Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Happiness Is The Road Vol 1 (Part 3)!

Marillion – Happiness Is The Road, Volume 1: Essence (2008, CD) - Discogs

Greetings, Glancers! After last week’s tragic saga of woe, let’s hope today’s is all kittens, sunshine, and pina coladas. We’re still talking about the same album, so chances of that are slim. We kick off with Liquidity, which we presumably won’t have much to say about. It’s a solid, short, instrumental piece which loops and builds upon the same recurring keyboard motif. There’s a lot going on and it’s fairly intricate for what is very simple at its core; the tinkling, dripping bits of synth effects, the cymbal taps, Rothers twiddling with his (volume) knob, and lots of other cool little pieces all serve to make a cinematic whole. You could imagine this played over long, sweeping drone shots of a David Attenborough show, with desolate snowy lands unfurling from Winter darkness and melting into the first droplets of Spring, new-born mouths yawning, wings stretching, eyes searching upwards for the sun. A Koyaanisqatsi like montage of life zipping by.

It transitions very smoothly into Nothing Fills The Hole. To continue the montage metaphor, I can imagine the landscape switching from the tundra to the safari as the song progresses, shots of thrashing rivers and playful big cats as the chorus peaks. But we’d be getting too far off course because this is a very human story – as touched upon in the previous post, us humans have decided we need more than just the hunt. Mere survival, eating, procreating doesn’t sustain us. While our cousins throughout the animal kingdom seem to need only the minimum requirements for life, we are crippled by doubt, malaise, and the search for a remedy often becomes our meaning. Jeebus, here we go again.

The song is like a mantra, lyrically, musically, and in terms of vocal delivery. Just like Liquidity, the opening of the song seems to loop and build. It doesn’t quite follow the Golden Ratio, but it has that style of setting out a melody and rhythm and building upon it with each iteration. Musically, the opening feels like an extension of Liquidity, eventually eroding away to become its own thing. Very cool how the vocals begin as eerie whispers which fit the Liquidity tone, but as the vocals become more human and clearer, the music moves away from those instrumental roots.

As all this looping and repeating evolves, the lyrics are delivered as a mantra, a shopping list of needs and wants, coming across as being both willingly repeated because they’re an important part of the person’s make-up and shouldn’t be forgotten, but also as a sinister, inescapable, buzzing set of addictions constantly distracting and crying for attention. It’s cool then that when the chorus arrives, it feels like breaking free, like the head crashing through the surface after being held under water. The sudden Motown blast is almost euphoric, but then it’s almost impossible to find a Motown song that doesn’t feel happy-clappy.

While there’s a lot of truth and a lot of philosophy in the lyrics, I couldn’t help but compare Nothing Fills The Hole to Most Toys. They both grasp at the same material, with one more cultured than the other. While I couldn’t disagree with the sentiments, there’s still that nagging feeling that I’d like to at least have the chance to get, see, and have the things I want, believe, and dream of. I understand that many of my wants and dreams are material, silly even, and that once I had them, I would likely move on to the next thing. But that’s not necessarily a negative. I’d suggest that’s almost natural. Maybe life is less about being fulfilled, and more about constantly moving and progressing. There’s futility in searching, but also purpose, as much as there is in finding. To H’s credit, he doesn’t outright seem to be saying that all the silly things we want aren’t important, more that he’s documenting his own struggles and that even when he finds the freedom, the nirvana which philosophy suggests is the final, perfect state we should aspire to, he doesn’t last a week with that and still moves on. It seems to be an admission that, well, nothing fills the hole, not the wants and needs and dreams, nor even the spiritual stuff which is generally the response people give when asked ‘what is most important’. Maybe the answer is the search, the moments between the search, and what we learn along the way.

Woke Up is the album’s summer song. It’s the only song which felt warm in my early listens, perhaps because it has a touch of the Indie to it, with its Britpop riffs taking me back to the Mid 90s teenage summers of yore. It’s bright, warm, and hopeful in the same way that the ‘coming up’ songs on Screamadelica are. The only thing missing for me is a bit of pace; as it is, the song fits with the many other slow to mid-paced songs the album has to offer. It’s almost a missed opportunity to not make Woke Up a little faster and more energetic, and I don’t think it would have sacrificed much of the relaxed, summertime vibe the song is going for.

Elsewhere it isn’t the most musically diverse song on the album. It’s an old-fashioned rock band song, dropping much of the keyboard and soundscape approach which has been a trademark up to this point. The keyboards are not completely absent – starting after the first chorus the guitar backing from verse one is replaced by keyboard swirls, but these are eventually clawed back and drowned out by several layers of guitars and backing vocals. As the song enters its second half, there’s a final quieter approach to the verse orchestration where it’s drums and simple keyboards only, and then onto a faux-string laden climax. In a three-minute song with as standard a structure as you’ll ever get by a band like Marillion, they have the experience and artistry to provide something musically different in each verse, while not offering anything too challenging or variant.

