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

Seasons End - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Today I continue with the second half of the Fishless Seasons End. Side A was good, not great, not exactly what I was expecting (though I don’t know what I was expecting), but ended on a high. Lets hope the highs continue with Side B.

Holloway Girl is the sober sore-head comedown after the debauched highs of Seasons End. By comparison to the end of Side A, this is a mundane restart. The slappy, warbling bass intro, atmospheric instrumental, and ominous verse is promising, but once we pass the first minute it begins to ape some stadium rock anthem. A bit U2 lite, a bit generic. I know they’re reaching for the anthemic fist-pumping chorus, and I have no doubt that’s precisely what this will be for some fans, but I’d be the one in the crowd nodding along saying ‘yeah, this one’s okay’ while hoping to not get mobbed by the diehards. I have softened on it after multiple listens, but I suspect that in another album or two’s time I won’t remember much about it. Not bad by any means, but I equally wouldn’t be keen on hearing it again. Average all around for me, beyond the promising introduction. 

I cheated a little when reading the lyrics for this one – by mistake. I was googling the lyrics and I accidentally saw a post explaining it was based on a real person. It’s not a case I am familiar with but it looks like another sad case of miscarried justice and a lack of understanding or respect for mental health issues. The lyrics are certainly evocative of the story its inherent tragedy. I suspect the… I don’t want to say simplicity as that isn’t correct… but the lack of unique creativity within the words and phrases chosen will take some getting used to. The lyrics tell a story in an honest and plaintive manner, but you know Fish would have given the lyrics that extra twist, a different angle, a smattering of tongue-puzzling that only he could have spun. I have no issue with these lyrics beyond this fact – that they are in the aftermath of Fish and his wordsmithery. 

Berlin’s crisp opening is encouraging, as we get another dose of the delayed, shadowy guitar tone I enjoy so much – a chef’s kiss all round. The verse builds a wall of sound, brick by brick, line by line, peaking with some harmonic voices and brass. Is this the first instance of saxophone or brass use in a Marillion song? I’ve probably overlooked or forgotten already, but I feel like this is the first prominent use of the instrument. Anticipating the sax would merely pop in with a snippet here and there, I was surprised that it continues throughout the song and pulls off little runs which the guitar typically would. Saxophone does have the unfortunate misfortune of only ever making me think of softcore sex movies usually seen in the early days of Channel 5, or steamy late night US Detective TV shows like Midnight Caller. Berlin is presumably therefore a song about a renegade late-night Krautrock DJ who tracks down Germany’s underworld crime lords in her spare time.

There’s a mini departure around the 3 minute mark, scrammed forwards by a whispered vocal and military march. Once more – not the direction I was expecting the song to take. When the first half dropped away I was gearing up for a slow keyboard led ending. Instead it picks up for a harsher climax where the words are spat in punctuated phrases and increasingly torn up vocals, and where the guitars grow in intensity while losing their connection to the rest of the music. It’s calculated chaos, finally fading out with a softer outro similar to what I originally predicted.

One of the first things I noticed about the lyrics on Side B was the amount of songs which, on the surface at least, seemed to be about women – little stories focused on a specific woman. This is a departure from the very self-focused lyrics of many of the Fish lyrics. Berlin follows Holloway Girl in this respect, and features lyrics with a position of ‘she’ rather than ‘I’. From the opening couple of verses it looks like the song speaks about a sex worker, stumbling, sad, and lonely, but it becomes a little more vague as it moves on to give allusions about the separation of the city with war time imagery of checkpoints, ditches, no man’s land. It’s like a lyric spreading out in its scope from a single woman to a man who may have known her to various groups inhabiting the city – soldiers, skinheads and punks, bakers, butchers, dancers – everyone. A snapshot of a city lost. 

After Me – rather nice, no? Quite a similar sound and vibe to Easter. I could be cynical again and say that as it reaches its highest point it sounds like its aiming for that U2 stadium sound – not a full blown anthem, but a song which rises to a fist-pumping climax. Honestly, it feels more like when Radiohead mimic U2 on Pablo Honey. Regardless of whether any of this was intentional or not – there’s nothing wrong with incorporating music or styles from other artists or influences into your own music. Regardless of the intent, it still sounds good. While I’m by no means a big U2 fan, and I enjoy Radiohead’s early mimicry more than U2’s own efforts, this doesn’t quite reach the same potency or power of either for me. But. Still. Good.

