Nightman Listens To Marillion – Radiation – Part 2!

Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a while since Part 1 was posted for Radiation. What with Paul and Sanja getting a particularly filthy bout of The Covid and a few postbag episodes, I managed to catch up and overtake them. That has meant I’ve jumped back into some of my other series – my 2020 albums list, Top 500 Metal Albums etc. Today though, we finish off Radiation, an album which so far does feel a tad like it was out together in a year. Not that it feels rushed – just that the quality of the songs doesn’t shine through. I think the approach and ideas are sound, positive, and there are some interesting creative choices, but the songs don’t scream out to be listened to, those same ideas haven’t engaged me, and anything interesting does not make up for the fact that the songs when taken as a whole, are mostly on par and not memorable. For me. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves – lets crack on.

The first note I scrawled for These Chains was ‘Savage Garden’. I assume that on my first listen I found some similarity between this song and the soothing alt-pop of the 90s band Savage Garden, but listening now I don’t hear anything which led me to that comparison. The early, faint appearance of the chorus vocal is maybe reminiscent of the lead singer from Savage Garden, possibly the strings once the true chorus erupts? These Chains is a positive continuation of where we left off – I don’t think the song is as strong as Now She’ll Never Know, but it is the more commercial song, the more obvious choice to be a single, and is more my attuned to my preferences than the earlier songs on the album. Cheesy as the Continental foods aisle in my local Lidl though.

I’m curious to know how this one is received live – it’s such an obvious anthem – but while I love the quieter delivery of the ‘these chains’ line early in the song, the chorus feels like the sort of thing Bon Jovi would have unleashed back in their heyday – just needs some crunching guitars. There have been plenty of songs using the image of chains while singing about love and pain – I’m sure Bon Jovi probably have something in their back pocket about this, but famous mullet dodger Richard Marx had Chains Around My Heart. The idea seems to lend itself to cheesy anthems. I can’t help but like it though, as I’m not immune to good cheese, and it’s probably my second favourite on the album. The music almost does a disservice to the lyrics as the lyrics are a cut above simply painting the idea of a poor broken heart in chains. Before checking out the lyrics, I should drop in my unwarranted unconnected song comparison here – the intro synth sound and melody here reminded me of the intro to Lost In A Melody by the horrifically underrated The Delays. Look, I’ve even linked it here for you to judge!

Although the song takes the perspective of writing about someone else, this feels very autobiographical. Did I hear in one of the podcast episodes that H has broken up with his wife or girlfriend around this time? If that’s true, it gives a different, more personal slant to the lyrics and makes me a little disappointed that the music has such a glossy, crowd-pleasing edge. I was reminded of Radiohead’s Just by the framing of the finger pointing. Thom Yorke screeches ‘you do it do yourself… that’s why it really hurts’ while here it’s ‘these chains are all your own’. It’s an admission of fault, and the seeming admission in the ‘comfortable’ line that the chains were self-imposed and that taking them off, hurtful as they are, would be more terrifying than keeping them. Allowing yourself to be free, truly free, is something I imagine few of us achieve especially after a lifetime of stuff – education, expectation, family, career, friends, possessions – giving all of that up and chasing the thing you truly want or the life you truly need, is scary. Change is scary at the best of times, worse when we’re comfortable, worse when your British and are expected to make do with the hand your given, and worse if it means failing or hurting others. When the ‘The dawn was breaking’ line drops, there’s a shift in the tone of the music to a more hopeful and anthemic quality which suggests a turning point in the narrative – the narrator has seen the light and is going to break free, but the songs trails off as if lacking a final verse proclaiming resolution. Instead we get repetitions of the chorus, a chorus which simply questions if the narrator will ever leave his cage and chains behind. It’s an unusual mix of stadium filling choruses and downbeat introspection.

When I saw the title Born To Run I was expecting some Springsteen-esque tale of working class struggles, love against the odds, with a fist-pumping chorus to echo through the gullets of every blue collar worker across the planet. What I was not expecting was sex music. Make no mistake, Marillion’s Born To Run is the soundtrack to every softcore porn Channel 5 movie you’ve ever pretended not to have seen. I should expand upon that by saying it’s not one of those lurid pornos where some PI is fiddlin’ where he ‘shouldna’ be fiddlin’, but one of the more tender types. Now that I think about it, I don’t think such a thing exists. Look, it just sounds like sex music, okay? From the keyboard to the guitar solo, all I could think of when listening to this was slow-mo nip shots and heads being thrown back in ecstasy. I guarantee when I read the lyrics it’ll be some loving dedication to one of the band’s new born children or a touching ode to a dying pet. 

