Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Anoraknophobia (Part Two)!

This Is the 21st Century Lyrics

Greetings, Glancers! We’re onto the second half of Marillion’s sort of pseudo-comeback album and another batch of fairly hefty songs. The Fruit Of The Wild Rose initially continues the swagger and funk which was displayed in places on the first four songs. Funky bass, smooth funky lead riff, juddering organ, and sensual vocals. The chorus drops the funk for a pining chorus more akin to a ballad and a world away from the verse and the loose wah wah funk of the second half. It’s further proof of the band getting their longer songs right – if the longer songs on the last few albums felt copied and pasted from a hundred different sources, this one feels fluid, with each phase in the sequence making sense even if it doesn’t logical on the surface. It’s a more coherent and more interesting song than Interior Lulu or House for example, and there’s less extraneous barren space. I love the two part middle section – one more sensual as per the chorus and the other leading back to the funk. I would have been happy for this middle section, particularly the first part, to have been longer, heightening the emotional and melodic aspects.

I’m not the biggest fan of Funk in the world, the genre or the style. I can recognise it and I can appreciate that others get hyped up by this stuff, but it rarely does a lot for me on an emotional level. The Fruit Of The Wild Rose falls more on the side of what I enjoy because it takes risks and shifts tone in both the chorus before leading to the final couple of moments where the funky payoff has been earned and feels more potent. The organ in these final moments is a little too close to the cheesy side of The Doors for my liking, but not enough to turn me off. Thankfully a collage of guitar soloing and trickery keeps the feet tapping and the strut strutting and my attention off the cheese.

The sultry funk of the music suggests a pervy prowling lyric rather than the mopey loneliness we actually get. Much of the lyric follows the matter fact style and as such I don’t have too much to say – it isn’t until the second half where some poetry creeps in – ‘She gave me a summer but she’s gone as England faces the winter’ is simple, but pretty, universal. It gets a bit sexy towards the end with talk of stirring hips, sighing, and seed, and mercifully we don’t stay with these images for too long.

Separated Out begins with, I think, a quote from Freaks. It’s a long time since I’ve seen it, but it’s one of those movies you only need to see once. It goes on a little too long but it sets the scene for some of the musical and lyrical choices – the hurdy gurdy circus keyboards and the sense of being an outsider or being an attraction to be bought, sold, and paraded in front of others. That’s the life of a rock star. I’m curious if Paul will find this one to be one of those ‘Marillion doing a straight rock song’ songs he doesn’t enjoy. It has a heavier Rock edge than most of the songs on the album and even with it’s length it’s fairly straightforward and streamlined – take away the opening, ending, and middle quotes and you shave a good minute and a half off the running time. If the song had appeared on a more Rock oriented album then this would be buried and forgotten. Here, while it’s far from the strongest song on the album, it does at least stand out as offering something a little different. In any case, I don’t have a lot else to say about it (is that an obvious nod to Light My Fire in the keyboards?) – it’s fine but it’ll likely slip from my memory once I move on to the next album.

I expected the lyrics to deal more with that idea of a a famous person being paraded as and feeling like a freak, but instead it deals more with unnamed and unclear feelings. I associate the lyrics to than central idea, but in reading the lyrics with zero context it could be about anything. It’s clear the narrator is in distress, has suffered some unspecified trauma or injury, but it could be from a car crash or Covid or anything. The fame idea doesn’t become clear until the second half with talk of selling tickets and ‘Am I enough of a freak to be worth paying to see’. Even as cynical as the narrator is, they feel worthless even to be considered a freak.

The longest song on the album, This Is The 21st Century opens with a drum beat more reminiscent of 2 Become 1 by The Spice Girls than anything more recent or modern. Calm down, that’s why I heard. I stumbled upon an old Top 10 Marillion songs which some newspaper had posted a few years ago – this song was on it. I must admit that this song didn’t make much impact on me on first listen. I put that down to its placement on the album – the penultimate song on an album where each song is over 6 minutes long. I wasn’t burned out, but where When I Meet God didn’t feel like it meandered on my first listen, this one did. That beat is very artificial, unchanging, and all the spacey, twinkly little synth sounds in the background came off as cheesy. And not for the first time the band reminded me of Duran Duran. A touch of the earthy ephemera of Return To Innocence too.

It has taken me quite a few more listens to come around on it, but it’s never going to be in my personal Top 10 Marillion songs. I enjoy the second half more that the first – it finally becomes more urgent yet the same old inconsequential melodies are repeated alongside the same old beat. For a song over 11 minutes long I would have liked a little more variety – a change in pace, in tone, in anything. The last few minutes do offer some variation as the vocals drop, and to be fair the swagger and confidence is still front and centre. I appreciate how the music seems to become more unearthly in these minutes and the massive guitar solo goes off in all sorts of wonderfully ridiculous directions after just sort of being there for the previous couple of minutes. I’m not sure how I feel about it – I like it, but I am tempted to say I would have liked it more if the opening half had been half as long. I’m sure I’m being touted as some sort of heretic for having this opinion so I’ll leave it there.

The lyric begins with ‘A Wise man once said “a flower is only a sexual organ”‘, immediately putting me on guard, given that some of the lyrics regarding women and love on a few of the previous albums haven’t exactly been the most fair or enlightened. We get away from it in the next lines as we talk about the futility of denying your feminine side and instead the song becomes one big wotzitallaboutmate jumble. While the lyric jumps about from opinion to position to love, nature, science, religion, and so on, there seems to be that existential through line. Here we find ourselves in a brand new millennium and things have changed and things are the same and what are we to make of it all? We have purveyors of truth, wise men offering sermon nuggets, we have theories, we have what we can hold and behold, and we have the relationships and feelings we’ve always had. And the conclusion of the song offers one possible answer, that in the midst of all the billions of things we can’t control or know is the person asking the question, and the person listening.

The album closes with another big boy – at over 9 minutes long If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill is the second longest track here. Unsurprisingly Anoraknophobia concludes with the same swagger and loose funk exemplified elsewhere, albeit bolstered with some of the heaviest guitar moments on the album. From the lead crunching chords to not so subtle layered solo moments it gives Rothery a chance to show off. The song mostly warrants its running time by avoiding, or building upon repetition to keep things interesting. Just as the song feels like it’s running out of steam, the five minute mark sees a shift into more spacey territory complete with warbling keys, synth, bass. H then transforms into a 12 year old boy, his vocals channelling a pre-pubescent as he lists off a series of related single words. Each side of the song compliments the other and neither overstays its welcome. The ho-hum understated bass propels the rhythm and allows Pointer to fill in the gaps with more chaotic drumming. All of this serves to highlight the fact that the band sound like they’re enjoying themselves. While ‘comfortable’ is not the most accurate word to use, I got the sense that the band had found and settled into the groove they wanted to be in. I can imagine them rehearsing this song and nodding at each other as if to say ‘yeah, this is the shit we’re supposed to play’.

It has been a while since I felt any The Gathering vibes from Marillion, but the second half of this song reminded me of the Industro-Synth (a term I may have just invented) of their 2003 album Souvenirs. The long drawn out single synth notes and the general not-quite-human atmosphere of songs like These Good People can be felt in If My Heart Were A Ball I’d Refuse To Write The Full Song Name. As hilarious as the Alan Partridge vocals are, I do enjoy how they become more gruff and enraged until H finally sounds like himself again, while the drums come crashing in again to give the ending of the song some of the flavours of the first half. It’s a solid end to the album but I fear that it will only be the outstanding longer songs which spoke to me on first listen which will stay with me in the future – this would not be included in that bunch.

It’s quite a repetitive lyric and yet another made up of questions – some variant of ‘did you ever’ appearing at least 10 times. It’s a song of contradiction – the things we feel as right or see as sense may not be, we’re stuck when we’re always moving, we fall in love rather than soar. ‘Falling’ is typically a negative, or at the very least seen as something almost infinite, unavoidable, and with no easy opposite once we fall; that’s the most common term people use when describing romantic feelings towards someone – you can’t do anything about it, you’re powerless. So, is ‘Do you ever dream of falling’ a positive? Is ‘If my heart were a ball it would roll uphill’ suggesting that the person is constantly looking for love, or actively avoiding it? Most of the lyric suggests the latter. If we look at each first line after the title line – ‘We are alone in this world’ is a classic Nihilistic statement. ‘Did you ever dream of running and find you couldn’t move’ suggests a desire to escape. A 10 foot crooked shadow suggests fear. The staccato word association closure suggests both coherence and fragmentation – finding connections which may not necessarily be there and pairing words to give another number of interpretations. Hard. Ball. Hardball. Heartball. The heart is hardened. Dream. Love. Dreamlove is idealized, dreamlove is false. I love a bit of word association, as it can go absolutely anywhere and therefore, precisely nowhere. We end with another mention of ‘Wild Rose’ suggesting that the dreamthoughtobsession alluded to in The Fruit Of The Wild Rose persists, and will continue to persist far beyond the end of the song.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

We kick off today’s BYAMPOD episode with a bit of the old ultraviolence as Paul threatens the public servant outside with a drill to the skull; we’ve all been there. Sanja’s foot is getting better too – incidentally I had to take my youngest daughter to the podiatrist because her heels have been sore. It’s probably growing pains, but keep off the Sketchers.

We have learned the track lengths of the new Marillion album, courtesy of Marillion’s very own Mark. The shortest song is about five minutes and the rest range from the seven to the fifteen minute mark. It’s getting closer. It’s going to be my first experience of a newly released Marillion album, but I’ll wait until I’ve made it through everything else before starting it. I wonder if the guys are going to record an episode on the new album before catching up to it through the rest of the discography. Like a mini review or first impressions. Or are they going to wait until they’ve finished talking about the other albums. We’ll see. Mark describes the album, heavier, upbeat, and mentions bringing back some old favourites to the new tour. All in all, Paul’s quite excited about it now – hopefully that means the public servant quivering in fear outside will be free to live another day. Mark is also dropping his autobiography before the end of the year, inspiring a potential episode. No to the book club – have you seen my Goodreads, or the bookcase outside my bedroom? It’s like the new Alexandria.

We get stuck into Map Of The World, with Sanja saying she likes it but finds it a generic 90s song. Reading back, that aligns with how I felt about it with the added compliment that I felt like it could have been a minor hit if it had come in a different time from a different band. Paul likes it too, as a nice enough Pop song, but pales in comparison with some of the much stronger songs on the album. Few albums are ever non-stop bangers, so ‘just okay’ is perfectly fine. He finds it the least interesting song in terms of music and lyrics, but that would align to the universal approach Pop tends to take. They argue that possibly there is more to the lyric than on the surface, knowing what H was going through in his relationship at the time, but that could be a mixture of interpretation and hindsight.

Sanja makes the outlandish statement that When I Meet God is her favourite song on the album. Of course, it’s mine too. It has everything Sanja wants from a Marillion song – which may be similar to what I said in relation to what I like about Prog. Rothers wrote the synth part and this was the first time that the band were (digitally?) recording everything they were fiddling with and then cutting together these parts to build or expand upon the whole. Paul say’s it’s a gut punch of a song, thanks to the building, thanks to the soundbites, thanks to how beautiful and emotional the music and performances are. The band work together, for each other and for the song, and it’s a great example of what happens when the synergy works. It’s interesting that this song doesn’t get played live much and may not be high up the list of fan favourites – it’s clearly one of their best songs from what I’ve heard so far and a Prog band shouldn’t worry about playing longer songs live, or those which take a while to get going. Ah, I didn’t get that line about kids in the traffic being a metaphor either, that gives a nice twist. I’d like to hear a song called Experiments With Gas…. Beanus joke somewhere….

On to The Fruit Of The Wild Rose, a song Paul says he has always skipped until recently – and now it may be his favourite. Paul highlights the energy of the group, their togetherness, serving the song. You could dance to it – coming to Strictly any week now. Sanja thinks some parts feel Country and Paul enjoys the blend of quiet and dense sounds, and they agree that it sounds like Marillion taking on other styles while sounding uniquely like themselves. I didn’t talk too much about the lyrics – it’s certainly a step up from AC/DC’s ‘my giant balls want to bounce off your wobbly orbs’ or whatever shite they usually write. Paul loves the lyrics but does think the overall song could have a minute snapped off somewhere.

Separated Out is not one of Sanja’s favourites but is played live quite a bit. Sanja says it reminds her of The Doors – I called it out for sounding like Light My Fire, and both say it has a lot in common with Cannibal Surf Babe, meeting the fun/silly quotient. We all agree it’s a little long – I would do without much of the spoken word stuff, but I’m usually not a fan of that sort of thing anyway. Paul thinks it’s one of their better up tempo/standard rock songs, due to some intangible or collective quality apparent through the rest of the album. He’s not a fan of the carnival sounds, or when Marillion try to be silly (though secretly he is?), and thinks he’s too sincere and emotive a singer that the silly and rock edges tend not be come off successfully. In any case, the band enjoy playing it. Sanja doubles on on the fame idea I made mention of in my lyrical thoughts – I said that without context it could be about anything. Paul says that’s part of it, and reads an H quote about having to be ‘a freak’ to be a successful performer, and then gives a longer quote regarding H having a chew on some naughty Percy (as I used to call it). So H was off his tits, on stage with no idea what’s going on, and this song is the result. We’ve all been there. Buried in a forgotten warehouse alongside The Holy Grail, the 8 hour cut of Love Exposure, and all those lost Hemmingway novels, are a few 4 track demos I recorded after similar antics, featuring such legendary hits as Under Underwater Song, Johnny Had A Wishbone, Fucking A Table (Michelle’s Lament), and of course, the epic Intro. 

Sanja is quite neutral towards This Is The 21st Century, which surprised Paul. She does song along to it – I think I’ve mentioned before that there are plenty of songs I don’t like or particularly care for, but I find myself singing those more than others. Sanja does love the ending but thinks it’s too long – Paul would cut the last few minutes and loves the guitar solo, calling it some of Rother’s best work. It sounds like I fall somewhere in between, feeling much of the first half could have been cut, yet the rest needed more variety. I think I’m mostly neutral towards it. The lyric is a big pile of stuff and Sanja says its about the dichotomy of science and mysticism. That’ll be the drugs talking (for H, unless Sanja has been chomping lumps of Percy too). Mostly the song seems to be about not losing this mystical touch.

Paul announces that he’s never been a fan of the final song, and that while it has improved on his recent listens it’s still not great – Sanja likes it, Paul says he’d prefer if it wasn’t on the album. Both love the chorus, Paul can’t stand the verses or H’s vocal antics. I didn’t mind it, but it’s not going to be one I’ll return to. There’s a call back to Chelsea Monday as well as chucking in lyrics from other songs on the album. Paul does like the lyric, but it doesn’t help to swing his opinion on the song to the positive side. H simply says the song is about having a heart while Paul and Sanja double down on what the monster inside is – causing destruction in your life.

