Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Script For A Jester’s Tear (Side B)

Cover Art By Mark Wilkinson

Greetings, Glancers! I’m just going to jump right into this one without all the usual faff, because that faff balloons the already gorged content of my posts to debaucherously gargantuan levels. What do you call a debauched gargantuan? Simian Debussey. No, I don’t get it either.

Garden Party was a single, and Wikipedia tells me it reached 16 in the charts. For a 7 minute song, that’s not bad. You wouldn’t get that nowadays.  Today it’s all about sub 3 minutes jingles which need to have a ‘.feat’ accompanying the main artist. ‘Ho’s Party by DJ Mary Elle Lynn. feat Fish.’ This is getting awfully close to faff.

Garden Party then. Maybe the only thing sweet and pastoral about the track (beyond the title) is the birdsong which sporadically flutters about. Elsewhere, it’s another bitter song as Fish seems to be taking aim at – the upper class? Posh circles he may have experienced in his own life? Possibly the other posh Prog boys he maybe felt Otherness towards? Is it Royals or hangers-on (hanger-ons?), or is it just the well born blue and bred in general? I couldn’t hone in on precisely who or what he was targeting.

Those bird sounds do give a sense of calm, while melodically and musically it’s not as dark or frantic or downbeat as some Marillion material I’ve heard. Before I checked out the lyrics, it felt like a more positive song than The Web. However, that staccato beat seems deliberately robotic as if to hint at the conforming, repetitive, perpetuating nature of the wealthy class and their behaviour. More likely I’m reading far too much into things. There’s a little blink and you’ll miss it extra pause after the first three synth/drum blasts and before the final three. There’s a little extra pause between the first three synth/drum blasts. If you don’t hear it…  it would be easier to explain if you could hear me, but instead of going ‘dum dum dum – dum dumdumdum’ like it should, it goes ‘dum dum dum – – dum dumdumdum’. Do you see?

In fact, the whole song has lots of little unusual time signature hiccups which must make the thing a bastard to play live. While it’s not the most expansive or complex song in the grand scheme of Progressive singles, this doesn’t feel like a single. Sure, there are hooks, but there is a lot of jumping around and plenty of instrumental sections – the bane of chart radio. Possibly the single was cut down for Radio purposes – a la Light My Fire. Fish is being even more theatrical than usual, rolling every ‘r’, sneering, sighing, and possibly collapsing over a Chaise Longue with a damp cloth atop his brow. I kept having visions of Morrissey while listening to this one, cycling with a pansy in his lapel on his way to a Britain’s First picnic or some such.

In the middle of the song there’s a tasty Synth solo. This is in lieu of the more traditional guitar solo which, as a guitar fan and player I am naturally more drawn to – I don’t mind the occasional synth solo but they usually need to be exceptional to make an impact on me, God knows why. I must be a guitar Neanderthal. While I didn’t find it the most exciting song musically or melodically, I still found myself humming it over the weekend and cutting cheese to the staccato rhythm. That was not a euphemism, though can you imagine?

Lyrically, well it’s all very ironic and cynical isn’t it? He peppers the song with more puns and wordplay – not as much fun as on Charting The Single, but a few of them are amusing. Reading the lyrics doesn’t truly offer me any further insight as to Fish’s prey this time around, but I imagine there’s a good ol’ story behind it all. I’ll leave it to Paul and Sanja to share.

Chelsea Monday is the song which most reminded me of Pink Floyd, or some of the more talkative moments off something like Operation Mindcrime. It has snippets of soundbites and speech and effects and English accents. It’s a song of few transitions in tone or time signature, but isn’t any less interesting than the more complicated tracks. It doesn’t become tedious over its 8 minutes, mainly due to the articulate atmosphere which tows the line between chilled and threatening. The guitar solo towards the end – I don’t want to say it’s similar to Dave Gilmour solos – but that was the first reference point I could come up with so I’m sticking with it. The dude (checking name again), Steve Rothery plays with a similar elongated tone and emotive quality as Gilmour on this song at least. The sounds in the intro remind me of Welcome To The Machine, while the speaking near the end are pure Dark Side Of The Moon. 

This one I liked a lot. I haven’t quite stopped calling it Chelsea Morning, which is a Joni Mitchell song, but it isn’t one which needed to grow on me – I clicked with it from the first listen, usually a sign that the song will become a favourite. The creeping bass riff, the searing guitar bends, and the more subtle vocals combine to create a picture of – I’m not quite sure yet. When I think of the term Chelsea Monday in terms of the atmosphere crafted by the music, I get images of exhausted, paranoid rock stars waking the morning after in some luxury room, coke crumbs dusting a glass table, half empty bottles of Jack and Champers dripping on a Persian rug, and perhaps the odd groupie dead in the tub. All images from bad movies no doubt.

