Greetings, Glancers! Today I share my thoughts on Side B of Marillion’s hit album Misplaced Childhood. Overall, I enjoyed Side A and beyond a selection of personal quirks which dampened my enthusiasm for listening to the whole thing again, it was a pleasant experience. Good songs, solid concept, all played out with the usual musical and lyrical skill. Lets see what Side B has to offer.
Waterhole started out with two thumbs up – it’s named after a famous pub from Neighbours, it has a vicious snarling vocal and continues the threatening tone which ended Side A, and it features some bloopy key sounds which crop up in any number of 80s action movies I enjoy. In essence, while not Metal, it feels like it has more of that sort of edge. However… and if you’ve read my Side A thoughts you probably know what’s coming – those fucking wide boys are back. Of all of the terms to repeat across songs to aid in the coherence of your concept, you have to pick the one phrase which makes me almost physically ill. This genuinely annoys me because I think it’s a great song, but I can’t listen to it now without getting angry knowing that ‘wide boys’ is going to be shouted in my ear.
The music then – great, no complaints. As for what Waterhole suggests (drinking?) and what Expresso Bongo is all about I don’t know. The lyrics read a little neater than the majority of songs from previous albums – this goes hand in hand with the more direct commercial approach Misplaced Childhood seems to be going for. The lyrics are almost in rhyming couplets! The images remain poetic without being obscure or derivative – striking that fine balance which will intrigue casual listeners and presumably please existing fans. However, I couldn’t concentrate on the lyrics without getting fixated on you know what and being bombarded by images of cockney twats strutting around and being ‘wide’. Mostly what I get from the lyrics is the sense of being cheated, used, and abused – hoping for something – maybe following a hero or turning up to some specific destination only to be repeatedly taken advantage of and seeing your hopes turn to ash.
Lords Of The Backstage is another short one – less than two minutes – and another instance of songs merging seamlessly into each other. This merging of songs is not something which was new by the 1980s and it isn’t something exclusive to Prog, but it is a hallmark of Progressive music, and of the Concept album. I can’t recall precisely when I first experienced these types of transitions but I can pinpoint some of the Rock and Metal albums I listened to growing up as using this technique, and little me having my mind blown. You have to consider that, when you’re young your main exposure to music is likely whatever is in the charts (or whatever passes for charts these days) and we are therefor taught to expect all songs to have a simple start, middle, and end – even when working your way through an album. One song ends, there’s a pause, and another begins. So when I first heard, to use a continued comparison, Alice Cooper’s Hey Stoopid I was mesmerized by the fact that organ at the end of Burning Our Bed didn’t stop and became the intro to Dangerous Tonight, and that the noises at the close of Dangerous Tonight morphed into the spacey start of Might As Well Be On Mars. That may well have been the moment I understood music and musicians as a true art form, and not just some stuff to sing and jump along to.
Lords Of The Backstage leads in with a looping, hypnotic riff which first emerges as Waterhole finishes, and this riff engulfs the entire song. As much of a Rock and Metal fan as I am, riffs can be hit and miss for me. I prefer my riffs be the introduction, or to act as a bridge between other sections of a song rather than being the central focus. If it is the central focus, then I want some key changes, some dynamics, something to stop the thing from becoming repetitive. Luckily, the riff in Lords Of The Backstage remains fresh by sometimes climbing to a higher key with a slightly different spread of notes and due to the length of the song the riff doesn’t outstay its welcome. I spoke about shorter songs on a previous post with respect to Concept albums – do they only work as a part of the complete album, or do they work as a standalone song? Can you hear it on its own and enjoy it without being aware it is part of a Concept Album? I’m somewhere in the middle for this song – I’m not sure it’s something I would get a hankering to stick on on its own merits, and I think it is stronger when played alongside the bookending tracks. It’s a tricky one, but the example I always give as a song which works wonderfully on its own, and as part of a whole is Vera by Pink Floyd. Vera just so happens to be my favourite Pink Floyd song, a song that isn’t even two minutes long and some of the running time is taken up by samples. I fully understand that this song would be dismissed by most people if heard on its own, and even overlooked in the grand scheme of the other hundred songs which make up The Wall. But to my mind, it’s a masterpiece. If there’s any point to any of this, it’s that I’m sure there’s a Marillion fan out there who calls this out as their favourite Marillion song – but you should probably keep your distance from such an unusual soul.
