Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Afraid Of Sunlight (Side B)!

Afraid of Sunlight - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! You should be used to how I begin my Part 2 posts by now; Like this.

Out Of This World opens with an atmospheric slow dance reminiscent of the more dreamy Angelo Badalamenti pieces from Twin Peaks. It’s a return to the dark, shadowy style I’m always harping on about but which the band has stepped away from in recent albums. Even on Brave they didn’t quite nail this tone. As such, Out Of This World is probably my favourite song on the album. It’s one of those songs which manages to disguise how Prog it is and how many shifts and movements there are. The key to the disguise is the keyboards running through each phase and connecting the individual pieces. The atmosphere remains consistent even as the mood moves from gloomy and introspective to emotional outbursts. What stood out was that every time a change was coming, I anticipated where the song would go, but then a last gasp about turn would take the music in an unexpected direction. The song is surprising at every turn. It feels like it’s about to end at several points, but instead there’s an instrumental or sound-clip which leads to some new phase. Tonally, I think this one would have fit neatly on Brave but it works perfectly here and acts as something of a centrepiece. At no point does it feel like an 8 minute song because it’s so absorbing, and I only realised how long it was when I began pausing and taking a closer look at each section.

I’ve already mentioned the dark dreamy, almost sultry sway and swoosh of the intro, but the guitars at times reminded me of Radiohead’s Nice Dream. The opening lyric – no matter how many times I hear it I keep expecting H to sing ‘3 AM’ instead of ‘3 hundred’. This soft and moody shuffle leads into a slow but fierce guitar solo – it’s a solo which could have run on but instead is overtaken by the piano intro of the next section. This section is the emotional peak of the song, with H’s pained ‘only love will turn you round’ refrain yanking every last ounce of wrung anguish from the listener. I imagine it’s a completely unrelated stretch, but this did all remind me of the Orpheus and Eurydice story – how Orpheus went to the Underworld to bring his wife back to the land of the living with the warning that if he turned round to look at her once, to make sure she was following him out, then she would be dragged back to hell for ever. Sadly for him, love turned him round and she was lost. Wanky yes, but one of my favourite myths, and we know Prog bands love their myths and legends.

On to what the song actually means – I don’t have a clue. I Googled Blue Bird in the hope that it was the name of Mike Tyson’s yacht or some such balls. In doing so I did find out about the Campbell family’s Bluebird racing vehicles. What that has to do with the rest of the album or anything else, I’ll leave Paul to explain. The lyrics, or at least the opening set, don’t fit at all with what the music makes me feel. When The Beach Boys sing about surfing or cars, the music feels summery and the sort of thing you might listen to while driving beside a beach as people surf. Listening to Out Of This World does not make me think about speedboats, so there must be more to it. Is it equating the chasing of an impossible dream, of a speed record, of living on the edge, to a relationship. That seems like both a stretch by me, and a stretch by the writer if that’s what he’s going for. The last verse may bring the most educated guess – that being in the spotlight and chasing the adulation of an audience is addictive and potentially dangerous, lying somewhere being obsession and a dream.

Afraid Of Sunlight is a much lighter song tonally. If Out Of This World feels like midnight, Afraid Of Sunlight’s synth and shimmering guitars feel like dawn – the peaceful waking of the world. There are drum sounds which I first noticed in this song and which pop up again in later songs which I’m not a fan of. They’re too weak – they sound like a drum machine – and while I get the decision to do this, it’s a sound which gets on my lid. I do enjoy the quiet/loud dynamic which sees the chorus explode in classic chorus fashion – it’s one of the most simple, oldest, yet most effective dynamics in music, separating the two parts of the song, making them more distinct, and encouraging the listener to get hyped for the chorus and relax for the verse. The little vocal bridge/chorus extension peaks like… licking the squishy part of a pavlova before finishing off the crust (?) before leading into a slight instrumental section and the finale. The ‘how do you feel/I will leave you’ build up parts are my standouts, letting loose that particular yearning quality of H’s vocals. I like the song and I have found myself singing it around the house – always a sign that it’s done something right – but I’m not sure if it has the staying power of my favourites.

Lyrically it does bring us back to the idea of driving, not to escape this time but apparently to surrender. There’s the sense of acceptance – of time moving on unaware or uncaring of your actions – and there’s the sense that it’s a guilty conscience pricking at someone to own up to their crime, a Banquo’s ghost backseat driver, prodding and reminding. The ‘spirit rack abuses’ verse is well constructed, the incessant questioning is recalled in the final track, and there’s a neat cyclical nature to the callbacks to Afraid Of Sunrise. 