Both guys think the album is very strong, and Paul has more love and appreciation for it now than he did at release. It feels like a turning point and the beginning of things going right – ideas coming together successfully and ending up as something worthwhile, instead of the relative mire of the last few albums. Going on, Paul says this was an exciting time to be a fan, for the first time in years – positive buzz, a more relaxed band, better music. Even the band admitted to feeling this. I think bands who go on for a long time tend to reach this point, if they’re honest. Some bands just keep pumping out the same crap they always have, but other bands reach a point where they wonder if they have reached their creative peak and should pack it in. Some bands do, some bands try to continue and it doesn’t work while others experiment and punch through the fog into a fruitful new era. I’d love all artists to have the opportunity to do this, as so many stories feel unfinished due to acts being dropped, burning out too soon, or dying.

Next episode will be a mix of letters and updates and then it’s on to Transatlantic, Marillion weekends, and eventually Marbles. I’m already listening to Marbles but haven’t touched Transatlantic – is that something I am going to listen to too? Two? Find out next time, I guess. As always, drop any comments here or on my Twit Box, and go listen to the album and to BYAMPOD yerselves!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Anoraknophobia (Part One)!

Anoraknophobia - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! By the time I post this the Great British Summer Time will have sullenly passed us by for another year and we’ll be in the wretched grip of Autumn’s gnarled and rotting hands. ‘Autumn is my favourite Season!’ squeal idiots everywhere, earning my eternal wrath. Maybe Autumn is nice and pretty elsewhere, but here in Northern Ireland it’s where green turns brown, brown turns grey, moderately warm becomes a snivelling cool, and bright evenings and 10:40 PM sunsets become the dismal 5:30 PM eyelid closures of a sloth. It’s the time for anoraks. Do you see?

Forgiveness please. I’m writing this as Summer clings on but also in the midst of an annoyingly clingy cold passed on to me by some tramp or other. Paul and Sanja are busy prepping for what I’m sure will be a wonderful Digi Live, but I’m guessing that means BYAMPODs may be on the backfoot for a couple o’weeks. That means I have plenty of time to listen to an album I know next to nada about. I hear it is better than the last few and the start of them climbing out of what is generally considered to be a bit of a creative mire. What does the album artwork tell me? 9 little dwarf types clad in Puffies, each clasping a clothes hanger with a look which says ‘have you watched the French movie Inside? Yeah, well I can do worse with this’. That’s a fairly grotesque joke, and the less you look into it the better. This is a more eye-catching piece of art than the last few albums – not because it’s particularly startling or makes me want to look twice, but it’s bright and colourful, and it probably would have caught my eye back in the days when HMV sold CDs and not just microphones and Ring Lights and whatever they try to fob off these days. It’s a bit…. Gorillaz? They missed a trick not having the little fornits spell out something in Semaphore like The Beatles did with Help! They could have done a naughty word. What’s a 9 letter naughty word? VORDERMAN (or bumsquirt if that’s too clever for you). Enough!

Between You And Me is the opening track, and should really have been called BYAMPOD. My first thought when hearing this one was that I was worried they were continuing on with the trend of doing a thing I like, then abruptly changing to a thing I don’t like and sticking with that thing instead. I like the piano intro – it’s sad and moody and sounds like a disfigured creature tapping out forgotten melodies in his crumbling former glory wreck of a palace. Or like two stitch-faced marionettes twirling in some bizarre undead ritualistic dance of loveless romance. This abruptly jumps to a traditional rock sound and that’s where we stay. The crisp production is very 2000s and instantly made me think that it was like when Bon Jovi came back with Crush and It’s My Life around this time – still sounding cool enough for the kids and for those who had grown up with them, and still sounding like themselves. This identity crisis has been something which has plagued the band for the last few albums – whether or not is a crisis the band felt themselves at the time.

There’s an energy to the song, a certain vitality. Luckily that energy is something which carries through the rest of the album and by and large the album feels like a resurgence. It feels more confident and more like they’ve rediscovered themselves and what made them Marillion. A simple enough rock song such as this isn’t the biggest example of this identity solution that we have on the album, but as an opening track the swagger and self-belief covers most of the tracks of it attempting to sound youthful or like another band. It’s a bright, fun, chunky song, even if it’s not huge in the way of melodies or hooks. There isn’t a huge amount of difference between chorus or verse but it doesn’t feel close to a 6 and a half minute song. The intro takes a few seconds, there’s a brief slower section in the middle to break up any potentially monotony, but it’s the energy and bounce of the bulk of the songs which means we don’t mind or notice the overall length. It feels mostly like a guitar led track, but in listening back after making this statement, those drums definitely make a claim to being the MVP. It’s a good, upbeat, uptempo opener.

We’re on familiar enough territory with the lyrics as we find ourselves on another roadtrip, heading towards music in the sky. The other day, while I was throwing stones into the street with my kids (what else is there to do in Northern Ireland?), I looked to the heavens and noticed a cloud which had the exact outline of a stallion proudly galloping across the blue sky. I grabbed my phone, took a photo, and when I looked at it later it actually looked like a squashed, legless, gnat. No real point to this analogy, but if you ever see music in the sky it’s probably a bunch of seagulls shitting loaves.

We’re asked what it means in the second verse – the most obvious interpretation would seem to be the never-ending search, the hope for something better; the greener grass, the faster car, the Double D. We’re all on an unavoidable collision course with the future, but what makes the journey more bearable is clasping someone’s hand along the way. It can all feel overwhelming, and we cope with it in different ways – blowing a fuse, prayer, love, blame – and how do these things get in the middle of our relationships and slow our endless progress? The song asks questions along these lines, and notions of faith and howling at the moon for an answer which may never come is something which recurs throughout the album’s lyrics.

Quartz is when that sense of swagger and self-confidence first entered my mind. I noticed the running time, then I noticed the running time of the other songs. Not a single song under 5 minutes and most over 6 – that suggests the band isn’t going after the commercial crowd and by extension you could assume they are therefore more interested in doing something for themselves, or their fans. Quartz is a risky proposition, not purely because of its length. This is a band not afraid to write a long song, but is it a band happy to allow for dissonant, almost anti-melodic and musically barren verses? This is what Quartz provides and it’s something which takes great skill to create while avoiding being shit. I think Quartz succeeds. It does give us verses which don’t have a lot in the way of traditional musical arrangement, instead relying on a lot of silence and space, studio trickery, percussion and scratchy guitars. I could see plenty of people arguing that this is a dirge, but for me (pardon the pun) they do get the balance right. The chorus comes at the right time and provides the correct injection of music, depth, sound, and normality, while the verses retain a sleepy sense of swagger thanks to their groovy beat, stabs of bluesy guitar, and rising synths.

Does the song really need to be 9 minutes? I know there’s an argument to be made for most of these songs to have a razor go around the edges, but I didn’t mind this one being so long. I was happy with the groove and the vibe. I found this one to be more interesting than Interior Lulu and House – maybe because of the swirly bits and uppy down bass in the verses, the brief blues licks filling in the spaces, the drunken solo, the willingness to go a bit weird and tuneless in the middle. The chilled instrumental part after the weirdness acts as a neat counterpoint and I would have been happy to stay in this vibe till the end of the song rather than bringing the noise back. I’d be surprised if this was anyone’s favourite song on the album. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people say they don’t enjoy it. I enjoyed it enough to never consider skipping it in my runs through the album, but I don’t think it has enough to make my playlist.

Quartz is hard as rock, shiny like a diamond. The song is clearly about a failing (failed) relationship between someone compared to Quartz, and someone described as ‘clockwork’. Clockwork is interesting because it always moves forwards, but always moves in a cycle like a snake eating its own tail. Clockwork is a trap which tries to progress but ends up back where it starts, while trying to change quartz may be futile. The swagger and groove of the music seems difficult to reconcile with the lyrics beyond the more jagged, musically forceful chorus. The lyrics are conversational and I imagine fairly accurate in sentiment to anyone who has been through a serious breakup. They are bitter-tinged realism, with a tad of ‘woe is me’ and a sprinkling of passive aggression. The metaphors of quartz and clockwork are stretched to breaking point, but they work, and while they’re similar enough to other such metaphors in other such songs, I don’t think I’ve heard these specifics before.

Map Of The World acts as a palette cleanser or a breather after two longer, more experimental songs. It’s the obvious single, or would be if it were shorter, thanks to the traditional structure and its obvious melodic qualities. It’s mostly sweet and catchy and fits that middle of the road softish rock which used to do well on radio – who were those guys who did this sort of thing around the time… not Maroon 5 (the current purveyors of this music)… Matchbox 20? That’s probably who I’m thinking of. My only note for this song during my first listen (bearing in mind I was popping cold and flu pills at the time) was ‘Andreas Johnson’. Remember him? Glorious was a massive hit (I liked it) and The Games We Play (I liked it) is mostly forgotten now. I don’t know why I made that note, but I must have found some connective tissue – maybe the wholesome vibe, the clean anthemic vocals and chorus, the backing strings. It’s a sweet and inoffensive soft rock ballad thing, and usually these are easily digestible enough to stick on any playlist without being afraid you’ll piss anyone off.

Lyrically, Map Of The World took me back to Brave. Placing itself in the mind of a woman looking for a better world. It’s not as dark as Brave and the character here is supposedly in a better place – there’s no indication of why she has a map of the world on her wall beyond it being a dream and a hope for a better life, getting away, travelling. It’s a much more universal story than what the character in Brave is going through. The woman here… it’s perhaps interesting to note that most of what we learn of her personality is conveyed through her observations of others; she’s watching others going by day by day assuming their pain and fear and hope is buried under suits and shades, she equates these groups of people with loneliness, she believes they are only chasing wealth or spending or being slaves to a system without allowing time for themselves. But who’s to say what’s between her and them, or between any of us? I didn’t notice any notable flourishes in the lyrics, but there hopeful and idealistic dreaming finds affinity in the light and breezy music.

Now that I think about it, that Andreas Johnson comment may have been meant for When I Meet God. It is much closer musically. It’s also the highlight of the album. It also became one of my favourite Marillion songs within a small number of listens. It’s lovely. It did remind of other songs – because that’s what I do with these posts now – particularly Golden Platitdues by The Manics and both Hey Jupiter and Northern Lad by Tori Amos. More importantly, this feels like Marillion being themselves again – there’s a confidence and a coherence in the crafting of the epic which we haven’t seen for a while. Whether it’s shaking the spectre of Fish era long songs and accepting that they are now in a different wheelhouse – one of more classically emotive rock and soundscapes than more cynical and verbose hard rock infused giants.

Does anyone else find the opening synth bloops to sound like they could be the soundbite from a Cell Phone loading, or one of those catchy advertisement jingles for a company like Dell? If I have any criticisms of the song, I would say it could be a tad shorter I suppose, and that I prefer the first half to the second. Those are more personal preferences than criticisms – I don’t have much of an issue with the length and the first half is so good that the second half was always going to be inferior. I could be more picky – some of H’s vocals in the second half feel more stretched and pained than they should, and I didn’t care for the ‘don’t do that’ vocal interruptions. Then again, the second half does have jaunty Band On The Run synth stuff and the synth recall of the main A/G/F#/D vocal melody of the first half. I do love it when hooks from one part of a song are reproduced or referenced in another part of the song (or even a different song on same album) just when you thought that moment had passed.

We’ve seen epics on previous albums, not even the long songs in fact, where the band felt like they were simply throwing ideas around or slapping pieces together to create a jigsaw type of song (pardon the pun?). That’s perfectly fine, and perfectly normal especially for Prog bands, but it’s not always successful and it’s difficult to create a genuinely coherent song. When I Meet God feels like it was a fully formed idea from its inception. I’ve mentioned this plenty of times before, but to me the sign of a truly great song is when you can strip it down to its most basic parts, or dress it up excessively and the core quality remains. A solo acoustic version of this song, or a more stripped back version would be just as potent as the album version. We all define core quality differently but to reiterate my own preferences – melody and emotion are what draw me to a song in the first instance, and what allow the song to eternally attach itself to me. A large part of the emotional and melodic force of this song comes from that simple A/G/F#/D (or whatever it is) hook. The descending collapse of the notes combined with the questioning and begging of the lyrics (A/When G/I F#/Meet D/God) is like the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and allows me both to feel the emotion the band has put into the song and for those emotions to be echoed in my own being. Music can be wonderful.

I appreciate how the first half was much more of a structured plaintive ballad and the second was more loose and experimental. Probably too much of a leap to say the first half is someone struggling with life’s crap and questioning a higher power, and the second half acting as what comes after life. As I was enjoying the music too much I didn’t try to decipher or hear the lyrics and didn’t Google them for a while. I was a little wary of checking the lyrics given that quite a few of the albums have been hit and miss on the lyrical front recently, and the few snippets of words I did catch veered between ‘WTF’ and ‘man, you could have worded that neater’. I find it clunky when a writer rhymes one word with the same word – ‘why does it feel so warm’ is repeated to meet this condition, though I can excuse it somewhat because the entire line (mostly) is repeated. Same with ‘solution’. For me, it reads better than it sounds but that’s another personal quirk. The main line I have a gripe with, and which nobody else will, is ‘what kind of mother leaves a child in the traffic’. It doesn’t flow as neatly as everything else or as smoothly to the music against which the line falls. It’s like it’s squeezing too many syllables in when the previous three lines had four syllables apiece. Then again, that’s coming from a Manic Street Preachers fan who lyrics often gave absolutely zero regard to scanning or length or any demonstrable convention.

As mentioned earlier, it’s another song made up of questions, questions directed at God/the self/the sky. It’s perhaps telling that the song begins with ‘And’ suggesting that the first question listed here is merely the latest in a longer line of questions uttered before the beginning of the song. This quest for answers or truth has been ongoing – we as listeners merely stumbled in media res. The questions relate back to, in this instance we have to assume, being famous, being a rock star. Bottles, girls, being apart, being broken, these have all come up in Marillion lyrics regardless of the writer. The writer turns the question towards the only being such questions are ever turned towards in a final vain hope, the only being who could never answer. The age old question – why is any of this allowed to happen? Why is pain a thing? Why loss, why evil, why? Why do bad things happen to good people? What kind of all powerful God would let such things pass when she could stop it with a flick of her magic wand? Does this God have any feelings? While the lyrics cover ideas asked by, well, every poet, artist, and possibly human who has ever lived, they do suit the yearning ache of the music. We do get the ‘I crawled around inside myself’ verse which is my favourite, and the most neatly out together verse of the song. At least the lyrics don’t let the music down.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

Lets hear what Paul and Sanja have to say about it all. It’s many weeks since I wrote the first part of this post and I’ve started listening to Marbles, but Paul and Sanja are back into Anoraknophobia. We start with some new about the new Marillion album – some lyrics were unleashed and Paul and Sanja sing their way through them before bringing up some old Rothery interviews and his relationship with H. It wouldn’t be a rock band without some friction. There’s some recent interview snippets regarding the new album – it’s not long to wait now – and we hear about how crowdfunding began. Long story short, they had no money and said ‘give us money so we can make a new album’. And lo, we have hundreds of artists on a daily basis asking fans to support them in their musical endeavours. It’s undoubtedly a good thing, but I can’t help but think there’s a better way which says the creators get the bulk of the profits and the middle man getting 0.00001p from every listen/stream/sale.

