like you guys are into school pride in a way that simply does not exist over here. All these rivalries and seeming allegiance to the place where teachers teach you stuff is completely bizarre to me. We have no such patriotism over here, beyond the rugby teams, but they have too much of an air of the entitled inbred rapist about them to be considered on an equal intellectual or emotional level. Back to the song… and holy hell the lyrics are shocking. The melody seems like a direct rip off of I Get Around in places, which is both a shame and a plus because it’s still a good melody. It’s all very nice and I’m sure it’ll bring a tear to a certain type of American listener whose rose-tinted glasses have taken over their soul, but for the rest of the sane world this is hammy, alien stuff.

‘Car Crazy Cutie’ begins with a ‘run run do run run’ harmony. It’s good. It feels like a 50s cut, with a very familiar structure and melodic approach to songs from ten years earlier. Lucky then that I like those songs. It isn’t sung particularly well, which is strange, and again the subject matter is nonsense, but that’s a given at this point.

‘Cherry Cherry Coupe’ begins with some bar stool guitars. They’ve run out of words for ‘car’ so they’ve returned to ‘coupe’. Featuring lyrics like ‘Door handles are off but you know I’ll never miss ’em. They open when I want with the cellunoid system’ is as much of warbling embarrassment to me as ‘I don’t want to see a ghost, It’s a sight that I fear most, I’d rather have a piece of toast’. Music’s okay though.

‘409’ is either a road to drive your car on or a car or an engine or some bollocks. Wasn’t this one on a previous album too? It sounds familiar. It’s catchy and short and yes, this was definitely on another album which proves this album is scarping the barrel.

‘Shut Down’ is familiar too. Now I’m paranoid that I have heard all this before. Then again, they have a very distinct sound till now that they don’t deviate from so either I have heard it already or it’s a carbon copy.

‘Spirit Of America’ is one I don’t think I’ve heard. It has the low and slow ‘ba da dums’ and the high and screechy ‘ah ha haaas’ that many of their songs do. I think I like these songs in shorter bursts – if I hear this as part of a larger playlist with other artists I don’t mind, but when there’s a batch of them they begin to grate. Still, this is nice, sounds again like a ballad from another era, and you know exactly what you’re getting.

‘Our Club’ starts with a horn riff which instantly reminds me of Bottom – the British sitcom. Which is a good thing, except that in the lyrics they’re still harping on about cars. They even mention deuce coupe again. Believe me, this is all as bizarre to me as someone making an album filled with songs about wash baskets.

‘No Go Showboat’ is more of the same – high pitch vocals, horns, jangling guitars, and they take things a few rungs down the ladder with some unacceptable hand clapping.

‘A Young Man Is Gone’ at least has a promising title. It starts out with slow harmonizing. Why do all these sounds sound Christmasy? It’s about a kid who died in a car crash. I’m not sure how I feel about the absence of music or the choice of melody. It’s sort of meh, but also interesting because it’s only vocals.

‘Custom Machine’ ends the album and it’s almost identical to any of the other car songs on the album. More descriptions of the car’s look and performance, and lots of wailing ‘waas’ and ‘oohs’. We do get a basic piano interlude. We end as we begin – nonsense which just scrapes into the fun category.

So… you know all the surf stuff got annoying after a while but at least they had the good sense and wit to make the associated feelings which come with surfing universal. At this point the band may as well be reciting a list of their favourite VIN numbers. The lyrics may as well be ‘Remember back in 1967 when For released a Mustang, it was good because my Volkswagon had gone bang bang. And look! Oldsmobile, Chevvy, Dodge, Buick, window wiper, fan belt, greasy nipples, nuts and bolts, Peugeot, Porshe, Subaru. Peugeot, Porshe, Subaru!’ I mean, write about what you love, but it is ridiculous nevertheless. The music hasn’t progressed in any meaningful way – the band at this point was comfortable in their sound and made no attempts to break away from that. It still works, but more often than not it’s repetitive and waning thin, made all the more noticeable by the lack of a killer single. Still worth listening to, but I get more out of it in shorter bursts. When do they start getting good – like Beatles good?

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Car Crazy Cutie.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Little Deuce Coupe!

Best Cinematography – 1979

Official Nominations: Apocalypse Now. 1941. All That Jazz. The Black Hole. Kramer Vs Kramer.

While there are notable films here, it’s not even close – the winner is Apocalypse Now. Even disregarding the conditions and hardships which went hand in hand with the shoot, the film stands alone as maybe the most stunning looking war film of its era. From the hyper-real napalm flames against the ghastly greens, to Kurtz and Willard’s shadow encased scenes at the other end, Vittorio Storaro vision perfectly encapsulates the madness and horror of that particular war. 1941 is an altogether different war movie, a forgotten ensemble comedy directed by Steven Spielberg. It’s memorable for certain action and effects sequences and feels like a worthy nomination for Fraker who continued his late 70s run of nominations. All That Jazz looks authentic, The Black Hole throws a lot of tricks into a fancy 2001 esque ending, while Kramer Versus Kramer probably doesn’t warrant a nomination alongside the more uniquely shot films here.

Official Winner: Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now Final Cut Release Date Set for August – /Film

My Nominations: Apocalypse Now. Alien. All That Jazz. Dracula. Mad Max. Nosferatu. Star Trek. The Warriors.

Two of the official picks make it over to my list where I add a few brazen oversights. Alien is one of the most visually stunning films of the year, and of the decade. Derek Vanlint didn’t work on many movies in his career, but his work on Alien has stood the test of time, offering a tasteful impression of true isolation and the terror which can creep from such. Gilbert Taylor’s work on Dracula serves to highlight the enticing and seductive nature of the character with brighter splashes of decadent colour stepping away from the more Gothic or bleak visuals of past adaptations.

As I’ve mentioned on other posts regarding Mad Max, the film holds a unique place in my mind as being this bizarre assault on the senses and an unnerving, crazed look at a potential future. David Eggby’s work is one of the central forces behind the atmosphere this film instils and exudes, with the film existing in this strange place between epic and low budget grime. Nosferatu does more than ape the original, with long-term Herzog collaborator Jorg Schmidt-Reinwein heightening the contrast between darkness and shadow and the misty, dying light. Star Trek repeats the trick Star Wars pulled a couple of years earlier, while The Warriors elevates a B movie action story to cult status thanks in part to Andrew Laszlo’s filming notable for the subway lighting and haunted street imagery which for years made me think that’s exactly what New York looked like.

My Winner: Apocalypse Now

Nightman Listens To The Best Albums Of 2020 (and blog meanderings)!

No photo description available.
Remember going and seeing live music with actual real life people?

Greetings, Glancers! It’s what nobody asked for – more moaning about music by me. Puhlease, pretty puhlease try to understand that I’m really only doing this for myself. I want to keep track of modern music – not just the artists I listen to myself, but what the majority of people and critics are listening to and loving. I could do that without writing about it, but I find that if I have a task to complete – such as writing a post – then I’ll give more dedication to it, something more than a cursory throwaway listen (I’m also going to try to give all of the other albums I’m listening to for my other series more than a single listen).

