Nightman Listens To – Marillion – This Strange Engine (Part 2)!

This Strange Engine
Greetings, Glancers! Diving in to Part 2, we open with Memory Of Water. The moment I read that title, I thought of the rather lovely piece of music from a fellow Neighbours fan called Memories of… Yeah alrite alrite, I know Neighbours, Harold Bishop, Mrs Mangel, hardy har, but I like it. I’m not sure if the actual piece of music from Neghbours is called Memories Of, but that’s what dude who did a cover of it has called it. The thing is, I’ve always referred to it as ‘Memories Of Water’, because the same dude who did the cover has another Neighbours piece called My Knees Go To Water, and both are wrapped up in my mind as parts of the same thing. Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t, they’re just rather lovely pieces of music which soppy old me gets emotional to while hearing and thinking back to sad moments from Neighbours. Feel free to ridicule me in the comments Memory Of Water is a lonesome, forlorn song with a brave opening – vocals only before the horn synths join. Trying to not sound like a dick, but the band absolutely nail the sea shanty melody with this one. Before I knew what the song was called, those opening melodies made me jot down the note ‘pirates/sirens/fisherman’s friend/handsome Pete’. Handsome Pete was a bit character in The Simpsons who would hang out at the harbour and dance with an accordion if you chucked him a Quarter. It feels like either an atmospheric album opener or an interlude between more impactful songs. I suspect many won’t like this one, but it did strike a chord with me and I could see myself sitting near the sea, legs swinging off a ledge, watching the water and thinking about the past. Maybe the song’s biggest problem is that you can’t talk about it without sounding like a dick. The song doesn’t go anywhere and there’s not great emotional high or melodic hook to grab, but it holds that position of being a quiet, introspective song without need of flourish. I like it, but I fully expect most people to dismiss it. In fitting with some of the, admittedly self-imposed mythological imagery I impressed upon the music, the lyrics have a touch of the Fantastic about them, conjuring silly sights such as wood nymphs frolicking my glades and enchanting men away from certain demise to a deeper sorrow. As if that wasn’t nonsensical enough, it’s capped off with the line ‘you’re freckled like a speckled egg’ which is about as ridiculous as lyrics get. Short song, not much to the lyrics, but I enjoyed it. An Accidental Man is a big boy, trousers down Rock song. It’s trying to be at least, but for me it falls apart in the chorus. Good riff, great intro verse full of energy and promise, but fails to deliver the anthemic chorus it needs. Not only that, the chorus feels like a watered version of the verse which in turn dampens the power of the verses. Credit to the slower, little experimental moments – those would work in a song which didn’t have the potency of this song’s intro. They do at least take the attention away from the disappointing chorus, and we do have an organ solo slapped in the middle. This seems like a song which was built off the initial riff but the band couldn’t quite work out how to extend that riff and verse into a full song – which sounds odd to say given the song is over six minutes long. On the lyrics front, when I first heard An Accidental Man I thought the song was about a collection of circumstances beyond our control – we have no choice how or where we’re born and the environment we grow up in influences our opinions and often sets our lives on an unavoidable path. I think the song can absolutely be read that way given the mentions of being ‘taught from much too young’ and how an ‘accident of birth’ holds you to a certain point of view. Reading the lyrics it becomes clear that the song is likely more about gender and the pressures which environment and circumstances can have on a person’s identity. I don’t think gender identity or politics was something which was discussed much in the media in the 90s and it isn’t something you saw coming up too much in mainstream music. You did have bands such as Placebo challenging traditional notions of gender, possibly Marilyn Manson broke some ground on that front but I’m not a fan of the dude or his music so I can’t say for sure, and of course the Manics have always spoken frankly about this in interviews and in songs such as Born A Girl. As it the Marillion style, there isn’t anything overt, the lyrics are not done for shock value or in a disingenuous way, but I think there are enough hints to suggest gender identity is what the song is about. Hope For The Future gets us back to the more acoustic sounds of the first half of the album. H goes for a more Bluesy vocal approach, there’s a touch of the ‘Bon Jovi trying to be cowboys’ to proceedings, but then the song takes a complete left turn into something altogether more zany. And that’s before it goes all Jamaican. That first zany left turn is refreshing, and I’ve been trying to figure out what song it reminded me of. I narrowed it down to it being a song I knew that I didn’t like, but I struggled to name the precise song. In the end, while it’s not 100%, my best guess for the song which this section reminds me of is You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon. Cannot. Stand. That. Song. It goes into some sort of Caribbean space which was quite amusing initially, but gradually became irritating. I don’t hate it, and credit again for trying some new sounds, but I’m not sure if this was the band trying to make a genuine artistic statement or just someone shouting ‘Dyer Maker was one of Led Zep’s most interesting, most hated songs, we should do that!’ For the record, I love Dyer Maker. I don’t love this. It stands out, it is different, there are interesting instrumental choices. But like I always say – just because it’s interesting, doesn’t mean it’s good. I’m going to go ahead a Rosicrucian Pope is some sort of fish… Jamaica is famous for fish. See, it all fits. Wait… fish? Is this a song about Fish? The band’s hope for the future is for Fish to come back? Something about The Illuminati? Obviously I did Google Rosicrucianism and went down a rabbit hole for a while – interesting stuff. What a strange song though – musically and lyrically – that part about palindromes whispered deep in the midst of the jangling stuff and lines which seem to be about some sort of Mystic or Prophet finding arcane knowledge and gaining forbidden earth-shattering knowledge. It’s all a bit silly and funny and silly. We close with the title track, and it’s a biggie. It’s the song I’ve listened to least on the album, not necessarily because of it’s length, but more because it’s right at the end and by the time I get to the album I’ve already checked out and want to do something else. Is it their longest song so far? It’s over 17 minutes long (not if we remove the laughing nonsense at the end), so we assume we’re firmly back in Prog territory. I could be wrong, but so far the feeling I’ve had with the Marillion epics is of different songs spliced together to make something longer. That’s fine, but speaking for myself the songs I love which reach the 10 minute mark and beyond feel more planned, more natural. In short, they don’t feel like different parts pulled together but feel like one seamless plotted out journey and even though that journey is linear and has been plotted out it doesn’t mean the journey is any less surprising. Lets get it out of the way – This Strange Engine is a great song – a breath of fresh adventurous air which stands apart from the rest of the album. I won’t say it sounds like the band taking chances, because they’re supposed to be a Prog band and do that anyway, but it does sound a little like a reminder that they haven’t forgotten their roots. Most of the different parts work on their own, and I guess they work as a whole, but those transitions aren’t as smooth as I would have liked. In fact, in many places they are not transitions as much as dead stops before the next part begins. It feels more like an overture for an album that we didn’t get – bits of songs that I’d love to hear but which don’t appear elsewhere on the album. Paul mentioned in Part 1 of the BYAMPOD Ep that the band sounded almost out of ideas with this album – maybe this is where most of their ideas went. I’m not going to break down the entire song, but I’ll call out some of the more notable moments for good or bad. I felt like the opening was too sudden and should have had some sort of musical build up – the song didn’t come to life for me until the minute mark, but the majority of those opening minutes lacked a melodic or emotional connection for me. Those connections were made after the 2nd minute once the piano kicks in. I don’t like how this section ends, but I do like the energy and impetus of the next. The Kashmir style strings in the middle – good. The ‘Triumph Motorbike’ line – fuck right off. I have no explanation for it, but something about that line felt so badly timed or misplaced that it’s like a Cov Id test right up my nostril every time. The ‘Montego Bay’ section into the ding ding dong downwards keyboards notes followed by the smooth tapped, near synth guitars is glorious. The intro music to BYAMPOD I’m guessing was a little influenced by this solo? I would have liked that section to burst out of the solo into something new immediately, but it does a bit of a musical Montego Bay reprise first. I can’t say I love H’s vocals in places – at some points he’s as good as he’s ever been, elsewhere the yelps and affectations don’t hit the mark. Most of the closing vocal section does work – it’s all a bit Jeff Buckley Live – the laughing definitely doesn’t work for me. I will always laugh if I see someone laughing on TV or in real life – can’t help myself – but when I hear it in a piece of music it sounds decidedly creepy and… not right. Lyrically I think the song is more coherent than the music – less dead stops, more like a consistent journey. I initially thought the lyrics were tied to the previous song, beginning as they do with a child being born in a Holy place. I thought this was going to chart the life of this kid who grows up to be the prophet character from Hope For The Future, but these lyrics remain mostly rooted in realism. They do chart a life but I’m at a loss for most of the references. A holy woman and a holy place suggests a Convent, but the red coat and the bulldog? Do Cardinals wear red coats, or am I confusing Cardinals with Imperial Guards from Star Wars? Is the Convent in some peaceful, idyllic mountain and lake spot? There’s a mum, there’s a Dad far away and missing home, there are smells. There is loneliness. Memories of a time before birth. Is there the suggestion of an AI in all of this – I’m probably making connections to various movies and TV shows I’ve seen which have no bearing on this song whatsoever, but is there something about this life being an experiment? The latest in a long line of experiments to, I don’t know, create the perfect person or some balls, but reboot the thing when it fails leaving the latest version of the ‘human’ with some fragmented memories of past lives. Once again we’re left with a lyric which it seems we can let our wildest imaginations run away with. I’m curious to see what Sanja makes of it all and if she made a narrative out of the album. The most I can get out of these lyrics are the connections to themes we’ve encountered throughout the album – identity and self, confusion, innocence and guilt, and lets just say man and machine again because I haven’t mentioned that for a while. This may be one of the most cryptic instances of an H lyric so far, though I’m sure Paul will explain the inspiration behind it all. The most logical explanation should be that it’s about H himself, his own issues with his different personalities and, his own sacrifices and the sacrifices of those around him. And then he gets murdered by bees. No idea. It’s an unusual album, all told. There are a couple of standout songs I’ll probably listen to again, but it feels more like a collection of curious and experiments. Lets head over to the podcast to see what Paul and Sanja have to say about each song.
Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter
We begin with some additional history of the band – namely another greatest hits which seems to be a better collection of tracks than their previous effort. The band produced This Strange Album themselves – a good way to save money and perhaps have more control over the overall sound and tone. Sanja thinks Man Of A Thousand Faces is a strong opener and guesses correctly that it’s about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey tome. Not sure how I missed that as it’s fairly obvious now she’s said it. Did I mention the book in a previous post. I must admit I haven’t read the whole thing, but skimmed parts of it at University. As someone who loves myths ancient and modern, it’s something I should track down and give a go. Paul was surprised by the sound of the song on his first listen, something I did feel and mention myself. Paul says it may be his favourite song to see live and then goes on to give H’s explanation for the song. Sanja got a very 90s, bluesy vibe from One Fine Day – the 90s thing stood out for me on the first track so with this song I simply took the sound as a facet of the album’s production and the era it was recorded in. Neither are too keen on the song, Sanja thinks it’s pretty, Paul thinks it’s fine, boring, and doesn’t care what any of it is about. Eighty Days is a song dedicated to the fans, apparently. Paul is more aligned with what I thought it was about – the pain and occasional delight of touring. It’s another boring one for Paul in that it doesn’t make him feel anything. He hates the synth solo, Sanja loves it. In a surprising turn, Paul doesn’t like Estonia either even though it’s the fan favourite of the album. Sanja is surprised by this, given she finds the music and lyrics beautiful and touching. Paul does like specific moments – the atmospheric opening, it’s pretty in places, and he’s uncomfortable saying he doesn’t like it due to the subject matter and because it’s a fan favourite. It’s the simplicity of the sentiment which Paul struggles with. I get it. Grief is absolute torment. Loss is exactly that – loss. You don’t get that person back. While sentiments like these can be a comfort for most against the incomprehensible mourning and suffering people go through and while I certainly wouldn’t be cynical enough to tell someone who’s grieving ‘no, they’re not looking down on you, they’re gone forever’, this is a difficult subject to convey in a song. I think if you’re going to write a song about a tragedy like this, or any sort of death or loss, it makes sense to ground it in honest sentiment, but there’s no way to not make it sound simplistic. My wider family (and my family is stupidly huge) are fairly religious and would use their faith as their strongest comfort when someone dies. My Grandmother died a few years ago. She had lived with her youngest daughter, Heather, who sacrificed her own life, career, relationships ever since she was basically a teenager. My Grandmother wasn’t very mobile in the last ten years or so, and spent most days in the house on the same chair, relying totally on Heather for everything. They were basically joined at the hip. While the family was large and mostly lived nearby, meaning there was always someone dropping in to visit, Aunt Heather still was unable to be with her partner or even attend a family Wedding or Birthday party for more than a couple of hours because she knew she was needed at home. When my Grandmother died, it was obviously terrible for everyone but especially her given their closeness. The silver lining was Auntie Heather could finally begin living her own life. She was still relatively young (48-49) and could begin plans for decorating the house and looking forward to getting married herself. A couple of months after Granny died, Heather felt ill at a party. A quick visit to the Doctor revealed a particularly aggressive Cancer and that there was nothing anyone could do about it. She died five months to the day after Granny, one day before her Birthday. One of the last things she said was that she wouldn’t have wanted her life to be any different, and that the Cancer was a sign that Granny must need her in Heaven. How do you respond to this, her most personal sentiment? Being naturally cynical and a bit of a dick, this is the sort of thing I would laugh off if it hadn’t happened so close to me. The whole thing is a mess and we’re all as ill equipped to deal with loss as we are with related discussions and contradictions. There seems to be little wiggle room in writing, whether it