Paul was somewhat optimistic before the album was released – the crowdfunding thing was an interesting curio, Dave Meegan was drafted in as Producer, and the newly joined Lucy was providing positive PR and momentum. Paul was excited and more hopeful as a fan than he had been in a while. The press release was contentious at best, and comes across a little boasty. Boastful? Boasty sounds better, and like a hip graffiti artist. Boasty was ‘ere… WITH UR MUM. It’s a little antagonistic. I don’t know what press releases usually read like. I assume it’s something akin to ‘here’s the new thing by those people that you know. Please enjoy’. I usually appreciate an Us Against You ethos when it comes to musicians, but it tends to not work if you suddenly implement it after a downturn in success rather than from your inception as a band. Anyway, the album was generally well received (including one budding young future Youtuber who gave it 8 out of 10). Said future Youtuber also announces that it’s going to be next week’s episode that we begin going track by track, so this is shaping up to being another long post. Paul does give a spoiler that he enjoys the album even if he feels some of the songs are overlong and maybe a tad too experimental. It’s all about the swagger. Will anyone use my word? MINE. Oh yes, @Sanja, any time Paul says ‘they know’ – we do indeed know.

It’s now next week, we he have news! New news! Nyous? Sanja has a case of Wrong Foot, and the Marillion boys have run out of money again. It seems they have overtaken Guns n Roses as World’s Most Dangerous Band as their tour cannot be insured. So they’re asking the fans to pay for the insurance. I think I can see this sort of thing taking of, so I mean, why not? Incidentally, if you want to chuck some money Paul and Sanja’s way for the second season of Digitiser, go do that on Kickstarter. I haven’t yet, but only because I’m scared of receiving a clump of Paul’s hair in the mail and my kids will mistake for a Fidget Pop It Thing.

The Marillion boys are of course providing some nice treats for those who pay up – no clumps of hair but you can be eternally embarrassed by having a song dedicated to you on the tour, and having H mispronounce your name. ‘This one’s for you, Paul Ruse, it’s called Grendel!’

We now talk about Anoraknophobia – Paul likes the artwork – even if Anorak guy is named after a Chuckle Brother. Mark Lamarr always stood up for what he believed in – he’s a nineteen fifties binman, oh yes. H does a big quote about the name of the album, saying it was admitting the fans were easy to attack but… saying that was ok? Given H’s previous comments and interviews, H maybe wasn’t always the most appreciative of his fans, or at least the most rabid fans. Who knows, the time has passed. Paul takes about hearing This Is The 21st Century for the first time, and mentions that he thought it sounded like Come Undone by Duran Duran. Ha! I knew I wasn’t the only one to hear Duran Duran on this album (and a few earlier ones). We hear about the Press Release and various attempts by the band to reach out beyond their core fanbase – Paul was still on the fence about much of these antics, but he was pleased by the music and thought it was their strongest in years.

Paul says the band were experimenting a little more in the studio and as such the band sounds like they’re having fun – that’ll be the swagger – with some of the guys switching instruments, but even then he admits it’s not his favourite album. We get stuck in to the first track and explore the epic tale of why the podcast got its name. Most of the music podcasts I listen to pull a similar trick with their name – I may or may not be in the middle of a half-assed attempt at making my own (if the other two clampets helping me out would actually help me out) but more (or none) to come on that later. The song was released on 9/10/01, and unsurprisingly didn’t do very well. Were Marillion (was?) ever a student type band – the sort of band twatty students obsess over and as such are constantly being played in student parties and such? I only ask because I started University in September 2001 and didn’t hear or notice anything by Marillion. The Students Union was wall to wall TVs playing Scuzz and Kerrang with the same handful of bands every 30 minutes or so – Sum 41, Marilyn Manson, Blink 182, SOAD, Limp Bizkit, Evanescence, and Link Park – all shite, but at least it wasn’t boyband shite.

Sanja’s point on When I Meet God… I can see a shorter version of the song existing as a single – there’s enough melody in the verse and chorus to tick those boxes. Of course, you’d take quite a lot away from the full package. I just wish we lived in a world where having a ten minute or even a five-six minute single was not a cause for alarm, and that we weren’t constrained by three minute conventions. Paul feels like the middle section takes the energy out of the song – I think I said much the same but with the more positive slant that it broke up potential monotony. Apparently there are Fish lyrics on the album… was that something I picked up on? H really is a lonely little boy, isn’t he? Is there a B-Side called ‘I Wish My Bandmates Played With Me (In The Sea)’?

The lyrics of Between You And Me have a myriad of possible meanings according to Sanja, all basically coming down to giddiness. Fun. Paul thinks it’s a simple song about love, while I thought it was an open-ended search for whatever makes you happy. The love thing makes sense, but there’s enough in the lyric to suggest it could be about other things. Of course ‘love’ could be the open-ended search for love. So I’m right, as always.

Quartz is Pete’s song. Paul loves that it’s unique but also that it’s Marillion. And that it’s always groovy, without saying ‘this is our version of that groovy guy from Jamaica’s groovy song’. They’re not copying. They say it’s both seductive and discordant, a thing which the band seems to do sometimes. Is it like… the ending throb and hiss mess of Karma Police? They appreciate the modernization and production quality, that it’s authentic, that it still feels like Marillion. Both feel H’s ‘rap’ could be cut, as there’s no need for the song to be nine minutes long, and mentions that many of the songs on the album suffer from this issue. Imagine if many songs on the album suffered from H’s rapping. Sanja interprets Quartz as the realization of two people not, or no longer, being compatible. Paul thinks the song is lyrical genius and I can see why. It is neat, it is consistent, and the observations and comparisons are poetic and creative. I still think it’s a little… overdone? I don’t know if the music or the lyrics came first – was it a case of throwing in another metaphor to fill space because the music dictated it, or was it a case of H slapping the lyrics down as a complete piece and asking the band to turn it in to something? I couldn’t shake the feeling that H was competing with himself to get as many lines and words related to clockwork versus quartz as he could.

The guys are ending the podcast after these two songs, and as such I’m going to finally end and publish this post. Yes, I cover two extra songs above but I’m guessing the guys will finish off the album in their next episode so you can always flick between my two posts if you want to compare what I’ve written here with what they will take about there. As always, listen to the BYAMPOD, send an email, and leave any comments on my rants below!

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Rebel Heart!

Rebel Heart - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Wellity well, we’ve almost caught up with Madonna’s output. I know I’m slow at getting these things out (for anyone who even still reads them) but there’s only a couple of albums to go. And give me a break, I’m also doing Jovi, Adams, Roxette, The Stones, The Beach Boys, and of course my Top 1000, Non-Beatles, and 1966 series. A more diligent blogger would of course just pick one artist and pump out posts about their work over a few week period before moving on to the next thing. But I can’t focus on one thing for too long. And as I say, no-one even reads these things anyway and they’re not exactly the most exciting reading given that they’re unimaginative reactions as I listen for the first time. A smart blogger would of course switch to YouTube and make gargantuan gasps and wide-eyed stares at the camera in faux shock as if I’ve just stumbled upon a kitten in a waistcoat shaving a cow with a cigar. My hope is that people simply Google Madonna (or whoever) one day and stumble upon my posts, and read through them all in a single sitting, tutting at how I’ve misunderstood their favourite song. In any case, you’re stuck with me.

So, Rebel Heart. I know two of these songs – one I’ve only heard once and don’t really remember, while the other was an instant hit for me and has become one of my favourite Madonna songs. Beyond those, I don’t know much about the album. It’s another which seems packed to the gills with collaborations, something I generally don’t approve of and something which tends to show an artist is creatively flailing around, hoping someone else will save them from mediocrity or pull them back up from their mire. I’m hoping that’s not the case here, but given the (lack of) talent Madonna has aligned herself with on this record, I’m not holding out for greatness.

Living For Love: A blippy bloppy warbling beat emerges. Then deep Madonna vocals. Melody – fair enough. Then a beat. Then piano and a different melody. Am I getting some sort of Gospel feel from the melody? Then the beat returns. Then the song does that horrible chorus fake out thing that every was doing a couple of years ago. Maybe they’re still doing now, I don’t know. It’s well produced and it doesn’t follow a simple set pattern. At least the chorus drop isn’t as bad as most. There are a few other voices in the chorus, it does seem to be going for a Gospel approach. There’s too much space between the different vocals, space which could have been packed with additional voices for ore impact. Then it ends abruptly. It’s a decent opener, not horrible, not overly memorable.

Devil Pray: An acoustic guitar opener, with an almost Latin tone. Then weak ass hand clap beats screw up a perfectly good vocal. I will never understand why artists choose that sound for their beat. The lyrics aren’t great from what I’m picking up on the surface. Decent pre-chorus, but again the chorus drops instead of peaks. It’s frustrating as the song is fine – it’s not extraordinary – it’s a B grade song which falls to C because of those stylistic choices which are clearly made for modern sensibilities and not me. Her vocals are patchy in places too. It stretches out for another minute, presumably for dancefloor purposes, adding lots of beeps and sounds which don’t do anything.

Ghosttown: Is the one I mentioned at the top that I loved. It’s A Tier Madonna. It’s a great song all round, even if I’m not in favour of all the musical and production choices. However, you could record this a hundred different ways as long as you keep the central melody, and you’d have a great song each time. It’s a perfect pop song, something Madonna knows a little something about, plus it has plenty of emotion ensuring it makes it up to the next level up the ladder.

Unapologetic Bitch: Although the sound isn’t my go to, this starts well but then drops into a slower Reggae style thwomp. I would have preferred keeping the pace and intent of the intro. It reminds me too somewhat of The Delays. The lyrics are quite sweary which is unusual for her – it’s your standard woman scorned stuff and that sort of lyric only works for me if it goes deeply personal, like Alanis. Credit for the little rap portions (getting Chas and Dave vibes from those – rabbit rabbit rabbit) and for how the rhythm of ‘unapologetic bitch’ works. The chorus gets nuzzled into your brain.

Illuminati: It’s not the first time Madonna has done some rapid fire name-checking. Not names I give a shit about, but she’s gonna do what she’s gonna do. This is quite experimental for her – the verse doesn’t have anything obvious to grab hold of, then the chorus becomes quite sweet. At least it’s interesting, which is more than can be said for most pop stars of her, or any generation at the moment. There’s a John Carpenter synth vibe here and there. Once again, credit for trying something different, but I can’t say it all works for me. I don’t dislike it by any means.

Bitch I’m Madonna: This is the other one I’d heard. Some of the melodies are fine but the lyrics are abhorrent and the production is all over the place hitting all the black boxes of modern pop I can’t abide – silly sounds? Check. Dropping the momentum at the chorus? Check. Random newb warbling in the background? Check. Wafer beats? Check. Self interest? Check. Emotionless? Check. Catchy? Kind of, I guess. Bland and repetitive? For the most part, yeah.

Hold Tight: This seems much better. A more classic sound and vocal while still adhering to modern norms. It’s a simple approach this time, and a simple melody to go with it. The beats and production isn’t what I would choose again, pandering too much to today’s sound and quirks which will likely date the thing in a few more years. I would have gone all in on the backing vocals on this one to give a booming transcendent feel. It’s almost one of her better songs, but still good.

Joan Of Arc: A pondering guitar intro gives way to a lovely vocal and melody. It’s instantly more touching and honest. I feel like this is already going on the playlist. The drum beats could have been toughened up and rounded out, but that’s a minor issue. I think this will grow on me over time and it’s another example of a Madonna song which would work in any generation, with any production as long as the melody and purity is kept intact.

Iconic: With a name like that, this could go well or very badly. We’ll see. Oh balls, this is another .feat thing. This time it .feats a rapist, so that’s something. Verse is right up the middle, the little hey-yays are bordering on annoying. Decent pre-chorus. Of course the chorus loses the momentum and does that thing I won’t shut up about. At least there’s some sort of Halloween tone to that chorus. Some day in the future, someone’s going to re-do all the songs from the 2010s, but fix the chorus so that it doesn’t do the beat drop thing, and on that day every single one of those songs will take 10 large steps upwards in quality. Some bloke I’ve never heard of raps in the middle of everything else going on. It’s not very bad, but it’s a long way from good.

Heartbreakcity: Thankfully this one feels more streamlined – a lone piano line without tweaking. A neat military parade beat drops and the chorus builds and feels similar to Ghosttown. It’s another spiffing melody at times, but it doesn’t quite sustain that quality over the whole running time.

Body Shop: This is, what? Eastern folk inspired, with a child-like nursery rhyme quality? There’s some sort of tribal trance rhythm. In other words, she’s playing with conventions again. I can’t quite pick up many of the lyrics or what it’s all about during first listen. I don’t like the little ‘yeah’ shouts in the background, but then I never do. Without those I’d be willing to listen to this more. It’s a curio which is almost ruined by those repeated ‘yeah’s as they increase in frequency towards the end to the point that I had to stop the song early.

Holy Water: A more dance influenced, near rap from Madonna. It has some sex noises in the chorus. I could do with some more bass in the verse – something really dirty would have made it grind in a more sweaty, sexy way. At least the chorus doesn’t collapse like so many of the others. It’s nice that she’s still singing about her vagina. And that she’s referencing and sampling herself. An interesting one for sure, but I’m not sure there’s enough melodic quality for me to listen to it again.

Inside Out: There’s a dirtier fuzzier bass which should have been in the previous song. This is a stronger second half than the first. The verse is solid enough, then the chorus goes all Sia. That’s always a good thing. It’s not top tier Sia, or top tier Madonna, but definitely good enough that I’ll happily hear it again.

Wash All Over Me: Sole piano keys open and traverse the verse and a fair melody spreads itself out. The chorus is better, but it’s lacking something – a key change, another push? I don’t know, I just feel a tiny sense of frustration that it doesn’t go the way I wanted it to. It’s a good song to end the album with – a B song which doesn’t unleash the sadness or hope or whatever extra emotional push it is I was hoping for to shunt it into A.

So… it’s another good album. Solid. There aren’t as many true stand out tracks which I see making my long term playlist, but there is a long list of songs which just miss out and a short list consisting of average or crap. It once again confirms that when Madonna keeps things simple and builds a song around a melody rather than an idea or trend, that’s when she’s at her best; that’s when she still makes great pop songs. The worst moments are when she goes too experimental to the point that the song stops being a song, or when she copies what others are doing (chorus drop). There are some annoying quirks – backing shouts and vocals being the main offender, but when the song is good I can mostly overlook those. We’re almost caught up with Madonna now and I must admit that I didn’t expect to enjoy her post Ray Of Light stuff as much as I have. Sure there has been some crap, but there have been plenty of songs added to my playlist – and a few of those are from this album.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Ghosttown. Hold Tight. Joan Of Arc. Inside Out.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Rebel Heart!

Nightman Listens To – Code Orange – Underneath (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Another highly rated album from 2020 to cover today, and another one I have absolutely zero knowledge of. In fact, before writing this introduction I had to check on my original 2020 post to see which publication listed this album as one of their favourites. It was Kerrang, so this must be a Metal album. At the very least an album with guitars, given that Kerrang goes after all sorts these days. That’s all I know, but maybe the artwork will tell me something.

