Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 4)!

Greetings, Glancers! We begin our coverage of Side 2 of the Marbles extravaganza with another piece of the Marbles Suite. The third part of this suite is maybe the most commercially viable track of the four, felling both self-contained and having some nifty melodies, while leading perfectly into The Damage. It has a creepy drip-drip piano intro like some introspective window-watching scene from a BBC Detective show. It’s a section I could happily have had more of, but it leads into a more pop-oriented ballad 2nd half. The second half I could also have had more of. Without Biffo’s explanation of H’s childhood marbles terrorism act, I wouldn’t have known what to make of the lyrics. I don’t think I even made the connection between the lyrics and marbles until I heard the actual explanation, which seems stupid now. They form a neat little story which is evocative for any of us naughty little boys who got up to bad stuff when we were young and ran home to hide hoping that neighbours wouldn’t find out and come calling.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

The Damage, is pure Matt Bellamy. I brought this up towards the end of my Part 3 post, but it’s true. The jaunty piano bopping, the buzzing distorted guitars of the intro, even some of the vocal tics are all very similar Muse songs of a particular era. It’s a fun, fuzzy, pop rock song with amusing vocals. It’s very catchy and I’d call it another example of Marillion making a song which could have been a hit had it been recorded by a different, possibly younger/newer band. It doesn’t too dissimilar to what many of the big rock bands of the time were putting out. I think it could have been shaved by thirty seconds to hit that sweet sub four minute radio friendly unit shifter timeframe – there’s one or two chorus re-runs too many – but before it run out of steam it’s a fun, inoffensive song. This entire section of the album feels very hit heavy – a run of songs which could have been popular singles in another space and time, and this is the most off-kilter of the bunch thanks to the vocal antics, even if it does tail off in that regard before the end.

We have some callbacks to previous songs and themes in the opening lyrics – ‘I’m scared of opening the can/I’m scared of changing who I am’, which suggests both this inescapable internal battle but also a more deliberate placing because he’s done the deed, failed in his bid to defeat temptation. The song itself has its own internal repetition – howling ‘the damage’ over and over like a man banging his head off the wall in regret for the things he’s done. The parts about wanting what’s under the counter (which, now that I typed it also seems like a filthy euphemism) I can only read in relation to the repetitions of ‘natural woman’ in that the narrator seems to be looking for something real, the reality which other people are not allowed to see. What this all means in a wider sense, I don’t know. The desperate nature of the vocal delivery and the semi-crazed rhythms and tones of the song lead me down the path of thinking the song is some frantic cry for a new relationship having realised what has been lost – that could be with a new person or (less likely) with the old flame. But it’s all futile guesswork until Paul tells us what it’s actually about.

I only realised when I began typing this exact paragraph that I’d been listening to the ‘promo version’ of Don’t Hurt Yourself. There’s the album version of the song which seems to be two minutes longer, so I’m going to go listen to that now…. well, that was interesting. I was going to begin my bit about this song by saying how it’s a good single, but also fairly cheesy and that the frankly awful accompanying video only increases the cheese levels. The album version drastically decreases the cheese factor, adding a lovely extended intro and what seems to be a very different vocal and audio mix – possibly with different takes too. Now, I’ve only listened to the album version once and as such it sounds… wrong, compared with the promo version. That’s an interesting phenomenon which probably has a name, and it’s one I’ve experienced plenty of times as someone who has listened to a hell of a lot of music. Back when I was getting into certain bands in the early ages of Napster et al, I would download a song by a particular artist and assume it was the ‘right version’, only to learn (sometimes years) after that what I had downloaded was an alternate take, a demo, or a remix. My most fun personal example of this is when I accidentally hit the record button on my (recorded) cassette of Michael Jackson’s Bad. It was near the start of Just Good Friends that I hit Record, shouted ‘oh no’, and went abut my day. This meant that every time I played the cassette (which was at least twice a day through most of the 80s and early 90s), I would hear the recording clicks and me shouting ‘oh no’ before the song resumed, and any time I heard the true song on the radio or on a friend’s copy, the song didn’t sound right without my shouting.

So now I’m doubting which version of Don’t Hurt Yourself is the right one. At this point I’m more excited about this ‘new’ one, so I’ll talk about it. What a lovely intro – a touch of Country, Folky, Neil Young in the acoustic guitars before the slightly heavier central verse stuff comes in. Something about the rhythm made me think of Richard Ashcroft’s Song For The Lovers, even though there’s little other comparison to be made there. In another era this may have been an atypical power ballad, but on Marbles in 2004 it’s less on the nose, more subtle, and has more textures. Backing vocals and near choir moments, slide-guitar esque screeches reminiscent of what Slash did on Estranged, and the underbelly of funky bass and keyboards all create a much richer sound than what you would usually see in a heartfelt cry for self-forgiveness and stability.

Similar to the internal struggles of other lyrics on the album, Don’t Hurt Yourself is caught between the past and the future, between holding on and letting go, and the overall message is encapsulated in the opening line. All things must pass, from possessions to people, dreams and desires, memories and moments. It’s a hopeful message, but with it comes the inevitable bittersweet tinge of loss – not of sudden monumental loss, but of transitional everyday loss to the constant march of time. The music echoes the lyrical sentiment, never completely committing is bouncy pop, with one foot in soft maudlin melancholy. It seems to be H’s song to himself as much as a song for the audience to ponder over.

