Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Happiness Is The Road Volume 2 (Part 2)!

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

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back for a run down through the next set of songs from Happiness Is The Road Volume 2. The guys had wondered if they could get through the whole album in a single episode, but luckily for us it looks like we’ll be going the distance – more episodes for us to enjoy!

Asylum Satellite 1 is as Prog a title as Marillion has devised since the Fish days. Long before I’d heard it, it already held a place of infamy in my head due to Paul referencing its horrible guitar sound in the past. I can see why he, and perhaps others, would consider this to be a grating sound. I’m not sure if it’s ‘supposed’ to sound harsh and uncomfortable, or if it’s meant to be just an interesting, spacey sound. If you think about a genre like Grunge – those bands knew that they were making ugly sounds with their voices and instruments, and leaned into it. I suspect this is simply a scratchy effect with Rothers thought sounded a little otherworldly and would suit certain songs – but that it had the by product of being unpleasant to the ears of many listeners. I don’t mind it; I’d probably be just as happy if it had been played clean or with any other effect, but it definitely isn’t the most appealing tone.

The song is nine and a half minutes long. Does it keep my interest for the entire duration? Not always. It’s a journey, but it doesn’t take many twists or shift gears. I prefer my epics to keep me guessing or to play out like a three act play in terms of engagement and pacing. This mostly remains plodding and returns to its central melodies repeatedly. That wouldn’t be a problem, but those melodies are mostly dull. Broken up by lengthy instrumental sections where Rothers gets to show off his new pedal, the only piece I truly enjoyed was the brief, plaintive vocal from H around the 5 minute mark. That’s a nice shift in tone and I wish the song had built from that point and gone in a different direction. Instead, we get another aimless and empty guitar solo and spacey instrumental which, yes, sounds like you’re drifting through space or whatever, but I imagine drifting through space is incredibly boring unless you’re under attack by Aqualish pirates. I don’t think any amount of chopping minutes out of the song would improve it for me – keep part of the intro, keep that middle piece, and entirely overhaul the rest of it.

The lyrics are similarly aimless and meandering and evocative of a journey. It’s nothing we haven’t heard from the band, or many other bands before – frustration, confusion, distance, all conveyed through a Sci Fi lens. It’s like that Halloween Simpsons episode where Homer gets on a rocket which is being fired into the Sun. Or whatever that episode was based on. Or like Battlestar Galactica. Or like The Odyssey. I like the idea, but in a nine minute song it says very little. The only line which may be vaguely interesting is ‘back in 22’, because we’ve just left 2022 and as far as I’m aware, very few people have gone galivanting through the stars in an attempt to spread Right Wing Christianity or whatever bollocks that musky fella is up to.

Older Than Me is a perfectly sweet song, maybe the most traditionally Marillion song on Volume 2 so far. It’s cleanly produced, it dispenses with the frills of the last few songs, and it provides a break in the album from the anarchy of Asylum Satellite 9. It’s just a little dull. It’s sleepy. It’s the sort of song which would verge on dirge territory if it was much longer. As it is, it’s just the right length to get its point across and retain its melodic and emotive qualities.

Like much of Volume 1, this is a showcase for Mark Kelly. I can’t tell if all of the little dings and bings are also keyboards or if they are some sort of percussion, but in any case it all serves to create this dreamy, fantastical sound, which of course serves the lyrics. There’s a risk when you write these almost opposing musical parts that they can conflict with each other and the whole becomes messy – the lead keyboard part and the more xylophone sounding part overlap and different points, but they end up complimenting each other even though they are both doing opposing things in isolation. Under all of this, the bass is doing a slight descending line to produce a resolution to the tension of each line. It’s all very well done. The breathy sighs of the backing vocals offer some additional layering and melody, and it’s an approach I don’t remember Marillion taking too often. Overall, it’s a great example of all of the various parts of the song working together to serve the whole – the lyrics serving the mood of the music and vice versa. I’d be interested in which was crafted first.

I admit there’s probably a case, if anyone wants to make it, for the ‘she’ in the song not being a person. Is it nature, is it the universe, that sort of thing. But that way lies madness, so I’ll stick with it simply being a song of lower tier infatuation, respect, love. The most simple explanation seems to be that it’s a song about the narrator falling in love with an older woman – that he has reached the point that the younger people he may have once been interested in and distracted by, no longer hold any allure. He doesn’t care that people may balk at him being with this person and any visible signs of age are meaningless because of the connection they have. It’s quite beautifully written and tender. If we’re following along the ‘story of H’ through his lyrics over the various albums, this feels like a new chapter in which he closes the door on the rock star playboy exploits of his younger days.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

We kick off the latest episode of BYAMPOD with the chilling announcement that Paul and Sanja’s Marillion trip to the Netherlands is coming soon, and they’re not prepared for it. I don’t feel prepared for my trip to Menorca this Summer – the kids Irish passports have been rejected so we’re going right through that process again – but otherwise everything is in place. I say that I don’t feel prepared, but generally my wife does all the work and I just turn up on the day, hoping a couple of pairs of boxers have been packed. Menorca has become ‘our place’ – the first real holiday destination we all went on as a family, though this is going to be the first time we travel with our son. Good luck sleeping on the flight anyone who’s near my hyperactive three year old!

