Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Holidays In Eden (Side A)!

Image result for holidays in eden

Greetings, Glancers! Last time I was introduced to the H era, and an album which saw the band aiming to, and succeeding in moving on from their time with Fish in a confident, almost jubilant manner. That transitory step now complete, the band could continue without their past hanging over them and cement their new sound and approach. As always, I know nothing about this album – I don’t know if it is merely another collection of songs, if there are recurring themes, if it takes the band deeper into commercial territory or further into prog. I don’t know if it is a Concept Album, I don’t know if it is heavy, light, dark, if the songs are short, long, or a mixture of all of these. Mayhap the album art will offer some spoilers (or sneakers as I have come to call them with my kids).

At first glance, it’s rather a bland cover. The dark blue and black colouring catches the eye and I’m momentarily drawn to the various creatures which seem to be darting towards the moon. It reminds me of those pictures hand made by blowing or pushing sand around. There’s a tree in the centre, and a bland circular logo/album title spinning around the moon. Animals… Eden… is there something there? It’s a neatly presented cover, but I don’t have much to say about it. Is there any wider context? I’m sure the podcast will shed more light.

I see the album garnered three singles – none of which I recognise. There are ten songs and a running time of under 50 minutes – so a roughly average 4-5 minute running time per song. I’m assuming there aren’t as many epics on this one. The only other thing I would mention is that it was released in 1991. Probably too early to be influenced by Grunge – I don’t know if Marillion got caught up by the popularity of Grunge and consciously or otherwise changed their sound to accommodate for the Seattle bands and scene, but that is certainly something which did happen to a lot of existing Metal and Rock bands. They either tried to change their sound and style, or stayed entrenched in the 80s and subsequently found themselves relics. Prog tends to be on the periphery or complete outside of these things, yet it doesn’t exist within a vacuum. Maybe this will be answered on the next album, but I suspect Holidays In Eden is ‘simply’ Marillion continuing along and doing their own thing.

Splintering Heart continues the band’s trend of setting up their stalls with a longer, atmospheric opener. The plodding intro made me think of an army of frogs hippidy hopping out a swamp and down some dusk road towards the city’s bright lights. What an odd thing to think of but it’s there every time I play the song – going away once the singing begins. While it relies heavily on atmosphere, there is a heavy use of dynamics and it doesn’t scrimp on the melody. Songs which set themselves up to textures or soundscapes rather than traditional often (or purposefully) lose melody and can leave me feeling detached. Splintering Heart does the quiet part/loud part thing well, but doesn’t place it around the confines of the verse chorus verse structure – it more accurately builds its atmosphere and explodes when the tension and story calls for it – the first loud break only coming after the build up of lyrics about heartbreak and the agonized shout of ‘and it tears her apart, but not as much as this’. this first explosion of sound begins with a note combination I have a particular fondness – the little Bb-A-F lick – extending out into a wider reminder that the band can shred and kick with the best of them. H gets to show off his pipes once more, smoothly reaching highs and adding a little bit of gristle when called for.

As I mentioned in the previous album, many of the lyrics seemed to be written about a ‘she’ or a ‘her’ and Splintering Heart seems to follow in this respect in places. With the few lyrics I picked up on, and with the title in mind, it seems like a reasonable guess that this is a love song, or more closely the pain of love. That build up of lyrics in the beginning covers the unending circular nature of pain, yearning, and potentially grief – stabbing and twisting and familiar to most of us. There is the potential that the yearning is actually for a drug, with the reference to ‘the cost of the high’, but there isn’t anything else specific in the song so this feels more like a rhyme to suit the following line. The later talk of fragments and ‘glass hard’ made me think of the old Ice Queen story where the kid’s heart is frozen by a shard of ice, turning him cold to his friend. It’s another matter of fact lyric which doesn’t is hardly the height of poetry, but it is lent potency by the often hissing and earnest delivery of the vocal.