I stayed in a hotel in Chelsea once – there was a bit of a mix-up with our Breakfast (and there was blood in the bed when we arrived, but that seems to be par for the course for us when we stay anywhere that isn’t our own house) and the manager chased us down the street after we checked out, visibly frothing as he apologised and offered to appease us by shoving a bottle of wine into our hands. That’s all well and good, but as you can see we are each dragging a suitcase and have no free hands – could you please uncork it and pour it into my mouth while I stand here avoiding the seagulls?

Reading the lyrics, it becomes obvious quickly that the song isn’t about the band, or rock stars, but instead seems to be a certain type of lady – maybe one woman specifically. A few years ago you may have called them WAGs. It’s about a woman who is dealing in, or forced to deal in deceit and ass-kissing and social climbing to get to where she wants to be – presumably a position of wealth, fame, and power. Although it seems cynical in the beginning there is a tenderness to the lyrics and many of the metaphors used suggest fragility, innocence, and desperation – the song becomes less about a fame hungry woman but more about the tragedy of the lengths people may have to go to while chasing an honest dream. It becomes more apparent, and more tragic within the concluding spoken section as we learn in tabloid whispers that the woman drowned. She’s famous now. I’m curious to learn if this one was based on any true life figure or if it’s another imagining based on a collage of people. I just realised Chelsea Monday could be a person’s name. In any case, great song.

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

Forgotten Sons closes the album – it’s another eight minute track, and one of the heaviest on the album. There’s quite a lot of funky chord carnage, squealing solos, and flickers to lend a chaotic twist, there’s what seems to be Text To Speech and later there is militaristic shouting – all of which contributes to this feeling heavy, if not Metal. I particularly enjoyed the drums throughout this one – a lot of the tonal shifts are naturally driven by the percussion but the drum work stood out for me over most of the other songs. During the militaristic shouting section, there’s a nice surge of backing orchestration but rather than building to some explosive finish the song goes off in a more soothing direction for the finish. Soothing isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s accentuated by another one of those smooth Gilmour-esque solos and a more relaxed, toned down rhythm and percussion section than anything else in the song. From the very jaunty opening which sees Fish going all in with his theatrical tics alongside a bouncing, giddy synth, to the snazzy guitar and Text To Speech middle piece, this song was much more of a grower on me. On first listen it didn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion to the record, but I’ve come around on it in subsequent listens.

Being a lad from Northern Ireland, my first instinct on hearing ‘Armalite’ and ‘sniper’ in the opening verse was to make for under the table and phone the filth. Those were some of the small handful of lyrics I caught on first spin and given the album was released at the height of ‘The Troubles’ it seemed reasonable to assume the song was in part alluding to what was going on with the IRA et al. By the end of the song though, the lyrics seemed to cover over topics such as disillusionment, shitty parenting, the media, and organized religion. All of those can be connected quite easily to the topic of our silly little civil war, but just as easily it could be about some other riot or dispute or uprising I’m unaware of.

Having then gone back and read the lyrics, I’m guessing my original assumption was more accurate than I expected – ‘Emerald Aisle/isle’ is mentioned, kids being drafted into the Army (or alternatively a terrorist group) is a blatantly called out topic, and the whole song is punctured by violent allusions and language. A problem I’ve always had with songs which mention this conflict is that inevitably writers tend to pick sides – even from well-meaning pap released by the likes of Lennon and McCartney – which simplifies a battlefield history so strewn with misdirects, overlaps, and bullshit that any single truth is nigh-on impossible to grasp for long. If this is what Forgotten Sons is about, then it takes the seemingly more mature, even respectful approach by admitting there are no sides – only grief and pointless death. Hell, even saying that could get you kneecapped here. Yay!