Beyond You continues the lighter musical tone but also the annoying drum sounds. One other noticeable item (for me) introduced in this song is how I begin to immediately notice similarities with other songs. None of these are intentional, and some of them are impossible (given the song I’m comparing it to had not been written yet), but nevertheless it’s something which leapt out at me in the final songs. For Beyond You the comparison is the little bloopy sounds which come around the ‘don’t want my heart’ vocals – I couldn’t precisely place what these were reminding me of, but my first and best guess was Another Day In Paradise by Phil Collins. And the Commando soundtrack. It’s an 80s bell/synth sound which I think was quite prevalent in the previous decade but something about the few notes showcased here did stir up those comparisons in my first listen.

As we get towards the part of the song about being like a child having a tantrum (more on those lyrics later) there are some drum blasts which reminded me of the boom drums in Every Little Thing by The Beatles. When I listened to both songs alongside each other – they’re not very similar at all, but I can’t shake that comparison. Possibly it’s their placement – the fact that they seem a little out of place and only pop in momentarily, yet the songs would sound weird and have less character if you removed them.

There are a few things about this song which didn’t land for me, beyond the aforementioned drums. The way H sings in the opening feels too much like he’s forcing himself to sing too softly. Whether this was done for deliberate effect – to make him sound more childlike or more deceitful (feigning sadness to manipulate someone), I don’t know. I didn’t get the impression that it was genuine, but I’m almost certainly misreading it. On top of that, some of the more matter of fact lyrics pissed me off. This is entirely a personal thing but I hate it when bands use colloquialisms in their lyrics or write in a day to day/real life example/matter of fact way. You could say that for almost every song ever made and I get that I’m not explaining myself clearly, but lines like ‘I would sit down on the street, kick my legs and scream’ somehow spark some annoyance trigger within me. That whole section in fact. Is it related to the delivery? Is it because it sounds like something someone would say instead of something someone should sing? I’m not saying every lyric needs to be poetry or unique or some disjointed line free from reality, but every so often a line will come along which feels like it belongs in a conversation and not a song. It’s rich coming from someone who writes a blog about music and movies in a conversational manner, but that’s a deliberate choice by me to allow any audience to (hopefully) understand what I’m writing.

Everything else in Beyond You is tasty goodness. I love how the song ends up in a completely different place from where it began and how the volume and intensity increases evenly throughout. H’s vocals grow and get stronger as the song progresses, the mixing of tinkling keys and ghostly synth in the intro is skilful (I’d switch out the drums), and the little cymbal taps taking over from the drums in the middle is a masterful touch, pulling the song back into itself before pushing forwards for the climax. It’s one of the songs I’ve found myself humming or singing least, but the vocal melodies are concert-bait in the best way.

I believe Paul did a bit in one of his interview episodes about this song. That was weeks ago though and given that I wouldn’t be able to answer if someone asked me right now to describe the paint on the walls in any of the rooms in this house I’ve been living in for ten years, I can’t recall how it was interpreted. Does the fact that this song was discussed (at least I think it was this song) mean that it’s an important song in the discography, or that it’s one fans argue over? That opening line I incorrectly heard as ‘If you were a banquet’ and I’m not sure if ‘folds of my heart’ is supposed to be sweet or gruesome. As a whole, the song seems to be about obsession and being unable to move on or even complete every day tasks without freaking out and giving up. Having never been obsessed about a person or a thing to this extent, the only way I can relate is to ideas. As someone who claims to be a creative person, if I have an idea which takes hold, I can’t focus on anything else until that idea has been realised to some degree. You can’t tell from my writing on this blog, but I can be a better than average writer when I put my mind to it. But when I do have an idea which I feel is genuinely strong and interesting – whether it be for a song or story or whatever, the obsession to simply get it out of my brain and onto paper is much stronger than the need for it to be good. No matter how promising the idea is, the moment I’ve jotted down an outline or the central conceit, the obsession vanishes and the need to care about it dissipates. This may be point to the ideas actually being crap and once the basics are written down there’s not a lot more to it, but I think the truth is more that I’m too lazy and/or not good enough to turn an idea or a premise into reality. It also may explain why I currently have 301 draft posts in my blog and why some of those individual posts each contain well over a hundred reviews of books/movies/albums/games/songs etc.

As much as I didn’t enjoy the ‘kick my legs and scream’ lines, the following verse featured my favourite lyrics of the song – a list of feelings and admissions gradually becoming more visceral and potent, from ‘And the feeling comes in waves’ to ‘exhausted and insecure, took all you have and I still want more’. So, it’s about obsession, but is it over a person, is it being obsessed with the limelight? Is it a mixture of both?