be for a song, a movie, even for a book, between either utter gloom or cheap sentiment. Telling things in a matter of fact way would likely make for a hollow and boring product. I’m sure there can be nuance. Buffy’s The Body is still the most realistic, perfect, representation of grief I’ve seen beyond feeling it myself. In any case, the song doesn’t do much for Paul, and that’s perfectly fine. On to Memory Of Water and Paul telling us that the song was reworked numerous times before its final state. As expected, neither Paul nor Sanja think much of it – a nice enough interlude, but nothing memorable. No ridiculing of the speckled egg line, which I’m disappointed by. Accidental Man Sanja went in an opposite direction from me, nailing the gender stuff first, then expanding to thinking about hiding your truest self. It sounds like it’s a mixture of all of that stuff. It seems like I am an accidental man, though I’ve always been quite happy to revel in my fingers up to masculine stereotypes. I cry watching The Body every single time. Hell, I cry watching Youtubers react to The Body. Why is crying not a masculine thing? Blue clothes? Deep voice? Beards, beers, and hunting bears? It’s all bullshit. I draw the line at football, what sort of chump doesn’t like a bit of footy!? To be fair, football’s the only sport I’m interested in, and I watch about 90% less than most fans. Paul loves the lyrics, isn’t a fan of the music, and says there’s a more pop oriented version out there which he enjoys more. We then learn that Hope For The Future is considered by many Marillion fans to be their worst song. Sanja is surprised by this, but I get it. Going back to Dyer Maker by Led Zep – I’m on a few Zep fan groups on Facebook and some of them come awfully close to good old boy, Harley riding, flag waving, MAGA wearing, everything after the 70s was shit, nonsense. It’s one of the songs which gets a fair bit of ire from those fans, probably because it’s not a big riffy riffy, blasting drums orgy fest. It’s a silly, light but of Reggae influenced fun. Once again, I love it. I’ll never fault a band for trying something different. If you’re going to try something different, you have to commit to it so that at least some of your fans will enjoy it. With Hope For The Future I’m not sure if it was meant to be a joke, an experiment, or whatever, but it never shakes the tone of being a bit of a piss take. No matter what, it looks like the fans didn’t appreciate it either way. I don’t often pick the obvious song as my favourite by whatever the band – with Led Zep All My Love is my favourite – a song dismissed by many (beyond its inspiration), and I rate Mr Moonlight as one of my favourite Beatles songs – one hated by most Beatles fans. Sanja likes Hope For The Future and thinks it’s a lot of fun and Paul appreciates how unique it is. Oh well, Paul doesn’t have a clue what this one’s about, that’s a bit disappointing too. We close on This Strange Engine. I don’t listen to the Marillion podcast, so I’d like to know what it’s about. It’s about H’s dad and his sacrifices, which I believe I did mention as my most obvious interpretation. Paul’s not a massive fan of this one even if it is his favourite on the album, but says this was a template for some of the bigger, better songs which would come later. Paul thinks it shouldn’t be on this album necessarily and isn’t a fan of the song originally stretched out to 30 minutes by silence, with the assumption being that the band pretended they made a 30 minute song to wow long term fans, only to have a song half that length. I mean, it’s still 16 minutes. It’s clearly the ‘best’ song on the album, but I get the band being pissed off by certain labels and wanting to do their own thing. Paul says the next two albums are more interesting, if not better. As mentioned somewhere above… I usually take ‘better’ over ‘interesting’. Though both is best, please. He summarizes by saying it’s a beige, boring album that he doesn’t and has never had much to say about it. I’ve managed to fill two blog posts about it at least. Sanja’s more positive about it and both say there isn’t a bad song versus some better albums which did have crap songs. These things happen. Let us know in the comments what you think of the album, and don’t forget to go check out the BYAMPOD for yourself!

One thought on “Nightman Listens To – Marillion – This Strange Engine (Part 2)!

  1. carlosnightman May 27, 2021 / 6:47 pm

    Interesting… I had scheduled this to post AFTER post one, which is due tomorrow

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