Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Fugazi – Side B!

Fugazi (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Welcome back to my adventures in Fishysitting. Today I talk about Side B of Fugazi. No nonsense this time because I slipped behind a little on listening and writing about the band – lets get stuck in.

She Chameleon starts the second half, a half which only features three songs and should hopefully mean we have a shorter post. Inside of about eight seconds, I knew I liked this song more than Emerald Lies. I love a bit of organ – I think this is less due to my somewhat religious upbringing, and more about the sheer physical power of the instrument. And its association with horror movies and related iconography. Fish reintroduces his higher range and when coupled with the very slow pace and dirge like quality of the opening minutes, it reminded me some Doom Metal bands I enjoy. Doom Metal (for anyone not aware) is one of the branches of Metal which takes most of its cues from Black Sabbath – riff based, loud, but a generally ponderous pace. Doom Metal bands often feature singers at the extreme edges of vocal abilities – Mt Olympus tickling highs or six feet under lows. 

The song threatens to pick up at a couple of points, but beyond a brief jaunt into double figure RPM in the middle, it rarely gets out of first gear. Which is fine – I’ve said I like a dirge if that’s the intent. It is obvious it’s a dark and gloomy approach they’re going for, and the fade-out actually suits this approach. I could have done with the fade-out being longer – it seems to come from nowhere, then fade and be gone inside of a few seconds. I’m curious to hear what Paul and Sanja think about this one – there’s no energy, but there is atmosphere. I’m not sure they enjoy She Chameleon because it is so slow, and it is repetitive thanks to the looping organ and to the drums often mimicking the vocals. I don’t mind it – I don’t think it’s going to be one I listen to again outside of publishing this post, unless I give the whole album another go, but that keyboard section in the middle is nifty. The whole ‘fuck’ section is amusing for a number of reasons – because the delivery seems so soft and sweet, and because he says it so many times – but it’s also very silly.

The title She Chameleon, before listening, already had me thinking the song is about Fish and a woman. What lyrics I picked up support this theory, although this being a Prog band you wouldn’t be surprised if it was more literal – an actual half human, half reptilian freakshow a la Species or Lair Of The White Worm. That was an odd movie. The song does reference ‘the lizard’ but I can’t hear that term without recalling The Doors and, well, cocks. ‘I touch the lizard’ is not something a rock star should say with a straight face. After reading the lyrics I wonder if the sound of the song is supposed to be seductive rather than Doom-laden. It makes sense that it’s a mixture of both – you’re being tempted to your doom by a seductress Siren – see, I have read The Odyssey! The lyrics are unusually up front and not obtuse – it’s about meaningless sex, often in a drugged haze, though there is that tinge of washed out tiredness, of guilt, and the clear suggestion that the ‘she’ half of these chameleons (with Fish being the other) are groupies and Fish is aware he’s using them and they’re using him. 

Incubus is over eight minutes long and this time it’s Animals which I must reference. An underrated Pink Floyd album, but one of their holy quadrilogy. The intro to this song has a guitar/keyboard part which is almost identical to a chunk of Dogs on that album. If you know both songs, you know what I’m talking about, right? I don’t say this in criticism, but rather in relief because before that guitar part dropped, the opening seconds of the song made it seem like it was going to be akin to something by one of those white boy reggae bands like The Police or Madness or UB40 or some such shite. It’s a decent enough song up until the piano drops and it transforms into something more tasty. The pace doesn’t increase significantly so there’s the likelihood some listeners may be put off that it’s the second slow, long song in a row.

The song is another instance of me wondering if the two distinct halves were at one time different songs. I think it was mentioned on the podcast in a previous episode that one song was culled from parts of various earlier pieces. Equally though, songs of distinct halves can be built in this way from their point of origin – I’ve written a couple of songs where the intention was always to ‘flip the switch’ at one point, or for the song to feature one major transition or flow through different sequences. Then again, I’ve had instrumental parts float around my head which never had a place and weren’t interesting enough on their own to be anything deliverable, only for another idea or fully formed song to come along which I was able to tack the instrumental piece on to, as an ending or an intro, and the two pieces transform into something special. Not to say anything I’ve ever done is special, but once the two pieces were joined it was like they were always meant to be.

