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

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

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

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 The verses are a more withdrawn affair, and once again where we expect there to be a chorus we instead get a… louder verse?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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Punisher – Phoebe Bridges (2020 Series)

Greetings, Glancers! We’re back for another album I’ve never heard by an artist I’ve never heard of. At least that was the case when I first started this journey – but since then I have come to learn the name ‘Phoebe Bridgers’. I still don’t know who she is, what type of music she performs, and as far as I can tell I haven’t heard any of her songs. I do know that she provided dome vocals for the last Perfume Genius album I listened to – does that hint at her own sound?

Does this album artwork provide any additional foreknowledge? It seems to be someone in a skeleton outfit, standing in a stark, moon or desert like surrounding, looking up at the starry night. She looks very tiny. Nice colour contrasts. Does the red signify something is shining back at her? Like a UFO? If so, that’s like at least the third 2020 album artwork which has depicted such things. You know the drill – by the time I write the next paragraph, I’ll have heard the thing a few times.

Man, this is an album I so dearly wanted to love. There is so much to love for someone with my tastes and possibly with more time I would get to that point. However, it’s one of those albums where my feelings could go one of two ways; either I’ll completely fall for it, or the pieces which I don’t currently enjoy will swarm and force me backwards.

My first impression of the first few songs gave me some pause for concern; I was worried it was going to be too twee, too hipster. Like so many modern or recent artists of this introverted, lighter folk style, there is the risk that the entire lack of substance and focus on style (no different from the mainstream pop stars they enjoy mocking), and the pseudo-intellectual naval gazing would turn me off completely. You just know there’s going to be at least one person in the band with a beard and a ridiculous hairdo. These artists tend to follow a particular playing style, and the vocals are almost uniformly tepid. Thankfully, Punisher has a lot of lyrical depth and emotion to make Phoebe stand out from the crowd she may find herself associated with. Her vocals rarely show any dynamics or force or edge, but they are so earnestly fragile that they largely avoid falling into the twee category.

Speaking of the fragility of the vocals leads me to my prime impression of Phoebe, and the album as a whole. Whatever the aural equivalent of a double-take is, is how I reacted when I heard her voice for the first time. She sounds incredibly similar to Gemma Hayes. It’s not just the fragile softness, but it’s the tone, it’s the vocal intonations and inflections, the rasp and whisper. Like Gemma, Phoebe sounds like she’s right there in the room with you, singing directly into your ear and no-one else’s. I went as far as looking into Phoebe’s influences, because it seems impossible for someone to come along and sound this much like a doppelganger without having been influenced, but I couldn’t find anything to say she knows Gemma exists. So either this is all some ridiculous coincidence or there’s some knowing disguising of this emulation. Listen to something like Moon Song from this album, and then listen to something like This Is What You Do by Gemma Hayes. Two very different songs, but two very similar vocals. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if such comparisons are warranted.

Even with the blatant comparison in how the two singers sound, Phoebe has a much more limited style at least on the evidence of this album. Admittedly I haven’t heard anything from her outside of this album and haven’t heard her perform live. Gemma has a much wider range with her vocals, even if she does remain in a similar style or genre for most of her output, and in the live setting Gemma has the ability to truly belt out some of the bigger choruses and giving them greater urgency over the studio recordings. Based again on this album alone, Phoebe has the edge when considering lyrics – these are more involved, more picturesque and cynical and poetic, and often darker than what Gemma does. Gemma is no slouch when it comes to lyrics, but these hit differently. I will add that I love Gemma’s lyrics – she’s one of my all time favourite artists – but Phoebe’s certainly stand out and have a more alluring quality.

Musically, the album did take a while to shine through for me. My initial listens were frustrated by the lack of variety. It’s an album which does take some effort and time for the musical depth and variance to bubble through, but even after many considered listens there remains a sameness to both the music and certainly the vocals. Phoebe has her style and her favoured inflections and melodies, and absolutely will not veer away from them. Breathy and letting notes fall off and drawl away for that lazy, almost incomplete resolution. Even in the more peppy, poppy songs like Kyoto which are one of the few occasions when her vocals are stretched, the same tricks are applied.

I mention this not because the sameness and lack of variety is an issue in itself, but because it results in a lack of melodic potency, which is one of the key characteristics of my enjoyment of any music. You can have as expressive and intelligent and interesting sounds as you want, but if the same melodies are repeated then my enjoyment will be limited. In isolation, many of these songs are strong and their emotion is potent – the title track, Halloween, Garden Song, I See You Chinese Satellite – but when taken on a listen through the entire album, that sameness does drain on me. Possibly it’s the placement of the songs, leaving the melodic highlights of Kyoto and Graceland Too too far apart, but the album feels like it needs another song of that ilk somewhere in the middle to scrape away some of that sameness.