This post is just to alert all of you that it’s coming. I don’t know what sort of format this is going to take – do I look at some consensus site and listen to the top 50 albums there? Do I go around various publications and lists and listen to the top five on each, from NME to Metal Hammer to Q to Rolling Stone to the biggest sellers? I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to hear music I wasn’t previously aware of. I want a mix of genres. I’m not holding out much hope for finding a new favourite band or singer, that would be nice, but if I can find a couple of songs on each album to enjoy then I suppose I’ll be happy. Mostly, I don’t want to be the curmudgeonly old man out of touch with new music.

At the time of writing, I haven’t checked out any of the sites or publications or lists to have any idea of what was popular in 2020. I think there was a new Taylor Swift album which dropped out of the blue? I haven’t listened to anything by her, but I am at least aware she exists. I assume there will be a bunch of crappy next big thing Indie bands, plenty of in your face Rap peeps, and a lot of overrated solo crooners. On the Metal side, I don’t really know. I bought hardly any new albums last year that I have listened to a significant number of times… JDB’s new album, the new Lovebites album… that’s about it.

Elsewhere, I still have this niggling urge to start my own podcast. The thing holding me back, as with anything, is the effort involved. I wouldn’t want it just to be a random chat, though that would make up a significant part of each episode. There would be a focus, leaning towards something similar to what I do on the blog, such as a listenathon of a particular artist or chart but with the bonus of having the opinion of another 1-3 people. But I’d like to start each episode with general chit chat and catch up on what movies and shows we’ve been watching. The other problem is of course finding 1-3 other people. I’m old – I don’t have friends anymore!

I realise that I already have a load of other series on the go – some are close to the end, some are only beginning, and some will probably never be done. In other words, this new thing will always be a work in progress and by the time I get around to listening and posting it may very well be the end of 2021. But as it’s a work in progress I’ll just keep carrying it on from year to year, and hey, maybe rather than going track by track I’ll actually write the thing like a real reviewer! Between following Marillion, finishing up my Bowie, Bon Jovi, Madonna, Beatles Solo bits, Beach Boys, and Best Evers, and now throwing newbs into the mix, I’m hoping to enrich my musical oeuvre and maybe learn a thing or three along the way.

Let us know if you have any favourites of 2020 you think I should check out!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Clutching At Straws (Side B)!

Marillion - Clutching At Straws (1987, Vinyl) | Discogs

Look at this – no intro whatsoever! Straight into Side B, which opens with Incommunicado. Audible sigh. I hinted in my first post on this album that, as long as nothing went disastrously wrong in Side B that this was shaping up to be my favourite Marillion album so far. Did I jump the gun on that? This song… this song is pure Rock Opera. It’s pure Quadrophenia. There are melodic moments here, there are certain musical phrases, chord choices, and rhythmic choices which feel like they were copied and pasted from Quadrophenia. Make no mistake, that’s my favourite album by The Who but this is so similar to certain songs it’s almost like listening to that album’s title track. The famous Townsend three chord attack, the keyboard twiddling moments… I don’t know if this was intentional but it’s absolutely brazen and I can’t accept it was a coincidence. I’m not criticizing the band for doing this, rather giving my most immediate thoughts.

I’ve softened on the song a tad since my first listen – I went from being too busy laughing at the similarities, moved to to dismissing the song as being Marillion’s equivalent of Zep’s Carouselambra, to appreciating it for whatever the hell it is. It starts nicely enough – it’s not until the 50 second mark that it goes full Quadrophenia. The whole thing feels like a bit of silly throwaway fun. I can’t fully get on board with the vocals – it’s the most Fishy vocal yet; he’s doing the uppy downy thing on almost every line, and when he’s not he seems to be channelling Roger Daltry. If it had a longer running time I’m not sure I could have had many redeeming comments to make, but as it is I’ll accept it as a bouncy little throwaway pop song. It was the 80s man, everybody fucked up. It has its catchy moments, it has its good moments, but in the scope of the album so far it feels out of place.

The lyrics seem conflicted, or show the lead character as conflicted. He’s tongue in cheek joking about memory loss, which could explain things, but he’s uncertain of whether he wants fame or not. He doesn’t want to be the huge star, but equally doesn’t want to be a nobody. Actually… I misread the lyrics in the second verse – he DOES want the fame. I’m assuming Fish is poking fun at the fame game with some of the lines here – credit once again for fitting ‘rootin tootin’ into a song, and most of the lyrics are suitably comic and expressive. On the whole, it seems to describe someone who is so famous and successful to the point that they can entirely withdraw from the public eye yet still be spoken about while hiding their true selves. I don’t know – my original thoughts on the song were based on my misreading of the lyrics and I’m too lazy to reassess. 

Torch Song gets us back on track in terms of the dark tone of Side A. Much of that is created by the guitar tone itself, with the bass burrowing through the space in the background. It does feel like a mid album track – robust, well made, though in danger of being lost amidst the more notable songs. What is notable is the very Fishy vocal where most lines follow the uppy downy vocal approach, and there is a lot more repetition in the lyrics to the extent that this must have been an artistic choice… repetition highlighting the burnt out nature of the main character, potentially writer’s block, possibly the inability to get out of a funk or way of thinking. The song does a good job – the whole album does – at crafting atmosphere again. Maybe it’s the drinking sound effects and the spoken pieces, those certainly add to it, but I think it’s the drowsy, loose instrumentation (mingled with the guitar tone) which imbues the song with the bar floor atmosphere. The song feels wasted – strewn on the ground, struggling to wake, or even stoned. As I’ve said, I don’t like the uppy downy Fish approach, but here it serves the atmosphere as he sounds like a drunk swaying back and forth.

I don’t need to go into much detail with the lyrical content beyond saying that it’s neat that Fish has managed to fill a whole album with boozy metaphors and songs about being drunk, without those feeling stale or monotonous. 

Slainte Mhath (you too) takes us back into Quadrophenia territory – I can’t help but want to shout ‘Looooovveee, reign o’er meeeeee’ during the piano intro. Is there a touch of Queen in there too? The guitars crash in like a Queen anthem, though that’s most likely a case of me hearing things that aren’t there. It’s a groovy start to a song, little Edge flickers of guitars, single static bass roots, dynamic drums only blasting off on a loose whim. It’s a song that feels like it, to use an inappropriate sexual term, is edging you. It wants to peak, but doesn’t ever give it to you. It teases and any peak is momentary. Taking that to a more logical, less sexual place, maybe it’s commenting on the all to brief highs of the addict.

I don’t know how I feel about some of the vocal decisions – I assume he’s being theatrical but some of the wails don’t land true. I give him the benefit of the doubt and assume this was deliberate to accentuate the manic nature of the lead character but it’s more likely I’m being picky. Given the song’s name, I gather that it’s another drinking song. Lyrically, it attempts to get to the core, or a core, of the drunken creative. I get the sense of a character with enough creative spark still fizzling among the embers, and a sprinkle of the lounging Dandy of eras past. The lyrics move from bar talk to comparisons with soldiers and generals – I’m sure there’s more of a story here than a simple battle/battle scar comparison, but I don’t have enough context to eek that out. 

