Greetings, Glancers! By the time I post this the Great British Summer Time will have sullenly passed us by for another year and we’ll be in the wretched grip of Autumn’s gnarled and rotting hands. ‘Autumn is my favourite Season!’ squeal idiots everywhere, earning my eternal wrath. Maybe Autumn is nice and pretty elsewhere, but here in Northern Ireland it’s where green turns brown, brown turns grey, moderately warm becomes a snivelling cool, and bright evenings and 10:40 PM sunsets become the dismal 5:30 PM eyelid closures of a sloth. It’s the time for anoraks. Do you see?
Forgiveness please. I’m writing this as Summer clings on but also in the midst of an annoyingly clingy cold passed on to me by some tramp or other. Paul and Sanja are busy prepping for what I’m sure will be a wonderful Digi Live, but I’m guessing that means BYAMPODs may be on the backfoot for a couple o’weeks. That means I have plenty of time to listen to an album I know next to nada about. I hear it is better than the last few and the start of them climbing out of what is generally considered to be a bit of a creative mire. What does the album artwork tell me? 9 little dwarf types clad in Puffies, each clasping a clothes hanger with a look which says ‘have you watched the French movie Inside? Yeah, well I can do worse with this’. That’s a fairly grotesque joke, and the less you look into it the better. This is a more eye-catching piece of art than the last few albums – not because it’s particularly startling or makes me want to look twice, but it’s bright and colourful, and it probably would have caught my eye back in the days when HMV sold CDs and not just microphones and Ring Lights and whatever they try to fob off these days. It’s a bit…. Gorillaz? They missed a trick not having the little fornits spell out something in Semaphore like The Beatles did with Help! They could have done a naughty word. What’s a 9 letter naughty word? VORDERMAN (or bumsquirt if that’s too clever for you). Enough!
Between You And Me is the opening track, and should really have been called BYAMPOD. My first thought when hearing this one was that I was worried they were continuing on with the trend of doing a thing I like, then abruptly changing to a thing I don’t like and sticking with that thing instead. I like the piano intro – it’s sad and moody and sounds like a disfigured creature tapping out forgotten melodies in his crumbling former glory wreck of a palace. Or like two stitch-faced marionettes twirling in some bizarre undead ritualistic dance of loveless romance. This abruptly jumps to a traditional rock sound and that’s where we stay. The crisp production is very 2000s and instantly made me think that it was like when Bon Jovi came back with Crush and It’s My Life around this time – still sounding cool enough for the kids and for those who had grown up with them, and still sounding like themselves. This identity crisis has been something which has plagued the band for the last few albums – whether or not is a crisis the band felt themselves at the time.
There’s an energy to the song, a certain vitality. Luckily that energy is something which carries through the rest of the album and by and large the album feels like a resurgence. It feels more confident and more like they’ve rediscovered themselves and what made them Marillion. A simple enough rock song such as this isn’t the biggest example of this identity solution that we have on the album, but as an opening track the swagger and self-belief covers most of the tracks of it attempting to sound youthful or like another band. It’s a bright, fun, chunky song, even if it’s not huge in the way of melodies or hooks. There isn’t a huge amount of difference between chorus or verse but it doesn’t feel close to a 6 and a half minute song. The intro takes a few seconds, there’s a brief slower section in the middle to break up any potentially monotony, but it’s the energy and bounce of the bulk of the songs which means we don’t mind or notice the overall length. It feels mostly like a guitar led track, but in listening back after making this statement, those drums definitely make a claim to being the MVP. It’s a good, upbeat, uptempo opener.
We’re on familiar enough territory with the lyrics as we find ourselves on another roadtrip, heading towards music in the sky. The other day, while I was throwing stones into the street with my kids (what else is there to do in Northern Ireland?), I looked to the heavens and noticed a cloud which had the exact outline of a stallion proudly galloping across the blue sky. I grabbed my phone, took a photo, and when I looked at it later it actually looked like a squashed, legless, gnat. No real point to this analogy, but if you ever see music in the sky it’s probably a bunch of seagulls shitting loaves.