In the final third of Incubus everything becomes more grand – another soaring, string-bending solo and some tasty backing vocals – I’m sure there have been other backing vocals and I’ve missed or forgotten them, and I can’t recall many harmonic sections in the Marillion songs I’ve heard so far. Fish is a powerful enough vocalist to stand on his own, but if you have the ability to write good harmonies and can find a spot for them, then they almost always elevate the song. Fish adopts a softer vocal after the piano portion begins, and if I’m being overly critical I’m not sure he pulls this off neatly in each line. There’s a few moments where his voice seems too weak, or when the vocal wavers, and I don’t think this was a conscious decision – could have been cleared up with another take. Quite a lot of echo effects on the vocals here, though there’s a moment it seems where a string section (synth in this case) is going to take over, but the string synth stays low in the mix to let the guitar solo hold centre-stage. As I’m something of a sweeping string section fan, I would have loved the strings to take over here – full orchestra rather than synth of course.

In terms of Fish and his storytelling abilities, this feels like a more mature, coherent, and complete effort. The song’s transitions are fluid and the lyrical progress matches the procession and changes within the music – it’s a good example of the band all being ‘in this together’ while previous efforts felt more like the band was playing catch up to the lyrics or the two not being in synch. As I write this particular thought, I haven’t looked at the lyrics although several lines stand out and offer potential insight – the intro hinting again at rock star disillusion – and there are references to acting, fame, the theatre, hiding your true face scattered throughout. Based on what I’ve learned from other songs on the album, that disillusionment and disconnection seems to be a key theme – the rock star having to put on a show, to always be ‘on’ and that side of his persona becoming the driving force to the eventual detriment of his other component parts, his relationships. 

Googling the lyrics unveils just how much the theatre metaphor is used, alongside other images of fantasy, invention, and sex. Several motifs recur from verse to verse – darkroom, developing the negative, exposed, lens, film reels, celluloid, but those two are enveloped in the overarching themes of performance and deceit. As to hazarding a guess as to what it’s all about – it would seem wasteful to me to write something so fully formed and not have it be about someone specific. Luckily it’s universal enough that anyone could apply it to some trauma in their own life, most obviously a break-up. Without knowing the full context of the band and the time these songs were written I can’t say for sure who or what inspired the song, but the whole ‘All the world’s a stage’ viewpoint has of course been used since Shakespeare and all of the Greek and Latin poets he liberally nicked from. I think by this point I can take a punt at ‘Fish was pissed off at/by X’ and I’ll be 80% there. Presumably he expands his ‘Things To Be Angry About’ manifesto in future albums.

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

Fugazi closes the album, though at first glance I had to make sure I hadn’t accidentally clicked on Spread Your Wings by Queen because those intro piano pieces are very similar. This is momentary and the song quickly transforms into a very cool, epic, closer. There’s a lot going on in this song – here are a few of the scattered ‘this sounds like’ thoughts I had when first listening; Spread Your Wings, Alice Cooper, Jaunty sideshow music, James Bond, The Time Warp, FLASH, Pink Floyd (again), Marillion. Yes, by the end of the song the band is starting to sound like themselves. For some clarity on such an unusual statement – this essentially (to me) means that the band has consolidated their own voice and, like an auteur, if I were to hear a Marillion song without knowing it was them I would have a pretty good idea that it was a Marillion song. Of course I still have a hell of a long way to go, but I’m beginning to recognize the hallmarks and this song ticks those off. 

With all of those related or disparate artists listed above, you may expect the song to be more jumbled than it is – the Marillion voice holds it together. Plenty of artists wear their influences on their sleeves and those can be easily identified, but the trick is to avoid being a pastiche or homage or tribute act, and Marillion are succeeding at this – they take component parts, add their own flavour (largely governed by Fish, his lyrics, and his vocals), and become their own thing. From the downbeat opening, building to the (at least musically) triumphant conclusion, the song is another journey of emotion which doesn’t shed any light on what ‘Fugazi’ is beyond a general state of confusion. Given the shifts in the song I imagine it’s a fun one to see and perform live – many of the parts lend themselves to overt theatricality and if I squint in my imaginings I can make out a bunch of laser shows and prancing shenanigans on stage. Taking it further, I imagined this song being stretched beyond it’s running time to allow for some comedy audience interaction as Fish throws dolls into the crowd… it’s that Alice Cooper feeling coming through again as I expect any act who sounds somewhat like Alice Cooper to put on similar amusing live performances.