Is Sugar Mice a term related to booze? It sounds like a dodgy club in Essex. I’m taking it more literally and thinking of sweety mice. It nails the dark tone and atmosphere, but it sounds happier. Not as foreboding. The opening riff is all smiles and calm, and as the verse progresses the melodies unveil themselves as sweet and sunny. There’s little or no musical comparison, but tonally I got the same vibe from this as something like Screamadelica – waking up in or from a stoned haze. Or alternatively, drifting away from a life and not giving much of a fuck about it. It’s soothing; there is a slight synth (I’m guessing) backing which is made to sound like a swelling of strings (would have been great to have actual strings) and the eventual swell accompanies the euphoric guitar solo. It feels like this might be a bit of an anthem for fans – a good one for the live setting? I would have been happy if the song had ended or faded out after the solo (and after the great ‘know what I want know what I feel’ vocal) – the last verse felt a little tacked on. That’s  too negative, but personally they felt like an unnecessary come down. A minor gripe. 

At this point in the narrative, if there is one, before looking at the lyrics I would have guessed this was the wake up song, the realisation point. That may be the direction the lyrics are supposed to be taken – in which case it feels like a similar journey as what Misplaced Childhood conveyed. There is introspection, guilt, acceptance. It’s all very sad, even as the music sounds quite happy, so possibly this time the story diverges from Misplaced Childhood with the characters realising that it’s too late to change or save  himself? Metaphors are left aside for simple statements and truths – blame it on me, the toughest thing I ever did was talk to the kids on the phone, when it comes right down to it – but that’s the sort of matter of fact approach you would expect at this point in the story.

The Last Straw feels like a single. That was my first note upon hearing the opening bars, but turns out it wasn’t a single. It’s in a similar vein of proggy pop rock as other songs of the era – it even feels somewhat similar to Kayleigh. Sure it’s near six minutes and it does feature longer instrumental sections – not the most ideal choice for radio listening – but those could be shaved to make a four minute hit. You would definitely lose a lot by cutting those pieces as they serve both as natural bridges and transitions, and in building or easing tension and atmosphere. The first instrumental section (around the two minute mark) leading into a low bass driven march and set of sombre melodies is my favourite part of this one. That instrumental absolutely nails the shadowy tone I’m harping on about, as well as keeping in step with the rest of the album. Near the end there’s some female vocals – I’m not going to hazard a guess at who this is, but there’s that gruff pop rock quality of a Stevie Nicks or, laughing as I type it, Lulu. Naturally I’m reminded of The Great Gig In The Sky and Gimme Shelter. I’d be curious to know if it’s someone other than a random session vocalist. It’s a terrific ending song, though it does leave me wanting something else – a shorter song to act as a resolution point. I’m not sure what it is I want after this – certainly not the actual final track – but as good as song as The Last Straw Is, I was anticipating… something else to close the album.

The lyrics feature further call-backs to other moments in the album and it feels like a summary and conclusion of everything that has happened, with the bleak final admission that even after it all we’re still drowning, clutching at straws. Yet it feels defiant. Or celebratory. I’m not sure they’re going for a celebration of going down in flames as much as a ‘well, if we’re going to go down we may as well have fun doing it vibe’. I know enough about the history of the band now to draw obvious parallels between the lyrics and Fish’s stance. Like any good lyric, you can understand the writer’s intent but also choose to ignore that and apply your own meaning and circumstance. Actually, that’s probably not an example of good writing, but I wouldn’t say anything here is vague or misleading or contradictory. In this instance, as a listener who is not currently part of a successful band that I want to be rid of, I can instead read this as general frustration with some part of my life – a career, a friendship, something deeper. I don’t know at what point Fish did leave the group – if it was a few months or a year after the release of the album then the listeners at the time may have interpreted the lyrics differently, or applied the frustrations to the character of the piece instead of the bloke behind it. 

Happy Ending is someone laughing.

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

Before I get on to the podcast, I’ll lock in my own opinion. This is my favourite Marillion album so far. Much of that is down to the atmosphere – it’s a little dark, a little grimy, it takes the listener to depressing places, and while it doesn’t have the big, obvious, hooky singles, most of the songs have prominent vocal melodies and cultured riffs which work their magic on you post-listen. I took a break from listening to this album over the Christmas break, but little pieces would often float out of me as I was making breakfast for the kids, playing with the cat, or indeed pouring myself a rum. Coming back to the second half of the album to write this post, those pieces fell together and all of the nuances I’d missed began to bubble up. Now when I’m pouring the cat a rum while eating my kids for breakfast, I sing the songs with that little bit more detail and oomph. Even the earlier songs on the album which I wasn’t overly impressed by in my first listens I am more positive about.  

I strap myself in for the 90 minute-ish episode and anticipate what the guys are going to say about this one. We begin with a couple of B-Sides and a discussion on what Marillion fans call themselves. ‘Freaks’ isn’t the best name – it sounds to commonplace, like it could be assigned to any group. Marillionacs? Members Of The Shoal? I haven’t listened to these songs – maybe in the future. I have a feeling one of them came on after listening to an album track – remembering I’m listening on Youtube so any old crap automatically comes on after, including conspiracy theory adverts and people prompting me to purchase Grammarly. Which I willn’t. 

Marillion missed out on the Highlander soundtrack – there can only be one, after all – and had a variety of management mishaps which pissed them off. When you have a taste of success and want more, but see your managers (in retrospect) making the wrong calls, it’s going to have a bit of an impact. Plus touring, plus addiction, plus existing turbulence – these all fed into the product we’re discussing today. What is it, Biffo – there’s always a wasp in your stories/Digi bits. Man, I miss giving songs and albums the time of day. I mean, look at all of the ‘reviews’ of Bowie and other critical darlings – of course I’m not going to love them after a single listen. When I was young, spending my hard earned pennies on a new single or even a big boy (album) you could be damn sure I was going to drain every millisecond out of the thing. Two listens of a new album every day was probably a minimum. 

But onto the album – Paul talks about the album being a Concept album (is someone going to mention Rock Opera) with Fish hiding his problems behind a character. At least he called the dude ‘Torch’ – he could have called him, ah balls, Paul got to the joke first. I was going to type Fash, but that made me think of Gladiators. Awooga.

Incommunicado seems like a bizarre choice as first single. Or a single at all, but there you go. What maniac made that decision. I did have some bands that I would listen to with friends – yeah, sometimes on my first listen. Kyle and I would have listened to Nirvana and G’n’R songs for the first time together. Biffo’s not a fan of the album cover – saying it was rushed and miserable. I don’t hate it – it’s not good, but it does concisely alert you to what you’re getting in the album. What would the alternative been – a lion with a pint in each paw, soaring over the sun being ridden by a jester? Seems like young Biffo (and Fish) loved the album, at least back then. 

Sanja admits to struggling a little with the album – maybe because of the distance between listens, maybe because it is in the unfortunate position of coming after Misplaced Childhood. Admittedly, I did have several gaps in my listens of this. Certain songs I did instantly like, and those only grew. Even the few I wasn’t so keen on I have softer opinions on. What can I say – I’m instinctively drawn to darker material – not just dark in lyric and content, but in sound. Look at two of what have in my personal favourite albums – The Holy Bible and The Wall – you don’t get much darker than those, in both respects. 

Sanja and Paul both mention a lack of cohesion between the lyrics and music, which is interesting as this felt like one of the biggest and most obvious positives to me. The lyrics and the tone of the music – it’s all right in the pit for me, it’s all touching those dark places. I’m aware the band weren’t in sync behind the scenes, but none of that came across to me in the music. It feels more like an example of a band using that tension and forcing that into the music in a solid, creative, cohesive manner. It sounds like the album is a fan favourite in any case. 