It’s a fleshy, cyborg, alien thing? It’s a bit like if Iron Maiden’s Eddie were a nerd, but was kidnapped by a Cenobite and then placed in one of Jigsaw’s traps. It doesn’t tell me much. Is it meant to be a violent, brutal image so the album will be violent and brutal? For any new readers – I write my intro before I’ve heard a single note of the album, but by the time we jump to the next paragraph I will have listened to the whole thing multiple times. Lets get to it.

You know, that image is a fairly accurate representation of the music – it’s the sort of music a demented AI might make if the only data it had to go on was Nursery Rhymes and 2010s Hardcore Metal. On one hand it’s fairly straight screamy shouty metal – brutal vocals song by boys who are angry because mommy wouldn’t let them ‘go out with hair like that’, thunderous drumming, and crushing riffs – but on the other hand you have an album deliberately broken with audio glitches and defects. The music will cut out without warning or begin to judder and skip like a dust ridden CD, and many of riffs have been distorted to sound like they have been heavily processed through multiple rusty filters and failing laptops. It’s cool, but the effect doesn’t have the same impact on multiple listens or by the time the final track comes around. It’s probably the most notable aspect of the album and what distinguishes this from the thousands of other Hardcore albums out there, which are generally very samey. It is a cool effect, it is overdone, but at least they mix up those effects with a variety and intensity that it does catch you off guard and create a sort of unique vibe. Of course, this glitching and trickery is not exactly original – The Music’s debut way back in 2002 had plenty of these stoppy starty shenanigans – but I don’t know how regularly it has been used in Metal. I wonder if these guys are fans of The Music – there’s a moment in Autumn And Carbine which is suspiciously reminiscent of the electro beats used in The Music’s third album. That seems highly unlikely.

I must admit to laughing and enjoying the opening track, because all the deliberately off-putting sound, screeches, and distortion is exactly the sort of ‘experimental music’ I was making more than 10 years ago. I have hundreds (literally) of ‘songs’ like this and when I have time I add the odd one to Youtube to terrify people. That intro builds nicely – I like a long instrumental intro to build anticipation and set tone and mood, but when this happens on an especially good intro I’m internally praying ‘don’t ruin it with the vocals don’t ruin it with the vocals’. In general I’m not a fan of Hardcore vocals because they crush the individuality of the voice and enforce limitations. I can take them in short bursts but this is the genre we’re in so it should be expected and evaluated as such. The album isn’t all shouts and screams – there are minor instances of clean female vocals and the songs which deftly balance the harsh with the clean, the light with the dark, such as Sulfur Surrounding are the most successful at sticking in my memory.

That’s the greatest quandary I have with this genre and the album. Hardcore, and plenty of other metal sub genres have a lack of melody and variety; little variety of emotion, little to no variety in vocal melody, and it’s all about as many downtuned basic riffs and how much shouty shouting you can shout. If you like Hardcore, you should like this. If you’re a purist though, you might be put off b the glitches, by the synth moments, by the cleaner sections because this album does strive for variety. It employs Hardcore as its foundation, but wants to build something more monstrous and remarkable. I don’t speak from any position of experience or authority but based on the rave reviews from those in the know, the band succeeded in this respect. This album does have variety – there are memorable vocal melodies (which may take time to sink in) and there is emotional variety (at least in the grey areas between annoyed, angry, and really pissed off). Songs such as The Easy Way and Sulfur Surrounding build upon this by eschewing the tried and tested and boring hardcore route of riff, shout, other shout, solo, shout end, by adding musical and structural elements not typically heard.

Still, as someone mostly unfamiliar with this sub-genre and with no real desire to learn about it or care (it’s all a bit… skinhead, you know), I could appreciate its brutality and experimentation and can gladly chill to any of the songs while driving. A few songs would be enough for me before I’d want to move on to something else – I get enough futile tantrums at home without needing it in my music too. A handful of the better blended songs I can stick on my playlist but the whole thing isn’t one I think I’ll return to. I can marvel at the production and applaud the musical ability and desire to drag the genre into new territory, but the songwriting in itself feels somewhat flat outside of the glitches.  Like many of the albums I have already reviewed from 2020 and likely those I haven’t got to yet – this isn’t for me so I’ll leave it to the people who it was designed for. I have no doubt they’ll love it.

Album Score

Sales: 3. Seems to have done okay, at least within a genre which doesn’t really sell anymore. Seems to be theit highest selling album – but we’re talking 10s of thousands here. I could go 2 here, but lets give them some props.

Chart: 2. A hardcore album isn’t really designed to sell outside its core audience or set the charts alight. It made it onto the top 200 in US. Not as high as their debut I believe, but times have changed.

Critical: 5. Go down to a 4 if you want to include non-Metal publications, but praise has been flawless across the board in Metal magazines and sites.

Originality: 3. Normally a Hardcore album is going to get a 1 or a 2 from me here. This strives for me and generally does more. Enough for a 3 at least.

Influence: 3. I would hope that this will spur other young bands within this genre and the genres less prone to experimentation and variety to take the lead. It’s not going to influence on a wider scale so I could see a 2 or even a 1 here if you’re very harsh. Definitely don’t see this as higher than 3.

Musical Ability: 3. They can play, but we’re talking Metal here. If you can’t better than almost every other genre, you’re not going to get as high as a 3. I expect each person to be an expert in their craft. The glitches are more a case of production and ideas than musical ability – outside of that I didn’t feel enough to hit a 4.

Lyrics: 3. Naturally I had to Google the lyrics to see what they’re all about. There are bits and bobs related to changing and adapting to the modern world which fits with the music. Aside from that, all the usual Metal topics stated plainly without much poetry or invention – control, violence, anger, the usual.

Melody: 2: Only a handful of songs standout in this respect – I’ve been lenient so far in some of my scoring but if you force me up to a 3 here, I can drop Lyrics to a 2. Most of the songs don’t differ in the vocal melodies aside from the few notable ones, and even those aren’t the catchiest in the world. I won’t grumble if you go 3 here but anything higher seems like bias.

Emotion: 3. Genres like this aren’t the most subtle or nuanced in terms of emotion – there’s only so much range of emotion you can convey when your vocals are at 11 the entire time. It comes down to how much importance you place on expectation – if you expect and want anger, volume, shouting, then you can mark higher. If you are looking for a more balanced range of emotions across a spread of songs, then you mark lower. I’ll go average considering the genre. 

Lastibility: 3. While time will tell whether this was a game-changer, it seems like it has made enough impact based on its reviews to sustain itself at least until their next album drops. Metal fans are devout to their group or sub genre, and those outside the group will complain or move on to the next thing. Not enough information to say for sure, but a 3 seems reasonable. 

Vocals: 3. I’m no judge on hardcore vocals and what is good versus bad versus whatever. What I do know is that I can only take so much of it, not because it’s loud or shouty, but because it’s repetitive and dull and lacks character. Some songs offer mainly clean vocals, some songs offer additional vocals, and some songs blend clean and harsh. I didn’t have any issue with the quality of any of the vocals, more that they were mostly generic. 

Coherence: 4. I’m happy going high on this category because the band seemed committed to their idea for their sound, and did everything possible to make a coherent product. The glitches and electronic (for lack of a better term) sound carries through to the end.

Mood: 3. I could agree with an argument for a 4 here as the coherence lifts the mood, but given the lack of emotion and feeling I generally get from this type of music I’m not confident that any mood the band is trying to communicate would not translate to me.

Production: 4. Another strength, everything is clear and the various components are nuanced in the way that the emotions are not. Most notable aspects being the glitches and future shock soundscapes which are handled with both taste and bluster. 

Effort: 3. I always dread scoring this category because effort is sacred and sacrosanct. It feels disingenuous to score low when artists, especially in these genres, put their heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into their creation. I have no doubt the band did everything they could to write, record, and produce this album – but so does every other band if they’re serious about their craft. I don’t see or I’m not aware of anything over and above what other bands do. 

Relationship: 2. When I was younger maybe I would have felt different, but even when I was younger and more accepting of most Metal subgenres such as this were at an arm’s length. I love melody, and emotion, and shades of colour. I also love being heavy and angry and skilful and fast, but there are tonnes of other albums and artists who do those things while also speaking to me on a personal level. 

Genre Relation: 3. Sure… it sounds like most other albums in this genre that I’ve heard. But it also goes further and tries more. Then again, not my area of expertise. 

Authenticity: 4. Metal artists often live or die based on how authentic they are. If your fanbase feels you’ve sold out or moved to far away from what drew them to you, they’ll bugger off and let you know. Again, I don’t know much about it but it seems authentic, committed, and they believe in what they’re doing. 

Personal: 3. I’m honestly closer to a 2 because I know I’ll never listen to it again, but I also know it’s a better album than what a 2 would suggest. This score is all about your personal feelings so you can put all of you bias into this score – if an album sells in the millions, tops the charts, gets rave reviews, but it’s Country and you hate it – give it a 5 in those other categories but give it a 1 here. This is a low 3 for me, but the belief and the novelty of the glitching is enough to stop it dropping to a 2.

Miscellaneous: 2. I could go 3 here, but there’s not enough in the artwork or the surrounding info of the album to really nail down that score. 

Total: 61/100

That’s a lower score than most I’ve reviewed so far – but remember it’s only a 7 point difference between Ungodly Hours which is an album I did enjoy much more on a personal level. It may take something special to break that 70 mark!

Anneke: Live In Europe

*Originally written in 2011

Live In Europe | Anneke van Giersbergen

Although Anneke had released a live album the previous year with Danny Cavanagh, this is her first solo live release. An accomplished live performer whose energy, passion, and voice is as strong on stage as in the studio, this was undoubtedly an album to look forward to for fans when it was announced. The main issues to overcome with these sorts of albums are whether the songs selected will please as many fans as possible, whether the songs selected transfer well to a live performance, and whether it feels like a cheap cash-in or a genuine, love-filled release.

‘Intro’ is a mixture of applause and guitar noise from The World alongside other assorted backing sounds, building up the crowd nicely.

‘The World’ opens the gig, an opener that I’m not 100% convinced by – it has a nice build up, but isn’t an immediate crowd pleaser or one which will whip the audience into a frenzy. There are a number of other tracks in the Anneke canon, even on In Your Room which I feel would work better as an opening track to a live show, but regardless it is performed well, has an edge, and gets things going.

‘My Girl’ comes in straight after the first track with no time for catching you breath in between. The focus seems to be on the heavier side of Anneke’s tracks so far, with the distorted guitars giving this one a bit more bite than the studio release. Anneke enjoys herself here, in particular belting out the ending ‘ooh-ahhs’.

‘Who I Am’ is, as Anneke explains, a song written with Mr. Devin Townsend – a figure Anneke continues to partner with fruitfully. This is a fun song, with bouncing rhythms, catchy verses, and eventually a fantastic chorus which lets the vocals soar. A highly enjoyable song which I’d love to see get a studio release.

‘Day After Yesterday’ is one of my least favourite Anneke songs, and even though it is played and performed well here, I don’t think it translates well to the live setting, at least not how it is arranged here. Perhaps an even slower, colder, ghostly version, with a backing choir would convince me otherwise.

‘Hey Okay’ on the other hand is one of my favourite Anneke tracks, although it sounds a little flat here, not really picking up until the guitar solo comes in. Anneke sounds a little breathless singing here, and I’ve heard better live versions on YouTube.

‘Fury’ is my highlight of the album, an awesome, up tempo rock song with nice guitar work and excellent vocals. It’s another that I’d love to see a studio release for, thanks to its brilliant chorus and impactful verses.

‘Beautiful One’ is another strong track (and a better opener in my opinion) which is given new life in the new setting. The song lends itself to a variety of potential arrangements, here going for a much more bombastic chorus with crashing guitar work and angelic vocals.

‘Adore’ again is one of my favourites, and it’s great to see it here as live shows and special re-recorded albums never feature my favourite tracks. This one I imagine isn’t the easiest to sing with its diving and rising melodies, but Anneke does a stellar job on it. It isn’t too different from the studio version, a few less instruments and less complex, but a few added vocal flourishes.

‘I Want’ also translates well to the live arena, with bouncing rhythms which threaten the crowd into jumping along. Another fun song, there isn’t anything complicated here, or much I can say to criticize it.

‘Laugh It Out’ is an interesting one in that it never stays in my memory long, but I always enjoy it thoroughly when I hear it, having forgotten all about its existence. More great verse and chorus work, another one with a fast pace, this one sees Anneke shouting goodnight to the crowd towards the end – another one which it would be nice to see a studio version of.

‘Witnesses’ seems on paper live a totally bizarre choice for a live release, but it surprisingly works well. It’s a raucous recording, I enjoy her pronunciation of ‘universe’ and it has an extended, bruising ending.

‘Shrink’, while obviously being the closer to Nighttime Birds seems like an odd choice of song to close this album with, given that the rest of the songs were on the heavier, louder, more distorted side. It’s a little jarring for this to be thrown in at the end, being such a soft, slow song. And although the rest of the band come in and try to do something a little different with it, those changes don’t always work, and within the context of the album, they don’t save it from being a strange closing track. I’ve never heard a legitimate heavy version of the track, maybe they should have went all out and done a full on rawk version, although that could have been a failure.

An essential release for Anneke fans, albeit let down by a short running time, the absence of some great songs (subjective of course), and a fairly average recording quality – there is a lot of  hissing and extra distortion in the background, the vocal mic seems much too loud and at times the volume isn’t consistent. That being said though, these are mostly minor complaints – what we do have is a great bunch of songs performed with relish, a few nice exclusives, and another worthy purchase. There isn’t a lot of audience interaction, and I don’t hear much noise coming from the crowd between tracks, though again that would be subjective and something I enjoy hearing on Live records that others may hate. Hopefully we’ll get a much fuller live release in the future, one with a stronger production, and hopefully an accompanying DVD!

Anneke Van Giersbergen – Everything Is Changing

* Originally written in 2012

ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN - Everything Is Changing - Tour 2012

Anneke’s 4th studio album is all about change; the album title suggests as much at first glance. Not long before the release Anneke abandoned the Agua De Annique moniker after admitting that it wasn’t the easiest or most recognizable name. Musically there are more changes, though fans should not be apprehensive as there is nothing drastically different- longtime fans will know what to expect. This is largely another melody driven, guitar laden rock album which moves from outrageously catchy commercial moments to tear-jerking quiet moments and with plenty of pace and power in between.

‘Feel Alive’ is the lead single from the album, one with another buoyant video and excited delivery. With this third release, and with the band name changing from Agua De Annique to simply Anneke’s name, we see a confident performer now blazing her own trail and free to explore whatever ideas and sounds she desires. This excitement and freedom is clear in every note and lyric in the song, an upbeat song with a nice build-up so a soaring payoff chorus; A jubilant declaration of love.

‘You Want To Be Free’ is another upbeat track, this time more of a rock song than the lighter first track. Another love song of sorts, it speaks of the indecision in relationships and sounds like the advice of a friend. There are a couple of standout moments here, the bridges, the main riff, and the ‘yeah yeah’ middle section, though the chorus and verses are not the most memorable.