Having listened to this song close to double figures, I get the feeling that I’m still only scratching at the surface of its complexity – something I could say for the album as a whole. These aren’t simple 3 minute pop or rock songs, or even Metal songs with obvious riffs and big choruses which will solidify around your memory sacks after a couple of listens. These take effort and I can see why some may dismiss the music. Prog fans on the other hand, perhaps known for being receptive to challenging music and taking the time to allow complex and longer form music to sink in, should get a lot out of this. Given that my classic Prog intimate knowledge begins and ends with Pink Floyd, before shooting off to the bands with Prog elements – the Alice Coopers, The Gatherings, Devin Townsends, Nightwishes, and to a lesser extent the Iron Maidens and Led Zeppelins of the world, I’m hardly qualified to tell Prog fans that this is something they might enjoy. I’m sure they’re as snooty as the rest of us about what they like, and especially about being told what they should like. If I were to recommend a song to Prog fans as to what Marillion or Fugazi was all about (with the caveat that it’s just one song and a small piece of a larger whole) then it would probably be this title track. It isn’t my favourite song on the album, but it does feel like an Overture, taking us on the condensed thematic and musical journey of the whole album.

Looking to my own preferences…. the keyboard parts which lead into the ‘thief of Baghdad’ section are cheesy and silly but I’ll excuse this as another edition of ‘Hey, It’s The Eighties!’ where the best musical decisions were not always made. I’m iffy about synth anyway, so once again I’m not the most level-headed judge. Certain sections work more for me than others but they all contribute to the whole – the military drums which fade in as the song fades out, I half expected those to lead into one final section to close the album, but that never transpired. The drums therefore seem like an odd choice to pop in for a few seconds before leaving. At some point in the future I’ll likely revisit all of these albums to see what I remember, but until then I think only pieces of this song will stay with me.

It’s at this point I gulp a huge intake of breath before tapping ‘Fugazi Marillion lyrics’ into a search engine, and sigh as I see the ‘read more’ option after six paragraphs had already displayed on the screen. The song reverts back to disjointed one-liners, musings shoved together with loose connections. Which is fine – many of my favourite bands and writers write almost exclusively in this manner. This can be distancing for anyone reading the lyrics and I would think a fair portion would read them once then be forced to ignore the lyrics entirely in future listens. The second verse references Shakespeare again, ‘Aural contraceptive aborting pregnant conversation’ should have been Sony’s tagline for the Walkman, and I notice see the song repeatedly mentions places in London, or is it tube stations? I love the London Underground – it’s such a maze and feat of human invention. I love how old it is too, especially when I compare it with the shitty non-existent transport system of Northern Ireland. Did Fish write this song while travelling to and fro in London, concocting stories and lyrics about the people and situations he saw, crushed in the rush hour thrall? He then makes a comparison between this and Concentration Camps, at which point I realize the song is totally Fugazi.

So Fish is pissed at… everything? When he pleads at the end for the prophets and poets, is he begging to find someone like himself? I’m sure there’s a larger story here, and I’m sure Paul and Sanja will discuss, but for me it is second album complete! It is a more rock oriented album, it doesn’t seem to jump off in as many opposing directions as Script, and a lot of the songs do align to an overhaul theme. I’m not sure I’d classify it as a concept album, but I could definitely see it being argued as such. For me, Fugazi doesn’t hit enough of the trappings of the concept album – the recurring musical motifs, songs referencing other songs in music and lyric, and potentially portraying an overt and obvious plot. I’ve no idea if Marillion ever goes down this route, but they clearly have the song-writing chops and creative ability to do so.

The next episode of the Podcast opens with the realization that there was a bonus fucking song which I haven’t listened to yet. Cinderella Search did come on a few times on Youtube after Fugazi ended, but I didn’t listen to it. I’m assuming Paul’s not talking about H from steps and his purple tier? I haven’t seen old H since last Summer when he was in Menorca with his parents and kids and we’d keep bumping in to him at the family friendly bars around the resort. Celebrity friends, yay!