I promise I wasn’t suffering from a major dose of the horn when I heard the song and envisaged all of this sex nonsense – as I type this I’m in the least arousing room ever devised, surrounded by cat poo bags, Switch game cases, Yoda’s Galaxy Atlas, and something called ‘Galt’s Body Lab’ which features a picture of a cartoon carrot dissolving inside a stomach yet looking only mildly displeased. Aside from reminding me of Shannons Tweed and Whirry, I think the song is one of Marillion’s slowest so far – beyond picking up slightly for the solo it remains sloth-like and settled with long spaces between vocals and an overall loose and relaxed musical style. 

The song is just about five minutes long and I’m surprised by how short the lyrics look on paper. Three verses of different sizes. It doesn’t read like a lyric, more like a slice of modernist poetry with short, image-packed lines designed to create an overall mood. Best guess is it’s another song about escaping, escaping your past, the place you grew up and all the things you hated about it only to discover that after doing it all you can’t run from yourself. A well worn trope and something I think Marillion has already covered, but the writing style is more novel for the band. Even with all of Fish’s poetic moments, I don’t recall him writing like this. I’m not sure how I feel about the song – it’s pleasant enough but it doesn’t do anything for me. It’s here, then it’s gone. I think I’m only going to remember it as the sex song.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

We close out with the two longest songs on the album, giving us the impression that we may get something more along the Prog lines than we have elsewhere. Cathedral Wall isn’t Prog with a capital P, but it does see the band playing around with different sounds, tones, and textures. It gets heavy in places and I enjoy the swell of sound for the chorus, but I can’t say I’m a fan of the whispered, baby-ish vocals. I don’t know if H was going for creepy or sultry or what here, but mostly it just annoyed me. The main riff, if you want to call it that, bolstered by clattering drums and chattering guitars all – these pieces do work for me and as annoying as I found the vocals to be, I didn’t think the song dragged and I was frequently surprised when the song ended as it doesn’t feel like it’s close to seven minutes long. It’s a curious one; things get muddled in the mix for the last minute or so and I’m curious to know how the original version sounded as it got heat for being poorly produced, right? Beyond the yelping and disembodied howls faffing about in the background, I don’t have much else to say about the song. The ‘massive friend’ line.. that’s another instance of two words being put together and somehow making my skin crawl. Strange

On my first read of the lyrics, another phrase leapt out, one which I didn’t actually hear through my various listens. ‘Peckish evening’ – what the hell is that? The song seems to be about some dude sleeping in the shadow of a Cathedral, its age and girth, and lack of judgement acting as a friend. It’s a nice idea, but I don’t know what led the dude to be in this mental state, or why he chose a Cathedral wall to snuggle up to. The lyrics are fairly disjointed and jabbing, but beyond those handful of odd phrases there’s nothing remarkable which caught my attention. Like the music, I don’t have many thoughts about the lyrics.

A Few Words For The Dead perhaps relates to the previous song – Cathedral, gravestones, dead. Musically there aren’t many comparisons to be had – this being Prog with a larger P (matron). The slightly middle Eastern, spacey, ghostly intro has enough of the feel of a mantra that when the central musical motif drops around the 2.20 mark the song unveils itself as some tantric trance-like piece. It’s the sort of song that, if it had been written in the early 70s you could see the band extend it out to the forty minute mark while playing it live. If the band does this one live, I imagine the pay off is great when the song finally bursts into life. It’s all quite groovy and hypnotic though I think it’s probably the sort of song you might have to be in the right mindset for. I’m enjoying it now, and it’s one of my favourites on the album, but I can definitely understand if some people want to get to the more lively parts sooner than the 6 minute mark. I might say the same with time, but for now I can’t see anything that I would deem cutting floor worthy and if I had been around in the early 70s you can be sure I would have been one of the maniacs waving and shuddering in tribal trance movements for half an hour before going buck nuts when the ‘or you could love’ line drops. 