The first things I noted for Cover My Eyes were a couple of comparisons I’ve brought up before – it sounds like Run Like Hell and it sounds like U2. Both comparisons are due to the guitar style and beat of the intro, but that’s as far as the comparison goes. It’s a lovely, sweet song, and it pulls off a new trick – a melodic trick that I can’t recall the band pulling off or attempting before – replacing lyrics in a chorus by ‘oohs and aahs’. That’s something I frequently did in my own songs – mainly because I couldn’t be arsed trying to fit lyrics to a vocal melody I already loved, but at a wanky level I felt that the melody was more pure without shoving semantics on top of it and attempting to mouth harsher syllables. Enough!

I can only assume this song was a single – a quick look back to Wikipedia confirms this was the lead single and only reached 34 in the UK. In some ways that surprises me, but not in others. It’s an incredibly catchy song and normally I would see no reason why it shouldn’t have been a hit. Sure Smells Like Teen Spirit wasn’t released for another few months after this, but you knew music was already splitting off from this sort of sound early in the year, with the increase in popularity of UK dance acts, American Rap and R’n’B, and boy bands popping up everywhere. I’m curious to see what the Top 40 was in May 1991… Cher, Blur, Chesney Hawkes, Sit Down by James, Madonna, Roxette… yeah. I was expecting this song to be more of an antithesis to what was in the charts, but this song seems like it would have slotted neatly alongside most of those, at least more the casual listener. I don’t remember it at all but I think it’s one I would have enjoyed had I heard it back then. It’s their most obvious pop rock song since Kayleigh, and if I’m pushed I may prefer it to their prior hit. Maybe it’s just the newness of it, but I’m going to side more with the sheer goodness, lightness, and loveliness of it. It goes on the Marillion playlist regardless.

Reading the lyrics I realise I got the whole non-lyric in the chorus thing completely wrong – it looks like he is actually singing ‘pain and heaven’, but even knowing this it’s quite difficult to pick it up with my ears. It becomes more obvious when I sing it myself – the softness of the word sounds mean it’s quite easy to cloak the lyrics. It’s another love song about being blinded by beauty. It’s mostly done in a positive way – blinded as in wowed rather than blinded as in not seeing the bad, negative, or dangerous attributes. The word ‘dangerous’ is repeated throughout, so maybe there is a hint of caution which, along with the comparisons of ‘she’s like the girl’, suggest that there’s a reason this person is unobtainable or a wish fulfilling fantasy instead of a reality. Maybe it’s not so positive. 

The Party is a nasty cautionary tale of awakening. I can’t admit to ever been a teenage girl, but I was once a teenage boy with plenty of teenage girl friends. I get that the song is supposed to evoke memories of those first house party experiences, the wonder and excitement and nerves but there’s something about the delivery of the vocals, the music, and the fragments of lyrics I’ve picked up which lend it a darker tone of warning. Once I read the lyrics it should become clear if I’m feeling this all wrong. Looking back at my own experiences, I don’t recall much excitement or apprehension. I suppose because I already knew most of the people going to these parties or because we’d hung out at houses and outside of school in smaller groups beforehand. And because I’m a bloke. Honestly, house parties weren’t much of a thing in my teenage years. There were a few 17th or 18th birthdays which we had in houses, but in most cases these were just where we met before heading out for the usual pub/club crawl. My 18th was a complete write-off – afternoon pub antics to watch the Grand National, back to house for prep and beers, then food, then out to another few pubs where one of my pints was helpfully spiked with a shot of Absinthe. By the time we got to the actual club (the infamous, awfully named ‘Boom Boom Room’), I had to propped up by friends to gain entry, only to vomit all over the VIP section’s leather sofas. But that was fine because we just pulled a table over to hide the vomit on the floor and moved to another sofa. Good times. By the time I got to University I was well-versed in the ways of house parties.

