Greetings, Glancers! Today, we return to Marillion’s Somewhere Else, the album with the unenviable task of following Marbles. In my Part 1 post, I concluded that the album was something of a mixed bag and very much scrawled a tick in the ‘does this song have good parts and bad parts in equal measure’ checkbox you see when Downing Street sends out their yearly Music Census. Will Part 2 follow suit or slide off a smelly cliff into Crap Creek?
Somewhere Else gets us back to what Marillion does best – chilled, atmospheric music with a melancholic edge. The first time I heard it, the opening gloomy but gripping mood had me lapping it up like a puppy at a pool of vomit. I was ready for it to be one of my favourite Marillion songs… but it loses its way. It goes on too long and perhaps has one section too many. Around the 3 minute mark the song seques into a Britpop, Beatles-esque section which tootles along for over a minute before morphing into an instrumental sequence which eventually leads into the booming ending. I think that the majority of that middle couple of minutes breaks up the momentum, tension, and sonic quality of the song and drags the whole thing down. There’s an excellent 4-5 minute song in here which hits all of my personal beats. While I think it’s a B Grade song, even the easily missed moments such as the guitar complimenting the vocal melody on one of the final ‘somewhere elses’ are in themselves A Star material.
The intro and opening verse is some of my favourite Marillion work. If I were more technically proficient and savvy with Music Theory, I’d love to do a deeper breakdown of even the opening thirty seconds, because it’s so rich in detail and emotion, and made my body react in ways that are typically only reserved for my most favourite bands and songs. Hopefully it’s enough to say that the combination of the keyboard dancing between Minor and Major and the ghostly, wafting guitars creates that shadowy tone I’m always harping on about. It’s a tone which almost forces introspection. The verses are gorgeous, the chorus is too but could have been trimmed, the Britpop piece from 3 minute loses much of the minor chord impact and I the song doesn’t find its way back to A Grade quality until the the ‘Everyone I love’ section takes us into the crushing finale. While the middle section certainly doesn’t feel like it belongs in another song, I don’t think it needs to be here. I’m sure there are plenty who will enjoy that section and see it as a necessary bridge or maybe even prefer it to the start and finish, but for me it just slapped a roadblock between the two strong pieces.
The lyrics of Somewhere Else are what I wanted from Most Toys. This is the personal, incisive, insightful stuff I live for, this is what makes someone a fan and not some passive listener. It’s not new ground, but it feels like a summation of all of H’s previous attempts at examining the Rock lifestyle, its worth, and his relationship with it. They also lose their way in the middle, arguably becoming vague to the point of nonsense, but as with any truly great lyric its power doesn’t lie solely within the words themselves but how the words correlate to and collaborate with the music; this is where the opening and closing of Somewhere Else excel. I can feel the pain in the music, I can read the pain in the lyrics, smashing together to create a sense of grief even if it isn’t clear what has actually been lost. It’s like hopping channels and catching a snippet of someone crying, screaming, emotionally shattered on the News – you don’t know who this person is, you don’t know any of the details, but you know this person’s life has been ripped from them and in that moment you feel a fraction of that emotion yourself – not just a brief wave of empathy, but a shuddering ripple deeper in your core.
H’s delivery of the opening lines help things – the song has some of his best work. Some of his most unusual work too as he goes full falsetto to the extent that he doesn’t sound like himself. I love a falsetto. This is how I sing, or did when I used to. But I get that it’s painful for some listeners and I’m curious what others think of it. I’m not convinced it entirely works – maybe there are a few too many ‘look at myselfs’ when keeping that falsetto as a more brief surprise would have enhanced its potency.
A Voice From The Past has a haunting piano intro which does a good job of piquing my interest from the outset, but rarely expands beyond that to go anywhere interesting. I could see people calling it a dirge because it’s slow, its melodies are vague and bland, and it neither changes pace nor introduces any dramatic shifts in tone. There’s an increase in volume, a growth in instrumentation and chaos in the middle and this leads to a brief break in the lead piano motif, but for all intents and purposes the overall tone and feeling doesn’t vary. I’m not convinced that cutting any time from the song would improve it – some songs are beyond help. I don’t mean that to sound as harsh as it will come across on screen, it simply means that speeding things up or cutting out sections would either not improve my opinion towards the song or would change the song so much that it becomes something entirely new in which case I would be evaluating this new thing on its own merits.