We learn that She Chameleon appears elsewhere in a more upbeat, possibly psychedelic version because the song had been around for a while before the album was recorded. Paul doesn’t think much of that version, while Sanja sounds like more of a fan. Having not heard it, I can’t comment. As expected, the album version is called out as a dirge, yet dripping with atmosphere. Hammer Horror seems like an apt comparison – I mentioned Doom Metal, a genre which relies heavily on atmosphere and took plenty of its atmospheric and visual cues from the horror genre, specifically British films of the Hammer and Amicus vein. Paul drops the spoiler that he prefers the final two songs on this half to She Chameleon – I think I felt roughly the same about each track – things I liked, things I liked less. Sanja doubles down on the lizard analogy and interprets the song as Fish being manipulated by groupies – I get the impression that Fish was happily receptive and knowing of the behaviour. Paul clarifies that She Chameleon was a reaction to the negative feedback of Three Boats Down From The Candy, but again drugs are a wonderful excuse for woopsy do antics. 

Paul and Sanja enjoy Incubus more, with exquisite guitar and fun ‘ooh ahhs’. The Lonely Flute also sounds like a Prog album title. I’m sure Fish could attach a few hundred words to a title like that and slap a song out of it, with the flute an obvious euphemism for his knob. Yes, the reggae… not a genre I have ever paid much attention to beyond the obvious. Sanja – if you want to target the kidz with this podcast, how about ‘exquizzle’? Paul thinks it’s one of their best from an all round perspective. I enjoy the second half more than the first, though I’m not sure it rubs my singalong organ as rigorously as it does Paul’s. Paul tells us the basis for the song – the Incubus being of course the female equivalent of the Succubus – with Fish introducing the song as the dangers of taking nudey pics of an ex and reminding her that you have it for…. reasons? I mentioned the references to film in my assessment, but I didn’t get this pervy meaning from it. The song sounds more… important (?) than that so possibly Fish doesn’t know or remember what it was about. It seems increasingly apparent that Fish just likes putting together words and phrases he enjoys with no greater meaning or connective tissue.

With Fugazi, Sanja appreciates the word artistry, but admits to it being distancing. Oy, was that a snide comment at the expense of Iron Maiden – hooks in you? Not one of my favourite Iron Maiden songs by any means, but the band had lost their way at that point in their career. Sanja sees the ending as a battle cry, which is a good way of describing it. Is this album a more rocky prog, or simply a less twatty prog? I don’t know… I have made comparisons with other bands in most of the songs above, but I can’t remember now if those were songs and artists which came before or after this album. This is what happens when you write a post over a number of days and are too lazy a writer to bother to self review (or edit). I do remember mentioning that the ending sounded jubilant musically, but I didn’t feel the lyrics matched this. Hearing the interpretation, I understand it. I’m surprised Yellow Dinner On A Lorry hasn’t made its way into a Found Footage yet. Look, drugs do amazing and bizarre things to you – and the feeling often remains long past the come down. I wrote a song called ‘Do You Want A Ham’, which may have been influenced by illegal muffins, and the lyrics consisted entirely of ‘Do you want a ham? Put it on a plate. I’ve got the heads’. To my credit, it was knowingly crap and only three minutes long. Hella catchy, yo. Sanja picks up on an entirely different set of recurring phrases than I did, which is a pro and con of Fish’s writing. There’s something for everyone… but none of us will get it.

The Podcast ends with a chat about Cinderella Search which I still haven’t listened to. I’ll go off and listen to it after writing this, but I doubt I’ll talk about it. Paul bemoans the fact that this wasn’t on the album in place of one of the crappy ones. Did Marillion ever do a bit of Lucas/Spielberg revisionism with their albums – say change out some tracks on a re-release? The Manics have done that a couple of times and while I’m not a fan of such changes, it’s fine to add on the B-Sides for a Special Edition. The next album apparently takes another musical leap and sees the band hitting the big time – exciting.

Thanks to everyone or anyone who reads these things, go off and listen to the Podcast and the album yourselves if you’re a Marillion fan, or why not join us all on this very long and odd journey. Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and don’t forget to follow the Podcast on Twitter @BYAMPOD!

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