What I understand from the lyrics to Lords Of The Backstage is that the narrator is sick of his own lies – we already know he has spent a chunk of his life trying to write that one love song which cements his feelings about, lets call her Kayleigh, a song worthy enough for her and his feelings but that over time he has been churning out other meaningless material to merely meet the demands of being in a band. And now that he’s in the band, he’s so wrapped up in drugs and touring and excuses that he doesn’t know where he is, what should be abandoned, what should be chased. I realise I’m stretching a little, which comes with the territory, but it doesn’t sound like much of a stretch.
This song leads into a much longer piece – like on Side A – there is now an epic made up of several parts. Blind Curve tops the nine minute mark and is immediately tonally different from Lords Of The Backstage. Even though the shorter song sounds like a fun little rock song, it’s obviously a more downbeat piece when the lyrics are considered. Blind Curve leans into this desperation from a musical perspective, yet it manages to uphold its epic sensibilities. Doing desperation while sounding huge is not an easy thing to achieve, let alone master. For me it’s the guitars which allow the track to achieve this blend – I love the tone and how the higher notes sound like they are questioning, merging with some of Fish’s best soft moments. There are other vocal moments I don’t think work well, but I’ll skip those.
The song begins with a thumping chord, and a slow, downtrodden beat. I’m sure there’s no relation, but it’s not the first time during this album that I’ve noticed a comparison between the two bands – that opening chord made me immediately think of the Nightwish song Rest Calm. It’s from what is ostensibly a Concept album, though one which is somewhat more confusing. But the fact that Nightwish went and made a movie based off the album – Imaginaerum – means I’m happy calling it a Concept album. The opening of Blind Curve and Rest Calm are very similar, a crunching chord, a slow beat, and a prominent guitar lead. Go compare both songs on Youtube – you only need to listen to the first 2-3 seconds of each to get what I’m saying – and there’s…. there’s something there. I did a quick Google search but I couldn’t find any instance of Nightwish calling Marillion an influence. But I would be very surprised if the band had not listened to Misplaced Childhood quite a bit. The cynic in me slaps the conspiracy theorist around and says ‘there are millions of songs out there, of course you’re going to encounter songs which happen to sound the same, never mind three seconds of music which have some base similarities’…. but there’s something there. Both albums feature a concept about looking back to one’s youth and childhood, both feature a washed out Rock Star as their narrator, both feature a hit single named after a woman, and both feature a song with a long spoken section with a Scottish voice. I’m sure there’s a Nightwish fan out there who is also a big Marillion fan, so let me know I’m not entirely barking up the wrong arse here.
What I assume is the Passing Strangers piece of the song is particularly lovely – it’s dark, ambient, and atmospheric and has maybe my favourite Fish vocals, all topped up with a face-melting guitar solo to rival anything the Metal bands were churning out in 1984. This seems to transition into the Mylo section where one of my irks about Fish’s vocal style comes out – the way he raises, drops, and wobbles his vocals in the space of a single word. That has begun to grate on me over the last couple of albums – I get that’s his style, but it’s one of those instances of the more I notice it the more it annoys me, sounding like he’s singing in the backseat of a car going over a particularly bumpy road. Couple that with some increasing nasal activity and I get the impression that Fish isn’t ever going to be my favourite singer. Jesus, don’t hurt me okay, I fully admit to listening to singers most people would not enjoy. If you happened to listen to Rest Calm from earlier, you probably heard some male vocals you hated. It’s fine, he makes up for it with his lyrics and overall unique style – but some of those inflections and choices do irk me.