Sanja picks up on the 80s TV feels of the intro to the first track _ think I pegged it as an 80s action movie, but apples and pears. Sanja is not much of a fan of the sound of this one – like most of the songs on the album it’s fairly obvious what it’s all about. I still find this song somewhat bland, but it’s still that solo which sticks out. Paul calls it a scene setter and an admission that Fish is not enjoying things anymore. Paul and Sanja both agree about Warm Wet Circles being a weird choice as single. Those ‘warm wet circles’ are any number of things – still sounds filthy regardless. Onto That Time Of That Night – Fish sees the song as him being scared of being trapped in a ‘normal world’ while Paul sees it more as a loss of innocence. As always, the truth is somewhere in between. Fannies.

Sanja again didn’t like the song at first – seeing it as a No Man’s Land – which it turns out is what it is exactly supposed to be. Fish apparently made the lyrics up on the fly, explaining the brevity and oddness. It’s another cry for help. They don’t spend much time on this one, straight into Just For The Record which Paul got a Police vibe from. That was actually one of my first notes before I changed my thoughts from Sting to Phil Collins. I have a feeling I’ve made a white reggae comparison before when talking about Marillion – but I’ve been writing so much about 80s music recently that I could be mixing up posts, songs, and artists. White Russian – anti-Semitism as I correctly picked up on. Again, not sure of the context of the time it was written in – we had out own problems over here during the 80s to worry about. Sanja saw it more as a continuation of the story and the metaphor but it seems more outward looking even if Fish did explain the lyric as a character piece. They’re not huge fans of the song, bar the outro, but appreciate the sentiment. Apparently it sounds a little like a song on the next album.

Onto Incommunicado and Paul instantly mentioning the The Who comparison. It’s not merely the vocals – the vocals are probably the least obvious thing about it for me – the whole thing could have been lifted off Quadrophenia the similarities are so amusingly glaring. They both seem to love it – it’s fun and playful and silly, but it feels to me like a bit of a shark jump. Sanja does not like Torch Song – maybe it’s because it’s downbeat and worn out. Again, that can be my sort of jam if it’s done right. Paul makes a totally, wholly, unfathomably unforgiveable faux pas by stating that Johnny Depp played Jack Kerouac in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, when of course he was playing a fictionalized version of Hunter S Thompson. I assume by the time I post this someone on Twitter will have picked him up on this. Both blokes were known for their writing and ‘intake’, of course. Paul says ‘the whistle’ is the whistle of the factory, which makes perfect sense. I don’t think I even considered this due to checking out on the lyrics as they mostly covered the same subject. It’s Sanja’s favourite on the album, while Paul’s is Sugar Mice. It’s interesting to hear the lyrical discussion given that I wasn’t really investing much effort into breaking those down for a change. 

Sanja doesn’t like The Last Straw. I’m surprised by this and by the fact that Paul doesn’t love it. Maybe it’s not a good Marillion song but it is a good rock song. I’d say it’s one of my favourite songs on the album but I don’t mind when any random band does a rock song, or when a band does anything outside of their meat and veg. I don’t think Incommunicado is anywhere near a standard rock song. The Last Straw is, it’s not prog, but it’s good, regardless. I take the point though, as a non-Marillion super fan it’s not an issue for me. I agree about this as an ending which varies from Misplaced Childhood – I originally expected the album to finish in a similar way, with the hero escaping – but it doesn’t. I stand by the sense of defiance though, dark and depressing as it may be.

Oh God, they’ve just shouted me out on the blog. Um… shucks, thanks for that… apologies for not keeping up with these as much as I had been! Next time we’re onto Marillion without Fish. There may be other episodes which talk about the in between antics without actually speaking about specific albums – I’ll listen to those but probably won’t write about them. 

Let us know as always what you guys think of Clutching At Straws!

Nightman Listens To – Surfer Girl – The Beach Boys!

SurferGirlCover.jpg

So we’ve had Surfin Safari, Surfin USA, and now we have Surfer Girl. Presumably the next one will be Surfin In Space. Yes, we’re hitting the sand again with another Sixties smash by The Beach Boys. I don’t have much else to say about this – I hope the band continues to improve and that I get to reap those benefits.

Surfer Girl: Ahh, listen to that full and dreamy production. Beautiful. The song is a little too sleepy for my tastes. It’s very sweet. Very pure. Melodies are nothing to write home about.

Catch A Wave: This really is a massive step forward in how full the sound is. A more bouncy song, obviously another ode to surfing so the lyrics are mostly nonsense. It is twee but it’s so much fun that it doesn’t matter. More interesting melodies too.

The Surfer Moon: Ouch, this one hurts when heard through headphones. The right side gets all the sound until the vocals come in on the left. Another dreamy one, but better lyrics this time and the string section slaps another tick in the plus column. The vocals… the sing in this yawning style, but it’s still good. The strings really do give it so much more depth.

South Bay Surfer: Ouch, those beats hurt too. Is that supposed to mimic a group of rowdies beating down your door? This is very silly and cheesy – terrible lyrics, cringeworthy vocals, shouty melodies, and to top it off, my favourite pet hate, hand claps. Dreadful stuff.

The Rocking Surfer: I’m honestly not sure what they’re trying to say with all of these instrumentals. It does nothing that the others haven’t already done – which wasn’t much in the first place. Generic surf rock sounds and tones. You’ve heard it before, even if you  haven’t.

Little Deuce Coupe: So they’ve moved on to singing about cars now. A fairly famous song, I’m not really why though. It’s the same melodies you’ve heard from the band before and the lyrics are car cliche stuff.

In My Room: Now, this is better. The dreamy stuff actually has some meaning, the melodies are backed up with some sort of emotion, and the harmonies build up a wall of sound which you can take to mean the narrator’s thoughts or the deafening timbre of the outside world. Or just take it as a nice song.

Hawaii: Well, I wouldn’t mind going to Hawaii. The vocals are high, even for me. So the beaches and warmth and waves of California aren’t enough. Good harmonies but the main melodies aren’t great and the vocals grate quickly.

Surfers Rule: More silly lyrics about nothing, but it’s silly fun. The main vocals are covered more by the harmonies this time, but we do get more damn handclaps. Lots of ‘woo ooh oohs’.

Our Car Club: A drum intro hints at something different. This does feel marginally different from everything else. Lyrics are a nonsense but it feels like another song they put more thought into, like ‘lets do something different with this one’. The uppy downy rhythm is still there, along with the ‘oohs’.

Your Summer Dream: This one starts differently too, a different tone and approach. Gentle. Lyrics are better. The dreamy atmosphere works. Sweet and simple.

Boogie Woogie: Credit for another different sound. Is it another instrumental though? It still follows the same pattern as the others, though it does feel more manic. Well played. Uppy down rhythm again. It almost feels like it gets faster as it goes along, but that’s some sort of aural illusion.

Another selection of happy, fun, bouncy pop songs. I get the feeling that they had one full album of great material if we take the best of these first three albums, and the rest ranges from your standard filler to forgettable. They’re not reinventing themselves yet, but there are hints of growth and experimentation. The production is light years ahead of the previous albums and the full sound is great. There isn’t one truly great song like we had on the last album, but many are consistently good.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Surfer Girl!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Surfer Moon. Catch A Wave. In My Room. Your Summer Dream.

