Greetings, Glancers! Today I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Side A of Misplaced Childhood, Marillion’s third studio album, and according to what Paul has told us on previous episodes, an album which was something of a breakthrough. I always begin my exploration into these new albums by grabbing the checklist from Wikipedia, and trying to avoid reading anything which could taint my opinions – like any considerate porn star, I like going in clean. What I could not avoid reading, however, was that there was a Live album released one year before this – I’ll be skipping that for now – and that Misplaced Childhood hit Platinum. It contains the singles Kayleigh – which I have heard – and Lavender, which I have not. At least not that I’m aware of. Critics seemed to like it to, with it being named in Yearly Best Ofs, and even as one of the greatest Concept albums of all time. So this is a proper, full blown Concept album then? Cool. Can I listen to the songs easily on their own merits, or do they drift into each other and will therefore sound weird individually?
Before we begin, I take a look at the album artwork. There’s that bird again – is it like Marillion’s version of Iron Maiden’s Eddie? There’s a shoeless little drummer boy who looks like he has been dressed by Pete Doherty; he’s standing in a room with a flower growing out of the ground and a mural of skies, clouds, and rainbows behind him. Has someone gobbled part of a Cucumber and spat its scraps on the ground? Or is it just another green thing? I don’t get much from this artwork aside from the feeling that the dimensions are off. The boy’s face doesn’t give much away either. It’s fine, not particularly striking, but I’m an art pleb. While Googling previous album covers, I did see that the artwork extends beyond the front cover into a wraparound – that hasn’t happened for a few decades – but I’m not going to delve the back cover as I haven’t got all day.
Pseudo Silk Komono opens the album with an air of ominous threat, the synth, guitar, and vocals creeping along with a noticeable lack of percussion. It’s a great opener and one which presumably sets the tone for the album – bearing in mind I haven’t listened to the rest of the album while typing this. As anticipated, it does end abruptly because it transitions directly into the next track without a pause. It’s a short song and when we consider the abrupt ending, it’s not the sort of song to just have as part of a favourite tracks playlist or shuffle. That’s the thing about Concept albums – they were devised and designed to be listened to in a single sitting, and while every song may not bleed into the next, many of them do. What I look for in a Concept album, over and above what I look for in a typical album or song – melody, emotion, songwriting, technical skill – is coherence. You’re probably not going to find a Concept album which features a different genre for every song or sees subject matter and theme flipping about; you should expect songs which are relatable to one another to the extent that lyrics, theme, melody, and tone may be repeated. If we use The Wall as a prime example, the whole album literally wraps around upon itself so that the final seconds of the last song become the first moments of the first. That’s being a little excessive with the format, but there should be enough obvious comparisons that you know each song is part of the same whole, like non-identical twins or a bowl of different flavoured Pringles.
Sometimes with songs like this – I wish they were a little more; longer, complete, and without needing to be part of something greater. This song fits the sentiment – I enjoyed the vibe and the melody quite a lot, but I know it only makes so much sense on its own – I know that I need to listen to the next song to get the full impact. Again, that’s the dual edged sword of the Concept album. Maybe if the band plays the song live they extend the outro and leave it as its own thing without needing the next song to be played, though I suspect they connect the two songs together, or possibly play the entire album from start to finish in one go. When I saw Roger Waters at Glastonbury, he was able to take songs and sequences from a variety of Pink Floyd albums and mix those somewhat with his solo material, though in most cases the sequences selected did end similarly to how they do on the original releases.
I’m in two minds as to whether I should wait until the end of the album before looking at the lyrics, as I can only assume there’s some sort of plot at play. But that would make for a boring post so I’ll go one by one. It’s maybe the first time we don’t have a thousand words to wade through – I did pick up on ‘Misplaced Childhood’ being sung – but beyond that, the lyrics themselves didn’t offer me much in the way of meaning. He’s juxtaposing images of innocence and childhood with those of washed out adulthood, and there’s the sense of dreaming of escape and retreat back to better, easier times. It’s the introduction to a concept album, so I’m sure the lyrics of the individual songs will mean more when read along side the others. Good song.