If the melodies feel lacking in places, the lyrics remain a constant source of intrigue and interest. A wide array of topics and emotions are covered, and it’s never less than highly personal to the point of being invasive, and yet easily understood for anyone with a heart. It’s a stark and welcome departure from the majority of the albums I’ve listened to in my 2020 journey and is easily the best of those from a lyrical perspective. It’s often lyrics which have me invested in an artist and keep me coming back to them even if I’m not as enamoured by the music – get both right, even if only semi-consistently, and I’ll be a fan.

It’s an album then that did leave me somewhat frustrated, but that’s on me. I didn’t get what I wanted – sucks to be me. It’s a great album, but the lack of variety in the melodies and the lack of oomph in the vocals does keep me at a distance. As mentioned, I want to love it and I hope that further listens will pull me in further. It’s an album which has the potential to become a favourite, and Phoebe is an artist who could become a favourite. Even if it turns out that I don’t accept the whole album, I’ll certainly retain I Know The End, Graceland Too, and Kyoto in my playlist for their respective haunting, cathartic, beautiful, and joyous qualities.


Sales: 3. As far as I can tell, it didn’t set the world on fire. I’m totally open to be corrected on this. It may more likely be a 4, but the lack of information online tells me that it wasn’t a smash.

Chart: 4. Top 10 in the UK, outisde the Billboard Top 40 in the US. Yet it was Top 10 in many of those ‘alternative’ charts and hovered around the Top 40 in other territories. Maybe this one should be 3 and Sales is a 4. Does it matter?

Critical: 4. Maybe gets to a 5, but we’ll let time decide. There’s always some newness bias with the latest critical darling.

Originality: 2. Possibly harsh, but beyond being of a younger generation and speaking about the world through those eyes, there isn’t anything revelatory in her lyrics and the music is similar to many many other artists.

Influence: 3. I think she has the voice and the intelligence to inspire others musically, perhaps more importantly even beyond music, but whether she has the reach to influence the next big thing, I don’t know.

Musical Ability: 3. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Lyrics: 5. Perhaps I’m being overly generous and this is a 4, but considering the complete embarrassment of most of what I read in lyrics these days, at least from the charts and from the 2020 albums I’ve heard, this is head and shoulders above anything else.

Melody: 3. Outside of 4-5 songs, the album recycles the same melodic styles.

Emotion: 4. It’s an open, honest, and dark album. There’s a focus on sadness, worry, anger and regret, but there is also love, joy, and tenderness.

Resilience/Lastibility: 3. It remains to be seen, but as mentioned above there’s always the risk that the latest critical darling can be ascribed an immense amount of hype, attention, and acclaim, only for that to be transferred over to the next new thing the moment critical darling A makes the slightest slip-up. Having said that, this does feel topical and seminal – a product of the Cov-Id times – and as such will be an important historical document in the future to show how people at large felt.

Vocals: 3. She adopts a style a like, and has an enjoyable voice, but doesn’t take it to any extremes or in any other direction.

Coherence: 4. Holds together well, and ties into the next category.

Mood: 4. It’s a mostly downbeat album, and that mood of sleepy darkness clicks in from the evocative instrumental opener, all the way through to the screaming closer. Phoebe manages to pull together darkness from her personal life and create a mood which is reminiscent of the chaos, closed in and closed off nature of the last few years.

Production: 4. Much of the album takes a close to minimalist approach, which suits the overall mood and fragility, but rather than being a quiet album, it instead accentuates the chaos of a mind trapped in a small room.

Effort: 3. A high 3, maybe on another day I’d go with 4 because of the lyrics, but on the musical front I’m not sure it gets a 4.

Relationship: 4. As I always preface this category with a direct comparison to myself – I’m not a white American twenty something woman, but I am a human in the 21st Century who lied through lockdown in a Developed nation. Even without Cov-Id, I can relate to isolation and pain.

Genre Relation: 4. Sounds like a lot of the other twee Indie folk stuff, but not as lily-livered or pretentious.

Authenticity: 4. I’ll allow a 4 here. I don’t doubt the feelings and experiences are authentic, but with this genre in this day and age, there’s so much which is false and so much which is reliant on the fact that the artist is a self-claimed quirk with no other talent beyond the ability to purchase cloths from the local Bohemian joint.

Personal: 4. Over time this could drop to a 3. I don’t think it will get to a 5 because so many of the songs follow the same pattern and tone – patterns and tones which don’t do a lot for me. But the lyrics and vocals and the handful of better songs are enough to warrant a 4, and if a couple of those others go up in my estimation, then a 5 may be within reach.

Miscellaneous: 3. The usual – let me know if there’s anything I should be aware of.

Total: /100

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Happiness Is The Road Vol 2 (Part 1)!

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

Greetings, Glancers! And Happy New Year for those of you who mostly come here for my Marillion musings – did you have a good NYE? Did Ol’ Beardy Claus gift you with some Marillion-related treats, or did you sadly open yet more socks from kids who couldn’t give a shit about your feelings, hopes, and dreams? As I said – Happy New Year!