We’re asked what it means in the second verse – the most obvious interpretation would seem to be the never-ending search, the hope for something better; the greener grass, the faster car, the Double D. We’re all on an unavoidable collision course with the future, but what makes the journey more bearable is clasping someone’s hand along the way. It can all feel overwhelming, and we cope with it in different ways – blowing a fuse, prayer, love, blame – and how do these things get in the middle of our relationships and slow our endless progress? The song asks questions along these lines, and notions of faith and howling at the moon for an answer which may never come is something which recurs throughout the album’s lyrics.
Quartz is when that sense of swagger and self-confidence first entered my mind. I noticed the running time, then I noticed the running time of the other songs. Not a single song under 5 minutes and most over 6 – that suggests the band isn’t going after the commercial crowd and by extension you could assume they are therefore more interested in doing something for themselves, or their fans. Quartz is a risky proposition, not purely because of its length. This is a band not afraid to write a long song, but is it a band happy to allow for dissonant, almost anti-melodic and musically barren verses? This is what Quartz provides and it’s something which takes great skill to create while avoiding being shit. I think Quartz succeeds. It does give us verses which don’t have a lot in the way of traditional musical arrangement, instead relying on a lot of silence and space, studio trickery, percussion and scratchy guitars. I could see plenty of people arguing that this is a dirge, but for me (pardon the pun) they do get the balance right. The chorus comes at the right time and provides the correct injection of music, depth, sound, and normality, while the verses retain a sleepy sense of swagger thanks to their groovy beat, stabs of bluesy guitar, and rising synths.
Does the song really need to be 9 minutes? I know there’s an argument to be made for most of these songs to have a razor go around the edges, but I didn’t mind this one being so long. I was happy with the groove and the vibe. I found this one to be more interesting than Interior Lulu and House – maybe because of the swirly bits and uppy down bass in the verses, the brief blues licks filling in the spaces, the drunken solo, the willingness to go a bit weird and tuneless in the middle. The chilled instrumental part after the weirdness acts as a neat counterpoint and I would have been happy to stay in this vibe till the end of the song rather than bringing the noise back. I’d be surprised if this was anyone’s favourite song on the album. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people say they don’t enjoy it. I enjoyed it enough to never consider skipping it in my runs through the album, but I don’t think it has enough to make my playlist.
Quartz is hard as rock, shiny like a diamond. The song is clearly about a failing (failed) relationship between someone compared to Quartz, and someone described as ‘clockwork’. Clockwork is interesting because it always moves forwards, but always moves in a cycle like a snake eating its own tail. Clockwork is a trap which tries to progress but ends up back where it starts, while trying to change quartz may be futile. The swagger and groove of the music seems difficult to reconcile with the lyrics beyond the more jagged, musically forceful chorus. The lyrics are conversational and I imagine fairly accurate in sentiment to anyone who has been through a serious breakup. They are bitter-tinged realism, with a tad of ‘woe is me’ and a sprinkling of passive aggression. The metaphors of quartz and clockwork are stretched to breaking point, but they work, and while they’re similar enough to other such metaphors in other such songs, I don’t think I’ve heard these specifics before.
Map Of The World acts as a palette cleanser or a breather after two longer, more experimental songs. It’s the obvious single, or would be if it were shorter, thanks to the traditional structure and its obvious melodic qualities. It’s mostly sweet and catchy and fits that middle of the road softish rock which used to do well on radio – who were those guys who did this sort of thing around the time… not Maroon 5 (the current purveyors of this music)… Matchbox 20? That’s probably who I’m thinking of. My only note for this song during my first listen (bearing in mind I was popping cold and flu pills at the time) was ‘Andreas Johnson’. Remember him? Glorious was a massive hit (I liked it) and The Games We Play (I liked it) is mostly forgotten now. I don’t know why I made that note, but I must have found some connective tissue – maybe the wholesome vibe, the clean anthemic vocals and chorus, the backing strings. It’s a sweet and inoffensive soft rock ballad thing, and usually these are easily digestible enough to stick on any playlist without being afraid you’ll piss anyone off.