Nightman Listens To – The Buddha Of Suburbia – David Bowie!

David bowie-the buddha of suburbia-uk.jpg

Greetings, Glancers! We’re deep into the 1990s portion of David Bowie’s discography, which means there’s only about 60 albums left to go. Last time out, I wasn’t enamoured with or by Black Tie White Noise, and I fear that I’ll be saying the same about this album. Why, you ask? Two things – first, that it’s a David Bowie album, and I think by now we’ve made peace with the fact that I’m never going to be the dude’s biggest fan even as I respect what he did; secondly, although I knew zero about this album going in, I did see that it’s an avant-garde soundtrack when I checked Wikipedia for the tracklist, which likely means a lot of warbling, instrumentals, and brass. I’m heading in low on this one, so maybe I’ll be surprised.

Buddha Of Suburbia‘ opens with a brief warble, then thankfully opens into a simple, streamlined ballad of sorts. Ethereal vocals, discernible melodies, recurring guitar hook. It’s hardly the most exciting song, though it does blast into a middle eight let down by a horn lead instead of any other instrument. The second middle eight blast wisely decides against horn, and there’s an amusing musical call back to a certain big Bowie hit. I don’t hate it – this one I could listen to again, though it does go overboard on some of the effects.

Sex And The Church‘ feels… dance? Robotic voice, warbling riff. Odd beats. Clashing and struggling for coherence. If this built to something, I’d likely enjoy it, but at the moment I’m wary it’s just going to repeat aimlessly. Chucking in horns is not what I meant when I hoped it was building to something. Basically half way now, and nothing doing. Usually I don’t mind stuff like this, but for whatever reason it sounds more authentic when it comes from a complete unknown. Of course Bowie had been pulling stunts like this his whole career so my argument is null, but that’s still how I feel. This could just as equally be 30 seconds long or 12 minutes long and not say anything less or more.

South Horizon‘ starts with jazz cymbals and beats – almost never a good thing. Then synth creeps around in the undergrowth, swiftly followed by the inevitable brass. Piano smatterings. This reminds me of Homeland. It also reminds me of one of the in built tunes an old Keyboard of mine once had – it has similarly dissonant, and you could play over the top of it to make something even more monstrous. Free jazz – anyone can do it, no matter if you can play an instrument or not. It does gain a computerized beat in the middle, like a Printer trying to tell me it’s run out of ink. It does mesh together more towards the end, but it still comes across as an empty jam session.

The Mysteries‘ is, gasp, an even longer instrumental. At over 7 minutes, things are looking bleak for Nightman’s sanity. Swells and swarms. It’s quite nice – just don’t fuck it up with horns and plastic beats. One minute down and it’s calming, reflective. I haven’t seen the show this soundtracked (nice) but I can imagine the sort of scene this music would go along with. It also reminds me of some of the music from Lost Highway. Of course, Bowie appears on it too. Which all begs the response – it’s fine when watching a movie or show with the music accompanying it, but for me an instrumental has to be A* tier or be something I have a deep emotional connection to for me to ever enjoy it on its own.

Bleed Like A Craze, Dad‘ opens with plinky plonky piano before threatening to shift into some weird 80s rock mess. Instead it decides upon some weird 80s rock jazz mess. It’s the same bass riff accompanied by Bowie singing ‘Shine shine shine’ over and over, with assorted other instruments dropping in and out. At the second minute, some new vocals and lyrics enter but the musical structure remains largely the same and despite the changes in instruments, it’s very repetitive.

Strangers When We Meet‘ goes this time for a dance rock mess, but quickly softens the rock for a more funk pop approach. This feels more like a straightforward traditional song. At this point I’ll take anything that isn’t misguided experimentation. It’s hardly the most exciting song in the world, and average in almost every way, but given the crap which surrounds it, it stands out so far.

Dead Against It‘ is immediately another which feels more like a song than a mess. It’s building neatly, lots of 90s digitised noise, quite jangly and repetitive but at less it sounds interesting. It somehow almost feels like ABBA. It’s a low B Tier song, raised to a more solid B given the D and E tier material elsewhere on the album. The lead musical hook and all the little jangled keys will stick in the memory, though the vocals are too over-produced and littered with reverb for my liking.

Untitled Number 1‘ is the sort of name every artist attributes to a piece of music at some point. This starts out in an experimental fashion, then sounds like some seedy late 70s Porno, then sounds like some sort of jungle-themed movie. Then it becomes more grounded with the same ethereal, reverb filled vocals and a laid back verse. This one feels more solid C and at the halfway point I’m not sure if it’s going anywhere in the second half that it hasn’t already been in the first. Some extra guitar parts, and of course a load of horns. It does go full Jungle in the final minute.

Ian Fish, UK Heir‘ is a name which doesn’t strike me with confidence. Of course, names can be unrelated to the sound of the piece. It looks like another instrumental. Though its opening couple of minutes are pleasingly spacey and ambient. Again, this is fine for a one off listen, or within the confines of the show, but it’s not something I’m ever going to play again.

Buddha Of Suburbia‘ is a slightly different version to the opening track. What’s the point? It’s still nice. It’s still not amazing.

I’ll be honest – I’m writing this conclusion months after I listened to the album. That’s just the sort of dedicated awesome blogger I am. I can’t remember anything about the album, but going by comments it doesn’t look like I cared much about any of it. Great! Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Buddha Of Suburbia. Strangers When We Meet. Dead Against It.

Nightman Listens To – David Bowie – Black Tie White Noise!

Black Tie White Noise | CD Album | Free shipping over £20 | HMV Store

Greetings, Glancers! Welcome back once more to the journey that just won’t die. Black Tie White Noise was done at the same time or after his side-gig with Tin Machine. I liked those two albums as much as, if not more than most of Bowie’s solo stuff, but this is him back on track with his own bad self. I know nothing about the album other than Wiki telling me it was a return to form after his 80s exploits – I saw that snippet as I checked out the tracklist. Well, lets get on with it.

The Wedding‘ begins, quite expectedly, with Church bells – one of the most hellish sounds known to man. We then get a gorgeous orchestral swell and some sort of percussive beats. It builds and finally becomes coherent thanks to a near Happy Mondays stomp. It’s all very neat but then it’s nearly ruined by screeching brass – possibly the most hellish sound known to man. I’m guessing at this point this is an instrumental. I don’t mind when they open albums so much. I would like this if it wasn’t for the brass, but it’s a sound I’ll never enjoy. Without that, it’s fine, but a good two minutes too long.

‘You’ve Been Around‘ comes in hard with the fat synth. Then a terribly dated drum sound drops. It’s not quite New Jack, it’s not quite Madchester, but it’s somewhere in between – which must roughly be the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Good melodies and vocals in the verse, but man those drums are terrible. Repeating jangled guitars, backing choirs, more trumpets – all Bowie standards. It’s fine but overlong once more. Cut out the trumpet, change the drums = better.

I Feel Free‘ explodes briefly before dropping into vocal tics and then into a funky verse with too low in the mix vocals. It’s fairly plain as far as Bowie goes, but at least no sign of brass yet. The jangled guitars and choirs are present and accounted for. Yet again, needlessly long.