I do like that piano melody – it’s a great way to start a song and could have led to something more interesting. It does a good job of setting up the introspective mood which allows H to tell the story of the lyrics. That introspective mood also forces the vocal melodies to be dull and derivative – it’s very close to being spoken word in places – but even in the space between the vocals, the music meanders along in loops.
The lyrics are more engaging than the music and the interplay between the words and sounds is very close, with the peaks in volume equating to the eruptions of written anger. I don’t know if the song is about a specific person, or if its a generalisation or characterisation of an imagined or potential individual or group – there are enough references to death, disease, germs to suggest that we’re talking about some unlucky soul who just happened to live in a place and time which wasn’t safe for them and is asking for help to ensure that the people who come after him will have more safety and better opportunities. Fate, circumstance, and futility come up – issues often ignored or not considered by those of privilege – and I can see an argument being made for the music deliberately being made to suit the mood of the lyrics and vice versa. As a call to arms, a rallying cry for change, it gets lost under the collective shrug of the music – protest songs and anthems tend to work best when the music is anthemic.
No Such Thing has much in common with A Voice From The Past – slow, introspective, gloomy in its outlook, and built around a recurring motif. Here, it’s a haunting guitar in place of the piano. The song’s placement in the album could be a major plus or a significant minus depending on the listener – the two are so clearly a pair that it makes sense to have them together, but the fact that both could be considered dirges means that having two such songs in a row risks creating a skippable section in the album.
That being said, this is a much more musically interesting and astute song. I like the riff, but it does wear thin around the hundredth rotation. The song is considerably shorter than A Voice From The Past and never reaches the point where I’m waiting for it to end, but I’m not sure there’s enough good stuff in there to make me deliberately seek it out or choose to put it on repeat. Interesting drum timbre, the bass is doing subtle funky stuff underneath, and the various twinkles and swells of the keyboards create a warmth that was lacking in the previous song.
The vocals are a little more than the one note slog of the previous song – the rotation of the song’s title a shade different each time, a slightly different note, inflection, or emphasis on a particular word and the reverb airy effect to add a somewhat robotic quality. I’m not sure what the intent was behind that effect – is it making a satirical point that the people who would make such statements are ‘there’s no such thing as an answered prayer’, are hopeless robots? I don’t think that’s the case because previous songs suggest H does feel some of these statements are true when it comes to women, religion, etc. Then again, some of these statements go against what H has said previously, so who knows? Is saying ‘there’s no such thing as the ozone layer’ him mocking climate change deniers, or him saying the atmosphere is now beyond repair?
I’m sure someone could or has spent more time going through the lyrics line by line to look for patterns or opposites than I’ll be arsed to, but one thing which immediately leapt out was the seeming opposition between the first two statements – ‘an unanswered prayer’ typically an argument made by people grounded in the reality which they see, atheists and scientists for example, and the ‘no such thing as an ozone layer’ typically made by those who deny science and typically accept things on faith. Unless, as mentioned, it actually means that there used to be, but we’ve destroyed it. Continuing the reality versus faith line of thought, there seems to be little connection to ‘no such thing as an action hero’, unless you want to define God in such terms. This opening verse more than anything creates an aura of helplessness – nobody is going to help you, and our environment is fucked. This continues into the second verse – everything is hard, every day is a pain, and you can’t escape.
The third verse is more of the same – you can’t hope for something more than this life, although the ‘easy girl’ seems out of place and fits more in the fourth verse and its overarching paranoia and cynicism. The whole song does a great job at conveying this gloomy, hopeless outlook, and feels like it could have fit on Brave as much as it fits here.
The Heatwave hits its peak as the guys recorded their next Somewhere Else episode, while here in Northern Ireland our one day heatwave has long since passed. We begin with a little more history covering some of the songs which were written before Somewhere Else but which would instead end up on later albums or B Sides.