Kayleigh is pure 80s to me. It’s one of those songs which manages to fill me with nostalgia and memories of 80s movies, music, and my own childhood. It’s also just a flat out groovy rock song. Those keyboards add to and cement an atmosphere which the jangling guitars round out. Up to this point, it’s one of their most accessible songs – the lyrics flow easily and it has a straightforward traditional structure; it’s easy to see why it was a hit. I love that simple chord progression in the verse and how the vocal melody effortlessly fits. The chorus I’m not as enamoured by – I do appreciate how the chord structure is melodically slightly inverted yet follows the same pattern, and it does lead in to an exquizz guitar solo before transitioning seamlessly back to the verse.
I have not yet listened to the complete album yet, but I get the sense that by the end I’ll be typing that old cliché of the band catching lightning in a bottle. As I don’t have much to say about Kayleigh I’ll apply that well worn phrase here instead. This song feels like the work the band had done to this point, all of the effort and song writing and experimenting and musicianship and seeking for a hit, just came together at the right time. All of those bizarre unspoken and unseen attributes and alignments which can conspire for or against an artist seem to have been consolidated and captured with this song. Sometimes for a band it takes only one hit to launch their careers in a wider sense, and sometimes this only comes after years of attempts, misfires, or underheard greats. For my money, or at least for my preferences, the best and most interesting (and often longest lasting) acts don’t strike oil with their first release. It takes some years of playing, touring, struggling, dealing with dismissals from fans and critics and the media while still building a reputation, then boom – lightning – success. Lets take a few of my usual suspects; Alice Cooper – a couple of non-eventful releases under the tutelage of Frank Zappa before condensing the weirdness into a hit; I’m Eighteen kicking off a sensational run in the 70s. Iron Maiden – years of touring, two average selling albums, before switching out their singers and approach and hitting the eternal big time with The Number Of The Beast. Manic Street Preachers? Self released demos and EPs and self hype before being signed to a huge label only to sell average numbers of a host of singles and three albums before losing their lead lyricist (the as yet unsolved mystery of Richey Edwards), then completely shifting their sound while retaining their sensibilities, the result being A Design For Life, Everything Must Go, millions of sales and all of the rest.
While there are just as many, if not many many more examples of artists who do ‘get it right’ from day one, those tend to not be the bands I find myself enjoying long term. It’s always more interesting to me when you can see, even with hindsight, the steps artists were putting in place which led to their eventual breakthrough. Kayleigh and Misplaced Childhood appears to be another example of this. But is the song just another love song? It sounds like one, but Fish being Fish, there’s likely more to it. Before reading the lyrics it’s obvious there is a lot of looking back, a lot of nostalgia – the repeating ‘Do You Remember’ followed by memories, along with a list of regrets. Looking more closely at the words, each of the first lines has a progression from childhood to adolescence to eventually the hope of marriage. Unlike most of the songs till this point, the writing is universal – we can all understand the words and the sentiment and those images and feelings. He could be writing about me – I’m sure many of you have thought, while being pulled back to an old and broken relationship. I can’t say that I remember loving on the floor in Belsize park, but I do remember friends hallucinating that the safety mats in ‘the safe room’ situated near where one of those friends lived and worked, were nudey ladies. That was particularly horrific.
Obviously the song is personal to Fish – the allusions to writing ‘that’ love song and other images which, while universal, seem to be very specific. I think a previous podcast mentioned Kayleigh being a portmanteau of one of Fish’s exes? That’s the trick to releasing a successful love song – we all have to understand it, we all have to have been there, and yet the music has to be good. It needs to be catchy. This ticks all the boxes, and so we can move on.
Lavender begins as Kayleigh ends, with a solitary piano clinking a melancholy tune. Rather than the third song on an album, it sounds like a natural ending. It sounds like an album closer, and it also struck me that I may have heard it before. I don’t believe I have, but there is something familiar about it – must be all the dilly dilly nonsense which I’m certain I’ve heard in other songs. This was a single, right? I think I read that on Wikipedia, but it doesn’t fit the criteria of being a single – it lacks the simple verse chorus verse structure. It’s also very short, so possibly the single version is different from the album – expanded and turned into a more standalone whole? I mentioned earlier how shorter songs on Concept albums may not feel fully fleshed out and able to stand on their own beyond the confines of the album – to me this is exactly what Lavender feels like. That’s not a negative – I like the song but it does strike me as part of something bigger – almost like it is more accurately the ending of Kayleigh rather than its own thing.