I don’t know if this suggests the direction the band will continue to move towards – more ballads, a more commercial streamlined sound, more short palette cleansing songs between the larger, expansive, experimental tracks. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, sometimes my favourite song on a complex album is the simple one, sometimes my favourite on the most grim album is the one sliver of light, and maybe those same songs only work so well because of everything surrounding them.

This is a pleasant, gentle song that I don’t have much to say about. And that’s fine, I could happily have this in the background and be content. It’s the third song in a row (since I started counting) which appears to feature a woman as the protagonist. If there’s a twist in the song it’s that while the details concern the life of one woman, the writer turns the focal point back upon themselves – ‘she named it/him after me’ – but then one more twist in the final line that the writer is going to name this feeling, this special dream after her. I quite enjoyed the idea and narrative of this lyric – nothing within the semantics or turn of phrase is too imaginative, but the idea holds significant weight. The song title – another play on words – ‘After You’ suggests a break-up and a continuation, but also obviously connects to the ‘named after you’ portions of the lyrics. So from the outset you’re prepared for a possible tear-jerker break-up song, and it’s written from a place of tender sadness. 

Hooks In You is the second short track in a row. It’s not an Iron Maiden cover – nor did Iron Maiden cover this as it looks like Marillion got there with the name first. This is a surprisingly straight forward bit of riffing to the extent that it feels like a single. It’s not quite the poodle hair rock we heard at the time, but it’s not far away from that sound. It is very commercial pop rock and I could see this being lumped in with all of the other hits of the day. I’d be tempted to say this is the most conventional they’ve ever been? 

Interestingly (or perhaps not for anyone who isn’t me), I have a similar opinion to this as I do to Maiden’s song of the same name – it’s just another song the band wrote. It’s not going to be anyone’s favourite, it fills a space on an album – it just so happens that the Maiden song appears on a pretty crappy album and therefore stands out as one of the okay songs. Where Marillion is concerned – this appears on a middling album and get lost between all of the other middling songs. The ‘hook’ before the chorus is the strong melodic point, with the chorus a rather bland recital of the song title and the verses a standard pop rock frolic. I get the impression that the band needed another ‘hit’ and slapped this one together purely for that precious air time. Or maybe it’s symbolic of a new found sense of fun and levity in the band, departing from some of the pressure and turbulence of the past? 

The lyric is darker than what the music suggests – going in the opposite direction from the previous tracks placing women in a positive light, and instead talking about a woman as having her hooks in this person, not letting go, and causing pain and ruin. If we’re being literal. There’s the temptation to say the ‘she’ is actually a drug or some other metaphorical device. Still, the metaphor is given a gender. The specific lyrics aren’t impressive and seem to me like they were thrown together as quickly as the music.

The Space is all about build up. The strings/synth lets us know we’re in for an epic album closer. It’s leisurely – which comes across to me as confidence – and is comfortable in not being excessive. While it has an epic vibe, it’s not shouting ‘look how epic I am’ like some attention seeking content creator. Rather, it knows it’s good and accepts that people will see that goodness. Vocally it’s a strange one – it features some of my favourite vocal moments on the album, with H sounding like Jan Jamte from Swedish band Khoma in his smoothest moments, but then suddenly turning into Sting in the second half. 

It’s a strong end to the album, at least to my tastes. From a technical perspective, it strikes me that this one had more attention paid to its structure and creation than the previous track. The darkness and smoothness of the chorus, the main melody of the chorus, the long-held vocal notes, the coming together of the string/synth – all to my tastes. I would have been happy if the middle instrumental was edited down to a shorter length – it feels a little like it’s delaying the ending rather than bridging the two halves of the song, but it’s fine. The song then ends as if it’s the closure of a live show. If anything, the song is a showcase for H’s versatility – comparing those highs to the low notes of Seasons End almost feels like two different singers. I don’t think it’s as strong as the title track, but I’d be content calling it my second favourite on the album.

Lyrically, it feels like another snapshot song – a story about someone drifting through uncertainty and dealing with love and tragedy, with the final verses equating this to what we all go through. It reminded me of one of my favourite Buffy quotes – ‘every single person is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy dealing with their own; the beautiful ones, the popular ones, the guys who pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling, the loneliness, the confusion. It looks quiet down there. It’s not. It’s deafening’. Aah, out of context quotes. Certain words and phrases seem to lend specificity to certain events – the bit about cars and trams in Amsterdam, while the use of ‘he’ feels personal. I found myself feeling like ‘everybody in the whole of the world’ should really have read ‘everybody in the hole of the world’, as in the world is one big empty space and we’re all sucked in. 