The guys enjoy the title track, not least because it wipes the memory of the preceding track. They find it the most Marillion song on the album. The ending is some of Paul’s favourite Marillion work while he thinks the many minutes before could have been cut. Same with me – I would certainly cut some of the middle section and I don’t think it would lessen the impact of the ending. Sanja gives her perspective on the lyrics – how H’s rock star lifestyle has been manipulative and of less value than a regular career. She does a much more detailed read than I did, making sense of some of the more vague lyrics which I glossed over. My high level overview hits on the obvious central point of H examining himself and his lifestyle with a critical eye. Paul adds the interesting point that, perhaps, Marillion’s greater success since H joined over the solo career of Fish is down to H’s ability and willingness to put his emotions on the line and be vulnerability and therefore being more relatable to the rest of us.
H being H, the song is more influenced by love, relationships, and feelings, than fame. H attributed the end of his relationships to his rock star lifestyle – everyone I love is somewhere else. The more vague elements of the lyrics are simply what H was looking at when he was writing. That ‘Mr Taurus’ rhyme never sat well with me either but I let it go because it feels as nursery rhymey as the music which surrounds it. I was convinced that the opening line says ‘shit’ and that the ‘ship’ I read on Google was a typo. ‘Ship’ is now irritatingly used as a short form for ‘relationship’ by youtubers and idiots these days, but now back then. Maybe he was trying to make it tie in to all the spacey stuff later. ‘Shit’ is better.
Oh, Paul then goes on to answer one of the questions I sent in last week for a future postbag episode. I promise, I had not heard this episode before I sent those three questions. My question was ‘what’s your favourite run or sequence of songs without a dud on any Marillion album’. Maybe this isn’t his absolute favourite. Lets see what he thinks of the next couple of songs as I found them both mostly dull and potentially skippable.
A Voice From The Past he loves the drifting sound and the lyric. For me it was mainly the piano and lyric which worked, but the piano was just so repetitive. It was the Make Poverty End song. Makes sense. There are plenty of songs and pieces of fiction which hinge on those warnings from the past. I briefly commented on the lyrics and didn’t pick up that this was the poverty song, but taking it out of that context it does seem to be asking people to think about others for a change, a thought which has somehow become political because politics is such nowadays that the opinions of the other side must be attacked without question, almost without exception. The Left is no longer seen as the working class party for all, but The Loony Left, synonymous with whatever religious, financial, or biological strawman The Right can cook up. Enough!
Back when I was genuinely writing lyrics, I would painstakingly write and rewrite till they were what they were supposed to be. Still shite, of course, but shite I was proud of – difficult to flush and hard to forget. With these posts and the vast majority of my blog, I just type and go with my only edit being a quick check for typos. A writer by trade should of course take a hell of a lot more due diligence with what they publish, even running it by your editor and colleagues, and anyone else who may have a perspective. This paragraph is a good example – should I just delete it because Sanja is now talking about Almond milk (I’m an Oatley boy) and whatever they were talking about with respect to writing has now passed. Ah well. Go with my charity idea from the previous post – not saving the world, but making incremental, achievable fixes to reduce the amount of nonsense we face. Number 9. Number 9. Number 9.
Paul does a nice transition between Planet Caravan and No Such Thing – I can’t say I noticed this even as a Black Sabbath fan (ish). I will say that this trippy, now called Stoner/Doom Metal style, has been aped many many many times over the years, with plenty of bands taking their complete inspirational from that single song. Sanja takes a shot at the lyric after Paul saying he doesn’t really know what it’s about, while I went off on one about religion. As the guys suggest, it seems to just be a song of hopelessness, while Sanja says it could be a call to arms for us to make the world better for ourselves, before dampening the mood by saying she’s been cheating on Paul. /S.
Not to harp on again The Manics again, but there’s quite a lot of the defeatism of The Holy Bible in H’s lyric here, and quite a few closer similarities in the metaphors. ‘Just an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff’. ‘Beauty she poisons unfaithful all, stifled, her touch is leprous and pale’. ‘The only way to gain approval is by exploiting the very thing that cheapens me’. It has been a while since my last Manics mention, so humour me. It has been a cynically charged episode, so it fits. Incidentally, new Manics reissue of Know Your Enemy coming, with a couple of ‘new’ songs. Man, that album was slaughtered upon release. It is a bit of a mess, but it’s a Manics mess. It’s raining again.