Greetings, Glancers! We’ve finally made it – the final part of Marbles before we move on to something else. Or Somewhere Else. I’m ready for it.
Angelina doesn’t need to be seven and a half minutes long. I’m sure the opening thirty seconds or so mean something, but I’m guessing the average listener or fan wouldn’t miss it. There’s radio chatter and the lyrics mention ‘tuning in to Angelina’, but again you could get that across without the thirty seconds of noise. It’s not until the 2nd minute that the meat o the song begins. The slow and static section before then is echoed later – I suspect the opening would drag for me with time and more listens, but I’m fine with it for now. The actual meat of the song is right up there with the rest of the album, chilled, smooth, more reflective melodies. The vocal harmonies are quite lovely, the introduction of a woman’s airy vocals add an unexpected depth, and the guitar solo is tasteful. Perhaps the song’s biggest problem is its placement – we’ve already had several similarly paced songs on an album which we’ve been listening to for an hour. I didn’t find it any better or worse than those, but did we need another? In isolation it’s another strong Marillion song, in the thematic context of the album it makes sense, but considering the running time of the album I wouldn’t be surprised if listeners are exhausted or distracted at this point.
Is Angelina H’s favourite Babestation performer? I can read the lyrics as pointing towards such an assumption, or that she’s a radio DJ. But why? What’s it all about? In a album concerned with memory and regret, is this a memory of sneaking a phone to call up some sex hotline when you’re a teenager? Is Paul going to have a story about H’s parents fighting over mysterious, costly entries on their phone bill – Mum asking Dad what The Permed Milfs (or whatever sex lines were called in the 70s) is? Too many of the lyrics don’t suggest childhood, but an adult drunk, stoned, and unable to sleep, lost in a routine of addiction and insomnia. Is this just another song exploring the pitfalls of the lonely rock star life? That would make sense in tying up the various thematical strands of Marbles.
Drilling Holes feels like the most overt Beatles-esque Marillion song yet. Musically, lyrically, even the name all gave me Beatles vibes. It’s not a bad song by any means, but I think it’s one of the weakest on the album. Having said that, even though I prefer Angelina, I might pick this over Angelina to stay on Marbles if I was asked to cut a song. It’s a little shorter, but the difference in tone and structure breaks up the momentum of the album and acts as a breather before the final two songs. It’s has a noticeably harsher sound, with warbling phasers, clattering keys and bass, and the layering is aiming for chaos rather than the relaxed vibe felt on the majority of the album. There’s a lot going on, from the Lucy In The Sky floaty interludes replete with harpsichord sounds, the day to day detail of the lyrics, the funky bass transitions, the swelling of sounds with barely a note or sound repeated – it’s maybe the most dense production on the album.
Lyrically I was reminded of A Day In The Life – the lyrics seemingly randomly fixating on small matter of fact details rather than some overt grand theme – while being open enough to interpretation than you can apply a variety of themes to it. It’s also has that slightly nonsensical, Goons-esque playing on words which Lennon was so fond of; Non-sequitors, Escher sentences, words looping and contradicting. I did like how the idea of a man drilling holes, and the various other characters coming around and causing interruptions through the day (s) was mirrored by the throng of musical shifts and dissonance.
I originally read the lyric as being another childhood recollection, a child seeing all of this going on in their home, but it seems to be more of a day in the life of a rock star in a band. Hours pass with the only notable incident being someone arriving to drill holes or work in the kitchen, before the band (most of them, anyway) show up for a party. The ‘woman in a panic’ I interpreted as Lucy, the ‘man wearing plastic’ as your cliche record company exec – but more than anything the references all serve the goal of explaining the matter of fact, daily grind of a random day in a rather strange life. So while I think it’s one of the musically less enjoyable songs on the album, it’s arguably the most musically interesting and creative, and one of the best written lyrics.
Marbles IV closes out the Marbles arc, another drifting, dreamy short entry, but harmless and not without its charm. From my own standpoint, the most interesting thing I have to say about the song is my own mishearing of the lyrics. The closing repetitions of ‘only words’, I heard as Hollywood’, but before reading ‘sometimes I think I should go see a shrink in case he can find me some more’ (which makes perfect comical sense in line with the whole marbles/sanity thing), I was singing it as ‘sometimes I think I should go see a shrink if Lucy can find me someone’. I had this whole bit prepared in my head to write about how even though H is no longer the helpless, he admits to still relying heavily on a mother figure to help him figure out his problems. Turns out I’m a half-deaf idiot, though we likely knew that anyway.
Neverland closes the album, another lengthy song, and one I keep forgetting is there. I think during my first listens of the album, I would accidentally turn Youtube off after Marbles IV or I was listening to some gimped upload which didn’t actually include Neverland. It’s another great song, a little overlong sure, with some pieces maybe feeling artificially stretched towards the end. The opening is on par with the best of the album – sombre, melodic – and the minimalist synth backing coupled with some of H’s vocals set us up for another great ride. The jump-scare introduction of the rest of the band pushes the emotions up a notch and H moves into a more rock oriented vocal. I know Paul isn’t a fan of H’s harder vocals a lot of the time, but I think this is an example of H doing it well. It’s sincere and led by the emotion of the song and the individual take, rather than some pre-conceived idea of having to sound raw.
Elsewhere, more good guitar moments – the pained D Sharp to D transitions and onwards down the scale are potent, their Gilmour-esque sustain wrenching every ounce of emotion out of every second, lovely orchestration of the layering keyboards, the lyrical call-backs to previous songs. The final couple of minutes I can take or leave but I imagine the song’s better instrumental moments could be dragged out even further when played live.