It has that big finish feel, like the end of a Queen concert or the ending credits of a movie. Not that the song is huge – it does start out quietly, pastoral, but it builds to the big guitar solo and percussion climax. Looking at the lyrics… there seems to be a second half of the song which I’m guessing is what appears in the single version, starting from ‘blue angel, the sky was Bible black in Lyon’. Elsewhere the lyrics are mostly simple, again recalling childhood, memory, love, innocence. There’s a single verse, where a memory is triggered taking Fish back to another time and place, followed by the ‘dilly dilly’ section. This very much fits with the tropes of a concept album – the lack of hit single structure, the alignment with the grander themes of the album, and the lyrics acting more like a Scene within an Act instead of being a standalone. Three songs in, and they’re all good.
Bitter Suite takes things to full blown Prog/Concept levels – a song in four deliberate parts. When I saw the name I was triggered back to my own childhood and trying to start my first band. Of course this was when I was in P6/P7 and had no clue, but one of my favourite names at the time for the band was ‘Bitter Type’. Just sounded cool. I got the name from a Top Trumps deck about Concept Cars – Bitter Type being the name of one of the cars. There was also a car called a ‘Zender Vision’, which looked exactly like the car of my rock star dreams, but the name didn’t fit the sound we were going for. Or something.
Something amusing happened during one of my listens of the opening instrumental section of Bitter Suite– a voice began speaking over the music and I was scrambling back in my memory trying to recall if this had happened in previous listens. I knew there was a spoken part, a Scottish voice reciting some guff about spiders, but this was different. It wasn’t Scottish for a start, and it was right at the start of the track. After searching around the room I realised I had multiple tabs open on my laptop and that for some reason my Netflix tab had decided to play a trailer for some movie called His House just after I hit play on the song. Oddly enough, the voiceover on the trailer fit the rhythm and tone of the music almost perfectly. That’s one of those odd scenarios which ends up on the bonus feature of an album or movie special edition.
Is the Scottish voice Fish? Or more TTS software? I’m not sure at which point the different parts of the section being or end, but what I am sure is that the song as a whole managed to piss me off several times. Not because it’s bad – it’s not – but because it repeatedly uses several words and phrases several times, words I cannot stand. You know Trichophobia – that aversion to irregular patterns, usually holes or dots? Alternatively, have you seen the movie Pontypool – a horror movie about people trapped in a radio station due to an outbreak of WORDS? It’s about a virus which seems to spread when people say or hear certain words… this song and the next song unnerved me somewhat because they used certain words which make my skin crawl. I have no explanation for why I don’t like these words, but I honestly don’t like hearing them spoken out loud – words including ‘lager’ (which is unpronounceable in my accent) and ‘wide boys’. I despise that phrase, I’m laughing as I type this, but that genuinely sickens me.
Throw in spoken words, throw in a French part which I originally heard as ‘John Todd don’t care’ – John Todd being an old associate of my father – the whole thing was making my head wonky and I had to put it away. After listening to this once and having been suitably unnerved, I went straight to the next song only to encounter the aforementioned wide boys. I had to then go back and listen to the opening three songs again then not return to the album for a couple of days until I was ready to listen again. Knowing what was coming I was able to steal myself somewhat for hearing the distasteful stuff and then appreciate everything else. Still, I thought I would call all of that out to show what an odd person I must be and to let you know that I probably won’t listen to the two tracks more beyond this post. Which is a shame because the rest of the album has been great.
Having listened to the two tracks back to back, what I will say is that the album takes a more sinister turn – beyond my own weird brain stuff – and steps away from the comfortable forays into nostalgia and sadness. Now it sounds focused, obsessed, and paranoid – trapped in the memory and unable to move on. The synth keys are longer and feel more threatening, the lyrics angrier, the music as a whole is more disjointed, with little bass blips trickling in and out, echo samples, dissonant hits on the cymbals, and guitar bends cutting into jagged three second solos. Of course we do get a call back to dilly dilly – the missing lyrics from the Google search result I retrieved for Lavender appear here, but they are more mournful. This isn’t merely looking back with bittersweet fondness and regret momentarily, this is a genuine wish to hop in a DeLorean and go back to potentially fuck things up even more.