The song’s main character is positioned as being more excited, more naive, less experienced. If you notice I haven’t said much about the music. That’s because I found it quite bleh. Outside of some great drumming towards the end, the music didn’t land for me. There’s something off-putting about it, it’s slow and not the sort of dirge I tend to enjoy. The vocals were a little on the yelping side too, which didn’t help pull me in. The lyrics don’t shed too much more light on whether there is a sinister nature to proceedings, though there is the hint that girl loses her virginity at this party and this isn’t necessarily treated like a good thing. Or a bad thing. It’s the mood of the music which makes it all feel so nasty and finger-wagging. 

Luckily No One Can is utterly gorgeous. It took me several attempts to type anything about this because I tend to listen and write at the same time but with this song I just end up listening to and enjoying it instead. Not because the music is particularly special but because it’s so sweet and evocative. I think about my wife. I thought about some of the people I unreservedly loved when I was younger and I hurt and I smile. Make no mistake, it’s pure cheese, but it’s so sincere and relatable. Maybe it’s because it’s the first time I’m hearing this, or maybe it’s because it gives me nostalgia for a lot of the pop power ballads I enjoyed as a child, but there’s something sweet and comfortable which puts me in a warm and snuggly introspective mood.

Like I mentioned on Cover My Eyes, this is such an obvious single – the only thing missing is the success it deserved. It looks like it did crack the Top 40, but the fact that I don’t remember it when I watched TOTP every week back then tells me that its success wasn’t lasting or wide-spread. Which is a shame given a lot of the other wank which was selling by the womb-full. I do have a soft spot for cheese – good cheese – and I do have a soft spot for nostalgia and finding these hidden hits, so possibly the song will fall in my estimation in the future and I’ll end up enjoying it on a purely pop level, but for now it’s a clear playlist maker. As you would imagine, it’s another love song – this time as pure and streamlined as you would wish for, with H presumably speaking from a place of truth when he found someone who made him realise that the freedom and nights out with the boys and crowds and success and guardedness was just a grey dark shadow.

Overall, that was another nice departure – two longer songs, one of which worked for me, one of which didn’t – and two rather lovely wonderful singles. Lets see what the podcast has to say about Side A. Paul begins by revealing that it was a controversial album. I can see long term fans who wanted their idea of Marillion to continue, and that’s fair enough. To bring my own comparisons in – because many bands have been accused of selling out or changing their sound too far beyond what made them successful in the first place – you have your obvious pop culture picks like Bob Dylan going electric or Metallica simply making a music video, but in my own case if a band I like keeps making music even while they change their sound, I’ll keep buying it. The Manics went from punk to hair metal cock rock to stadium US anthems to whatever the hell The Holy Bible is and then into A Design For Life where I first became a fan. Joni Mitchell went from folk acoustic ballads and pop rock hits into jazz fusion and concepts – though to be fair I tend to very rarely if ever listen to much of her work after Blue. Radiohead went from U2 clone to their own thing (becoming bigger), then fucked off into Thom Yorke’s bemused brain. If there’s any fact related to Marillion it should be that fans should have known the band changes their sound between each album and that maybe they had been trending in this direction. Easy to say for me as someone blasting through the albums in a matter of weeks than the fans who had been listening for years by the point Holidays In Eden came out. 

But yes, so far it is a pop oriented album with not a touch of the wider concept or lofty levels of prog. There’s a 15 minute long three song suite on the second half? At this point I’ve only listened to the first two tracks on Side B. It’s interesting that the band had some turmoil over whether or not to go the commercial route, but when you have one hit the money man want another and another. That’s why the Manics’ Know Your Enemy is so funny because they made that off the back of million selling singles and albums, stadium tours, then decided to say fuck it and make a bunch of spiky, verbose punk songs and the random slice of Disco and experimental nonsense. Enough!