There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the song – the speaking parts I can generally do without – but from start to finish the drums are top notch, the production is glassy and clean, all of the backmasking is effective and warbling, and H’s vocals make up for whatever crap was happening in the previous song. The lead guitar riff is simple, almost childlike, tickling it’s way up and down the scale with slightly notes every time. Maybe not every time, but it’s not a simple copy and paste each time,, which is the standard for riffs. The explosion of sound after ‘or you could love’ is euphoric and I particular love the subsequent riff and harder edge which takes the song further away from its beginnings, if only momentarily. If you listen carefully, you can still make out the lead recurring riff still being played under all of the heavier stuff. I don’t think I’ll get bored of this one over time, it’s more likely to become better in my estimation. What else to say but another couple of unneeded musical comparisons – Pink Lady Lemonade (short version linked) by the always wacky Acid Mothers Temple, and The Gathering’s MandylionNot much in the way of direct musical overlapping, but both songs have a similar trance like nature.

There’s a lot of violence in the lyrics. Some of the words and images reminded me of Pink Floyd’s Sheep – the whole Animals album in fact. I think there’s a touch of OK Computer in there too, echoing the way Thom could sprinkle a violent shotgun blast with his words onto something which sounded angelic and peaceful. The different verses and sections tie together lyrically, but I preferred to see the opening few verses as little vignettes showing the results of anger, bookended by the ‘it carries on’ refrain to symbolize that these darker human emotions and acts are eternal and have always been part of us. It’s all anger and violence until the explosion of joy comes with ‘or you could love’. It’s interesting, to me anyway, that the explosion doesn’t come on the first ‘or you could love’. There’s a terse little tryout first – the music shifting a little as if almost teasing this alternate approach to living out before fulling committing to it for the final part of the song. As always, I’m reading too much into it, but the idea fits. 

The lyrics talk about shooting up a club in manly jealous rage, or at least that’s how it seems. I don’t think the Columbine massacre had happened yet and we were certainly before the horrific ‘incel’ events of recent years, but given the current climate it’s easy to draw parallels with these lyrics. Each of the three opening vignettes are written in that matter of fact way – nothing flowery, nothing poetic, and in this case that approach helps stamp down the point about the recurring perpetuation of hate. I’m not 100% clear on the final verse – presumably it’s one of these people who was about to go down the path of hatred but instead turns to love, but I did get a hint of the suicidal and the insane about that verse too. It’s the most poetic verse, and it’s a somewhat stark departure. Assuming I’m reading too much into that final verse, is this another case of making things too simplistic? It feels like it’s saying ‘why would you want to hurt those who have wronged you, why would you want to carry on the hate which your parents taught you, why would you want to shoot up a club because a woman turned you down, why would you do that when you can just love? You know, go love!’ People who turn to violence against others, not that it’s ever justified, but they justify it in their own minds if it’s not blind fury. This hatred builds over time to the point of consumption, to the point of insanity. As clear minded and prepared as a killer can be, isn’t all murder insane? My ramblings only prove that it’s a topic not easily resolved in a song, and certainly not with a hippy’s mantra of love. The 60s are over, man, get a job.

Who are (is?) the dead? Which words are for them? The whole song? Are we saying this is a dedication to the victims of hate, or are we calling the perpetrators ‘the dead’ and this is not a dedication but a satirical attack on them? The dedication seems the easiest answer, so lets go with that. I’m especially interested to see what Paul and Sanja make of this is, not because the lyrics are difficult or especially interesting in themselves, but because the subject matter seems complex and violent.

And that’s that! It’s a bit of a middling album for me. A few songs I know I’ll forget very quickly and some I have no interest in hearing again. My three favourites are songs I will come back to but outside of those three I’m not sure if anything else will stick. I did leave it a couple of weeks between posting Part 1 and writing this. I need to go off and check if Paul and Sanja have caught up yet. I think at the time of writing this, their Part 1 Radiation episode is out. My next post will cover the BYAMPOD episodes on Radiation and will likely take a bullet-point approach because writing a commentary about a commentary is too meta and futile even for me. Don’t forget to check out the album if you haven’t already and make sure to listen to the Podcast for yourselves!

Tell it like it is!

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