Musically for Bitter Suite, the standout section for me is Misplaced Rendevouz. It is suitably downbeat yet retains a fragile beauty which then transitions into the Windswept piece. It further transitions into Heart Of Lothian where it all goes a bit wrong with the chanting of ‘wide boys’ over and over again, at which point my lunch comes back up and ends up on my lap. I was quite psyched at the shift from minor to major in the music and the more buoyant tone, right up until ‘wide boys’ started and sucked all of the fun out of it for me. Putting, or trying to put that phrase to the side, it’s another track which feels like an ending credit scene. It does close this side of the album, but not before the music pulls back somewhat to become more like a lullaby or the comedown after a climax.
I didn’t find too much distinction between these last two tracks in my limited listens of them. They could have been merged into one large track of six pieces just as easily as they way they do appear and although there are various transitions between each piece, they do tick that coherent cohesive box I mentioned at the top of the post. The differing pieces are not so wildly divergent from one another and if I had been listening to the physical album rather than on Youtube (with its Ad breaks) I may not have noticed when one part or song ended and the next began.
I refer to Google for a definitive breakdown of the lyrics, section by section. Brief Encounter is the spoken spider part – it very much reads like it was designed to be spoken aloud rather than sung and thanks to the way it is delivered – right down to the accent – it reminds me of a similar section from Nightwish’s epic Song Of Myself. I can only assume Nightwish was influenced here, it seems like too much of a coincidence. The ‘your carnation will rot in a vase’ seems quite abrupt and unrelated to the lines before, unless it’s referring simply to the passing of time in a bitter manner. Is there something to do with Scotland and England here – Fish is Scottish, is he speaking about an English girlfriend? Grasping, I know.
Lost Weekend… lyrically there isn’t much to say – mums, dads, daughters, beer, memories. Blue Angel covers another brief encounter as the narrator apparently meets a sex worker with scars or drug and physical abuse for some ‘respite’. It’s not exactly plot, but what passes for such in a concept album, but it is written with some of the old poetic flair from the previous albums. Misplaced Rendevouz… the narrator is coming to his wits a little? He’s looking for replacements of the one he wants, but is this part of the album a memory, or what the narrator is currently going through? It’s never good to dwell on the missives of a Concept album written under the spell of hallucinogens.
Windswept Thumb is playful with its road puns while Heart Of Lothian serves only to make me cover my ears until everyone stops shouting ‘Wide Boys’. There is some snazzy wordplay, plus he fits ‘rootin tootin’ into the song which almost makes up for that crap from earlier. Not a lot to this piece, so with that I’ll move over to the Podcast where presumably neither Paul or Sanja will also mention a dislike of ‘wide boys’.
It’s a long episode (for them) at one hour, and it seems like the album has been split into three parts. Paul has eight pages of notes on what I can only assume is one of his favourite albums. He leads us in by telling us of the album’s success, but how it sowed the seeds of Fish throwing his toys out of his sporran. We hear about the band writing the album while releasing a live album, and how they originally envisaged the album as two tracks – one on each side. Now, due to my lack of a writing schedule, I’m actually listening this episode of the Podcast having already written my Post for Side B of Misplaced Childhood – so I find it interesting that Paul mentions Brothers In Arms – more on that next week I guess. That also means it’s been so long that I wrote the bulk of this post that I can’t really remember what I wrote and I can’t be arsed scrolling up to see, but I think I wrote about Concept Albums not exactly being in vogue in 1985. Paul is treating the episode a little differently due to this being a Concept album, and may not go track by track – I did consider writing my posts for this album in a different way but given that I didn’t know the album I thought this would be too much effort.
