Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Happiness Is The Road Volume 2 (Part 3)!

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

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with (maybe?) the final part of our Happiness Is The Road listenthrough. There’s still quite a few songs to talk about, but with Paul and Sanja heading off to see the band in… I want to say The Netherlands… they might want to wrap up this album so we’re nicely set up for whatever comes next. Luckily, I have already finished my thoughts on the final songs so all that remains is for me to commentate on the latest BYAMPOD episode. Elsewhere, I’m listening to a few more of the Non-Iron Maiden albums which the Iron Maiden boys have made, and finishing off my reviews of the best albums of 2020. Let’s get to it.

Throw Me Out transitions in very neatly from Older Than Me, helped by the fact that the songs are equally paced. This is also something of a hinderance because it highlights the aforementioned potentially dull qualities of the previous song. Two slow, sleepy songs in a row has the potential to bring an album’s energy down, but if done well it also has the potential of being a little highlight section. Throw Me Out is a more musically dynamic song than Older Than Me, and is another short song. Together, they largely avoid becoming the mid-album dirge which they risk becoming. The organ in the intro makes me think… France? The violin, or synth violins, the spiky guitar jabs, the horns or clarinets, all add depth and flavour, and for the second song in a row the backing vocals are of the breathy, sighing nature. I’d like to say it’s another song which has a bit of a Beatles feel to it, Sgt Pepper era, but it’s maybe not as overt as in other songs.

Lyrically, the most interesting thing to say may be that this song comes straight after Older Than Me. One song is about being in love with someone and seemingly stable and at peace, while this one is the complete opposite. Throw Me Out, as the title suggests, is about the collapse of a relationship. There’s a lot of blaming – blaming the other side (you threw me out of my life), blaming the self (I tore apart my oldest friend), and what comes across as passive aggression and self-pity (don’t worry babe, I’m recyclable). I like the use of language here – it’s simply, but effective. ‘Throw Me Out’ is a term which has always inspired some sort of fear in me. I can’t see it’s an exclusively British term, but growing up with shows like Eastenders and Corrie where marriages were constantly falling apart, that phrase was in regular usage and would strike a chilling gash if heard in my own house from a parent or relative. This use of common phrases is played again and again ‘two’s a crowd’ a clever derivative of ‘three’s a crowd’. We all know what ‘three’s a crowd’ means, so dropping it down to the binary makes it somehow more sinister and ugly. ‘No more trouble, no more strife’, is of course a play on ‘trouble and strife’ being slang for ‘wife’. There is also a thread of futility and meaninglessness to it all – like all of the things which caused this break are unwarranted or fixable – the use of ‘seem’, ‘opening drawers’, ‘making a mess when you’re trying to clean’. Those individual phrases we could easily break down further to speak about the narrator’s confusion or inability to recognize either the impact that these things had over time, or that these are not at all the reasons for the break but simply the only things he could come up with afterwards. We could ask if those phrases are not merely literal. In fact, this is perhaps a song which could be used in a GCSE poetry exam as there are so many ways to pull it apart.

One final point to mention is something which maybe other people haven’t caught. I could be entirely wrong, and it could be entirely meaningless anyway, but listen to how H sings, how he mouths ‘you seem to want’. Catch anything? Listen to how he phrases the final half of ‘want’. Hear it? He’s smiling. That phrasing and sound is only produced by singing the world while smiling, while stretching your mouth a certain way. It’s very subtle and if you’re not hearing it, that’s fine. Maybe it’s in my head, but I’ve listened to that section over and over and it 100% sounds like he deliberately smiled on that word. Was it for a theatrical reason? Was it to add a little more spite to the tone? Or was it simply because Rothers happened to walk past the recording booth with 500g of Lurpak?

Half The World brings a spell of warmth after two musically or lyrically cold songs. This is a lighter, brighter song. It feels like a summery, and it reminds me of some of Marillion’s previous songs which evoke driving with the top down beside a beach on a summer’s day. I’m happy to be completely wrong about this, but the ‘do do do’ section sounded very familiar to me when I first listened to the song. Either I’ve somehow heard the song before – maybe it came on as a shuffle track while I was typing up notes from a previous album (thought usually when that happens I hit pause and don’t listen), or I’m imagining it. Perhaps I’m confusing it with something similar, or maybe the song has been used in some TV show or advert. Being used in a TV ad was my first assumption, but then the reality of Marillion being used in a TV advert hit me and sounded unlikely.