King closes the album, but opens with another instance of me immediately thinking about another song. While I don’t think the chords are the same and while I’m hardly a Green Day fan, King sounds an awful lot like Boulevard Of Broken Dreams. The chord structure and vocal melody in Green Day’s (much later) song is so similar that I found myself singing the Green Day song over the verses of King – they fit almost perfectly. It’s all the more unusual because the songs are completely different in every other aspect. It’s one of those once heard never unheard deals, so I’m stuck with it now.

I’d be interested if there’s a radio edit or shorter version of King as there are a few moments which I would shave off to make the song less jarring. The soundbites after the initial guitar intro – get rid – and the long pause of silence towards the end of the song, either scrap it completely or reduce it to a single second. That’s possibly some sort of heresy to longstanding fans but I don’t like empty space in music. Having said that, maybe there is something going on in that empty space that I’ve simply missed because I’m not listening on headphones.

It’s one of the heaviest songs on the album – it never approaches hard rock, but there’s more of an edge to King than most of the other songs, plus the chaos and dissonance and distortion at various points (especially the ending) makes it sound much rougher and more Rock influenced. H is quiet again in the opening verse, but it doesn’t sound forced. He sounds resigned yet accusing, like a disappointed father berating a child for doing something bad after many warnings – ‘Look, I’m not going to shout any more, I told you not to do it, I told you what would happen, and now it has’.

For what is essentially a simple four chord song, the band spice it up and add more complexity and interesting choices – completely removing all instruments from that four chord structure just leaving keyboards and vocals, bringing it bath with single wavering guitar notes like an abridged arpeggio verses the more loose yet traditional guitar tinkering in the opening verse. Even though it’s all repetition of the same structure they do something different on each lap to make the 7 minute running time not feel like 60 seconds of content on a loop. There is of course time for both a guitar and keyboard solo in the middle. It may not be one of my favourites on the album, but it’s an apt closer.

The lyrics remind us of the various motifs and themes of the album – running, fame, guilt, boxing, private self and public self, questions. Assuming it’s H speaking he seems to take on the perspective of that disappointed father/advisor/bystander, asking how long the person can cope with their lies and performance, proclaiming that he hopes ‘for your sake something gets in the way’ in their pursuit of what they want. By proxy, is he talking about himself and the band? By extension, is it all a warning to others hoping to become successful because it all comes with an ‘ensuing, all encompassing mess’? Incidentally, I did appreciate ending one line with ‘mess’ and starting the next with ‘message’. Every good thing is countered by bad; message of love – but there’s so many of them to cope with, there are people to touch, but they all waste away, until finally your choices and free will are taken by strangers. The building of accusations and home-truths with regards to fame becomes one of the more effective and lucid takedowns of fame and success I can remember hearing. The song does appear to become more personal towards the end as it references the writing of songs rather than a boxing match or movies or…. breaking the land speed record. It mentions with a final nail in the coffin – ‘I hope you’ve got what it takes to be spoilt to death’. Like we mentioned in Part One, or possibly in Brave – the chasing and acquiring of fame can be wonderful… but it could end up killing you.

This is one of the first times that I didn’t want to (or couldn’t be arsed to) write about the album, primarily because I was enjoying listening to it so much. I’ve had it on constantly while I’ve been working, and the times I tried to jot down my thoughts I simply listened to it and ended up reading or doing something else instead. This is one of the best examples so far of the band being both accessible and not losing touch of their roots or their creative integrity. It’s an album with the hooks to pull casuals and new listeners in, but enough depth to interest those who want a bit more to their music, while not being as obtuse as their more lengthy prog moments or as much of an emotional challenge as Brave. 

I will admit to eventually tiring myself of the album before coming to solidify my thoughts about it in these posts. I can see why people will rate it highly – it’s certainly one of my favourites by Marillion so far, even if the individual highs may not be as high as on other albums. They experiment without sounding experimental and got most of the novel new sounds and playing around with different genres out of the way in the first two songs. After those opening tracks the album finds its feet in a more cohesive way, eventually gelling and finding a concrete identity, with recurring lyrics, themes, and musical ideas popping up again and again. It’s going to be an album I listen to in the future, but I’ll need a break from it – in the meantime a few of the songs will make it over to my ‘new music’ playlist in the car.