Paul shares some memories of Wogan, memories which have been muddied by time, but he does remember buying the Kayleigh single after seeing the band live on Terry’s show. I was more of an Auntie’s Bloomers guy. The single was huge, only held off Number One by a bit of a fluke – is this like A Design For Life being held off the top spot by Return Of The Mack or some shit? Ah, so it is Fish doing the speaking then. A Design For Life was the song which sucked me into the Manics, but for me that was entirely the song, not the artwork or any other faff. It wasn’t until later songs from the same album, loving the album, reading the lyrics, and then being sucked down the rabbit hole of their history and falling in love. I will say that many a Metal album and Horror movie was bought or rented by me in my childhood based on its artwork. All this talk of the album’s Production and writing process is always fascinating to me – I did ask myself some related questions which this is answering – whether songs were fully formed or slapped together or cut up. Incidentally, I was 13 or 14… 13 when I first heard A Design For Life. By that point I was already aware of Concept type albums thanks to Alice Cooper, though I didn’t get into most of the other Concept Albums I enjoy until later.
There’s more about the Production – Germany, a commercially viable Producer, two tabs of acid, and a bike ride. Many albums have grown out of similar enough situations. Paul’s description of ‘not showing off’ is that quiet maturity and confidence I allude to either in this post or my Side B post – again, I wrote both a while back and haven’t got around to actually listening to the Podcasts yet. But yes, this came across to me while listening – they knew they were good, but didn’t need to rub it in anyone’s face in this instance. Rothers was interested in making Film Scores at the time and this approach of using sound to tell a story is quite clear.
Sanja describes the album as dense – maybe it’s the switch towards music and away from lyrics, but I found it less dense. I’m sure there’s plenty to unwrap that I haven’t yet, and less dense is maybe not the best way to describe it, but it is more approachable and those classic Commercial moments act as a scythe pushing the dense moments to the side. This means plebs like me who are coming to this new and may not revisit multiple times in the future can enjoy those pop rock hits without having to wade through the epics or the dirges or the reams of prose searching for an accessible hook.
There’s a discussion of grief and the exploration of Fish using language as a mask to prop up the persona of the previous albums, and the album used as a proxy for his own journey back to inner peace and progress. One of the tricky things about Concept Albums is… if the concept is silly or doesn’t speak to you as a listener, then you’re probably not going to enjoy the album. Of course you can easily ignore the lyrics and the story, but then you’re only getting half the picture. The concept of this album, at its most base level is something many people can relate to – looking back and comparing your childhood and your innocence to your current state, and trying to get better. It’s about that good old quote rolled out by every wannabee on every talent show – it’s about being true to yourself. It’s about having the balls to hone in on your flaws, admitting to them, and trying to utterly destroy them. Lightning in a bottle strikes again – Fish’s journey is mirrored by the growth and understanding of the band as musicians and as a unit.
I don’t think Biffo would like Nightwish’s sound (more on that in the next post) but his description of Marillion perfectly encapsulates what Nightwish is – grand, cinematic, yet with the melodic accessibility of pop. Except much heavier. I can’t say I got any sense of Seasons from the music – more likely because here in Northern Ireland all of our Seasons are relatively similar – our Summers rarely get higher than 22 degrees, our Winter rarely lower than 3 degrees, and rain and cloud and wind regardless of the month. Paul tells us that Fish’s story is far from over, and even though Fish seems to be coming out of a mire, the real mire may be to come. Fish became Marillion, and to be fair in reading my posts most of the focus has been on Fish. He’s a frontman – it’s rare for the frontman/vocalist to not be the focal point. Just to drop in the Manics again – in the early days it would have been Nicky and Richey doing the interviews and being the focal point, with James (their frontman) only popping in here and there. Then again, James wasn’t the one cutting himself live on stage or telling American audiences on their first tour in the US that they only good thing America ever did was kill John Lennon.
Who gets bored of watching Star Wars? I may or may not have acquired a fully restored original-Lucas-vision HD version of the original trilogy, and man does it look tasty. It’s strange how we can have that kick up the arse moment when watching a movie or hearing an album, and find that one gateway thing which opens up the world for you. I don’t really remember what that was for me in music – I’ve always loved music. I do remember the first time I heard G’n’R and that opened up the world of Rock and Metal for me, hearing Nirvana for the first time, hearing the Manics for the first time. You never forget your first.
And with that, I’m heading straight over to listen to Part 2 of the Podcast. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the album here, and as always follow the Between You And Me podcast on Twitter and the other places and be sure to give it a listen!