Lyrically, Map Of The World took me back to Brave. Placing itself in the mind of a woman looking for a better world. It’s not as dark as Brave and the character here is supposedly in a better place – there’s no indication of why she has a map of the world on her wall beyond it being a dream and a hope for a better life, getting away, travelling. It’s a much more universal story than what the character in Brave is going through. The woman here… it’s perhaps interesting to note that most of what we learn of her personality is conveyed through her observations of others; she’s watching others going by day by day assuming their pain and fear and hope is buried under suits and shades, she equates these groups of people with loneliness, she believes they are only chasing wealth or spending or being slaves to a system without allowing time for themselves. But who’s to say what’s between her and them, or between any of us? I didn’t notice any notable flourishes in the lyrics, but there hopeful and idealistic dreaming finds affinity in the light and breezy music.
Now that I think about it, that Andreas Johnson comment may have been meant for When I Meet God. It is much closer musically. It’s also the highlight of the album. It also became one of my favourite Marillion songs within a small number of listens. It’s lovely. It did remind of other songs – because that’s what I do with these posts now – particularly Golden Platitdues by The Manics and both Hey Jupiter and Northern Lad by Tori Amos. More importantly, this feels like Marillion being themselves again – there’s a confidence and a coherence in the crafting of the epic which we haven’t seen for a while. Whether it’s shaking the spectre of Fish era long songs and accepting that they are now in a different wheelhouse – one of more classically emotive rock and soundscapes than more cynical and verbose hard rock infused giants.
Does anyone else find the opening synth bloops to sound like they could be the soundbite from a Cell Phone loading, or one of those catchy advertisement jingles for a company like Dell? If I have any criticisms of the song, I would say it could be a tad shorter I suppose, and that I prefer the first half to the second. Those are more personal preferences than criticisms – I don’t have much of an issue with the length and the first half is so good that the second half was always going to be inferior. I could be more picky – some of H’s vocals in the second half feel more stretched and pained than they should, and I didn’t care for the ‘don’t do that’ vocal interruptions. Then again, the second half does have jaunty Band On The Run synth stuff and the synth recall of the main A/G/F#/D vocal melody of the first half. I do love it when hooks from one part of a song are reproduced or referenced in another part of the song (or even a different song on same album) just when you thought that moment had passed.
We’ve seen epics on previous albums, not even the long songs in fact, where the band felt like they were simply throwing ideas around or slapping pieces together to create a jigsaw type of song (pardon the pun?). That’s perfectly fine, and perfectly normal especially for Prog bands, but it’s not always successful and it’s difficult to create a genuinely coherent song. When I Meet God feels like it was a fully formed idea from its inception. I’ve mentioned this plenty of times before, but to me the sign of a truly great song is when you can strip it down to its most basic parts, or dress it up excessively and the core quality remains. A solo acoustic version of this song, or a more stripped back version would be just as potent as the album version. We all define core quality differently but to reiterate my own preferences – melody and emotion are what draw me to a song in the first instance, and what allow the song to eternally attach itself to me. A large part of the emotional and melodic force of this song comes from that simple A/G/F#/D (or whatever it is) hook. The descending collapse of the notes combined with the questioning and begging of the lyrics (A/When G/I F#/Meet D/God) is like the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and allows me both to feel the emotion the band has put into the song and for those emotions to be echoed in my own being. Music can be wonderful.
I appreciate how the first half was much more of a structured plaintive ballad and the second was more loose and experimental. Probably too much of a leap to say the first half is someone struggling with life’s crap and questioning a higher power, and the second half acting as what comes after life. As I was enjoying the music too much I didn’t try to decipher or hear the lyrics and didn’t Google them for a while. I was a little wary of checking the lyrics given that quite a few of the albums have been hit and miss on the lyrical front recently, and the few snippets of words I did catch veered between ‘WTF’ and ‘man, you could have worded that neater’. I find it clunky when a writer rhymes one word with the same word – ‘why does it feel so warm’ is repeated to meet this condition, though I can excuse it somewhat because the entire line (mostly) is repeated. Same with ‘solution’. For me, it reads better than it sounds but that’s another personal quirk. The main line I have a gripe with, and which nobody else will, is ‘what kind of mother leaves a child in the traffic’. It doesn’t flow as neatly as everything else or as smoothly to the music against which the line falls. It’s like it’s squeezing too many syllables in when the previous three lines had four syllables apiece. Then again, that’s coming from a Manic Street Preachers fan who lyrics often gave absolutely zero regard to scanning or length or any demonstrable convention.