Fish’s competition – one ‘lucky’ winner going to his home to spend the day with him and his wife, sounds like the blurb for a cult-oriented horror movie. Dinner parties are not my thing either, there’s a formal pressure involved and I think of being forced into religious gatherings when I was young where I would have sold my soul just to get out of them. We don’t really have them in my house, thank goodness. Christmas, that’s about it. Pub – sure. Going to a restaurant, depending on who I’m going with, sure. Have I had dinner with any famous people… no-one anyone reading this would have heard of. Various Northern Irish pseudo-famous people, to the extent of being in Sport or Politics or some other nonsense I don’t care about. I can lie my way through any situation, but if someone gives me an invitation (intended or otherwise) to some punchline, lewd aside, or bizarre non-sequitur, you can be sure that I’ll respond in a socially unfortunate manner entertaining only to myself.

On to Asylum Satellite 1 and a Rothers quote about his guitar setup. Makes sense to me – I’ve never been fancy with my setup and just go with whatever sounds I can squeeze out of whatever I have. If I were a rich man, I’d certainly buy a few more pieces of equipment, but I don’t think I’d ever be a tech-boy. I’m more interested in the ideas and melodies when writing, and I leave everything afterwards to fate or the tech-boys. With that out of the way, the song has miraculously clicked for Paul. I was at a concert once – I can’t even remember who it was but I’m guessing Radiohead – and there was a guy with a pumpkin pie/Garfunkel hairdo who decided it was his role in life to stand directly in front of me for the entire show, with his arms folded, and didn’t move or sing or otherwise react for the entire duration. All 6ft something of him. In fact, the only time he ever moved was to re-position himself in front of me if I strafed to the side. It gives me no shame to say that he may have received a shin-related wound towards the end of the show during a particular rambunctious Nightman jump around session. I’ve never understood why people spend money to go to a show, and then visibly give off ‘anywhere but here’ vibes. This happens time and time again, the more gigs I’ve been to. It’s those guys, and then the people who are simply there to get pissed or stoned or start fights – I struggle with the purpose of their existence. I was stuck beside a group of these types the last time I saw Guns N Roses. That was a 100 Quid Plus show, and they sat almost the entire day, gradually getting more and more off their faces only to dance to Sweet Child O Mine, then resume their nonsense. I don’t get it.

Back to the song – it has grown on Paul and he now sort of likes it. Does this mean his opinion of Whatever Is Wrong With You is going to change? Rothers apparently improvised much of his work – on this song but also in general – while the song transports Sanja to a 1960s French film. I like Producers taking their songs apart track by track – what’s often most interesting is how much just gets shoved in to a mix and forgotten, whether it be a Producer splicing in parts from different takes, or one of the performers doing a bunch of overdubs and then those being added and swallowed up. In the old days, you would get a lot of ‘bleeding’ from different mics if the band was recorded their parts at the same time (for example, a singer might be recording his part in a booth while the band played along outside, but if they were playing loudly enough then part of that can be absorbed into the singer’s recorded vocals and offer something different from the actual, separate band recording). There was a Paul McCartney and Rick Rubin series where they broke down some Beatles songs and Paul was surprised by some of what they found when the tracks were isolated – all very interesting if you’re a fan. Yes, get Mike Hunter on. I’ll re-record whatever he says and everyone can laugh at my accent.

As epic a sound as the band may have been gone for, I can’t say it struck me as Cinematic and I didn’t get the feelings which Sanja did. It’s certainly spacey and futuristic, but it did little for me. Maybe in another 20 years it’ll mean something to me. I had just as little to say about the lyrics as I did about the music. Sanja goes down the Environmental route as the setup for the Space escape/exploration story, which seems reasonable given the band’s history and the increasing cultural awareness of this issue. She comments on the dual meaning of ‘Asylum’ which I admittedly overlooked or didn’t care enough about to catch, but that is interesting. Paul says he remembers H saying his inspiration for the song was simply about refugees and placing, perhaps undesirables. on a satellite and stick them in Space. Paul’s take is that it’s more generally a song about being an outsider, about feeling apart from whatever institution or group you find yourself part of or put in or related to. As out of touch as Matt Hancock is – I’m still mystified by the public electing to keep him in the show for so long. I get that him being tortured would have been good watching for a while, but the guy was good at the trials so any ‘justice’ by forcing him to eat testicles quickly waned, and I thought he would have been booted much earlier. Then again, the public voted for Brexit, so what the fuck to they know?

Not to make light of a complex issue, but I’ve long held the theory that we’re all outsiders, falling into two camps; those who want to fit in and those who don’t. That’s maybe a shit take, and it’s maybe be trying to resolve my own issues. I’ve always felt, no, I’ve always been an outsider. I make friends easily enough, but I typically prefer to be on my own, in my own space, or in my own head. However, I don’t like the perception that may go along with this – I don’t wish to come across as mysterious, wilfully distant, a social mess, or seem like I’m doing some bizarre reverse-attention seeking theatre, so that conflict compels me to argue that I’m not unique in these feelings and that we’re all in the same boat. Did a single word of that make sense?