‘Everything Is Changing’ is a softer, slower, piano driven song with stuttering, yet ethereal verse vocals. As the title track it isn’t as epic as you would expect, with a decent chorus but doesn’t catch the ear. It’s an ok song, well sung of course, just a little bland.

‘Take Me Home’ quickens the pace again, another decent rock/pop crossover with piano and guitar riffs merging as well as some studio magic to give the impression of a wide-ranging wall of sound style production. This one is catchy enough, with another good chorus, but may lack the all-important killer ingredient.

‘I Wake Up’ opens with an unusual drum loop and synth section which pulls in and out in a tidal fashion. This one always gives me the impression of a lost Pet Shop Boys song, but with all the camp removed. Anneke sounds like she is very close to the listener’s ear for the verses on this one, and the chorus is another good one – a slightly eerie feel to it.

‘Circles’ may be Anneke’s strongest song yet, a teary piano led ballad with emotive lyrics about loneliness, hope, and of course the circles of our lives. Again, there is an eerie nature here, but that is overcome by the gorgeous, emotional vocal performance. With a massive chorus, exquisite middle section, and glorious close as the violins join in, this is the true centerpiece of the album.

‘My Boy’ has a tough act to follow, but it’s arguably the best straight rock song Anneke has written so far. With a classic snare intro and simple, but awesomely effective riff, this is a mid-paced guitar, drum, bass driven song with beautiful verse melodies. There is also some studio trickery as the song progresses, but the best moments are the build up to the wonderful chorus – bridge and chorus are both perfection, blending together and building to a climactic eruption (more like the build-up and scoring of a winning goal than what you’re thinking about). My favourite bit though is the ‘even though I’m crazy about my boy’ section, beautifully belted out and adding an extra level to an already euphoric chorus.

‘Stay’ is a fairly heavy song as Anneke goes, with loud, bouncing Led Zep style riff, and delightfully vicious lyrics. It’s another one where the verse, bridge, chorus all meld together wonderfully, building and bleeding into each other. We even get that killer ingredient, after a short instrumental interlude, as Anneke adds a final, different bridge right at the end.

‘Hope, Pray, Dance, Play’ has the appeal of another single with its big intro and sing-along chorus. It’s another decent track, but it doesn’t have that touch which makes it click with me personally, especially coming after a killer trio of songs.

‘Slow Me Down’ is a fast paced rocker, fueled by muted chords in the verses and lifted by a fist-pumping chorus. Nice, quick shooter lyrics, another effective middle section, and a few moments of vocal brilliance (aside from the usual expected brilliance of course) ensure this is another one to put on repeat.

‘Too Late’ opens with another crushing riff, a lighter Pantera, allowing Anneke to spit out some further angry lyrics. Vocals and guitars work particularly well here, with the sudden stuttered guitar blasts punctuating and mirroring Anneke’s words.

‘1000 Miles Away From You’ closes the album, a choice which I’ve always seen as an odd one. I’ve always felt that the closing track of an album should be instantly memorable, a slam of a door that you will want to open again. For an album that has mostly been on the heavy side, this one has an epic feel, again calls back that eerie, angry tone, but doesn’t stick in my mind as much as others for some reason. Listening again with a pseudo-critical ear, it is slow, without being plodding, veering between quiet and loud pieces, but the middle interlude doesn’t work, sounding an awful lot like a similar section in The Gathering’s song ‘Home’. Rather than going out with a bang though, it drags its heels for the final minute.

The heaviest album Anneke has made since leaving The Gathering, this is a great rock record with a superb production. There is a wide scope in the theme of the songs, allowing Anneke to sing with a greater range of emotion than she usually does, from a lyrical perspective. There are introspective moments, and there are moments of rage; there are dedications and warnings, apologies and consternation. While there are less standout commercial tracks here, there is still a handful of songs which deserved to shoot up the charts in any country, while the rest are weighed heavily in the cult or fan favourite character, rather than the album filler one. Ultimately, it’s another vital release for fans, and contains a number of songs which would certainly win over new fans if they had the opportunity to hear them.

Nightman Listens To – Bon Jovi – This House Is Not For Sale!

Bon Jovi, 'This House Is Not for Sale': Album Review

Greetings, Glancers! I seem like I say this every post, but we’re definitely getting towards the end of this Bon Jovi series. The only things I know about this album are thus; it has that creepy house from The Outer Limits as its cover, I keep thinking it’s a compilation (it’s not), and it’s the first album to not feature Ritchie ‘Hat Luvin’ Sambora. The things I don’t know about this album; everything else. Lets do this.

This House Is Not For Sale‘ is the opener, the title track, and was a single. Not a hugely successful one it seems, but that’s to be expected this deep into their career. Without Sambora, in these early moment it doesn’t seem like their sound has changed – similar tone and there are still backing vocals to fill the gap. It’s a bouncy pop rock song with a couple of hooks in the chorus. The verse is tame, but still catchy. A solid opener without excelling in any particular direction.

Living With The Ghost‘ fades in with a charging dash of guitar, piano, and drums. The verses have the feel of an anthem, hopefully building to a satisfying chorus. It’s not 100% satisfying, but it’s fine. I wish he’s gone for a higher not on ‘ghost’ to really reach for the more emotive sound. Plus, picking the higher note would have opened up the melody in the second chorus line to be less samey than the first. Mr X, if that is your real name, pulls out a simple enough solo before the song withdraws and the vocals take the lead for a quieter piano based section. They keep it gentle for a while before building up the volume for a final run at the chorus. Two fan-pleasing songs.

Knockout‘ is another single, feels more pulsating than the opener. It’s another return to the defiant ‘we can do this’ spirit of their early singles, using boxing imagery to get the point across. It’s another decent lighter rock song, with enough energy to bring in a varied audience. Good melodies and the backing vocals provide an extra hook.

Labor Of Love‘ immediately makes me think of Dark Shines by Muse, which is quite funny. It’s the same guitar tone, and obviously that relates back to Wicked Game. It’s a ballad, but with a little more energy. I’m not convinced by the vocal approach, but I can look it over. The vocals and song open up somewhat for the chorus. Yeah, it’s another good song. I would have picked different vocal and drum approach. Each of these songs so far I’d happily hear again, but I’m not sure any have the power to make my long term playlist.

Born Again Tomorrow‘ is another rallying call for people to live their lives and make the best decisions so that they won’t regret anything. It’s a pretty nifty song, with a little touch of dance synth in the background. It’s very much in the vein of their bigger songs and I feel like it would have been a hit if it was released at their peak. Big chorus, big verses, plenty of moments to sing along to, and a good solo to top it off.

Roller Coaster‘ is one of those terms which always finds its way into music – criticism and lyrics and song titles. This attempt at a roller coaster song begins well, steady beat and decent pace, quiet, good melodies. It builds and builds, and the chorus is a good one. I’m almost certain I’ve heard this melody in the chorus before, but I can’t place it. There is something odd going on with Jon’s vocals here, its throughout the album but it’s noticeable in the chorus – it sounds like he’s had a little work done post recording, just to even out any rough edges. This is a very catchy and sweet song, another which I think would have been more impactful in the mid 80s to early 90s.

New Year’s Day‘ continues the same tempo and uplifting feel as the previous track. Most of the album has been very positive in tone so far. Lots of songs touching on new beginnings, moving forwards, taking life’s turns. All the videos are cheesy as f*ck and it’s a little sad seeing how old the guys now look. Getting old sucks. Still, this feels like another hit though it’s very much a re-tread lyrically and musically of many of the previous songs.

The Devil’s In The Temple‘ opens with Physical Graffiti era chords before plunging into an optimistic slow tempo rock verse. The tempo has the vibe of a deeper urgency bubbling beneath the surface, as if a faster beat wants to unleash but is being held down. The song doesn’t really have a chorus – or at least the chorus feels more like a pre-chorus. There’s something enchanting but all over there is that sense of holding back – not restraint, but physically forcing something else back to stop it from erupting. I guess that is restraint. I think I would have preferred the eruption.

Scars On This Guitar‘ is surely a ballad with a name like that. Yes, acoustic guitar and piano. Singing about Friday nights again. It feels like we’ve been here before. Something weird going on with Jon’s vocals in the higher register moments. Look, we’ve heard them do songs like this before but it’s still good, inoffensive, and fans will surely lap it up. It could have been better for me with one simple change – when he sings ‘nowhere left to run to’, if he had gone for a higher note on the ‘to’ it would have peaked the emotion instead of leaving it as it currently stands – middle of the road emotion rather than yanking my soul out through my nostrils. It’s a lovely, gentle song for married couples everywhere.

God Bless This Mess‘ is… fine. I’m running out of platitudes or interesting things to say about these songs. You know by this point what you’re getting – it’s generally well written, it doesn’t have any edge but you can dance to it in a crowd, it has a pleasing enough chorus. There’s no blistering solo, not much in the way of harmonies, but if you’ve always been a Bon Jovi fan or if you’ve just discovered them through their bigger hits, you should like this to. If anyone else had recorded the song it would sink without a trace, but as it’s Bon Jovi it’ll find an audience – the audience it was designed to find.

Reunion‘ opens like a U2 song without the Edge’s delay effects. Another pleasant song. Good verse which builds neatly to another tame but catchy chorus. It’s wholesome, it’s hopeful. It looks back and looks forward. It’s one of those songs, and Bon Jovi are one of those bands who make me wish I had been an American teen in the 80s, falling in love, growing old together – the band has always had a way of making this feel so appealing and vital. It’s another winner for long time fans, for someone like me it’s another decent, average MOR rock song that I’ll have forgotten in a day’s time but wouldn’t complain if I were to hear it again.

Come On Up To Our House‘ is the closer. As much as I have enjoyed this album – or maybe as much as it hasn’t pissed me off – I’m still holding out hope for that one killer song from the band. Just out of nowhere, another Livin On A Prayer  or Always or Bed Of Roses. Maybe this is it. It’s clear within the first five seconds that it’s not this one. A sweet closer. Welcoming. Mid-slow tempo. Quiet and tame but nice. The musical equivalent of sitting with a sleeping cat on your lap and doing absolutely nothing while not being aware of the nothing you’re doing. It doesn’t feel like an album closer but it’s as good a song as any to complete this batch of songs.

Very much like the more recent Madonna albums I’ve listened to, I’m surprised by how much I have enjoyed these songs. None of them are life-changing, and while Madonna is still updating her sound somewhat, Bon Jovi are happy doing what they’ve always done – they’re a little softer, they don’t have has much energy, the passion has less edge, but the songs are still fun. This is another collection of big bouncy songs which longstanding Bon Jovi fans will lap up. There isn’t a lot of variance on the album – even between ballads and heavier tracks – they mostly follow a very familiar format but there are still enough hooks and melodies that most listeners should be pleased. In this era of manufactured guff and songs specifically designed to only be consumed by the youngest age brackets, it’s good to have easy nostalgic Rock music to fall back on, being made by the very people who we grew up with and who played the music of our own youth.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Living With The Ghost. Knockout. Roller Coaster. Scars On This Guitar.

Let us know in the comments what you think of This House Is Not For Sale!

Nightman Listens To Marillion – Marillion.com (Part Two)!

marillion.com | Racket Records Store

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with the second half of an album I’ve gone back and forth on quite a bit. My first listens were quite positive – maybe skewed slightly because I was expecting it to be a pile of balls – then I began picking up on niggling parts which pissed me off, and then I came back around again and see it as your good, old fashioned, somegoodsomebad album.

The wonderfully titled Built In Bastard Radar is another tale of two bits. Possibly more than two bits. One bit is the spoken intro – in my experience spoken intros can fuck off and this one is no different. The other bit is the heavier guitar riff, not the twiddly George Harrison stuff but the crunchy Blues part – that’s Stranger In A Strange Land by Iron Maiden, right, the guitar riff just after Bruce sings ‘no brave no world’. I’m not attempting to make groundless accusations – I just happen to like Stranger and found a mini comparison. It continues; the lead vocal melody feels like it’s cribbed from If I Needed Someone by The Beatles. There’s another melodic comparison related to the vocals but my brain is overloaded at the moment by misremembering other songs that I can’t say what it is. 

It’s another mid-tempo rocker with enough twists and turns to make it stand out from the crowd the laidback summery verses, the crunchy blues parts with organ accompaniment, the SOS radio static chorus. Each verse rotation offers something different from the one before – a more pressing beat on the toms and snares, some keyboard twiddling – and the musical interludes in between are not repeated. It would be simple to call this (and many other songs on the album) straightforward rock songs, and that would be accurate, but they’re embossed by a talented and experienced group of musicians who are capable of better just nudging them by smithereens above the usual stock.

I couldn’t tell if the lyrics were taking the (unintended?) stance of unwarranted male guardianship and bloke morals – the old classic ‘why would go be with someone who’s not good enough for you when, you know, maybe I’m good enough for you’. If I feel it, that’s not enough to suggest it’s there, but I do feel it. The song begins with a great opening verse – no idea what he’s going on about but ‘best of there the Angel said/as daylight burst behind his head’ sounds good. A moral quandary. We also have ‘baby you can’t lose it/you’d be mad to choose it’ which is roughly the level of lyrics by 8 year old daughter is writing at the moment. I can’t criticize (much) as every so often your song simply calls for a line like that and nothing else seems to fit. This is a tough lyric to… well ‘justify’ isn’t the correct word, but it leaves a sour note given some of the crap which goes on in the world when people takes these feelings too far. Lets be honest, as a man we’ve all had these feelings… maybe when we’re sixteen. Suck it up, move on. I’d be very surprised if this one gets a Live airing at all, as it’s a very dated and misguided lyric even by 1999.

Before we get to the closing two 10 minute plus songs, we have a rather sweet and defiant love song. Tumble Down The Years is a contender for my favourite song on the album and showcases what several of the other songs could have been had they been run past an Editor another time or two. There isn’t an ounce of fat on this one – not an ounce of Prog either – but it does exactly what it needs to; it isn’t showy, it doesn’t feel artificially extended or designed purely within the studio. It’s a song you could play solo and it would retain most of its quality. There’s a lot to love, for me at least. I love its simplicity and purity, and I love the lead guitar tone – clean without an irritating twang. Sure it feels incredibly cheesy, but I can look past that if the intent and sentiment is honest. It’s not the first time the band have written something which sounds like it could be the intro music to a teen drama, and it isn’t the first time they’ve written something which feels like it could be a Wedding song. Assuming the fan base isn’t put off by its earnest simplicity or cheesy whiff, I’d guess this is a favourite from the album.

As lovely as this song is, the bitter aftertaste left by the previous song’s lyrics plays a part here. Which is unfortunate, as this is so lovely. To force myself past those feelings, why not call out another tenuous Alice In Chains link as H here sings ‘Damn the river’ which is the name of an Alice In Chains song taken from the same album as their song Rooster which I referenced in part one. Is ‘damn the river’ a popular saying? I hadn’t heard it until I heard the AIC song. The whole lyric, while no individual line leaps out, is pure and wholesome and snuggly. Naturally, there’s probably some real life horror story behind the lyrics and it’ll make the song completely depressing.