With its bright and melodic chorus and its ‘do do do’s, it feels like a single. It doesn’t have the potential of being a smash hit, but you get the sense that if they’d written this song for a new artist or if some new solo performer or random pop act had released this as their first single, it could have made the top 20. Released at the right time, with the right pretty face, I see no reason why this couldn’t have received some radio play and a spot on TOTP. The band sound relaxed, H takes a breezy, laidback approach to the vocals and sounds smooth from top to bottom, and the harmonies in the chorus work as well as any factory made pop hit. There’s not much of a guitar solo to speak of, but there is plenty of layering and Rothers effectively suits the needs of the song again without giving in to any temptation to fire off any unnecessary twiddling.

I’ve mentioned serving the needs of the song a few times already, but that’s exactly what the lyrics do. The song feels summery and evokes carefree driving – the first line is almost literally that vibe put to words. There’s a bit of the old Irish ‘may the road rise to meet you’ to the sentiment. I half-expected more cynicism to be apparent in the lyrics when I read the ‘boy you choose to live with’ line, like the narrator is the jilted lover hoping for some vengeance to befall the ex, but it never comes. The song never becomes dark, it avoids being self-pitying, there’s none of the finger-pointing we’ve seen in other lyrics. It’s stays sweet and genuine throughout, with the narrator hoping only for good things and that maybe one day the two can be friends one day. I am of course positioning the narrator as the person who was jilted, but there’s nothing to suggest this is the case. It could equally be that H (lets not say ‘narrator) was the one doing the jilting and is hoping that one day the ex can forgive him or not be angry anymore. The ‘friends’ line is usually the sort of thing someone says when they break up with someone. In reality, based on what we have learned of H’s relationships through his lyrics, it seems more likely that he was not the one to end the relationship. It’s a simple, sweet lyric, and my only final comment is to say that I thought the chorus began ‘beautiful girl’, not ‘you’re a girl’. My ears don’t work sometimes.

We reach Whatever Is Wrong With You, a song which Paul has given his infamous ‘steamer’ label to. Honestly, I don’t get it. I can see if from Paul’s perspective; he doesn’t like when Marillion tries to do a traditional rock song. There’s usually one or two of these on each Marillion album and I don’t see this as much better or worse than any of the others. It’s not as overt an assault on the ears as Most Toys and if anything the only criticism I have for it is that it’s too slow for what its trying to achieve. Paul had mentioned on a previous episode that H, and the rest of the band sound like they sleepwalk through their performances, that the performances are laboured. Some of that likely comes down to the pacing, and H doesn’t exactly give it any welly, but considering the pacing of most other songs on this album, and on many of Marillion’s albums, the only crime seems to be that the crank up the volume and distortion without getting any payoff. For me, it needs to be faster. It doesn’t have a lot of edge. If the intention was to make this ‘the rock song’, then fucking go for it. It’s barely over three minutes long as it is, so crank it up, warm up those biceps and play the thing like it should be a two minute punk song.

I don’t think the song is bad, setting the performances aside. If you play it faster, it has more impact, but if you completely took the guitars out and made this a piano led song it would work just as well. Taking the softer approach, you could even slow the pace further and get some joy. I enjoyed the melodies in the verses and chorus – even the pre-chorus – I think I said in a previous post that this was the only song with a standout melody to me when I first listened to Volume 2. The only moment I found myself humming afterwards was this chorus. It’s a very simple song – there’s no getting away from its traditional verse chorus verse structure and some very static drumming, and there are no surprises, tonal or key changes. But that’s fine. For a band that I have accused of often sticking to one thing in an album and never having any oomph, I can give them credit for having a placeholder for that oomph moment, even if they feel to pull it off.

It looks like this was the single for the album, so I can understand why they didn’t go all out. For me, there are better singles and this could have been the unashamed ‘we’re still young and can still rock’ moment, had they fully committed. Make it a fun, quick, live song to get the blood pumping. On the lyrical front, it’s not exactly chart friendly fare. You can ignore them and just singalong with the chorus, but a deeper dive makes things more suspect. No matter the angle I come at the lyrics from, I can’t shake a sense of distaste. Does it border on making light of mental illness, or is it simply talking about two people whose individual curios brought them together? Each of the parts following the ‘we need to talk’ intros can be seen as random or possibly taken from a real life event, but for the listener there isn’t much to grasp beyond the sense that someone is exhibiting unusual behaviour and that it’s seemingly escalating. It’s a shame that the lyric doesn’t resolve anywhere – it just peters out after the second verse. I’m going to need an explanation for this one.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

We begin BYAMPOD with the shocking revelation that Dream Sanja has been cheating on Dream Paul. I have those every so often and it’s bizarre how it does piss you off for the rest of the day. Add to that the stress of their upcoming Marillion trip and the ever-present threat of Cov-Id and a cat which, like mine, cannot abide closed doors and we’re off to a ripper! Rothers and Hackett together – Rackett? Racket club? It all makes sense. It sounds like we will have at least one more Happiness episode.