I have actively rebelled against positions I’ve found myself in. For a time, nothing depressed me more than going out with my friends. These were people I loved. But I was utterly lost both during and after the experience. Was because what we were doing simply wasn’t my thing? Maybe I was simply growing more distant from them and felt like I had little to say. Maybe it seemed like they had their shit together, had a plan, and could cope with existing, while I had none of that. This would inevitably be turned, innocently, back around on me as I would be labelled ‘the quiet one’ while on the inside I was screaming. Conversely, in a one on one, or even with the same group but doing something different I would feel more like my natural self. Even now I struggle to understand the feelings and the behaviours I had – why was I like this? It didn’t, and doesn’t make sense.  While I can view all of this as something which happened a long time ago, I still feel it inside me, a doppelganger biding its time. I started having periods of what I now know as derealization, coming seemingly from nowhere yet possibly triggered by the fact that I did have shit together. That’s honestly terrifying – the world almost literally peeling away from my eyes like the encrusted pages of an ancient tome. I assume this is all some jumbled way of admitting that some form of depression has always been inside me, attacking out of nowhere, yet never with enough force that I haven’t been able to get through it.

In any case, I’ve always been happy to be an outsider, and ultimately secure enough in my self to be me without being concerned by what others may think of me. I’m going to write what I’m aware will come off as a terribly dickish thing to say, but people seem to like me more often than I like them. I’ll be funny or seem interesting one time, and people assume that’s me 100% of the time. Honestly, if you’ve read more than a few posts on my blog you’ll know that I’m really not all that interesting. That’s not to say that I don’t like the people who like me – 99% of the time I do, but some evolutionary, social trait of being an ape must have passed me by along the way.

I don’t feel like I need to be a part of any group – friends, job, fandoms, whatever. I enjoy talking about the shit I love with people who do, or might, also enjoy that shit – I’ve had a blog for thirteen years now – but I’m equally content with howling my opinions into the void. My need to talk doesn’t equate to anyone needing to listen. The by-product of this is loneliness. I miss the people I connected with and I get pulled into viewing the past as this rosy place, but when I take the high level perspective which Paul is talking about I can admit that I’ve always been this way. Back then I was physically closer to my friends and could more easily spend time with them, whenever I chose to. Now I live in the middle of nowhere, far from where I grew up (if you can consider the distance between one side of Northern Ireland to the other as far), and I’m more or less content even if I do get bouts of missing people. Enough!

How does this all relate to the song? Maybe all my rambling doesn’t, but what Paul says about being at a distance makes sense along with the lyric. We move on to Older Than Me, which apparently was planned for Somewhere Else. Sanja says the music has a nostalgic feeling, with Paul adding that it is just like a lullaby. Where I said it was traditional Marillion, Sanja feels like it’s not like anything else they’ve done. I suppose when I was saying what I said, I meant the chilled vibe, the slow pace. Paul doesn’t have a lot to add about the music, beyond it being sparse and simple. The lyric remains something of a conundrum, with Paul saying he thinks the song is praising maturity over youth while Sanja adds another layer in thinking that it’s a cousin to some of the previous songs in its opposing opinion to the mass consensus. The guys talk about society’s obsession with youth and how that has flipped in our culture from days or centuries gone by. Like Richey from the Manics said, ‘youth is the ultimate commodity’. I understand the attraction, especially the physical side of things, but as health continues to improve and lives continue to be longer than at any time in the past, it seems strange to me that we don’t rely on the experience which comes with age, especially when it comes to the Arts. Yes, it’s great to have new voices and perspectives and people who can connect more authentically to the latest demographic, but there has to be a place at the table for everyone. Extreme examples maybe, but if we’d binned Scorsese, Hitchcock, and Kurosawa at age 50 we’d have never had The Wolf Of Wall Street, Vertigo, Psycho, or Yojimbo. Similar examples can be found in literature and music too. I guess I have 10 years to go.

The worry for me is that, yes Marillion are still on the go, along with many bands from the 80s, 70s, and a handful from the 60s. But they are mainly legacy acts, living off an almost proxy fandom. Sure new kids are still, and will always find these acts and wish that they had been around to see them in their prime, but the concern is… are those types of acts being created today? Which bands or performers who hit their peak in the 2000s, or who are at their peak now, will either want to, or still be allowed to be relevant in their 50s? Beyonce? Bieber? Swift? No doubt some will, but will they create new music and will that music be recognized regardless of its quality? Will Adele’s inevitable album 50, be as revered as her 19? For me, as long as you want to do it, and can still do it, you should be given the opportunity to do so.

With that, we leave it for another week. I’m away to listen to some Metal which I missed first time around, another one of 2020’s most highly regarded albums, and finish off a Swiss Roll from Lidl – 10 portions my arse. Leave your thoughts in the comments, and as always, go listen to BYAMPOD!

Tell it like it is!

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