I was fully expecting the final two tracks to be the best songs here, purely based on the fact that they are long and that the longer songs on previous releases had been standouts. But. BUT. Neither of them are very good. For me, neither Interior Lulu or House are memorable or justified in their length. They’re just not very exciting and pull down the whole album. Interior Lulu begins promisingly enough with it’s restrained tribal beats and experimental sounds. But there’s no emotion to found, the melodies are too one-note and monotonous, and for four minutes the song goes nowhere, drifting in this space of producing useless sounds. There’s a two minute freak out in the middle which…. fine, I guess, but it’s the sort of stuff Zappa and co were doing in the 60s.

Post-freak out we get a different series of verses and music, but the downcast tone of the first four minutes is still present. The vocals and melodies are more interesting and you can tell H is trying to express… something… by the way he attacks the lyrics. The next few moments are peppered with better moments – the switch to acoustics, good guitar solo, crashing cymbals – somewhere amidst the gloom a better, shorter song is poling its head out trying to not be smacked over the head by the pressure of band members thinking they need to go bigger and longer. Cut out most of the opening quarter of the song, rejig the middle, and leave the last few minutes as an instrumental (because WTF are you at with the vocals, H?), and you’d have a stronger 7 minute ending track.

I don’t know what Paul and Sanja make of this and the next song, whether they will feel they are the saving graces of the album or failed attempts at recapturing former Prog glory. Or somewhere in between. The fanbase too – are these favourites? At this point the most interesting thing about the song is the name, and perhaps the lyrics will shed some light on who or what an Interior Lulu is. Lulu liked to shout…. is it about screaming on the inside? I had to Google Louise Brooks, and of course I remembered her name, some of her history. These verses do vividly conjure an image of this woman, her ruses, needs, and urges. It’s not a pleasant picture, but at least it’s poetic. A life of excess and carnage. If I were being picky (and I am) I would say it’s a little dated by ‘virtual pages’ and even ‘e-mails’. The ‘use the anger’ verse sounds like it could be just as much about H than whoever this character is. Or is the character H? I’m aware this is all getting very Line Of Duty, just as I’m aware how many infinitives I’ve split during this post.

I don’t know how all the tech stuff fits with the life and character of this woman. ‘Microsoft and tears’ feels like it’s just an excuse to fit another tech word into the song. The final verses at least hint that this person has spent (wasted) a significant portion of her life online, disconnected from reality and emotion. But what forced her there? What’s the consequence? No doubt Paul will have an H spiel prepared so I’ll wait for that.

House is a dribbling, monotonous end to the album. I’ve never been convinced that having two long songs at the end of an album is a good idea. It’s fine if the whole album features epics, and even better if those epics are actually good, but when you’re already tired and when the first long track wasn’t that great the last thing I want is something even worse. While there may be a decent song shrouded by mistakes in Interior Lulu, I’m not sure the same can be said for House. I’m all for looking at it but not seeing it, but I’d rather not be hearing it. Interior Lulu had the good sense to blend different elements across its 15 minutes, but House slaps down a looping warble (which, while dull, is fine is small bursts) and for ten minutes that’s mostly what we get. The light of the chorus is all too brief. Nothing the piano or brass or guitars or vocals do really detract from the monotony. From what I could piece together from the lyrics, I’m guessing that’s the point. Divorce. The dull ache of ending. The want for the endless to end. Holding on to memories and resentment in equal measure. It’s not a nice thing to go through (I imagine), and listening to it is fairly boring too. If I have some positives – good production, the various sections swell and blend well into each other, and a lot of the tinkling and synth strong type stuff is fine. More sax parps…. everyone plays their part well… I don’t mind long songs and long prog, but I do have a lower tolerance when it feels meandering and artificially stretched. I bet this is a fan favourite – don’t hurt me.

I think I could tolerate this as a five minute song. There’s no justification in most of the second half of the song – there’s letting music simmer and sit, and there’s pressing and holding a single note for five minutes. I found the second half of the song more like the latter. I am keen to get into the lyrics though; from what I could pick up they seemed pained, and if there’s anything I enjoy reading about, it’s the suffering of others. Especially if I can then use it to make fun of them after they make me sit through ten minutes of crap.

It’s another divorce/split song. The silence of a house when you’re the only one in it, after good noise and bad, half the house is gone, eyes staring out, hiding inside. It’s a good lyric and it deserves better music. The lyrics do accentuate the sense of dull, restless, futile struggle and continuation which the music goes overboard on – the struggle of those at the end of a relationship and the continuation when the other person is gone. At least the song and the album leave on what is hopefully a positive – the repetition of ‘we try again’ – unless of course that’s another example of being unable to commit to the breakup of what is clearly an unhealthy relationship. Is is ‘we always fight and hate each other but we try again’, or is it ‘that’s the end of another relationship, but I’m alive, so we try again’? Shit.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

On to part 2 of the Podcast. We begin with Paul and Sanja’s thoughts on Rich which I covered in my Part One post. Before then, Paul lists some of the other hits which were released in 1999 – mostly a load of shite. Is this leading in to a ‘everything was shit in 1999’? Yes, it was certainly a transitional period, but all of the Nu Metal and pop-punk stuff was coming out – at least in the US. And all of the ‘The’ rock bands. Rock music had a massive 5-6 year resurgence around this time before disappearing completely. Paul lists some albums from 99 – most of which I either haven’t heard or didn’t like. Here’s some albums I recommend from 1999 which Paul didn’t mention –  recommended all – Blondie’s No Exit, The Slim Shady LP (there’s a case to be made for Eminem’s early stuff to be Rap Prog…. maybe… yikes, saying that’s going to piss a lot of people off), Aphex Twin’s EP Windowlicker, Lene Marlin’s fragile Playing My Game, the mighty Californication, Lacuna Coil’s In A Reverie, Muse’s Showbiz, and Rage Against The Machine’s Battle Of LA. Some stuff I still listen to today in there.

Back to Rich and Sanja’s revelation that she doesn’t like screaming. Looking forward to Season 2 of BYAMPOD which investigates Prog’s influence on Black Metal. She thinks the song is fine, optimistic, not timeless. Paul says he thinks the song is supposed to sound retro – hence my Austin Powers reference. I didn’t get anything coming close to sounding like The Doors. It tries to reach a sound and vibe, but fails according to Paul. Fair enough, I felt it was supposed to be a bit of fun and a bit of a joke. Paul has issues with the production – this isn’t one of the Steven Wilson tracks – and he doesn’t like the vocal approach. I don’t know which version of the song I heard (remix or original) but I think I made a comments about the vocals sounding odd. With all that, they still think it’s fun throwaway fare and probably written to be a live banger. Maybe there was a more crystalline authenticity in those early fun pop rock songs which Paul mentions, compared to songs like Rich – they were just setting out so those songs were more of a symbol of the band telling the world ‘this is us’. When a band later in their career tries to recapture that, or sound like someone else, it can feel trite and false. Just do a covers album, get it out of yer system. Have they done a covers album?

The guys say the lyrics are just a collection of positivity quotes, like what you may see framed in your mother in law’s bathroom. Or father in law’s, I’m not sexist. Though you’re more likely to see firearms and framed pictures of MX5s in my father in laws. Sanja thinks the lyrics act as a counterpoint to A Legacy, more positive, more forgiving. The lyrics are quotes from other people – actors, writers etc – slapped together to make a lyric. I like that idea, I used to play around with ‘borrowing’ whatever I’d read and stick in a song to show off that I’d read a book or seen a movie no-one else had. Everyone pronounces it ‘anus’. Anus Ninny.

Enlightened – not a standout, but pretty. I always have the subtitles on these days, but usually because someone else is talking in the room or there’s a young’un a sleepin’. Paul doesn’t like the sound of the guitar solo but says as pretty as it is it is simply forgettable. Sanja loves the lyrics, but Paul says they’re about nothing and are as forgettable. Sanja enjoys the poetry of the lyrics and the more positive energy. I’ll give it this – the lyrics sound more interesting when Sanja reads them than when I do, or when H sings them. I bet that any time you’ve ever sat in a cafe there’s been some bloke sitting near you, thinking about shagging. Or a woman, I’m not sexist. Though you’re more likely to see women screaming at their babies to stop throwing their scones on the ground in the cafes I’ve been to. Maybe I am sexist.

Speaking of sexism, Built In Bastard Radar is up next. Sanja doesn’t have much to say about the music on the positive side, and they’re building up to ripping the lyrics to shred. Paul thinks it’s an unfinished song and shouldn’t be on the album – maybe it needed more time to turn it into something else. I don’t know if I felt that… feels more like a B-Side or one of those ‘lost’ songs which are better lost – like Cornshucker by Guns N Roses. It’s a Helmer lyric… does that mean we can excuse H? Did they go on the record as saying they don’t like it after they heard the fans saying they didn’t like it. No matter which way you take the lyrics, they’re not great. H has an inkling that Helmer wrote it about H – when I read that ‘fancy clothes’ line I first assumed it was H writing about himself.

Paul doesn’t think Tumble Down The Years is a finished song either. Again, I didn’t feel this so I’ll go back and listen again. Sometimes it happens – you have an idea or a lyric and you just can’t get it right. Less often you have the music but not the icing. I felt like Tumble was one of the more finished or complete songs because I couldn’t think of anything which needed to be trimmed or added – versus almost every other song on the album. Every other song I would have cut specific sections or changed the arrangement. Would Paul have enjoyed the song more if the rest of the album was stronger? I’d veer on the side of it being a breezy pop oriented song to stick on the album as a breather before the big boys rather than being unfinished. I do have a habit of enjoying the most basic song on otherwise complex albums though, so what do I know?

Interior Lulu went very wrong during a live show. It went very wrong during the recording too – the spoiler being the fact that it appears on the album at all. This is isn’t unfinished – it’s overdone. Yeah, cut parts out, turn it into something else. I have no issue with bands doing this. Unless of course it’s a song I love, in which case I’ll hunt you down if you were to change one such song. Credit to them having an overt, modern prog song in there but had they lost something in their prog writing due to years of that side of the band being on the back burner? It’s easy to get out of the groove if you’re not practicing and performing. Both Paul and Sanja are unsure of how they feel about the song – the general consensus being the keyboard freak-out should have been cut. Side note – these flaming hot Pringles I’m wolfing down are burning my face off. Looks like Sanja has her ideas about the lyrics, but Paul has no idea. Sanja thinks the Lulu is a metaphor for a part of your personality which, while unfettered and wild and negative, can be useful. Then a bunch of stuff about technology. I can see that, just as much as I can see any other interpretation. It reads as a song written by multiple people. I can understand what H says about it too, at least the first half. I was wondering if Primrose Hill was related to technology, like Silicon Valley… I was guessing that Primrose Hill was maybe where Bill Gates built his first robot castle or something. Whatever is trying to be said in the lyrics isn’t actually said… the lyrics feel more unfinished than the music.

Paul and Rose both call out House as their favourite track on the album – oops. I had some suspicions that fans might enjoy this one simply because of its length. Again, for 1999 or whatever, that’s a misguided quote. Prog by it’s nature should absorb influences… has even heard Dark Side Of The Moon? Mezzanine is a fantastic album – when it came out and I was a teen and laser focused on Metal and Rock it was one of those albums in my wisdom which I could stand by as ‘not your usual Dance shite’. Sounds like H was a bit of a knob around this time. The rest of the band didn’t like House much. All these influences. At least no-one called out Alice In Chains.

H says the song is about ghosts (divorce) and as such that happy ending has a coda. It’s like… Battle Royale – those inserted scenes of the class playing basketball or supporting the team and being happy, after we’ve had a couple of hours of them slaughtering each other. Or it’s not like that at all. The guys don’t talk much about what it is about House they love – Paul says the lyrics are among his favourites. Nah, I think Paul and Sanja both hate House too. Next up is a better album, one which was a relief for Paul and a lot of fans after .com. ‘Doing a Marillion’… sounds like a euphemism for H being caught with his hands down his gunks in a Cafe. Puns… John Helmer’s Mayonnaise?

I do think I like Marillion.com more than Radiation. Aside from the two closing songs, most of my journey was positive. However, it’s an album where many of the songs start with something I like, follow up with a transition to something I don’t like, and then double down on the thing I don’t like. Most of the songs are made up of different pieces – not unusual for this band – but the pieces felt more disparate, less connected here. That can be taken in many different ways – positive, as the band are showcasing their creativity, their willingness and ability to go beyond the expectations of a formulaic song, but here it felt less about creativity and more like uncertainty. Perhaps because many of the pieces don’t fit I got the sense that the band was less concerned with writing formed songs and more with throwing everything at the wall and hoping that some of it would stick.

Having said that, the songs which felt like more than a sum of their parts – Go!, Tumble Down The Years, Deserve, while not top tier music or top tier Marillion, they’re still strong enough that I’ll happily listen to them again, and I didn’t have to work to enjoy them. Immediacy may not last, but it often hits you in the face with more force than a song which grows on you later. These songs had that immediate impact for me – they didn’t change my life, but I could hum along after a single listen. Immediacy may not be high on the list of importance for Marillion fans and longevity is often (and sometimes rightly) valued as a truer sign of quality, but there’s a fine line between having to work to enjoy something and allowing it the time to sink in. There’s nothing wrong with something being enjoyable out of the box then quickly becoming less so – you still enjoyed it. I don’t know how much enjoyment I’ll get out of the songs I did like here, or if my opinion will change on the ones I didn’t, but with so much music out there to be heard I admit to gravitating towards and staying with those songs which shout the loudest.

That’s enough of .com for now. The guys will be back with a postbag episode before tackling that one about coats or something. As always, feel free to share your thoughts on the album below and make sure to check out BYAMPOD for yourselves!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marillion.com (Part One)!

marillion.com | Racket Records Store

Greetings, Glancers! We’re almost into the 2000s with Marillion, but for now we’re closing out the 90s with Marillion.com. A few bands were adopting this new fangled technology and internet speak towards the end of the century – The Gathering released If_Then_Else for example. I always get a little wary when I see an album or a movie with something like ‘.com’ in the title. I suppose so many of those titles seem dated now, and seemed dated then, possibly written by people who were afraid of or completely misunderstood the technology. This has nothing to do with anything, but because the only thing I know about the album so far is that Mr Biffo thinks it’s Marillion’s worst album, I had to write something to introduce the post.

Wikipedia tells me the album is over an hour long and only features 9 songs. On one hand that makes me think ‘Prog’, but on the other hand if it’s as shit as Paul says then this could be a struggle. Of course it’ll turn out to be one of my favourite Marillion albums. Incidentally, I did get a shout out in their recent Postbag episode – welcome to any new readers and feel free to add any comments or thoughts here. I should point out that I wouldn’t classify myself as a musician, as much as I’d love to say that I am; I’ve certainly played music and I’m usually fairly good at picking up a new instrument and being able to fiddle something approaching music from it, but to call myself a musician would feel like I was mocking the millions of  genuine musicians out there. If I’d stuck at it as a teenager and made any sort of money from it, then sure. It’s like this blog – I love writing, but the fact that I do it in a stream of consciousness way and don’t make a single penny from any of it means I wouldn’t call myself a writer. Maybe it’s mere semantics and labels – I like writing and I like playing music – that’s not enough to tell people I’m a writer or a musician.  When I write about music I tend to not go into a lot of detail on the technicalities because (A) I’d get it wrong and (B) it would be boring for me and my assumed audience. I approach writing about music from an emotional perspective, but it can be handy to have had a taste of musical theory, perspective, and knowledge when I want to describe a particular feeling and how the music works to elicit said feeling. I’d love to give music another shot but, you know, not enough time, not enough will. Ultimately, not enough need.