Paul reveals what I expected about a few of these songs – that some of them are leftovers from Somewhere Else. I didn’t place them at that time, but they definitely have the tone and quality of being leftovers. Sanja says that Throw Me Out was her earworm of the album and Paul makes a prophecy that the band will be playing it live, for the first time, at an upcoming show. Sanja highlights the additional instrumentation as giving it a special quality and they agree it’s a very Beatles influenced song. The guys touch on the lyrics, unsurprisingly about H being kicked out circa Somewhere Else. Sanja expands on what I called out on the lyrics – the minor nature of the reasons for the relationship ending and the bitter tone. Paul takes a slightly different view that the biggest stuff has already been covered in H’s lyrics before and that this is just calling out all of the other little niggles. As mentioned above, I felt the song was dripping with blame and guilt but that it was scattershot, the result of sudden anger and confusion. When you’re hurt or in shock, your logical faculties aren’t on full steam and fingers are pointed outwards and inwards. I’m with both of the guys here. But I’m most right, cos this is my blog, init?

Sanja doesn’t have much to add on Half The World beyond it being a nice little song. Paul says it’s one of his favourites on the album and that it’s H’s best performance here, contrasted with the next song. I think I mentioned H’s vocals for Half The World (and Whatever Is Wrong With You), and yes he’s in his element here. As tired as he comes across on Whatever Is Wrong With You, I don’t think that song is heavy or harsh enough that he couldn’t do anything with it. A good singer, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum, finds a way. Paul thinks it’s a higher tier B-Side song, but whether or not it’s deserving of a place on the album is debatable. On the cricket theme tune… I knew I knew the song from somewhere, but that’s not it.

Lyrically, Sanja picks up on a similar sentiment I’d mentioned. The ‘lets be friends’ vibe, or as she calls it, the ‘it’s not you it’s me’ vibe. Sanja and I seem to be on the same wavelength on these songs – I picked up on some of this stuff, but for this song I did say that it’s 99% more likely to just be a simple, sweet, non-sarcastic lyric. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to how H writes that we’re predisposed to expect a certain tone or meaning from whatever he does. Which leads us into Whatever Is Wrong With You, an apt title given Paul’s stance on Lucy, given she listens to the podcast. JOKE. JOKE!

Paul doesn’t rip the song as much as I was expecting – it simply comes down to him not thinking, probably rightly, that the band don’t do this sort of thing well, and the tempo. For me, it’s the tempo and the fact that they don’t go all in. They barely go half in, and the song is left in this bland middle ground. It’s like… you know those TV Talent shows where a bunch of hopefuls stand in front of industry talking heads and perform? Most of the music acts are you’re typical pop and soul acts, but every so often someone will do a rock song or play a guitar solo – the camera will cut to the judges and you’ll see them doing some sort of half-assed head-nodding or devil horns or air guitar, and it just stinks of being false. It’s the pre-requisite behaviour of someone who doesn’t really get it, but they’re aping the moves and the culture. For someone like me who has been steeped in Metal and Rock my entire life, without being a echo chamber fanboy, it’s easy to see through such bullshit. I think Marillion is capable of doing an aggressive rock song because they have the musical talent to pull it off, but for whatever reason, on this song they refused to give the song what it needed.

Sanja doesn’t like the song at all and calls out a single guitar moment. Maybe the much anticipated Manics podcast is off the table. For my own curiosity, Paul and Sanja, which Rock and Metal bands/songs do you guys enjoy. If any? We know Prog is a sub genre of Rock, and that there are in turn many sub-genres and styles of Prog. The H iteration of Marillion is on the softer side of the Spectrum – which is fine. As much of a Metal boy as I am, I’m a music fan first and foremost and the genre tends to not matter to me as long as I enjoy the song. Maybe save it for a Q&A, or maybe I’ll email it in separately, but which ‘true’ harder rock and Metal songs do you guys enjoy, and does that have any bearing on your feelings towards Marillion’s rock moments?

What do the guys make of the lyrics? Sanja is as confused as the rest of us. Paul says the lyrics are playful nonsense with no deeper meaning. I’m not so sure – I have my Sanja hat on and get the sense that there’s something more to it. It doesn’t have to be as sinister as I made it out above, but there’s something. It seems like too much of a coincidence to write the lyrics with that escalating quality. Or is that me reading too much into it? In which case, there are no loose ends to the narrative, because there is no narrative.

Which brings us to the end of this particular post – the final two songs and a wrap up will be coming next time, as we edge closer to present day Marillion. Let us know your thoughts in the blah blah blah!

Tell it like it is!

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