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

Before I move on to the podcast, The Bell In The Sea came on as I was typing some thoughts about The Space. Usually when the B-Sides or demos come on I pause or flick back to the previous song. However, I quite enjoyed the intro of this one so I let it play. It’s a groovy song – it feels more like the meeting place of prog and rock – just interesting enough to fall into the Prog genre, just approachable enough to be considered rock. I liked it – I won’t say much more but I’d have been more happy with the album if this had replaced something like Holloway Girl. 

Returning to the podcast – Holloway Girl was another grower for Sanja. Sometimes I wonder if you come to enjoy any song if you listen the right number of times. Of course you can grow sick of a song, but maybe the key to unlocking some enjoyment is just listening enough. Paul doesn’t like it and goes as far as saying he would replace this with The Bell In The Sea which is exactly what I said in the previous paragraph. All around lower tier for the band – I’m curious if there is anyone who has this as a favourite. Sanja’s not a fan of Berlin – I was half expecting another comparison to 80s TV and movies, but alas. Is there a trend that Sanja doesn’t like longer, slower songs? Or at least longer songs which don’t feature too many tonal or musical shifts. I think my ‘snapshot of a city lost’ comment sums up the lyric fittingly. Paul likes it, at least to a middling extent, but feels like it was the band trying to write a Fish type song. Oi, I said you were wrong about Chelsea Monday, which was of course a tongue in cheek comment. I do like that one though.

Paul and Sanja both love After You, with Paul explaining it is an H lyric. It gives Sanja cosy, homely feelings due to its tender nature. It was quite clear to me that it’s a love song, just written in an interesting way, from an interesting perspective. Like I mentioned somewhere, the lyrics can be vague enough to be universal, allowing us all to fill in the gaps with our own stories. Is Fish at the door? I’d be more concerned if it were Grotbags. My cat refuses to wear his collar, bell or not, and their remnants are scattered underneath the obligatory trampoline in the back garden.

Hooks In You was a divisive track within the band, with H pushing for it and everyone else saying ‘wtf’. We all admit it’s silly, short, and fun – it’s not going to hurt you in the grand scheme of things. Did I call this one a palette cleanser? That about sums it up. Seems a bit odd you would release a bit of tongue in cheek nonsense as your lead single – this is you’re bit of flag waving to let people know what the album is all about. It’s not too unusual for bands to release a single which isn’t truly representative of the album, but it feels odd when this happens. The Space has been called out as Sanja’s favourite. 2nd place for me, but it makes my playlist too. Paul’s only picky point is the synth strings – of course it’s always better to have the real thing – but he doesn’t get as far as loving it. He does admit it’s a great closer.

Hey listen, I’m happy being the third, fourth, or 50th member of the podcast. Maybe not the 69th, as that would be weird and uncomfortable. Naturally I can’t compete with Fraiser (Frazer? Phrazyer?) Marshall (Marshell? Martial?) and his Marillion website, but I will endeavour to continue to give my ill informed thoughts as we go along. We still have 40 minutes left in this episode and we’ve finished the album, so presumably there is going to be more cat talk? I’d better go off and listen to The Release after I’m done here. Ah ha, its a letters section. I sent a mail. Can’t remember what I asked… something about what the future plans were. Maybe I’ll answer these now:

First Impressions Of H: It’s all very new – I’m still keen to see what direction the band will move in and I have no awareness of any future facts or fun. So far, I’m guessing I’ll prefer his vocals to Fish, but not his lyrics. Of course both can improve or get worse. It’s a weird one when you’ve seen a band in a stadium at the peak of their success, then years later in a smaller venue. I’ve seen the Manics at huge festivals and in Northern Ireland’s largest indoor venues, and then have seen them in the much smaller 1-2000 people spots, though in those instances there are so many diehard fans that the atmosphere was still ripping. 

Turns out it was just the one question then. As a newb, I still prefer Clutching At Straws to this, but give me twenty years and maybe I’ll feel differently. There you go – another one in the can. Does this now class me as in the second half of Marillion’s career, even though there are more years to catch up with than I’ve already covered? Second phase? In any case we are in a new era and I’ve no idea what’s coming up next. Don’t forget to check out the podcast if you want to follow along as a new or existing fan, and feel free to add any comments below!

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