Lyrically, we’re talking about movement again, and at least on the surface it seems to be referencing touring by calling out all of the different types of cities and times of years it’s possible to wake up in. The final line, along with the repetitions of ‘you woke me up’ also suggest that it’s tangentially a love song, but the overall lyric isn’t direct enough to hit the other marks you expect from a love song. While it’s fine, I’d say it’s one of the more wafting and uneventful lyrics on the album. If I’m being overly critical, I could say that the lyrics are a missed opportunity too. Aside from the expansion of ideas in the ‘City full of snow’ verse, the other verses don’t offer a lot of insight or poetry. Instead of ‘city that doesn’t sleep/full of rain’, why not play on that idea of sleeplessness? Have a word, something which relates to sleep or is ironic, instead of ‘rain’. Same with the ‘down by the sea’ – a reference to something seasidey in the following line instead, plus that would create a nice poetic throughline from one verse to the next. Am I asking for too much? Elsewhere, I don’t have much more to add so let’s hear what Paul and Sanja make of it all.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

We start with some soothing Sanja sleeping/meditation techniques which reminded me of that Simpsons episode where Homer tries to lose weight by listening to some self-help cassette in his sleep, but mistakenly receives a tape on expanding his language skills instead. Remember when The Simpsons used to be good? Wrinkle In Time was very very bad. Don’t watch it. Speaking of Disney-lite, Hallmark movies, we’re getting close to Christmas which means I’ll be watching more Lacey Chabery festive delights and reviewing them on the blog. LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE!

The guys call out Liquidity as a mostly Mark Kelly solo, emboldened by the producer. Apparently, the title was inspired by Mark and his former partner having a shared dream. A weird phenomenon, but it seems to happen every so often. The guys compliment the transitional aspects between this grouping of tracks, while Sonja seems to channel Drong when he smells a bit of football up his peripheries. Paul and Sanja are very positive about Liquidity and the band’s confidence in leaving it as it is without forcing it into a ‘song’.

Sanja is a big fan of Nothing Fills The Hole, how theatrical, or music-theatre it is, and has added it to her personal playlist. She highlights the swirling, repetitive, building nature, while Paul calls it ‘Prog Soul’. Prole? Paul mentions Funkadelic, which of course ties in with my later name dropping of Primal Scream’s classic from decades later. Paul says that Marillion does their version of Soul better than they do their version of angry rock, which seems fair enough. They’ve never, or very rarely been a band who plays fast and are happy to be languid. Any time they’re angry, it never comes across musically through the use of volume or distortion or venom or any of the other traditional hallmarks of rock. Their anger is more internalized, or like the guy who mutters about the bad situation after everyone else has left the room or moved on. But, they are very good at the slower stuff, the pain, and the self-exploration.

We’ll never find out what the song means lyrically, because Paul can’t be arsed going upstairs to find the magazine which the explanation from H. The guys give their own thoughts, which roughly aligns to everything I said – whatever H wants, and he’s tried a lot, none of it has filled that hole. We all have our needs, our holes, and our opportunities to fill them. Matron. Bonus Manics lyrical reference alert – ‘too many teenage holes to fill’ is the more adolescent version of what H is talking about here. There’s no escaping how uncomfortably sex-oriented that line is, and I’m sure it was written to be ambiguous, but the entire song (Yourself) is more accurately about the emptiness of teenage existence and the quest to find meaning in your own body and to live up to an impossible level of physical expectation. Lovely.

As I suggested, the song is an admission. Paul fills in the gaps by telling how H had come out of a relationship, had been struggling for a while, could never find happiness or contentment, but once he found the Power Of Now book and began working on this album, the steps to being content were put in place. Paul and Sanja share their own journeys towards loving each other, and loving themselves, which is very sweet, and honest, and sad in places. I’m not sure why I’ve had my own issues with this – I’ve always had low self-esteem, I’ve never particularly thought I was important, and most of my relationships till now have been unhealthy. But I wasn’t good then, and neither were the other parties. I mean, I’m still a mess, but aren’t we all?

We slide in Woke Up as Sanja compliments the musicality and the production, and the Indian-style approach. I think that’s just the keyboards pretending to be violins, but the Eastern vibe is very clear. Paul thinks the song is a shameless Who rip-off, while I called out its 90s Britpop-ness. Of course, The Who were one of the major influences on 90s Britpop. Paul highlights Wake Up as one of their best pop-rock songs and they both call out how it feels like a literal revelation.

Paul compliments the lyrics on the rhythmic side of things and Sanja mentions the call-backs to previous songs about touring and travelling. Both guys add that it’s also about love, about the impact of personal changes on how you see the world or how you see the same old places with a new light. If you’re loved, you take it with you, no matter whether that love is for another or for yourself. What it love? Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.

And that’s where we leave it, not before an assault on charity workers. Scum of the earth, they are. If you agree, make sure to listen to the pod, retweet, comment your most hated charity, and all the other things. If you’d like to tell me you love me, that’d be weird but by all means drop a comment and I’ll be sure to block you. Enjoy!

Tell it like it is!

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