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

I assume Marillion as they are today, are mostly free from record company pressure. Plus with the freedom of making a song in a vacuum and slapping it on to Youtube yourself, you can cut out as many middle men as you want. It’s a two edge sword – you need a fanbase for anyone to listen to your stuff (and give you the all important moneys) but the bigger you are the greater the red tape. If you’re a nobody there’s no hype or red tape, but nobody knows you. The guys talk about the artwork – it’s very blue. Paul doesn’t like it. Sanja thinks it’s okay. Paul gives some more info on how the band and fans felt about the album – there was an awareness that they were chasing a pop sound (and answers my earlier question about having to bow to pressure now) and that this in itself was a wider experiment for the band to undertake. Paul liked the album when it was released, that’s where I am with it now.

Sanja isn’t sure about Splintering Heart – bits she likes, bit she doesn’t. It is another longer one, it is slowish… maybe it’s a little close to those earlier dirges she didn’t enjoy. Paul rates it higher and doesn’t love it, then states there is a song later he despises. Is it The Party? I always hear these stories about songwriters hitting an epiphany and grabbing a piece of paper to write down this ground-breaking poetry – then you read the lyrics and it’s generic shite rhyming love with dove. That’s not the case here, but again it’s hardly the Word of God or some mystical Muse or even a Biffo. Lyrics take time. Sure you can pull some one-liners from thin air and find a place for them later, but a whole song from nothing always seems like a stretch. I don’t recall Norman Wisdom doing a Brucie.

Cover My Eyes apparently spurted forth from an earlier song. Fair enough, it happens. They acknowledge it as a fun song. I thought they’d be a little more keen on it, but then again it is just a fun pop song. I love it, but as I’ve said I’m new to it so let me have it. Sanja doesn’t like The Party at all. Well yes, same. Paul liked it at release as it sounded more like the Marillion of old – a story, and atmosphere, aiming for something bigger or more complex. His opinion has waned over time – mainly thanks to much better subsequent songs – that it’s just a lower tier Marillion prog song. Mushrooms… I saw Al Pacino in the trees once, though I couldn’t quite turn that into a song. This sneaky buying booze business when you’re sixteen – always a bit of a strange one for me. Maybe it’s a Northern Ireland thing but getting your hands on booze – especially cider which was 50p for a litre or two – was not a problem at all for me. Being an odd sort, I preferred West Coast Cooler and Malibu which was admittedly more pricey. And I still looked 12 when I was 20. So there is a song worse than this on the album.. great. Is it the title track? I’ve heard it and I’m so far not a fan.

They both love No One Can – of course! In fact, I’m away to listen to it again. Ah ha! Grunge talk! I really only mentioned that in my intro paragraph because I was a huge grunge kid, and if I’m honest never really grew out of it. Of course I was a child then and my musical horizons have greatly expanded (Kurt died on my 11th Birthday, lest we forget), but Grunge cemented everything I loved about music then, and those formative times are never lost. At least for a romantic like me. Enough!

Not a lot more to say about the song, though Sanja does highlight the lyrics. It’s all lovely. What is it about writing while standing in fields? Hey hey, don’t be lumping Iron Maiden in with Def Leppard. I’m a massive Iron Maiden fan! And look at the cheese I’ve just foamed all over. They’re covering the title track now, which messed up my post sequencing so you’ll have to wait until my post about Side B to hear my thoughts on it (basically another Who/Police inspired song which is this album’s Incommunicado, and all seems like a weird bouncy piece of nonsense). They discuss the meaning behind the song – again wait until Side B for my thoughts – but this all makes sense. Ha ha, this is the song Paul despises. I’ll give some extra insight from my side – this is the song I found myself skipping through in my listens. That’s the first time I’ve done this with a Marillion song so far. I listen to each song many times, pause and rewind when writing. This one I made through fully about four times, then couldn’t finish the whole thing. I wouldn’t say I despise it, but I have zero desire to hear it again.

And with that, it’s time to go. Four songs and I still managed to spill out a fuckillion words. Listen to the thing yourself, and the other thing, and slap any comments below!

Tell it like it is!

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