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Hopping over to Episode 3 of the Podcast, Paul prepares us for Sanja asking forbidden questions. I wonder if I have committed any crimes in my post above. Sanja doesn’t like Out Of This World, while it’s my favourite on the album. It’s her least favourite. Paul isn’t a big fan either. As we know, I like dark and atmospheric things and that’s exactly what it does. Am I a traditional Marillion fan because the majority of fans love this one? Hey, I was right about Chelsea Monday so I wait for Paul loving Out Of This World in a few weeks time. Paul’s feelings on the song seem to be influenced by how popular it is, at least considering it’s a Live favourite. Having almost zero experience of this live, I can’t really relate, but I do get the sentiment. You Stole The Sun From My Heart is a perfectly fine Manics pop song – but I can hardly listen to it because it’s played live every time I see them. Turns out Paul doesn’t like the solo much – I like what it does more than what it is if that makes sense.

There is a story behind the song – great, because I didn’t have much of a clue about it beyond the snatched references which I had to Google. If I hadn’t Googled those, I wouldn’t have had much to say about the meaning of the song. So the song is directly about what I mentioned – again, this is a story I had not heard of until Googling. I didn’t know that the soundbites were actual recordings of the dude dying, so that’s nice. Or more appropriately, not. I assumed there was more to it, for such an atmospheric song. Seems the band simply had an affinity for the Campbells and the event. There is of course a rich (?) history of bands playing soundbites of people’s final moments, or clips of their last interview etc. To chuck in another Manics reference, because that seems to be what I do now, The Holy Bible incorporates soundbites from all manner of places, including one of the last interviews with a young woman dying of anorexia, and the mother of one of the victims of Peter Sutcliffe. Not exactly the same thing, but the first examples which leapt out to me.

On to the title track, which Paul says is in the mix for their best song. I liked it a lot more in my early listens but it did take a bit of a beating due to me over-listening to the album. By the time I came to writing about it, my initial love of it had subsided somewhat. Sanja affixes the song into her story of the album, and it fits. Paul agrees that it’s more introspective than Afraid Of Sunrise while I took this less about escape and more like and admission that the person has tried to escape but realised it’s impossible. Which Sanja just paraphrases as I finish the sentence.

The title track and Beyond You are the two Marillion songs which made it on to Paul’s mixtape for Sanja. As such, there’s obvious personal connections to them. It’s always an interesting conversation – which songs would you give to someone to get them into the band, is that different from the type of song you would give to someone whose musical taste you respect, and is it different from what you would give to someone you would like to go on a little date with and hold hands on the way to the Cinema to see Freddy Vs Jason? Slipped into my own personal life then, sorry.

It’s Paul’s favourite on the album, and maybe his favourite Marillion song. H has said he couldn’t play it live because it’s too personal. Fraser Marshall sees the song as a little darker from how Paul does – my interpretation was even further into the darkness reading it clearly as a more unhealthy obsession. The line which Paul and Sanja read as not wanting to leave… but it comes with a caveat… I wouldn’t want to leave if I were a child. He’s not a child, he’s an adult, and sometimes adults have to make other decisions. Am I reaching? Who knows? The only H quote about the song… I can’t say that’s what I felt from the song – I certainly felt the pain and that seems like the most obvious read…. but I definitely took something darker from it. Sanja likes the soft vocals… as I said that did feel forced for me, which fits with my more cynical read. Before Paul and Sanja rip me for not loving it as much as they did – this was another which I liked a lot more before too many listens dulled it for me.

Neither of the guys are overly fond of King. I’m of roughly the same opinion – it’s fine, a good closer, but in a few weeks time I won’t remember much about it while I’ll still be singing Out Of This World. Paul thinks this may be their heaviest song – the chaos at the end does come close to the noisier elements of Rock – and has come to appreciate it more revisiting for the podcast. I think it does suffer by coming after three much stronger songs, and I think the lyrics are more interesting than the music – even if the music is spiced up with the little variations I talked about earlier. Sanja gives an interesting take – previous dark albums ended with more uplifting songs while this one doesn’t. I don’t know if I would say this album ends in the same place as where it begins – I see King more as a comeuppance and a warning and a suggestion that ‘hey, you wanted the fame, you invited the monster into your home, well you got what you wanted so now live with it’. I think that’s a cool sentiment to end on, the hero becoming the villain over the course of the movie, Tony Montana floating in a pool of blood or Michael Corleone closing the door on the woman he loves.

H was heavily influenced by Kurt Cobain’s death in the writing of the album, as Paul reads a quote. I didn’t know that little snippet of history about Marillion being the first band to play on the same stage where the last Nirvana gig took place. With that, we’re done. I know there’s an interview with John Arnison which I haven’t listened to yet, and there seems to be some other bonus eps. I’ll listen to those, but I don’t think I’ll be writing about them which should give me a chance to catch up on all these other non-Marillion albums I’m meant to be listening to.

Let us know what you think about Afraid Of Sunlight, as always make sure to go listen to BYAMPOD yourselves, and don’t forget – Spread em!

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