Being called Neverland, we’re firmly in the realm of fantasy again – the world created by a mind devoid of marbles. We get a more specific reference to the title in ‘Wendy Darling’, and again with the talk of hooks and tic toks, and it would be easy to see this as another song of escapism. The escapism is there, but it’s also about love, about loneliness, and seems to be a complimentary nod of dedication to H’s muse, whether that be a real person or otherwise. They’re the person, the thing who made H who he is, providing the spark and the soul, and allowing all of these thoughts and songs to be shared. Sure, this relationship may have caused damage elsewhere, caused damage to other visible relationships, but this is the one which will last. It’s an ambiguous note to end on – is it a good thing or a bad thing, and who decides?
Yes. Marillion’s best album, up to this point. It’s exactly the sort of music I was listening to around the time it was released, but it’s only now that I’m hearing it. If any album was going to make me a Marillion fan, this would be it. In a fair and righteous world, any number of songs, albums, and artists would have greater levels of success, acclaim, and fame than those who get the plaudits, and Marbles is an example of one such album. It’s deserving of what it has received, but also of so much more. We’re not in a fair or righteous world and I’m a firm believer that most of the best art and music ever created, or potentially created, will never be seen or heard because the creator never had the opportunity or the will to actually create or share it. We should thankful for what does get out there.
On to the final Marbles BYAMPOD (unless there will be a postbag episode), and Paul begins with an alarming shout of ‘I’m not putting it in’. Read into that what you will. Paul and Sanja have heard some stories about the recent Marillion live shows from friends and discuss themed restaurants. What would a Marillion themed restaurant be called? Surely the Dessert Menu would include Sugar Mice and the bar would be known as The Bitter Suite? Those are too easy. Barillion? Enough. Has there ever been an album cover which is just bird shit? That’s my car bonnet.
On to Angelina – Paul likes it, Sanja less so. They agree it’s a late night song, with Paul drawing comparison to House. Like much of the album, it’s a success in terms of atmosphere and painting a mood with sound. It’s not a song which gets a live airing too often, but Paul says it always works well. Sparse jammy openings. Warm Wet Circles. BIRTH CANALS. Actually… H, water based songs, canoes, horny dirtbag… how has H not written a song called ‘Birth Canals’ yet? While I said I would potentially cut the song, that was more in relation to finding something to cut from the second half to ease up the length. It fits sonically. Thematically too, even if I wasn’t sure exactly what the theme was. If I were to make my own cut of the album – a single album – I’d keep Angelina on. It’s one of the songs which will make my own playlist. Actualina.
H says the song was inspired by seeing a Capitol Radio poster driving in to London. The interplay between DJ and Babestation is mentioned and that’s what I picked up on. So… not really about anything, but by extension loneliness and escape. The production keeps the emotional relevance in place, it sounds like the Steven Wilson mix is too polished and removes some of the feels.
Drilling Holes is a lot of fun for Sanja – she wouldn’t seek it out, but enjoys it when it’s on. Paul doesn’t like it, saying it feels contrived and too whimsical, unlike the bands they are trying to emulate. I don’t have as much of an issue with this because I found them clearly trying to ape a sound. Does it make it better saying ‘lets make an early Pink Floyd/Beatles song’ and then making it – being honest about it up front? I suppose it doesn’t matter much to me, though I get what Paul’s saying. In any case, we agree it’s one of the less enjoyable songs on the album. It’s interesting that Dave mentions how it’s a mixture of so many takes and him throwing in the parts which didn’t repeat. I definitely picked that up, and I think that’s a cool idea. I’ve mentioned before, but I love the idea or experiment of handing a sheet of lyrics to 10 different artists and having them write music for it to see how different the results are. Kind of what’s going on here, but with one artist recording different takes and one producer taking the parts he likes. It’s a hippy, drug-fuelled, Alice In Wonderland day according to Sanja. Paul tells us it seems to be a recollection of them enjoying their time recording Season’s End while actively avoiding the sound of the rest of the album.
Neverland is described as many fans’ picks as the best Marillion song. That’s interesting, I’d rank quite a few on this album alone as being ‘better’ in my eyes. Still a great song, but it’s no Invisible Man or Ocean Cloud. We agree about cutting a few minutes out, but it goes on my playlist. I’m not sure a shorter version would have been a huge hit single, but it certainly would have been stronger – as a standalone and in the context of the album. It’s the perfect end to the Marbles. We’re then treated to a Teaser trailer for BYAMPOD season 2 – Mr Biffo Reads The Works Of J.M Barrie. Incidentally, Michael Jackson’s favourite book.
The guys talk about the repeated references in interviews to this being ‘a male album’. What anyone means by that is anyone’s guess, but it’s not a thing I listened for or something I ever look for in any media. Man, woman, whatever – I’ll listen to whatever you’re offering and try to bridge the gap between the artist’s emotions and mine while listening. Sanja sees Neverland as a gorgeous love song, starting out in a dark and hopeless place and coming into light, and an opposing, correlated force to Invisible Man. Both see it as a song of reconciliation, of forgiveness, and as a powerhouse performance lyrically and vocally from H. Paul has a lot of personal emotional ties to the song, while it may be one of H’s most revealing lyrics.
Turns out we will have a postbag episode, but the guys give a brief summary of their feelings as a whole. Even in my most favourite albums of all time, there are songs I would change, or something I would change – cutting a few moments, changing the running order etc. Is there a perfect album? I look at my favourites – The Holy Bible I would take off She Is Suffering, Joni Mitchell’s Blue I would switch out The Last Time I Saw Richard, The Wall I’m not much of a fan of Run Like Hell, G’n’R’s Appetite For Destruction has a couple of songs I’d swap with others, The Bends has some better B-Sides than what makes it on the album etc etc. And that’s that – go listen, subscribe, like, and share, and let us know what you thought in the comments!