Black Tie White Noise‘ doesn’t start out well – it has a dreadful 80s tone and more brass. It smooths somewhat but the sound is still very dated and the vocals are disjointed – not in a pleasing way. There’s another voice here, a guest singer of some sort. It’s another McCartney/Jackson type of thing. I get the sentiment behind the song, but it’s buried under so much crap it’s a wonder it was ever released. I’m not sure what sort of sound he was going for here, some sort of merging of genres but none of it works and the boing boing boing of noi-oi-oise is like discovering a spider under your eyelid.

Jump They Say‘ jumps from awful 80s sound into almost as awful 90s sound. It’s dated, but not as pronounced. It gets better in the verses and you can see it working as a club hit regardless of the production. Of course there’s more sabotage in the chorus with silly sax and trumpets. We even get a torturous sax solo. Still, it’s probably the best song on the album till now.

Nite Flights‘ continues the not quite Ministry Of Sound, not quite New Jack vibe. The production largely avoids causing me to wish the song was over. Some interesting sounds, better melodies, but it’s still not the sort of thing to make my playlist long term. This one overtakes the previous track as the best on the album.

Pallas Athena‘ begins much more promisingly, ominous throbbing and a repeated spoken refrain, along with some creepy, cool strings. The beat then drops – it had all been building like a dance track so it was obvious this was coming. It’s a little unfortunate that it doesn’t build upon this opening and instead takes the instrumental approach and throws more piercing sax at us. There’s the makings of a great song in here, it just didn’t go the direction I wanted it to for me to feel it’s anything more than ‘okay’. At least Bowie is continuing to move with the times and try new sounds.

Miracle Goodnight‘ is some funky new age jazz dance which makes me think of chickens. For no reason – those noise are just making me think of chickens. The backing music is too repetitive without adding enough variance, that upwards quartet of notes over and over becoming particularly grating after a minute. I do like the vocals and general melodic quality of the song – but as with almost every other song ever written – there’s no need for the spoken part.

Don’t Let Me Down And Down‘ comes straight in with an 80s vibe – not quite a power ballad but I imagine it’s the closest Bowie ever got to such things. It’s slow, dreamy, the instrumental choices are unusual for Bowie, the drums feel a little too booming consider the soothing nature of everything else. If you guessed there would be a horn solo you’d be right, but this one is more compelling, less screechy than others on the album. Towards the end, Bowie belts out a section of vocals nicely which heightens the obvious pleading quality of the lyrics. Definitely one of my favourites on the album.

Looking For Lester‘ is more 90s poppy jazz stuff – it has that cheap, cheery 90s beat which was up and down the charts at the time, usually accompanied by backing dancers in baggy clothing kicking their legs around. Is this completely instrumental? This sort of track does nothing for me. Interestingly the horns are only marginally annoying, but all the parts add up to a whole lot of nothing.

I Know It’s Going To Happen Someday‘ is a Morrissey cover, which sounds a little odd on the surface, but makes sense the more I think about it. It has an old-timey Gospel feel but I don’t like the echo on the vocals. It wasn’t my favourite song to begin with and this doesn’t do much to change my opinion – there is nothing wrong, I like the backing vocals and the guitar solo, but it’s never going to have an impact on me.

The Wedding Song‘ closes the album, bookending alongside the opener. It starts with some dirty bass before the 90s dance sounds and beats come in. Those really date it but I get the feeling that an updated version would clean up some of the irritants and dating attributes. Get rid of the screechy horns too. I like the vocals and the effects on them this time, and the melody is quite sweet.

Another Bowie album with more misses than hits for me. It’s a very obvious new direction for him to take, especially after his 80s stuff and Tin Machine work, and he does sound quite invigorated by it. Most of the sounds and tones he goes for he does so successfully, but those same sounds and tones are not of the type I generally enjoy and they remind me of a lot of early 90s throwaway pop which I didn’t like at the time. The consistent brass, which I know he’s never going to get away from, also is like wasps to my ears so I’m already starting on the wrong foot when it comes to hearing this record. It’s not one I feel any desire to listen to again, and only a couple of the songs were interesting enough to me to want to revisit.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Black Tie White Noise!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Nite Flights. Pallas Athena.

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Clutching At Straws (Side A)!

 

Marillion - Clutching At Straws (1987, Vinyl) | Discogs

Greetings, Glancers! Last time, I finally finished listening to what is frequently listed among the best Prog albums of all time, and today I’ll be discussing another one of those. Yes, in my brief look at Wikipedia to grab the track list, I saw that Clutching At Straws made it onto Rolling Stone’s Top 50 Prog albums of all time, as well as being a high charting album and yielding three singles – Incommunicado, Sugar Mice, and Warm Wet Circles – which sounds absolutely filthy. I thoroughly enjoyed Misplaced Childhood while coming to the realization that I’m not the biggest fan of certain facets of Fish’s vocals. Nothing that is ever going to get in the way of me liking the music, but enough for me to fully embrace it with love. I’m picky with vocals – and I fully admit to loving singers many people cannot abide. I have high hopes for this one.

I start as always with the album cover artwork. It’s a pile of blokes sitting at a bar – wide boys, if you will (but please don’t). There are five people propping up the bar, and in the shadows there are others huddled around a table. It’s not exactly a wretched hive of scum and villainy, but there’s a distinct and sinister whiff – something is off about it all. Maybe it’s the black and white quality, maybe it’s that Take On Me paper cut out quality, maybe it’s the fact that they’ve all turned to look at me like I’ve accidentally stumbled in upon some begotten mafia poker meet. Maybe it’s because the first bloke isn’t wearing any shoes and has the infamous jester cloth burning from his arm. Are these the members of the band, or are they famous figures I’m meant to know? The second guy looks like a cross between Capone, Ant McWhatshisface, and Edward G Robinson, and the third looks like the kid from Come And See. The fourth bloke… is he having a fiddle in his pockets and hoping no-one has noticed? Clint Eastwood is next to him, and is giving zero fucks as always. The first bloke has replaced his hair with the tail of a cyborg horse – his hands looks like Yul Brynner’s from Westworld, and he may be the least happy person I’ve ever seen propping up a saloon shoeless. 

Lets get the obvious out of the way; this looks like In Through The Out Door by Led Zep. While that artwork had the sepia look of a forlorn Sunday down the local, munching peanuts out of an ash tray while waiting for the footy to start or someone to talk at. This, well now that I think about it – is there some sense of progression from back to front? Starting with Clint Eastwood and working up to Simon Le Bon at the front, the fashion reminds me of different eras. I’m guessing that’s my mind running off its rails – I’m, wait for it, CLUTCHING AT STRAWS. Given that they’re in a bar, is that phrase another typical play on words? Clutching at straws calls up visions of desperation, but taken more or less literally you’re grabbing a straw to drink through. My wife often drinks sometimes drinks beer through a straw, if it’s in a bottle, but that’s just weird to me. Weird and wrong. 

Hotel Hobbies kicks us off and my first thought is warm. Warm production, warm sound, and a warm fuzzy feeling because of the nostalgic 80s atmosphere it generates. It’s another evocative, cinematic opening song – the synth, bass, chimes, and percussive rattles, the burning guitars – they all conspire to make me think of another grizzled 80s action movie. The image the music creates in my head doesn’t align at all with what the lyrics seem to be about – booze – but more on the lyrics later. The song has, probably, my favourite Marillion guitar solo yet. Somewhere in the middle, the song lifts off into a more turbulent place and leaves the chimes and plodding bass behind. It sounds angry, confused, and jubilant at once, but then the solo drops and it is a very tasty, spine-arching, lip-pouting Eddie Van Halen-esque beast of a thing. It isn’t the most technically difficult or blisteringly fast thing, and it isn’t overly long. It’s the placement of the thing, it’s the fact that it doesn’t make sense. I love guitar solos which don’t make sense.