Marillion.com then. What about the artwork? There’s a giant barcode – is that supposed to be there? I assume so. It screams PRODUCT FOR PURCHASE and feels a little Radiohead. There’s a girl dressed in black holding… is that a monitor? A laptop? Lets just call it a blazing screen – it’s shining, blindingly so, but it’s transmitting nothing. Is that going to be a theme on the album? She’s standing on a busy junction, I assume it’s some famous or semi-famous road, and lights and cars are buzzing by in neon blurs – Radiohead again. It’s an eye-catching, slightly creepy image, but I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing I would glance at twice in a Record store (if such places still exist). It emits that End Of The Century paranoia as summed up perfectly in OK Computer, but will such themes also be found within the songs? Lets find out.

In the huge gap between the previous paragraph and this one, I have listened to the album a few times. I’ll get into the reasons as we go through each track, but I have to say that I have enjoyed the album more than This Strange Engine and Radiation. I’m a tad surprised by what Paul has said about it so far, but at the time of writing the guys haven’t released their Marillion.com episode so I’ll have to hold out for Paul’s reasons. At a guess I would say that maybe it’s because it feels a little by the numbers on the surface. It doesn’t scream ‘I’m a Marillion album’ – rather it sort of shrugs and whispers ‘psst, do you like softish rock music? Here… here’s some softish rock music, please enjoy’. I think it’s an okay album, but is it an okay Marillion album? There are a few more traditionally structured emotive rock songs (which Paul has said he doesn’t find as interesting as when they don’t follow that approach), I found it to have more accessibility than the last few album, and there are even a few re-used melodies. I can see these as reasons why a longstanding Marillion fan may not enjoy the album, but I found that even the more commercial and simple songs had enough twists for me to punt them into a higher tier than maybe where Paul would place them. Remember, I liked Radiation and This Strange Engine – they weren’t amazing but each featured a couple of songs I can slap onto a playlist. Marillion.com does too. Lets go track by track , shall we?

A Legacy is such an effective, creepy opener for the album. It goes back to that old school soft opening which Marillion and other bands have opened with in the past. It’s a cliché to call out Philip Glass any time you hear a fragile piano in music these days, but that brief introduction is quite reminiscent of the composer’s minimalist ways. I just wish they’d kept that tone instead of going rock, because as soon as the guitars and organs join in, the whole thing falls apart significantly. The rock verses aren’t interesting in any way, but the song does at least retain a disjointed structure throughout – it’s the leaping about from one thing to another which kept this just above average for me because the rock stuff doesn’t do much for me and it’s not the best vocal performance – I can only assume H was deliberately aiming for an atonal quality in some of the vocal lines. The acoustic, quiet ending improves matters a little – the opening and closing minutes are strong, but the ham and cheese sandwiched in between in fairly standard fare, although I did enjoy the subtle twanging guitar part around the two minute mark which reminded me of Rockstar’s Bully soundtrack.

If I didn’t know a single thing about the band and the relationship issues H had been going through, I might have read this lyrics as being the voice of some ghost or demon which had been attached to a person and had either been exorcised or decided to move on to its next victim. Coupled with the creepy vibe which the music produces and ambiguous lyrics like ‘I will leave you things that might not help you/things that might’ it’s easy to take this in as sinister a fashion as you would like to. Having heard enough episodes of the podcast by now I understand that this is a more realistic break up song, coated in bitterness. Blame is cast about in all directions and anger is the overriding emotion. It’s not ‘when I leave you I’ll be sad to leave you’, but ‘when I leave you I will hate to leave you’. Beyond the accumulated blame and guilt and hate, none of the individual lyrics struck me as overtly powerful but their repetition gives the impression of someone trapped within and dwelling on these feelings.

Deserve is a stronger straightforward Rock song than The Legacy. Maybe it’s because the song has an immediacy and urgency to it. I wish it was a tad faster – that heightened tempo would only increase the urgency and emotion. To test this out, I listened to it at 1.25 speed, and it almost works. Maybe 1.15x speed would do it? It almost feels like this song should have had a different vocalist – I don’t know if the other guys in the band sing, but I kept feeling like the vocals needed to be less clean, less reserved, and should have had some gravel or anguish.

The song is bookended by a bit of saxophone – you may have worked it out by now, but saxophone in music instantly makes me think of porn. When it’s not making me think of porn, it reminds me of Police Academy. This saxophone in particular is pure Police Academy. I also got a touch of REM in the melodies – I’m not a huge REM fan, but the verse melody in Deserve which reminded me of REM follows a melodic style I’m partial to. Plus the lyrics have that not too veiled cynicism which REM are sometimes known for. For the verse melody though – I know I mentioned not being a musician but I’ll go on a related tangent – most songs which play off this rough Am G Em structure (when played at a fast tempo) seem to allow for an emotive attack and energy in the vocal melodies which always gives me the feels, as they say. Some of the first songs I ever wrote  followed these three chords because I knew I that by using those I could craft a vocal melody which I would enjoy listening to myself.

Lyrically I couldn’t help but compare it with Radiohead’s Just. ‘You get what you deserve’ is similar enough to ‘you do it to yourself’ although the songs are thematically different. I guess the sentiment is universal enough that this comparison is shaky at best, but we know the band and H liked Radiohead so I’m sure there’s some crossover. This sadly feels like a very timely lyric – our jealousy about the rich young pretty things we see plastered everywhere, but in many cases they only exist because we allow them to as a society. I’ve no idea when Big Brother, X Factor and all of that stuff started, but since then we’ve had a tonne of clones and all of those Housewives and Essex type shows. It’s this type of show or celeb that I felt was being attacked in this song – but I don’t know if it’s suggesting that we get this tripe because we have regressed as a whole society rather than saying that a certain percentage of the population enjoys them. It’s of course not a new feeling – tabloids have existed for as long as media has, and envy and greed much longer than that. Like the previous song, it maybe matters less what is being said that they feelings being pushed, and like the previous song those are mostly negative.

Go may be the best song on the album. I haven’t decided yet if it’s my favourite, but it seems like the best. However, it also seems like a song that is reaching to be more special than it actually is. I felt a sense of over-achieving and grasping to be better but not quite having the skill to get there. Not every song needs to be the best song ever written and not every song needs to be the centrepiece, but it’s good to try and this was a valiant effort. It’s almost as if the song was designed to be too self-confident and airy that this effort became too transparent and rather than sounding epic and effortless it instead sounds like they’re trying to be epic and effortless. Does any of that make sense? No? Good.

That nonsense aside, there’s a lot to love – the extended coda isn’t quite Hey Jude, but it’s probably another ending set up for jubilant audience interaction, I enjoyed the spacey Oh Superman wah wah wah opening, and the guitars are especially flickering, shimmering, and memorable. The keyboards and synth work may be the standout in this song, and is among the highlights of the album as they’re so atmospherically crafted. H’s vocals are perfectly suited to the breezy yet melancholic approach, and the bending, mirage like solo is one of the more interesting solos I can remember from Rothery. I do think that there should have been more energy in the final couple of minutes after that solo finishes – the solo is accompanied by an increased potency in the drums and I expected that energy to continue and expand through the vocals and until the end of the song. Instead H comes in after the solo in the same displaced airy tone as the start of the song. We do pick up for the ending, but the momentum has been lost. Ignoring the feelings and assumptions I had about what the band had in mind for the song, it’s supremely well put together and produced, and comes across as one of their most dense and musically mature songs.

I’m not too clear on the lyrics for Go! I guess that the exclamation mark is for emphasis, but to the writer not the reader. If it’s a personal song then that piece of punctuation is almost like an in-joke telling them to go, get out, run – if you’re going to make a song with all of these feelings but then not act upon those feelings, why bother, so look at the exclamation mark and remember, you dick! But what is the song telling us? Is it simply telling us, or the writer, or whoever, to escape? It only takes a second, no effort, just go? All the crap… just go. I suppose that’s what it’s saying, but I’ve always read the phrase ‘turn your life upside down’ as a negative statement. I suppose if you feel your life is already upside down, then flipping it again would correct it.

Handclaps in music are a big no no for me. Rich has handclapping. It also suffers a little from feeling like a twin to Deserve. It’s a strange song because on one hand it’s similar enough in pace and tone in places, but elsewhere it’s like some madcap piss-take of The Beatles and Austin Powers. I like the chorus – it’s unashamedly poppy and infectious, while the verses have synth sounds straight out of Look Around You and some strange vocals wavering which makes it sound like either H was laughing when he was recording, or was extremely nervous, or had swallowed a bee. For what is basically a bit of fun, it’s an almost 6 minute long song, its length extended by a couple of guitar solo and instrumental breakdowns. I’m not convinced that the final two minutes add much to the song and detract a little from what could have been a sneaky cult-type sleeper hit single. It’s quirky and it’s disjointed in a similar vein to A Legacy, and while I appreciate it as a throwaway pop rock song I think I would have enjoyed it more if some of the quirks had been taken out – straighter vocals, no handclaps, more prominent guitars in the verses.

Rich comes close to my own preferred style of lyric – individual statements which convey wider themes when tied together. You can take any single line from the first verse and it’s self-contained. You can take a variety of meanings from one of those lines, but taken together something more holistic comes across. In theory anyway, as Rich isn’t concerned with letting me in on its secrets. There are parts alluding to failure and to wealth and achievement. The song is, of course, titled Rich. Is it a positive song about self-confidence and not needing wealth to be rich? Is it imbued with a sense of self-improvement and a spirit of never say die? Given how bitter the previous songs have been I’d be more inclined to say there’s something more to the lyric, something more along the lines of ‘you’ll never be rich because the system’s set up to screw you, and why bother anyway because every success is really a failure’. But I don’t see enough in the lyrics to point me down that road and the chorus reads as defiant – ‘no’ to all the bad things.

In what is a recurring theme of the album (at least in my mind) the idea of twins makes a return, with Enlightened acting as a partner to Go. It might be more accurate though to say that it’s the twin of Estonia. That central vocal melody, we’ve definitely heard that before, right? It’s the part from Estonia which I said was very similar to Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls. While I’m at it, the intro is pure Rooster by Alice In Chains. Go on, click the link and tell me I’m wrong.

The verses are too restrained and uneventful to make an impact, which is a shame because I did enjoy the intro and chorus. It’s another example of the frustration I felt with this album – the songs have excellent moments, but the final product is dragged down by more dubious musical and production choices. What could have been a highlight instead feels like your typical mid-album track. If these had a better verse, and if the final 30 seconds or so could be shaved off  I would name this as one of the better songs on the album. As it stands, the most interesting thing I could say about the music was how much it reminded me of other songs.

I found the song to be quite poor lyrically. Like the vague, airy, and unadventurous music, the words neither tell me much, paint any pictures, or make me care. I’m tempted to say it’s some throwaway drug haze song – there’s enough evidence in both the lyrics and the music to support this from the slurred laidback music to the song’s title itself. As such I don’t have much more to add on the lyrics – lightning is repeated a few times with the odd related play on words to spruce things up and I suppose as a whole if the song is trying to evoke some sort of either relaxed or stoned atmosphere then it succeeds. I’m not convinced that’s the atmosphere it’s going for.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

And with that downer, we finally get around to part one of the BYAMPOD Marillion.com breakdown. We begin with a chat about what was happening in 1999 – Sanja moved to the UK and I was in the midst of A-Level preparations. Fish and H shared a stage with the pair tackling Lavender and Hope For The Future. It was a different time. A different and very strange time. Paul heard the title when it was announced and had the same misgivings I had regarding sounding cool but dated. Their intentions were fine, but also geared towards promoting their online store? They did a lot of interesting merch and interactive stuff with fans which is always pretty cool – many of my favourite bands don’t bother with this, and by and large if you don’t have this connection with your fans these days you’re not going to get very far. Marillion made the right decision at the right time.

The guys talk a bit about the mixing and production process which the band has followed, here and on other albums. Both are integral to an album and a song’s quality and impact – it’s always interesting to follow the lifecycle of a song from its inception to a demo to the end quality. Paul sees this as one of the major issues with the album – the right people were not always working on the right song, hence the unfortunate results. Production for me, as vital as it is, is one of those things for me which I tend to put lower down my list of priority than many people would. I don’t need everything to be crisp and pristine, and I’ll overlook a murky mix or shoddy production values if the core of the song is good. Having both at top level is best. Paul concludes by saying, while he has many negative things to say about the album and some of his experience of it, it’s still an album by his favourite band. In other words, I was right when I said I enjoyed it and was surprised by his previous comments. Ha.

A Legacy – Paul used to despise it, now quite likes it and would like to see it live. We learn that it’s a Helmer lyric which deliberately jumps between styles and genres musically and lyrically. The Beach Boys harmony bit is the Bully bit. H was knowingly trying to sound like The Beatles and Grunge and a hundred other things. Disjointed is right. Paul calls out his displeasure at the band constantly and knowingly writing songs trying to sound like someone else – and admitting to it. While Marillion were trying to sound like others, those others had already moved on. The Manics do this all the time now – ‘our new album is The Clash meets ABBA’ – but we’re well used to such callouts and comparisons with the Manics by now. Paul says the song doesn’t suit H’s voice – oddly enough, this is something I called out too but I don’t know if it was on this song or something else. I even mentioned whether or not someone else in the band should have sung instead. Could be on the second half. Some people just aren’t suited to certain types of song. For anyone wondering – I usually write my thoughts on the music of every song first, then split my post into a Part 1 and Part 2, before going back and adding my thoughts on the lyrics. Then finally I listen to the podcast and add these comments you’re reading now. That’s some quality blogging insight for you.

The guys think it’s a fitting continuation of the relationship strife as showcased on the previous album. Paul sees it as less about infidelity and more about toxic relationships in general. We move straight into Record Breakers! Or Deserve. Record Breakers…. while I did watch it, like Blue Peter it was only something I watched because I had to and sat moaning that it wasn’t a cartoon or didn’t feature any gunge. Is that how you spell gunge? Tough, gunge it is. Paul hates the lyric and compares it to some of the more Feminist leaning songs released at the time. Saxophone always sounds dated – it’s just an instrument trapped in the 80s. I did watch Animal Hospital, but you know, Rolf. I just checked back at my comments and saw that this was the song I felt could have had a different vocalist. This is what I anticipated when I heard that Paul didn’t like the album – Paul doesn’t want Marillion to play this type of Rock music. I think it’s fine, but I appreciate it’s not what the Marillion hardcore want.

