Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Happiness Is The Road Vol 2 (Part 4)!

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

Greetings, Glancers! This is surely the last part now, right? We only have a couple more songs to cover. I hope Marillion had the foresight to give their next album a one word, one syllable album name so that I don’t have to type a similar monstrosity as my blog post title. No more balls, let us get to it.

Especially True has a nifty opening, a guitar attack which isn’t complex or particularly aggressive, yet ticks more boxes than WIWWY. The verses are a more withdrawn affair, and once again where we expect there to be a chorus we instead get a… louder verse? Whatever you call each part, I enjoy them both. It’s a song which seems to be caught in two worlds – the lyrics alluding to the USA while the vocals are very exaggerated in an English way almost as it H is aping Liam Gallagher or some other Britpop boy. There’s that drawling, curling of the vowel sounds so that ‘cliche’ becomes ‘CLEE-SHAY-EE’ and ‘USA’ becomes ‘USAAY-EE’. There’s a brief, quieter interlude which leads into the song’s final driving minute or so. This second half, even though it too has a slow tempo, feels more potent, urgent, and rocking than WIWWY while being led by a solid riff but lacking anything notable from the vocal melodies. It’s one of those songs that I enjoy when I hear it, but instantly forget it when it’s done.

I enjoyed the lyrics to Especially True once I read them in black and white -I didn’t think I would given what I imagined to be a lot of slang an cultural references while listening to the song. It’s a lyric which is conversational yet poetic, poetic yet not obtuse, it makes references with feeling like a catalogue, and it clearly gets its point about alienation across. As my old Latin teacher used to say, it scans very nicely. You can read the lyrics out loud, and it has that poetic rhythm allowing the words to roll off the tongue effortlessly. If I’m being picky… and I’m sure there’s a reason they picked ‘Yorkshore’, but on reading that line it feels like a one syllable place name would have fit better from a rhythmic perspective. If that’s my only criticism, then we’re in a good place. No matter, we can counter such ‘rhythms as read’ easily in song by adding another beat or stretching the music to allow for more space. As for what it’s all about? There’s the alienation we mentioned, there’s the confidence in overcoming what seemed alien and scary. I know it’s not the case, but it almost feels a little like a song which is aiming at winning over an American audience – the whole ‘America I’m ready for you’ is the sort of thing a teenage, debut album, first tour wannabe might be thinking. Is that what the song is recalling – H’s first time in America? I’m sure the guys will fill us in.

We close on the near-anthemic Real Tears For Sale, a song with a guitar sound and an overall tone which reminded me of Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s Californication. We aren’t treated to any more H rapping, and it’s far from funk, but it has a similar minor key melancholy and yearning chorus. It would have been a solid candidate for a single if they trimmed down that 7 minute run-time, and like any number of Marillion songs it feels like it was written and released too late. This would have fit nicely in that post-Grunge Millennium-uncertain era of the late 90s, early 2000s. By 2008 that era, and the rock music which came with it, was long gone.

The build-up to the chorus has enough intrigue and tension that the release of the chorus is solid, but it’s a shame that the chorus is lacking something I can’t put my finger on. It’s just the name of the song repeated, which isn’t a problem in itself, but there’s some repetition or dullness of melody which doesn’t quite capture the anthemic nature I think they’re going for. It’s not a chorus that pulls me in and encourages me to sing along with fists in the air. It almost gets there, but not quite. Maybe it works for others, and I’m sure if I was hearing it live I’d get swept along by the vibe and the crowd.

Trimming to make a radio-friendly single would of course mean that much of the middle section, or the entirety of the second half would be edited out. The middle section is a little too empty and drifting for my tastes. The piano takes on a near Harp quality, there are swelling waves of percussion and layers of guitars which come and go. I’ve never been a fan of the effect which makes vocals sound like they’re coming from the other side of a tunnel – too much distance and reverb – H has a bit of this here before instrumentation begins to build up again. This build up is strong, and the payoff of the chorus returning is decent, capped off with Rothers tearing it up. Musical genius that I am, gatekeeper of all this is objectively correct, I would have trimmed up to a minute of that middle.