To try to explain… if you go all the way back to the 50s advent of three minute rock songs – they would have a guitar or piano solo, and those solos by and large followed the rhythm, tempo, and tone of the bulk of the song. They would also largely recap or flow neatly alongside the main vocal melody – sometimes the guitar solo was just the vocal melody played instead of sung. Since then in the majority of mainstream guitar based music, the guitar solo has followed a similar pattern. With Metal, and with other genres which required or demanded more technical ability and complexity, the solo grew beyond these boundaries, but by and large if you’ve listened to enough songs you can work out at what point in a song the solo would drop, and you kind of knew what the next series of notes would be based on the rest of the song. Simple rules – you keep in tune, you keep in time, and even when adding layers of complexity these rules are still adhered to. This solo – it doesn’t do those things. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not the first solo to do this, by any means, but I do enjoy when this sort of thing happens. It’s more like a random jazz explosion, or a breakdown, or an improvised jam. Sometimes it happens when you’re out of time and ideas while recording, you send the disgruntled guitarist into the booth and tell them to play the first thing that comes into their mind. This solo doesn’t correlate with any other guitar part on the song, nor does it recall any central melody. It’s a big blast of noise, like a bronx cheer.

Without that solo, I’m not sure I would have remembered the song. That’s what stands out to me, outside of the spirited atmospheric intro. There isn’t a lot there to sink my teeth in to from a melodic or emotive standpoint. It’s not tuneless, autonomous, but it doesn’t have that killer hook or memorable moment. Musically, it feels like another Concept album intro which is best served hearing in the context of everything else, but lyrically Fish is on top wordplay form once more. It takes no effort from the listener to envisage those images of decay and washed out waste, and when taking the album title into consideration along with the multiple references to drugs and booze and excess – is this a Concept album about getting hammered? It’s already a topic covered on previous Marillion songs, albums, and artwork but it seems we’re going down that route again. Lyrically it feels as if this song takes place narratively somewhere in the middle of Misplaced Childhood. Our protagonist is in the bleary midst of another binge comedown, scribbling down words… almost for his own survival – is he writing lyrics and ideas for his next song, or is this a literal confession? Presumably the next songs will shed more light.

I’ll get this out of the way – Warm Wet Circles does not feel like a single. Not to me anyway. It certainly sounds smooth, affable, and there’s enough melody in its verses to prop itself up in your memory. But as we know, singles live and die on how infectious their chorus is, and Warm Wet Circles doesn’t feature an obvious chorus. There’s a recurring riff/solo where you expect the chorus to be, and this is followed up by and extending vocal outro or verse where Fish unleashes the lyrics with a louder, more fiery delivery. There have been plenty of singles which have lacked an obvious chorus, but in the grand scheme of things it’s the traditional format which tops the charts. I’m surprised this was selected as a single (without having heard what the rest of the album has to offer) and it’s in the coveted 2nd spot in the track list – Kayleigh’s spot from last time. Musically, it isn’t too dissimilar from Hotel Hobbies – there’s the same languid pace which accentuates that feeling of squander and lethargy, and the song is broadly in two parts with a slower intro and a more energetic outro, bridged by guitar antics. The lead in riff hints at a bit of an upbeat hit, but that never transpires. 

Forgetting the fact that this was a single, the song is… nice. It’s pleasant. It doesn’t overreach or overexcite. It’s calming and inoffensive, ponderous. I’m guessing the lyrics don’t mimic the musical tone, and from what I’ve picked up before Googling them is more booze references, more images of things gone askew, the visions of a late night train ride home. The second half of the song, the part with a moderately harsher edge is introduced by a neat transition of smacked piano keys and smooth vocals followed by that mini solo. Once the harder vocals begin, some of them land, some of them don’t. Having not heard the man live, I don’t know how suited he is to blasting these words out, but some of them land wonderfully, others not so much. The note wavers too much, and while that wavering is part of his style, the note does seem to waver out of tune somewhat. Maybe that hints at being drunk, but that sounds generous. Generous while I’m being critical – excellent. It’s only a couple of moments though, so I won’t hold it against him. Then again, another take could have smoother this out.

Turns out my suspicions were correct when I felt that Warm Wet Circles sounded filthier than a cavewoman’s fur bikini. There are several layers here, circles being cyclical, circles being the shape of certain body parts and movements, circles being groups and relationships. These are wrapped and warped together in a mish mash of puns. It’s all a little blunt and accusatory. I don’t want to use terms like chauvinist or shaming without knowing the context… but there’s something. I do like ‘where ceremonies pause at the jewellers shop display’ hinting that all the talk of love and marriage and future comes to an abrupt embarrassed halt once the price of reality sets in. The second verse extends the dichotomy between hopes and dreams on one side, which is characterized here by the woman, and the ‘having a laugh, say anything to get her into bed’ male approach. I’m faffing here, not for the first time in this post, but those are them there feelings I git. Actually, reading the first two verses makes the final verse feel less accusatory and shaming towards the woman. It feels more tragic, it feels like a hundred virginity’s crushed, it feels like loss without gain. 

I like the song, but I think I’ll forget about it fairly quickly. No main hook, no chorus, no wacky out of place guitar solo. Unless it’s something I’m going to listen to for days on end, it’s probably going to pass beneath my feet. Thankfully, the same can’t be said for That Time Of The Night. It returns to the darker atmospheric vibe of the first track and it scratches that itch I have for throbbing bass and synth shadow drenched music. As mentioned in previous posts, it’s one of those songs which reminds me of late night sleepy drives – the headlights only showing me a 10 metre circumference of existence outside the bubble of the car, the warm air numbing me through the vents, the music sending me on personal flights of fancy. 

It soon became one of my favourite Marillion songs so far – every facet of the song is pointed at crafting an atmosphere at tone from the bass notes like fingers tapping at a bar, to the reverb laden, scratchy guitars. The song could have ploughed this furrow for another couple of minutes and I still would have enjoyed it, but before the second minute mark another trademark transition comes, pulling the song out of the shadows towards a more euphoric direction. The lyrics contradict the music – lyrically we’re still firmly talking about desperation and sadness, but musically we sound increasingly jubilant – sweeping crashes, booming drums, and even some Soul style backing vocals. There’s a few lyrical call backs to previous songs – most notably Warm Wet Circles – which of course aids in the coherency of the overall concept. 

It’s around this point in the album that I begin to question whether or not this is a Concept Album. Stay with me on this, because I know you’re already shouting ‘of course it is, you idiot’, but I’m going to go out on a limb and actually say this fits more with the trappings of, gasp, a Rock Opera. I’ll talk about that more when I get to the songs which make me feel this is a Rock Opera over and above a Concept Album, but just to lay down my thoughts on the difference between the two beasts here – a Rock Opera, to me, is more Cinematic (or theatrical) and relies more on overt physical performance, characterisation, and more often than not a more clear, structured narrative. A Concept Album deals in concepts, a Rock Opera tends to strive more something more tangible, possibly even more wanky, and may follow the more traditional structure of a ‘story’. The more I listened to this album, the more I found in common with the more notable Rock Operas, and in turn it made me re-evaluate the previous albums and the band as a whole. Fish, with his words, his stories, his theatricality, seems like he is operating in the operatic world rather than the conceptual one, but maybe it was drug use and the band which tipped the whole product into the conceptual space. And that may just be the most ridiculous thing I have ever written. Grunties.