I thought I heard ‘boys’ again towards the end of the song, but it turns out this was actually ‘convoys’, which is fine. Lyrically the song starts out in a bleak position, and although I wouldn’t say it ever becomes hopeful or finds a happy place, it does seem to shake free of self doubt to a place of action, or at the very least a place where the narrator is questioning what he sees in the present rather than dwelling in mumbling apathy. Is it a battle cry, or is it suicidal? Maybe it’s because the music also takes on a more euphoric tint as it heads towards its conclusion, and this tone rubs off on the lyrics. The entirety of the song is conversational and there is little of the poet flapping his quill in the air and sighing for inspiration over another chiastic metaphor (there’s my seven years of Latin coming through). It reads like a blend of arguments, both internal and external, a series of drunken recollections and associated reflections – I’ve no idea who Mylo was or why he was so important – all through the voice of the rock star who is just done with it all. It’s quite similar to some of the thematic moments from The Wall as I’ve mentioned already, but the life of someone in the public eye is something I can only assume to be quite a bizarre state and it’s a theme which pops up again and again in music. That theme of course leads to notions of regrets, a wish to return to something more simple, a blank, clean, mistake-free slate. I find the song quite similar to Incubus from the previous album – I believe I called it out as something more mature or cohesive – and this feels the same. It has unique moments of poetry, but it doesn’t over extend. It gets it’s point across in a relatively straightforward manner without resorting to hackneyed clichés or ancient unread texts, and it sustains its central conceits of the running time.
Childhoods End? feels like a closing song. I thought it was the closing song the first few times I listened to it. Lyrically and musically it seems to conclude matters. The muted guitar riff combined with the synth create a mournful yet accepting tone and the vocal melodies in the verses also blend sadness and happiness. I don’t find the chorus as strong or as interesting but it’s not weak by any means, and it does remind me of So Far Away by Dire Straits which I believe was released in the same year. But it’s not the last song, and White Feather comes blasting in at the end with all of its U2 guitars and echoing vocals. White Feather feels like a bit of an anti-climax after Childhoods End – it does have enough of the musical tone of everything which has preceded it but it does feel like a bit of a bonus track, and it does sound noticeably more upbeat than the rest of the album. They’re singing about carrying a white flag, but it doesn’t sound like the surrender which the rest of the album suggests is coming or has already happened. Does this mean that the narrator has escaped his doldrums? It’s not sudden at least – Childhoods End suggests that we have come to a breakthrough and are climbing out of the darkness, with White Feather being the rallying call for the narrator, the band, and the fans. I’m not sure the album needs it though, but what do I know?
I’m aware there is a Pink Floyd song called Childhood’s End – that always felt like a trial run for everything on Dark Side Of The Moon – I don’t know if there’s any story linking these two tracks together beyond the name. Lyrically, Childhoods End continues the conversational approach while being a more upbeat affair. You have your standard images – looking out the window to see the rain has stopped, understanding you’re not alone – aligned with the running images of the album such as realising that the child you once were never really left. The narrator has had his epiphany and can presumably move on in the accepting understanding that ‘she’ has moved on too. It’s all self explanatory and I realise Fish says all this much better than I ever could within the lyrics, so there’s no point in me explaining in my own words. White Feather then, does it act as the beginning of whatever’s next rather than the ending of this album? Yes it feels like a rally call, the narrator cleansed and asking everyone to trust him as they embark on the next piece of their journey, rejuvenated and free of poison. I guess that works as a closer.
It’s a… good album. I don’t know if I’ll ever love it as much as those who grew up with it, but I definitely appreciate it and can understand why it was a hit and a breakthrough. I’m reminded of one of those sad facts – it’s that tad more difficult to fall in love with unheard music when you’re older versus when you’re younger. Those formative years are embroiled with feelings and experiences often felt for the first time – it’s only natural that the music enjoyed during those periods are going to be what stays with you for life over and above the more fleeting experiences and songs. Still, I always want to grow and learn and experience more – not in terms of anything genuinely tangible or useful – but in terms of listening to the next generation’s music, reading the perspective of an author from another Country or era, or watching movies made by people whose own cultural upbringing differs from my own. I’m not exactly chasing the next thing to love in the hope that it’ll recapture some spark of youth – I just want to expand the horizons of what I love beyond what I already do.