Reading the lyrics, I was reminded of Brave and its central character, at least in the first part of the song before it seems to switch over to H’s perspective. Here we seem to have another girl who has led a difficult life, but no matter how much she has been battered or changed herself or sold herself, there’s still a person with feelings and inherent value underneath. She is then compared to H, the performer who has had a life in the spotlight,  given himself up to vices, and felt the consequences. The pain he felt was turned to verse, to art, to something which others can consume but even though those feelings were made solid and sent out into the world, their spectral origins stayed within their host. Is there bitterness that such a thing is possible, that people pay to hear, see, and own these tears? In any case, there is anger, as epitomised by the closing verse and repetitions. It’s perhaps interesting that this song, with those lines, is what closes the album. Take from that what you will; maybe it’s meaningless, maybe it leaves us in a dark place, or maybe it is an attempt to close the book on those feelings and move on.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

We jump over to hear what the World’s Second Most Popular Marillion Podcast has to say about it all. A choice of jackets to wear while walking between tents, it seems. It’s snowing here in the North of the North – not as much as last week, not as much as in January, but a light, wet dusting. Just do what I do – wear two t-shirts, then strip one off mid gig. Then strip the other off too, and get thrown out. While I’m not going to a gig, my flight to Menorca is in the AM this year. For the first time, we’re going to drive on the day rather than stay over at the airport hotel the night before. Saves a bit of money, but adds a bit of stress. What if we wake up late, what if the car breaks down, what if a Godzilla attacks us on the way – the usual.

Sanja assumed from the rock opening of Especially True that she wouldn’t like it, but that turned out to not be the case. She likes it, she even likes the guitar (electric), and she thinks it’s one of their better, heavier songs. Paul compares it to WIWWY and says this is a better attempt at that style. I did see that Heart Shaped Box comment on Twitter and I can see where the comparison is coming from, but I can’t say I felt it. It doesn’t have the full on quiet/loud dynamic and it doesn’t have the darkness, anguish, or the fury. Maybe that doesn’t detract from what Marillion intended though. Regardless, I encourage everyone to listen to Heart Shaped Box, a song which may be my least favourite off my favourite Nirvana album.

Especially True just has more to it for Paul – more melody, more depth, more variance. He then makes the point which I made somewhere up above about Marillion being influenced by other music a little too late. It seems like Paul isn’t going to shed any light on the lyrics beyond his interpretation. Before then, Sanja says it feels like a song about being a tourist in the US. Fair enough. Sanja says sometimes the US feels culturally alien, often moreso than non-English speaking countries. I think we’re all conditioned to love America, such is the influence of their culture on us from the moment we’re born. I’m no different – when I played with my friends when we were young, invariably we would adopt American accents and the game would be somehow related to guns and bad guys. I’d love nothing more to be a rich XYZ and spend a year driving from State to State, eating shite, seeing the sights, going to all the theme parks. This doesn’t mean we can’t, or that I don’t criticize the place and some of its people. Any time I’ve been there, it feels a little like home, but taken to extremes in different directions. Everything’s bigger, louder, more annoying, more exciting. Seriously though, sort out those toilet stall gaps, what the fuck is wrong with you?

I’m in a job where I work with Americans every day, many of them are my friends, and I’ve been drunk with them both in the US and in Northern Ireland. It’s always interesting to hear what people think of my part of the world, but typically it falls into two categories; those who bunch NI and The Republic together and assume we’re the same, and those who know a little of the history and are somewhat apprehensive to bring it up in conversation or are actively scared of us until they see we’re just people too. For anyone reading – I personally don’t care if the North and South unite in the future. At one time I would have stated a preference for remaining as is, but with the state of the Tories, the disaster of Brexit, and my personal disdain for the Monarchy, I’d be more than happy to be a United Ireland once more. It’s amusing attempting to explain a fraction of our history, The Troubles, any of it really to whoever may ask, but I have heard some truly bizarre things from both my colleagues and people I’ve met on my travels. One person was absolutely bewildered that we had electricity (in the 2000s), another was amazed that most families had cars, a couple didn’t believe me when I said that we didn’t live in thatch houses. I’ve been asked how many times I’ve been shot (less than the average American), how many times I’ve been arrested, and whether or not it’s safe to go out at night/wearing US colours/alone, and what to say when kidnapped. It’s cool, we know what the world thinks of us, and we think less of ourselves.

In essence, Paul says the song is about alienation. I wasn’t sure about that ‘England below’ line, but I took the same meaning as the guys do, but elsewhere the song remains a mystery. Which is fine. That leads into Lucy’s favourite song, Real Tears For Sale. I’m of the opposite opinion of Sanja in that I prefer the first half. Or maybe, I like the first third, the last third, but could do without the middle. The second half definitely expands upon the first and improves upon the chorus. Paul re-iterates that he doesn’t mind when Marillion play heavier, but that it works best when the thing still has a tune. I agree. I listen to a lot of Metal, some even on the more extreme end, but my favourites always retain an overt melodic quality. I hesitate to use the word ‘Pop’, but look at some of my long-term favourite heavy bands – Metallica, Iron Maiden, and while we’re on the topic, Nirvana. Strip away the distortion and the harsh edges, and many of the songs are, for lack of a better term, Pop. There’s a reason why those guys sold so massively and have lasted the distance, over and above their peers. Their songs were simply better, more memorable, more catchy.