Returning to the lyrics of That Time Of The Night – it’s a refreshingly crisp and to the point collection of lines which retain their poetry without sounding like they have come from a frustrated try-hard. I don’t know if this was a conscious decision to make the lyrics more palatable to the masses – I don’t get the impression that the band or Fish would ever choose to dumb themselves down to see a spike in fan intake, but maybe there was a decision to ease off from the more obtuse references and wordplay. Or maybe these words simply fit the narrative and song more than rifling off unique metaphors ever would. Based on what Paul has said in previous episodes about this album and it’s positioning in Fish’s history with the band, there are some telling lines; ‘And if my owners let me have some free time some day, with all good intention I would probably run away’. It’s easy to draw certain conclusions. The booze, addiction, drinking language continues throughout, although the last time about picking up my broken heart… ehhh, it’s a little twee. We’ve all been there, but it does feel like something a little Beiber or scorned pop boy might scribble. That’s the Catch#22 of being a great lyricist – people are unduly unfair when you then write something simple.

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

Going Under continues the dark, shadow-drenched atmosphere thanks to a creepy arpeggio and pulsing synth. There’s quite a lot of reverb on the track – including the vocals – and Fish moves between a matter of fact and a yearning approach with his performance. It’s a song I quickly grew fond of – the decision to avoid having a chorus and instead draw out the verses for maximum atmosphere and tension. You could argue that it isn’t the most exciting song in the world, it isn’t, but maybe an earlier incarnation of the band might have decided to stretch and weave this into a five minute plus song and left it in that tricky dirge territory. As it stands it’s the perfect length, serving both as an effective standalone and a bridge between the bookending songs. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that Sanja is going to see this track, and the album as a whole, in cinematic terms. It’s another song with an atmosphere which lends itself easily to such feelings, so I’m right there too. I can see the barfly stooped over spilled booze and cigarette butts, I can imagine him sitting on the edge of the bed, head in hands, glancing up occasionally only to catch a horrified glimpse of his worn, grim face in the clouded mirror. I can see him treading the neon lit night streets past cliched street-crawlers, hookers, junkies, homeless cart-pushers, and possibly a dude with a misspelled bible verse scrawled on a cardboard sign. Hackneyed, I know. But those are the things.

We’re on familiar lyrical ground – a lot of regret, a lot of talk about turning to booze and the consequences; addiction, isolation, escape, acceptance. It’s another brief lyric – no room for flowery expression, no patience for extended metaphor. The matter of fact, exhausted nature of the vocals finds its way to the words with a turn to ambivalence and shirking – you can imagine trying to have a conversation with the person, but they’re mumbling brief responses just so you’ll go away and let them get back to the cycle of sleep and drink. I can’t say I’ve ever been an addict, but having several friends who have gone as far as losing their lives to such things… it’s a tricky song and subject matter to talk about as a lyricist (unless or especially because you’ve been there) and as a listener. There are a lot of ways to cover the subject matter, this is one way, and it’s mostly successful.

Just For The Record. Biffo’s going to hate this but Fish sounds like Phil Collins here. It’s that same burping/yawning vocal style that Collins does – the only thing missing is the heavy reverb. Really nice tone on the guitar and great, simple solo.  I made a note on my first listen which stated something along the lines of ‘The main keyboard riff is annoying, reminds me of The Doors more pub-band moments’. In listening back though, I don’t know what I was going on about. There isn’t even a main keyboard riff, so either I was talking about the synth section in the middle or I mixed up songs somewhere along the road. I like the synth section too, it’s broken up with a catchy vocal refrain before launching into a solo which reminds me of my favourite Zep song (All My Love) and then merges into another lovely solo before a fist punching climax. In total – not my favourite song, but another entry which nudges me towards thinking this may be my favourite Marillion album so far. Unless it goes wrong in the second half.

Reading the lyrics – that refrain… the song title. Have I mentioned this in a previous post, or did I make a personal note to bring this up? I’ll risk repeating myself – I wrote a song called Refrain in my younger days, actually one of my favourites, and while I wasn’t specifically talking about alcohol or drugs (for me it was malaise and lack of impetus), my song feels quite thematically similar to this one. Get this – my song was called Refrain, the song featured a vocal refrain (a repetition) which was ‘I’m going to dig myself out of this hole that I’m in some day’, but the song was actually about me recognizing my condition but, wait for it, REFRAINING from doing anything about it. That’s some B-Tier Fish level punnery right there.

The song is suitably self-deprecating and self aware – the guy knows he has a problem, and like any good addict he claims he can stop any day. There’s not a lot of progression in any sort of narrative between the songs so far – that does kick my Rock Opera thinking in the nuts a bit – unless the whole narrative is simply about being drunk and not doing anything to improve matters. Some good lines, a few words singled out and repeated, mostly straight to the point once again.

White Russian starts out in pure Floyd territory, with the eerie whistling wind sounds and a whispered single line. The keys sound like they’re hammered, such is the volume and impact of the performance – along with the vocal and drums it sounds fairly vicious. The bass is doing its own ascending/descending thing quite low in the mix and there is another prominent vocal refrain – Uzis on the street corner/where do we go from here. The guitars gradually come later in the song, the drumming becomes more chaotic, all building the anger. I’m not sure what they’re angry about just yet, but a look at the lyrics should reveal all. 

It’s a song that doesn’t feel six and a half minutes long – by the time the song calms down it’s past the four minute mark, yet feel like only a minute or two has passed. This quiet section morphs into an extended outro with a great, epic atmosphere – vocals, guitars squealing in the background, then the creepy child’s toy ending – it all works for me. It’s another strong song, and a strong close to a mostly superb first half. If I have one gripe with the song – it’s that thing Fish does with his vocals that I’ve mentioned before. Listen to how he sings ‘conscience’ – that’s the perfect example of what I’m saying. I don’t know why, but this is like nails down a chalkboard for me. I’ve tried to understand why this is, but I come up blank – lets just leave it as ‘ I don’t like it when he does that thing’. It doesn’t get in the way of me loving the song. From that maddening carousel like/calliope like opening which continues to raise in its intensity, to the eerie, yet epic ending… yeah, good good good.

I’m guessing the title is another play on words… is there a lot of anti-Jewish sentiment in Russia, or racism in general? It’s not something I know much about. The lyrics mention synagogues, the Holocaust, growing violence… something about the rise of Neo Nazis or religious hate groups, and how quickly we forget the murders and massacres of the past? With the throwbacks to booze, of course. It’s a fairly bleak lyric – like the addict accepting that they have a problem but are unable to escape it, we’re admitting that hatred is everywhere, hatred is rising, and that it’s gonna come back another day – it’s inescapable. When was this – 1987? He wasn’t wrong.

Finally, we can end this one here because it looks like the podcast is a single episode. Does that mean that Paul and Sanja have less to say about this one? Does it mean they don’t like it? Lets not get ahead of ourselves. Let us know in the comments what you think of Clutching At Straws!