So, that’s partly why I joined Paul and Sanja on this journey. Regular Glancers will know that I’m in the unending process of catching up on the bands and artists I missed and following this Podcast is plugging one gap. If this is the peak of what Marillion achieves, then I’m good with it. There’s still a long way to go and I’m sure there will be songs I haven’t heard yet which I will love. Paul and Sanja begin this episode of their Podcast by recapping some of what was discussed in the previous episode and why they made the decision to split the episodes the way they have. Today, they’ll be talking about the songs! And ghosts.
Paul calls Pseudo Silk Kimono a scene setter, while Sanja sees it as the opening credits, the period of Civil War text crawl. Sanja sees the song as picking up directly from where Fugazi left off, if we’re following the story of Fish. Incidentally, Fish Story is a great Japanese Movie – nothing to do with Marillion though. As it has been so long since I wrote my thoughts on this song, I can’t remember what I said about it. The analysis is plot and character and theme heavy, with further references to masks and persona. Paul sees it beginning somewhat In Media Res, linking with a later song. Did I see it as a standard opening where a trigger sends Fish’s memory off on its travels? That sounds right. Either way, there is something which sends us back in time, with the rest of the album being a journey back to present day and into the hopeful future. I remember that doodle-ooh bass bit. That’s a bit like my favourite moment from Vera – that shrill shriek like a piece of glass scratched down a chalk board during ‘we would meet again’.
I don’t know when I heard Kayleigh – possibly on some TV show or movie, or maybe on the radio during the 80s, or possibly on the Death Rock Compilation. No idea, but I did know it. Sanja then says some words I didn’t understand. This Shamanic Treatment is something alluded to in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, when Buffy wants to find out more about herself and the true purpose of a Slayer, heading off to the desert with a gourd to contact the spirit of The First Slayer only to learn that Death is her gift. Seriously, go watch Buffy. I promise one of these posts I’ll make a meaningful comparison.
The song has an obvious sadness, not anger. I took it as acceptance – I had my chance and now it’s gone, so there’s nothing I can do about it. Paul gives some of the background details about the writing of the song. There’s a Podcast called Fish On Friday? I just don’t have the voice for a podcast. I’m writing this on a Friday, and now I really want a Fish supper. It’s hardly the biggest story in the world, but obviously it’s huge for Fish – the band got big, he buggered off to the US, she left, and he wrote the song as a bit of an apology. They reconnected a little twenty years later, before a tragic twist ending. There’s a certain woman I knew and haven’t spoken to since 2002-ish… that’s almost time for her to contact me again I suppose.
We’re talking about Lavender now, but I’m already dreading any future discussion of ‘wide boys’. Fish mentions Joni Mitchell in his creation of Lavender – did I mention Joni in a previous Marillion post? I’m much more of a folk Joni fan rather than her jazz stuff. Those first four albums or so are breathtaking. What is it about ancient folk songs being about sex? Damn pagans. Look at Willow’s Song from The Wicker Man – a lovely song, but you can’t hear it without seeing Britt Ekland’s arse. Which is not a bad thing. The band has obviously evolved over the course of these albums, though it’s hardly the shift of entire Genres or sounds, like from Country to Rap to Metal. Maybe they will in the future. I have plenty of bands I love which many people hate, or which will never hit the mainstream… but that’s fine. It’s a little tragic when others miss out on what I feel is great music, but if they give those artists a chance and still don’t like it – fair enough. Just be thankful you’re not a Sensorium Girlybox fan.
Bitter Suite is called out for his its darkness, its thickness, and for Fish’s spoken part. I say no to spoken parts. Oh jeebus, don’t repeat ‘lager’. The anger is described as ‘natural’, not forced, which is a good description of the album as a whole – natural, not forced. Paul and Sanja both agree on the song being sad, with the character looking for a replacement… which I think is what I got from it too. All these encounters and women… Fish was a bit of a ladies man. He could have been in Friends with the amount of relationships he’s flying through. He’s also seen a lot of movies. I haven’t seen Blue Angel. It seems apt then that this song is so Cinematic, with its sections named after movies.