As mentioned earlier, it’s another song made up of questions, questions directed at God/the self/the sky. It’s perhaps telling that the song begins with ‘And’ suggesting that the first question listed here is merely the latest in a longer line of questions uttered before the beginning of the song. This quest for answers or truth has been ongoing – we as listeners merely stumbled in media res. The questions relate back to, in this instance we have to assume, being famous, being a rock star. Bottles, girls, being apart, being broken, these have all come up in Marillion lyrics regardless of the writer. The writer turns the question towards the only being such questions are ever turned towards in a final vain hope, the only being who could never answer. The age old question – why is any of this allowed to happen? Why is pain a thing? Why loss, why evil, why? Why do bad things happen to good people? What kind of all powerful God would let such things pass when she could stop it with a flick of her magic wand? Does this God have any feelings? While the lyrics cover ideas asked by, well, every poet, artist, and possibly human who has ever lived, they do suit the yearning ache of the music. We do get the ‘I crawled around inside myself’ verse which is my favourite, and the most neatly out together verse of the song. At least the lyrics don’t let the music down.
Lets hear what Paul and Sanja have to say about it all. It’s many weeks since I wrote the first part of this post and I’ve started listening to Marbles, but Paul and Sanja are back into Anoraknophobia. We start with some new about the new Marillion album – some lyrics were unleashed and Paul and Sanja sing their way through them before bringing up some old Rothery interviews and his relationship with H. It wouldn’t be a rock band without some friction. There’s some recent interview snippets regarding the new album – it’s not long to wait now – and we hear about how crowdfunding began. Long story short, they had no money and said ‘give us money so we can make a new album’. And lo, we have hundreds of artists on a daily basis asking fans to support them in their musical endeavours. It’s undoubtedly a good thing, but I can’t help but think there’s a better way which says the creators get the bulk of the profits and the middle man getting 0.00001p from every listen/stream/sale.
Paul was somewhat optimistic before the album was released – the crowdfunding thing was an interesting curio, Dave Meegan was drafted in as Producer, and the newly joined Lucy was providing positive PR and momentum. Paul was excited and more hopeful as a fan than he had been in a while. The press release was contentious at best, and comes across a little boasty. Boastful? Boasty sounds better, and like a hip graffiti artist. Boasty was ‘ere… WITH UR MUM. It’s a little antagonistic. I don’t know what press releases usually read like. I assume it’s something akin to ‘here’s the new thing by those people that you know. Please enjoy’. I usually appreciate an Us Against You ethos when it comes to musicians, but it tends to not work if you suddenly implement it after a downturn in success rather than from your inception as a band. Anyway, the album was generally well received (including one budding young future Youtuber who gave it 8 out of 10). Said future Youtuber also announces that it’s going to be next week’s episode that we begin going track by track, so this is shaping up to being another long post. Paul does give a spoiler that he enjoys the album even if he feels some of the songs are overlong and maybe a tad too experimental. It’s all about the swagger. Will anyone use my word? MINE. Oh yes, @Sanja, any time Paul says ‘they know’ – we do indeed know.
It’s now next week, we he have news! New news! Nyous? Sanja has a case of Wrong Foot, and the Marillion boys have run out of money again. It seems they have overtaken Guns n Roses as World’s Most Dangerous Band as their tour cannot be insured. So they’re asking the fans to pay for the insurance. I think I can see this sort of thing taking of, so I mean, why not? Incidentally, if you want to chuck some money Paul and Sanja’s way for the second season of Digitiser, go do that on Kickstarter. I haven’t yet, but only because I’m scared of receiving a clump of Paul’s hair in the mail and my kids will mistake for a Fidget Pop It Thing.
The Marillion boys are of course providing some nice treats for those who pay up – no clumps of hair but you can be eternally embarrassed by having a song dedicated to you on the tour, and having H mispronounce your name. ‘This one’s for you, Paul Ruse, it’s called Grendel!’