Paul says he doesn’t like the vocal either. H’s quote is… hit and miss. Do we get what we deserve? No, just a whole bunch of stuff happens and then we die. The rich and pretty are an easy target, and that’s fine, but extending that outwards and inwards requires a little more tact and skill. Sanja focuses on the inward looking side of things – H realising his own flaws and writing about them but doesn’t have the honesty to say ‘I’ instead of ‘we’. The ‘get what we deserve’ type of thinking, if we place it on a philosophical level (and we should because that is apparently what H has done) is one which has been around since the dawn of time and can be taken in a variety of ways – the Neitzche school of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ to the more ‘well that’s what the great God of Nature has decreed, so deal with it’ Gibran style. None of these have ever sat well with me – much like any philosophy which espouses a universal truth. See, I read sometimes too! Anyway, Paul says ‘it’s horrible and shit’.

Oh, they’re ending this episode with Go! That makes a mess of my formatting above, given that I included another two songs. Of course I could simply cut and paste those songs from this post into the next and no-one would be any the wiser, but no! I am on a roll and I refuse. We’ll just have to cover the podcast comments for those songs in the next post. Does this mean the worst Marillion album is going to be a three-parter for Paul and Sanja?

Sanja says Go! is like a balm after Deserve while Paul tells us that the recording and arranging was a pain. It’s one of Sanja’s favourites and it took Paul a while to appreciate it – though that may have been down to his overall experience of the album. It sounds like the lyrics are in fact supposed to be positive and evoking the sense of freedom through change or escape. I didn’t always get that optimism, but that could be down to the aftertaste of the previous songs. It’s not the first time H has used this theme, and it sounds like he comes back to it in the future. Sanja goes a bit Australian while we wait for a flaming galah to pop out, whatever that is. As expected, this has turned into a bit of a lighters up song. I’m not sure what finger lights are, but I am receiving visions of middle aged men wearing fluorescent Witch finger nails. And unfortunately, that image is where we must leave it (not before Rolf comes burning into my brain with his witch finger up a hamster).

Let us know what you think of Marillion.com in the comments, and as always go listen to BYAMPOD and follow the guys on Twitter, Facebook, Bebo…

Nightman Listens To – Chloe X Halle – Ungodly Hour (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! For any fans of this series or those who want to know my thoughts on 2020’s best releases, I apologise for the lack of posts so far. In the real world family and work have taken priority, while in the Blogging world my Marillion posts have been my most frequent commitment. I’ve no idea how many Marillion albums are left, but given the last album I covered was released in 1998, we’re surely closer to the end than the beginning – Watch my face drop as I find out Marillion went on to release 1 album every year since 1999.

But we’re not here to talk about Marillion, for a change. We’re here to talk about Chloe X Halle. I have no idea what that is or what that means or even how to say it. Is it literally ‘Chloe ex Halle’, is it ‘Chloe cross Halle’, ‘Chloe times Halle, Chloe and Halle’ etc. And how do you pronounce ‘Halle’? Is it ‘hally’ or ‘Halley’, or ‘Haley’ or is it meant to rhyme with Chloe? Does it matter? Is it a band, is it one vocalist, is it two vocalists? I don’t know and I don’t believe I’d even heard whatever this is mentioned anywhere before putting together this list, not in YouTube comments, not in passing, not anywhere. Perhaps the album cover will give me an idea.

Album Review: Ungodly Hour by Chloe x Halle Right, we have two women, with two arses (one each), and two sets of wings which I assume are supposed to look sleek and heavenly, but kind of look like swimming pool inflatables. Are these the singers, or is this just some random image by a rock band? Lets go with these being the singers, which would fit with the name. Angels, Ungodly, are we going for lots of religious iconography and ideas? Oh Lordy, it’s not a Christian music album is it? The cover seems too sexy for that, but then every dick and their associated arse and cleavage identify as Christian these days, so who the hell knows. I would prefer garbage pop over Christian garbage. Actually, as long as the music is good I probably won’t care what the genre is, as long as they’re not trying to force some Creationist agenda down my gullet. I get enough of that as it is, thankee-sai.

Lets get on with it. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this given my complete lack of knowledge, but I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, it’s my favourite of all of the 2020 albums I’ve listened to as part of this journey so far. For anyone not aware, it’s a Pop R’n’B album entrenched in the past as much as the present. There’s a retro 90s, early Noughties feel, a pre-Destiny’s Child vibe calling up the likes of TLC… All Saints…. it’s not my area of expertise. Mostly I imagined it as an X-Rated version of Sister Sister. While it is undoubtedly a modern Pop album, meaning it suffers from many of the main negative trappings of current Pop (weak and inconsequential drum sounds, surface simplicity, copy paste pronunciation, slightly compressed sound, overly digital), there is enough of the Disco influenced late era Motown to keep me happy. While I do have issues, on the whole I could overlook those thanks to the album’s strengths – melody and authenticity. It feels like the girls love music; listening, making, and performing it. You can hear their influences. There are genuine hooks. They have genuine voices and don’t rely heavily on autotune to make them sound good or use it as a stylistic choice, at least until we get to the lowlight of the album – Catching Up.

The album eased me in and allowed me to relax into the journey without worrying that I was going to hate the entire experience. The appropriately named Intro sets up the album’s qualities – the vocal melodies and harmonies – and the angelic, subtly epic tone is a world away from most of the manufactured junk I hear whenever I dip in and out of the Top 40. Those qualities lead directly in to Forgive Me, the first of many supremely infectious songs which is let down by some vocal choices more to do with my preferences than any real show or lack of skill. This, the title track, Baby Girl and others feel like they could be Club or Radio hits and crucially also work as something to chill to at home.

The album manages to subvert one of the biggest issues which has plagued modern pop for at least a decade, and which has plagued Dance music since Day One – those songs are designed purely for a huge audio system and to be danced to in a group setting with no care given for those of us who actually want to appreciate the thing on our own, to appreciate the thing as a piece of art. Having not seen any videos or live performances by the pair, I did have difficulty distinguishing between the two vocal parts. I’m not as close to their individual voices. That doesn’t mean the girls sound the same – their voices obviously work wonderfully together and in certain songs it is clear when one takes over from the other – I Wonder What She Thinks Of Me being a great example of them seemingly trying to one-up each other. I don’t know enough to say that x part was Chloe and y part was Halle. I don’t even know if those are their real names. Even with the vocal quality, the girls add in their own humour and twists – it’s one thing to sing badly because you can’t do better, or to use Autotune because, well because everyone else does, but it’s a different class to write a song called Tipsy, a song about getting drunk and murdering your boyfriend, and sound like you’re drunk while singing it. It’s not exactly big or unique, but it is funny and a sign of the creative balls the girls have.

Continuing with the creativity on display, I did love the little transitions between many of the tracks – seamless and give the album the impression of a journey through the mind (or minds) of these women as they move from relationship to relationship via guilt, forgiveness, jealousy, warnings, joy, and a fair old dose of the horn (as we say over here). This isn’t a Concept album, but there are concepts tying the ends together, and while there are clear and potent messages approaching Feminism, it’s not some man-hating tome or purely a show of solidarity for women. The attacks on men are tongue in cheek, even if there is genuine vitriol, but they poke fun at themselves and admit their own flaws in equal measure. It’s an album not afraid to say that we’re all messy, we’re all beautiful, and we’re all capable of fucking up. No matter if the song is about keying someone’s car or receiving dick pics from some player, it’s all done with humour not usually heard in the Top 40. While other artists go all in on the graphic detail in their attempts to be shocking or amusing (cough cough Minaj), those flat attempts at bravado are laughable only because they’re so bad. Chloe X Halle strike the right balance between truth and humour.

We do need to talk about Catch Up. As mentioned, it’s the low point of the album. It’s the stock .feat song of the album. Some bloke, who I won’t dignify by finding out his name and adding it here, guest performs on the song and it’s the usual heavily autotuned, incredibly whiney vocal. There must be a hell of a lot of people out there who like this type of singer, this type of accent, but I just don’t get it. The girls are not entirely immune from odd decisions – while some of the accents and affectations pay off, they are less successful in the likes of royl. Those moments are few and far between and a misstep like Catch Up (and even that would be a good song without the shitty vocals) sounds like a completely different artist from the one who crafted the pop excellence of Don’t Make It Harder On Me and Wonder What She Thinks Of Me. Those two tracks in particular I will happily stick on my personal playlist – the pure Motown joy of the former, complete with funky bass and jangling guitars, and the exquisite emotional anguish of the latter.

Returning to the lyrics – often the most blatant bane of modern Pop – it’s the humour, emotion, and authenticity which allows what are not the most poetic or fierce rhymes to stand out. Like the majority of your Top 40, where almost every song is about love (or ostensibly, sex), the girls explore what it’s like to be a young woman keeping your head above water amidst the torrential storms of modern romance. Baby Girl is an anthem for girls everywhere expected to live up to society’s expectations and sacrificing their spirit simply to survive in a world beyond their control, while Royl could be a lyrical extension which pleads for the listener, boy or girl, to ‘live tonight’. It wouldn’t be a Pop album without the junk party lyrics about turning up late with a crew, and both ‘boo’ and ‘bae’ used liberally, and annoyingly. We’ve reached the point (we reached it long ago) in Pop that lyrics are basically meaningless, certainly artless, so while I don’t feel the need to comment much on them, these are at least more honest, less shitty, than what I typically hear sludging out of iTunes.

This is the first album in my list of Best 2020 albums that I will listen to again beyond the publishing of this post. While I didn’t know what I was getting into, I had an inkling it would be some overhyped standard chart balls, but the triple threat strengths of the vocals, melodies, and conviction was enough to shred any of the bias I may normally have against this sort of music. It’s enough to put the girls on my radar and to make me want to check out anything else they’ve done and will do in the future.

Album Score

Sales: 3. I would have assumed this one set the charts and sales alight, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case. It sold better than their debut, but it warranted a quick re-release. Sometimes that’s a positive because the album or a single did so well so it raises awareness of the thing again, or it can be a negative to try to scrape out a few additional sales due to underperforming. I would go a 2 here, but a few of the singles performed well enough to push me into giving a 3.

Chart: 2. It did well enough upon release, in the US at least, but the fact that it didn’t reach the Top 10, and didn’t even reach the Top 70 in the UK, means we have to mark this down. You can’t go higher than a 3 with this, but by all accounts this was not a chart hit.

Critical: 4. I might allow a 5 here, but I don’t think you can go lower than a 4. The album received three Grammy nominations (didn’t win) and appeared in many Best Of Year lists, including a few notable Number 1 finishes. For me it doesn’t quite reach the heights of a five, but I understand if you think it does.

Originality: 3. Not my wheelhouse but it felt fresh enough to me, different enough from what I normally hear in the Top 40. Nothing startling in the music or lyrics or production, but sometimes simply getting back to basics and nailing your melody and sense of self makes you stand out from the so called trend setters and followers. A flat three for me.

Influence: 3. I’m torn between a 2 and a 3 here. I don’t think it was a big enough success that others will jump on the bandwagon and say ‘hey, maybe not singing like a twat and not singing about bullshit is a good idea’. I hold out hope that the critical success of the album, and its quality, might rub off on some younger listeners instead of the wide array of crap out there. It’s a 2 or a 3, but lets be positive.

Musical Ability: 3. A tricky one because I don’t believe the girls actually play any instruments or display any traditional musical ability. Their melody and vocals we can discount because they have their own section and score. Any pop album, even as mass produced and digital as they are now, will be lifted up by a team of musicians. Those guys do their job adequately here, without standing out or delivering any wow moments.

Lyrics: 3. It’s better than your standard pop, but your standard pop is at best a 2 in this category.

Melody: 4. I thought there would have been a 4 before this category, but nope. This is one of the hallmarks of the album, and of the things I respect most in music. Even ignoring how bad their contemporaries are in this category, it’s a showcase of how to do melody right.

Emotion: 4. Another highlight, even while only a small number of songs hit any real heights. Elsewhere those heights are not needed and the emotion is often bubbling under the surface, visibly, audibly. In addition, the enjoyment of singing and of music comes across.

Lastibility: 3. I worry that this won’t have any real staying power because it wasn’t a hit. Time will tell if its quality will see it outlast the more immediate success of its contemporaries. It could be a 2, but the fact that I’ll continue to listen to it over and above and beyond those contemporaries is enough to earn a 3.

Vocals: 4. A few dubious decisions and guests aside, this is a great vocal effort. Shedding those and we could be talking a 5. It’s not the vocals on their own, but the dual attack, the expression, the harmonies, and the wit creatively employed.

Coherence: 4. It feels like a journey or a day in the life. Thematically and musically it ties together, and plenty of the songs bleed into one another due to

Mood: 3. I’m tempted to give a 4 here, based on what I’ve already mentioned about the album feeling like a collection of club hits and a journey through someone’s mind. I’m not sure it quite nails enough of either mood or tone to earn a 4 from me, so I’m going with a 3. 

Production: 4. I was going to go 3 here, but I should remove as much of my own bias as possible. While I don’t personally like some of the choices, arrangement, and sounds used, there is no doubt that the producers are at the top of their game, everything is levelled well, and it does strike that balance between home listening at blasting out of a club’s sound system. 

Effort: 4. Without knowing in detail the story behind the writing and recording of the album it is difficult to accurately score this one. What seems to be true is that the girls raised their game from their debut – often the most difficult task for an artist is to improve upon their first album and overcome any hype it may have had. It seems like while their original album wasn’t huge, this has built upon its foundations. It is a short album, sometimes that hints at a lack of ideas or effort, but I don’t believe that is the case here.

Relationship: 3. As a thirty something married white bloke from Northern Ireland whose partying days are over, and were never something I cared much for anyway, I’m not exactly who this album is designed for. I don’t need to worry about most of the issues raised in the album and it’s not a sub genre of Pop I’ve ever been invested in. Still, the music made me interested in the artist and what they were talking about – at least to the point that I’m curious to hear their debut. 

Genre Relation: 3. I’m not best placed to answer this given the complete lack of knowledge I have around this sort of music. In the wider genre of ‘Whatever Is On The Charts’ it certainly relates in terms of style, tone, and theme and with a lot of the same positives and negatives I ascribe to the type of music. Whether it’s better or worse, whether it is a game-changer I don’t know. I know I liked it more than most crap in the charts.

Authenticity: 4. The overall impression I had from the album – the voices, the lyrics, the production, was of a home-grown talent rather than something manufactured and showered with money. The people involved have a love of music past and present, and that shone through.

Personal: 4. I could go a 3 here, but I think that would be playing into my bias too much. I enjoyed this quite a lot, and it surprised me (by not being shit). Given the fact that I wasn’t expecting much, that 90% of it didn’t annoy me, and that I’ve been humming many of the songs to myself over the past few weeks… I think it deserves a Personal score of 4.

Miscellaneous: 3. Not much to say – music videos are fine, artwork is fine, girls seem cool. A standard positive 3. 

Total: 68/100

think that’s the highest score so far in my 2020 albums. Not by much, mind you. This is a decent score – thinking how difficult it would be to get a 5 in any of the categories. I’m hoping we’ll get one or two albums passing the 70 mark but I doubt we’ll get anything in the 80s. I care less about the score than my feelings about the album and how many of the songs I plan on listening to after publishing this post. Let us know in the comments what you think of Ungodly Hours!