On to Heart Of Lothian, and you know what. Sanja loves the song but sees the character as a little desperate. She also loves one of the ‘wide boy’ lines, which we can all agree is unacceptable. Paul gives his assessment to the theme, from what I remember I had similar vibes and takes. Can we all stop saying ‘wide boy’ now? The team end the Podcast on this song, so I’m going to head straight to the next episode and keep slapping my thoughts here. We start with Expresso Bongo, which I only recently found out was the name of a Cliff Richard song, or an older Engilsh song? I typed the name into Youtube and Cliff Richard’s song was the first return, with Marillion’s being fourth or fifth in the list. It looks like I got the interpretation of this one a little different from Paul and Sanja – them saying it is Fish judging others for their antics. Ah, Paul clarifies that it was a Cliff Richard movie, not a film. Fair enough. Time for my regular Manics comparison – A Design For Life – a song taken up by drunks and rugby louts and every other twat who thought the song was about getting drunk, is actually a song about working class identity and how the toffs see the working class as, well, scum.
Sanja loves Lords Of The Backstage and recognises a progression in the character – he’s understanding his position and is struggling upwards. Paul’s interpretation is of Fish being sick of being in a band – I think my take on it was a mixture of these. I can’t hear the name ‘Derek’ now without thinking about The Good Place. Whereas before I saw that show, I only thought of Derek Carpet – a comedy creation of my own. Blind Curve is a ‘slide into the depths of despair’, says Sanja. That about sums it up for me, although I did go off one one of my infamous tangents and talked about Nightwish instead. She picks up a musical cue connecting Grendel which I didn’t pick up, but which Paul appreciates. Paul says this is the acid trip song where Fish recognises the child he once was, almost has an out of body experience, and this shoves him upwards and out of his funk. SuperFishal? He also fills us in on who Mylo was – a guitarist the band knew who had died, so obviously most of the emotion of the song and the lyric is coming from a real place – it’s a song born rather than built. There’s a discussion about the craft of the song, the reality of the emotion, and the power of music when music and words are symbiotic. Some albums have a power, an aura, and while I will say a lot of such power always comes from whatever baggage the listener brings, the best of these types of albums have an innate ability to wrap up any listener in its clutches.
Sanja teared up while listening to Childhood’s End? and describes the song as a journey coming full circle – similar to me spotting it as an obvious closer. Paul and Sanja talk about magpies for a while – magpies popping up on several albums so far – and what this could possibly symbolize. When I hadn’t moved out of my parents’ house yet and played guitar in my bedroom, two magpies would always come and sit on the windowsill. Were they listening? Were they entranced by the shiny strings? Were they superfans and were hoping to pick up a plectrum if I launched one out the window? Who knows, but this was a daily occurrence. I love magpies – they are very pretty birds – and much preferable to the giant monster spiders which would also find their way into my room.
White Feather brings the podcast to a close, with Sanja filling in some gaps in World History by saying the white feather was a sign of cowardice in military circles – I wasn’t aware of such things. Paul believes the song is Fish admitting he’s happy being a coward and that the album as a whole feels like a therapeutic journey. There’s a summary of the personal connection the guys have, obviously most potent on Paul’s side as a lifetime listener. I haven’t listened to any of these with headphones in the dark – I haven’t done much of that since I was much younger – but I’ll admit to feeling the emotion in the album, and I’d say (in my limited opinion) that it’s their best album so far. It’s the lightning in the bottle, it’s the cohesive nature, it’s all of the guff going on inside and outside the band around the time of recording. There are more B-sides, but I don’t know if I’ll get around to talking about those – it’s that time of the year when Birthdays and Christmas and work starts ramping up to ludicrous levels.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Misplaced Childhood!