We now talk about Anoraknophobia – Paul likes the artwork – even if Anorak guy is named after a Chuckle Brother. Mark Lamarr always stood up for what he believed in – he’s a nineteen fifties binman, oh yes. H does a big quote about the name of the album, saying it was admitting the fans were easy to attack but… saying that was ok? Given H’s previous comments and interviews, H maybe wasn’t always the most appreciative of his fans, or at least the most rabid fans. Who knows, the time has passed. Paul takes about hearing This Is The 21st Century for the first time, and mentions that he thought it sounded like Come Undone by Duran Duran. Ha! I knew I wasn’t the only one to hear Duran Duran on this album (and a few earlier ones). We hear about the Press Release and various attempts by the band to reach out beyond their core fanbase – Paul was still on the fence about much of these antics, but he was pleased by the music and thought it was their strongest in years.
Paul says the band were experimenting a little more in the studio and as such the band sounds like they’re having fun – that’ll be the swagger – with some of the guys switching instruments, but even then he admits it’s not his favourite album. We get stuck in to the first track and explore the epic tale of why the podcast got its name. Most of the music podcasts I listen to pull a similar trick with their name – I may or may not be in the middle of a half-assed attempt at making my own (if the other two clampets helping me out would actually help me out) but more (or none) to come on that later. The song was released on 9/10/01, and unsurprisingly didn’t do very well. Were Marillion (was?) ever a student type band – the sort of band twatty students obsess over and as such are constantly being played in student parties and such? I only ask because I started University in September 2001 and didn’t hear or notice anything by Marillion. The Students Union was wall to wall TVs playing Scuzz and Kerrang with the same handful of bands every 30 minutes or so – Sum 41, Marilyn Manson, Blink 182, SOAD, Limp Bizkit, Evanescence, and Link Park – all shite, but at least it wasn’t boyband shite.
Sanja’s point on When I Meet God… I can see a shorter version of the song existing as a single – there’s enough melody in the verse and chorus to tick those boxes. Of course, you’d take quite a lot away from the full package. I just wish we lived in a world where having a ten minute or even a five-six minute single was not a cause for alarm, and that we weren’t constrained by three minute conventions. Paul feels like the middle section takes the energy out of the song – I think I said much the same but with the more positive slant that it broke up potential monotony. Apparently there are Fish lyrics on the album… was that something I picked up on? H really is a lonely little boy, isn’t he? Is there a B-Side called ‘I Wish My Bandmates Played With Me (In The Sea)’?
The lyrics of Between You And Me have a myriad of possible meanings according to Sanja, all basically coming down to giddiness. Fun. Paul thinks it’s a simple song about love, while I thought it was an open-ended search for whatever makes you happy. The love thing makes sense, but there’s enough in the lyric to suggest it could be about other things. Of course ‘love’ could be the open-ended search for love. So I’m right, as always.
Quartz is Pete’s song. Paul loves that it’s unique but also that it’s Marillion. And that it’s always groovy, without saying ‘this is our version of that groovy guy from Jamaica’s groovy song’. They’re not copying. They say it’s both seductive and discordant, a thing which the band seems to do sometimes. Is it like… the ending throb and hiss mess of Karma Police? They appreciate the modernization and production quality, that it’s authentic, that it still feels like Marillion. Both feel H’s ‘rap’ could be cut, as there’s no need for the song to be nine minutes long, and mentions that many of the songs on the album suffer from this issue. Imagine if many songs on the album suffered from H’s rapping. Sanja interprets Quartz as the realization of two people not, or no longer, being compatible. Paul thinks the song is lyrical genius and I can see why. It is neat, it is consistent, and the observations and comparisons are poetic and creative. I still think it’s a little… overdone? I don’t know if the music or the lyrics came first – was it a case of throwing in another metaphor to fill space because the music dictated it, or was it a case of H slapping the lyrics down as a complete piece and asking the band to turn it in to something? I couldn’t shake the feeling that H was competing with himself to get as many lines and words related to clockwork versus quartz as he could.
The guys are ending the podcast after these two songs, and as such I’m going to finally end and publish this post. Yes, I cover two extra songs above but I’m guessing the guys will finish off the album in their next episode so you can always flick between my two posts if you want to compare what I’ve written here with what they will take about there. As always, listen to the BYAMPOD, send an email, and leave any comments on my rants below!