Lyrically, Paul says it’s another one about fame. He says it’s inspired by Britney Spears, which makes sense given the head-shaving line. I didn’t notice that, but then it has been a long time since that incident and she’s not someone whose life or music I have paid much attention to. Does the connection to Brave still work? More importantly, it’s about H too, which leads us into a discussion on sharing our personal thoughts, something which often seems to put people off. I’ve never had an issue with sharing my own thoughts on feelings, perhaps odd because I’m a pretty quiet person, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable talking about how I feel. I am conscious that this does often make the listener uncomfortable, so I only do it around ‘the right person’. Or on this blog. Incidentally, the few times I do write about this stuff on my blog is usually in response to BYAMPOD. Buy one therapy get one free, I guess. I understand there’s still this stigma about blokes shouldn’t talk about emotions which, in my experience comes from women almost as much as men, but that in today’s world it’s more common and ‘acceptable’ to do it than when I was a teenager. I’ve always been a big feely boy though, when I want to be. Like they say on social media, if you don’t care, keep scrolling.

I’d be curious to see if there are Marillion fans, long term ones I suppose, who don’t pay attention to the lyrics at all. Are there fans who listen to Marillion and think ‘oh shut up, you Woke Nancy Boy’? There probably are, but to me that’s bizarre. I’ve never understood people who can claim to be a fan of a certain type of artist when that artist leans one way when the fan goes the opposite way. I can understand that you might enjoy a catchy song or two, but to call yourself a fan, to spend money and support the band, to travel to see them live? Especially when it’s not exactly a mainstream artist. You see this more often when the artist is more successful – you can’t scroll through an artist’s latest social post without seeing the now infamous ‘they should stick to music and forget about politics’. I don’t get it. I get why people feel this way, but I don’t understand how they do. How do you get to that point in your life, what turns in life, in logic, gets you to being a fan of an artist but attacking them for something they’ve probably always believed or supported. Taking the Manics as an example close to my own heart – a famously left-leaning, notoriously political, feminist, androgynous, working class band – they still get comments by people claiming to have been fans from the early days and attacking their thoughts on X, when X has been a thing they’ve always talked about.

What are we talking about again? Whores? The Manics? That line stuck at as something which seemed out of place rather than non-PC, but I mostly took it as a ‘this is what society says’ line rather than H or Britney or whoever saying it themselves. Maybe it was supposed to be shocking. Manics, feminist as they are, also used the word back in the 90s when it was in more regular rotation – junkies, winos, whores/the nation’s moral suicide. Then again, that song is titled Of Walking Abortion which is about as shocking a title as you could find nowadays. Is Real Tears For Sale more about these feelings being cheapened when they’re sold, when they’re performed ad nauseum? Sanja doesn’t think there’s any judgement in it, while Paul says it starts out as a media-blaming song and ends up being more about H and his own feelings on fame and the impact it has had on him.

With that, we are finally done with this feckin’ album. I’m going to move on to a new album now, but it’s not Marillion, it’s some 2020 thing called Pop Smoke. Don’t know anything about it. Then on to Less Is More, it seems. Normally at this point for this kind of album, I would ask what Paul and Sanja’s ideal Single album track-list would be, but I think it would just be Volume 1 as it is. Let me know if that’s the case. I said way back in my first Volume 2 post that I don’t think there’s anything strong enough to make it on to Volume 1, but I’d probably change that opinion now. I didn’t love Volume 1 as much as Paul and Sanja do, and wouldn’t have any issue if one or two of Volume 2’s tracks snuck their way into Volume 2. Would they work along with the tone and vibe of Volume 1 – maybe not? If we look at other Capital D Double Albums which you can buy separately – Use Your Illusion being maybe the most famous example – you can pick and choose your favourites from each album to make your own single, standalone thing. When I wrote my Favourite Songs By Manics Album posts, I did a similar exercise where I made my own ideal tracklist of each album by cutting out the crap I didn’t like, and adding in the B-Sides or rarities released around the same time to make something superior in my eyes. In this day and age of playlists, it’s even easier to curate your own version of any album, your own greatest hits, and completely ignore everything else. What a time to be alive.

Next time around it’ll be a new album! Until then, comment, share, like, subscribe, check out BYAMPOD, and do all the other things. That Mind Furniture song was cool too, with a touch of Rush/Coheed & Cambria thrown in.

Tell it like it is!

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