It’s at this point in my post that I take a pause from the music and head off to listen to what Paul and Sanja make of it all. As always, any comments I make on the Podcast episode will likely be jumbled and less coherent than the mess I’ve already scribbled above. Paul used to invite his friends round to listen to Marillion. In my day it was Nirvana and Guns ‘n’ Roses. Then later it would simply be 6 hour sessions of Goldeneye and Diddy Kong Racing. Paul does admit he thinks the first song is a very strange song to have hit so high in the charts – something I mentioned somewhere miles above, but he then says the song was more about one of Fish’s girlfriends changing into a bit of a posho after going to Cambridge. To be fair, any of my friends (acquaintances) who went to Cambridge were already poshos. Sanja loves this one, and it seems like it’s still a live fan favourite. There’s some single Artwork, so I’d better check it out. It’s another shifty, psychotic jester holding a blade and a cucumber. Why he’s scalped a dinosaur and is doing a Davey Crockett with it is anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t have known that was a cucumber from the artwork – it’s more accurately just a big green… thing.

I have never named a car… or anything really. I named my cats and children, that’s about as far as I would go. Interesting that they changed up the drummer – I mentioned this song (and much of Side 2) has a lot of tricky drum parts which would be a pain in the arse performing live. I was wondering if I would ‘need’ to watch the videos. Sometimes videos let me down, especially when they’re from a band known for being artistic. Like my beloved Manic Street Preachers – as intelligent and well-read and well versed in art and literature and ideas as they are… their videos are balls. Parkes with an ‘e’ – I forgot to Google him. Paul raises an interesting one – there are plenty of songs and bands I love because they struck at the right time in my life, and upon re-evaluation they’re not as interesting or impactful or ‘good’. However, I tend towards still enjoying songs I once loved even as I recognise them as not being very good, but in general the bands I loved in my early days are bands I still adore now.

Sanja doesn’t sound like she enjoys Chelsea Monday much, but does enjoy the intro. She mentions the song feeling overly wordy – I think I’d be more shocked if the song wasn’t wordy. Paul doesn’t like this one – interesting – and that seems to be opposite from most Marillion fans. Given that I have no idea what Marillion fans like this is all interesting for me. Looks like I’m on the majority side here as the song was probably my second favourite. I should probably remind readers that I do look the old dirge – I wouldn’t call this a dirge in the negative sense – and I did find it one of the more emotive songs. Maybe the association to Genesis has added to Paul’s dislike of the song, while I’ve just heard it for the first time with no such association. Or maybe he just doesn’t like it. We can agree to disagree here, definitely one of my favourites. I never liked V For Vendetta like all the naughty little rebel boys did.

Onto the final track, and as anticipated the song is about ‘The Troubles’ but more concerned with the kids being sent off to die because they had no other prospects and the politicians convinced them that it was a glorious, heroic thing to do. A bit of the old Dulce et decorum est about it all then, and sadly fuck all has changed since WWI. Go and watch the movie ‘71, which is set in Belfast and follows a young soldier abandoned by his regiment in the midst of a riot – it’s great, and just about the most tonally accurate movie about the whole nonsense that I’ve seen. Hell, I grew up in the 80s and 90s in the middle of it all, and I still felt removed from it. I was never shot. My town was only (completely) destroyed by a bomb once. You get used to whatever your environment is. I missed the bit about the brick while typing, need to go back and listen. Hey, growing up here – even now, having a brick or indeed a shoe or a bottle thrown at you is not unusual, if you hang around certain areas. I quite enjoyed the anger in the lyrics and it did feel convincingly personal. I haven’t had many issues with any of the lyrics so far – possibly because the bar is set so low lyrically by most bands that anything with a sprinkle of artistry seems close to genius. Incidentally, I don’t have an issue per se with artists writing about a conflict or an issue that they have no first hand experience with… but if you’re going to do it, be prepared for the backlash. By all means do it, but most conflicts are such a clusterfuck that you’re never going to please everyone. Look at the stuff with Roger Waters and the Middle East. Nah, I’d rather not. Still, like I say, I feel that Fish took the right approach with the song – anyone can agree, or most can agree, that going to war isn’t the nicest thing.

There we go. My thoughts on the album? I mean, read everything above if you really want to again. I’ll probably listen to it again, but I see only Chelsea Monday and the title track staying with me – maybe one or two of the others will continue to grow on me. It’s a fine first album – Paul has said the band changes a little after this release. Plenty of bands get much better, plenty get worse or stop. Using the two artists I’ve mentioned most in these posts – Iron Maiden’s first album isn’t that great, while Generation Terrorists by the Manics has plenty of classics but in some ways doesn’t sound like anything else they would do afterwards. The cover art is cool, better now that some of the details I missed were pointed out – without having a big vinyl in front of me it’s hard to get the full impact. Next time is… Fugazi? That’s a band.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Script For A Jester’s Tear!

Tell it like it is!

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