As I click on my usual Youtube version of You’re Gone, I cringe as I realise it is also a ‘promo version’. Four minutes, three seconds. Let me just see if there is an alternative album version. Great – 6 minutes, 26 seconds. I really should do more research for these things.

I didn’t find the album version as many differences from the single version as I did with Don’t Hurt Yourself. The single is more streamlined and feels like it has more pace – the album version having longer instrumental portions between verse and chorus. There’s an additional bridge section which bulks out the running time, and unsurprisingly doesn’t feel right after being so used to the promo. In all honesty, it’s somewhat of a subdued bridge and I don’t think it does enough to build up to the release of the return chorus. At this point in time I prefer the single to the album version, aside from a few nice vocal additions in the last minute or so. It’s another nice enough song no matter which version you punt for, it slots neatly within the context of the album and works equally well as a standalone, but I don’t think it’s one of my favourite singles till now.

We’re on familiar ground lyrically – more memories, more loss, more love passed by. More dichotomies – night and day, you and I, gone, here, with the space between either clashing like a thunderstorm breaking from the northern sky’, or exhausted ‘like nightfall followed dawn without a day in between’. I don’t have a lot to say about the lyrics, just as I found my opinions lacking on the music – a few poetic lilts to well worn themes, but nothing which demanded my attention.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

On to this week’s BYAMPOD, and while the guys are not in Poland to see Marillion, Sanja has an ulcer – two wrongs make a right! The guys admit they have less to say about side 2 of Marbles so we’re on the final lap before moving on to whatever the next album is. Hopefully everyone who did make it Poland had a great time. I was here, in the rain. We skip over Marbles iii and go right into The Damage, which Paul, Sanja, and the superfriends call themselves. Sort of. Apparently the song owes a debt to Karma Police – one of the most famous Radiohead songs, but not one I was ever the hugest fan of. Paul remarks on how unhinged the song sounds, which matches the theme, but Paul doesn’t think it’s the best example of H’s voice. I felt that it was a more obvious display of him putting on an act, rather than the assumed mumbling that was brought up on the last episode. Sure, he’s not a Rrrrrock vocalist, but he does the job of conveying that desperation. The polished production doesn’t necessarily fit with the punk ethos the song is aiming for. It’s the first time Paul was disappointed while listening to the album… I suppose they just wanted to throw in a silly fun rock song and maybe it works better outside of the context of the album.

Paul reads the song as the drunken, lecherous aftermath of Genie, while Sanja thinks it’s more desperate and needy than, well, horny and dirtbaggy. The loss of control is there, I suppose I read it more as desperation born out of regret and mistakes and damage, rather than the booze of the moment. Paul later retracts his statement about being a letch (H that is, not Paul…), but instead of someone being vulnerable. Then we learn about what FUAC actually means, as I assumed from Paul’s BYAMPOD tweet that it was the acronym for a Marillion album we haven’t got to yet. And who knows, maybe it is.

Don’t Hurt Yourself – Pete and Rothers switch instruments, which I didn’t notice at all. Though why would I. I wrote a lot about it, though most of that was down to the different versions. Paul doesn’t like it. Dull, tedious, uninspired rock. I preferred it to The Damaged and You’re Gone, but I like a middle of the road ballad here and there. I can see how this, being single bait, doesn’t fit with the flow and vibe of the album – maybe if it had been a standalone single released a year after Marbles and in no other way affiliated, Paul would have liked it. There’s always a pull to write something immediately enjoyable and which is going to promote the album to a wider user base, while figuring out how to make it as artistic as everything else. Sanja likes it more and they have a discussion about the lyrics – is H talking to himself or to others – which is something I remarked on. H himself says of the song that it was born out of his own pain and hearing how others are struggling too, and wrote it as a cathartic expression of finding his route out of pain.

Paul loves You’re Gone, which I felt was more bland than Don’t Hurt Yourself. I suppose there’s more of a Prog base to it, but I had little to say about the music. The context of Rothers building the song makes it more interesting, but I don’t think my opinion of it will change because of this. It’s fine – nothing bad, certainly more positive than not, but didn’t strike much of a chord with me. Then the guys do their own bit about the different versions – Sanja is as sloppy as me then, except I worked it out before it was too late. ‘Not fit to fart up his chimney’, is the phrase we expected to hear. Paul has a greater love for the lyrics than I did – again, I liked the lyrics, but didn’t find that personal attachment which raises the stakes for me. ‘Pessimistic Ghost’ sounds like an Ultra Rare Top Trumps card. Paul goes deep on the potential metaphor reading ‘early hours’ as ‘affair’. I can…seeeeee… that but I didn’t get that feeling. Could be, that’s the fun of guesswork and metaphors. I worked with a guy once who claimed metaphors didn’t exist… like, they weren’t real or something. Whenever he heard someone explaining the metaphor of a movie or song, he would get incredibly worked up and frustrated. I don’t think he was arguing that everything should be taken literally or that people were lying when using metaphors, but he would grumble and say that music and movies were nothing more than sounds and stories and contained nothing extra beneath the surface. I think he went on to work in a Bank or something.

Go listen to the latest BYAMPOD episode, send the team an email, follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and possibly up a chimney, and as always, leave any comments below!

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