I didn’t get any Marillion-related treats, nor did I receive any socks. A further nor (norther?) is that I haven’t even listened to Marillion since the early point of December. In fact, I don’t believe I got anything remotely music adjacent for Christmas, which is unusual for me. Switch games, sweets, books, and booze. And lots of popcorn, for some reason. I’m doing Dry January too, so all the booze is stacked up in a cupboard in the kitchen, ready to fall out and smash over the tiles when someone is too hasty in their search for Pringles, or whatever else is stacked in there too.

Is any of this interesting? Probably not. What is interesting, is that Paul and Sanja are putting on the Digitiser 30th anniversary special this summer – and you’re invited! It’s a 2 night event and tickets are on sale for both already, so if you want to be party to some naughty shenanigans sure to involve bins, beans, Monty, music, and mmmmmmm, then whip out your wallet and start clicking the things below:



It may well be sold out by the time I even publish this post (I’m writing this in early January), but worth a try. Sadly, you won’t get to meet whoever I am because I’ll be on a beach somewhere, abusing a Lilo. A shame, because I was looking forward to heading to London, getting on the wrong tube line, and ending up in Bognor Regis.

Happiness Is The Road then. Volume 1 was okay, wasn’t it? Some good songs which I’ve added to my Hard Drive in the car, some songs which I was less fond of. Based on what Paul has said, Volume 2 is the weaker album. Spoiler Alert – I have already listened to the album a few times at this point, and yes, it is the weaker album. While it has its own distinct vibe separate from Volume 1, and while that vibe carries coherently through the whole thing, it still feels more like a collection of songs than a ‘real album’. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s filler, or that it’s a bunch of extras more akin to a bonus disc, but I wouldn’t argue against someone of that opinion. It’s like the second disc How To Measure A Planet by The Gathering; noticeably inferior to the first disc, but not without its charms. In both that example, and Happiness Volume 2, you’d be hard pressed to find a song on the second disc which could replace something on the first.

But lets go track by track and see if we can eek out any reasons for this opinion. Thunder Fly kicks things off, and instantly looks to dispel one of my more negatively slanted opinions of Volume 1 – that it lacked a bit of oomph. It is centred on a twisting and hypnotic riff and, in its early moments at least, it rocks about as hard as Marillion ever does. H feels like he’s right on the edge of doing an Elvis impression while the song rarely stays in one place for longer than a minute. It leaps from straightforward riff rock to spacey zaniness to cheesy organ led Blackpool Music Hall OAP fodder. It’s a thoroughly strange song which seems to be trying to pack as much stuff into six and a half minutes as is humanly possible. The downside of this being that it lacks coherence, the transitions are jarring, and any parts that you may enjoy you don’t get to enjoy for long.

The upside of this is that the parts you may not enjoy are equally rushed through and cast aside, and when viewed as a whole it does have a wacky charm to it. In addition, it’s a solid album opener considering what’s to come. It’s a mish mash of ideas and sounds like the band is having fun just messing around. If you’re inclined to extreme bouts of positivity you could argue that it’s the band showing off their full creativity and vibrancy by touching on so many different sounds. It is a more experimental showing for the band than most of Volume 1 – adventurous almost to its detriment. For your regular fan, there’s still nice vocals and a nifty solo, but it’s difficult to clasp on to anything without it slipping away to another distraction. It’s also something of a showcase for some of the more jarring sounds which crop up repeatedly in Volume 2 – guitar and keyboard effects namely. It’s both coarse and spacious.

The Elvis antics I mentioned earlier are perhaps a deliberate creative choice when we have a gander at the lyrics. While Corn Flies are something of a pest and nuisance to those in the British Summer countryside, it’s a term I immediately connect with the US of A. Corn fields as far as the eye can see, insects buzzing wildly from stalk to stalk in the blistering heat, a young alien boy from Krypton frolicking in their midst. It strikes me as a very North American image, and multiple other lyrics in the album talk about the US too. It’s an album of destinations and of struggling to find a place in any of them. Thunder Fly, if I may hazard a guess, is less of a song about annoying insects which appear for a few weeks every year, as much as its about the other annoyances which we allow into our lives and cannot be rid of. This being H, such annoyances are of the romantic sort. Even perfect summer days and happy endings and visions of ideal places are corrupted by these annoyances.

We escape from Earth up through the atmosphere and head off to Planet Marzipan, a song even more disjointed than the opener, and one which could have had a minute or two shaved off its running time to make the journey feel less like a nauseous cryo-sleep hangover.

It begins promisingly enough, like a creepy sci-fi score suggesting a lot of drama. It perks up, accompanied by staccato bass and that guitar sound Paul has sounded his disdain about a few times. The verses are perfectly fine – late night talk radio funk – if a little bland. There’s too much space in the verses which makes it feel somewhat wasteful and where the chorus would normally be is something equally dull, but noisier. There’s a melody in there, but the band doesn’t do much with it.

Around the middle mark this all falls away and we’re left with another barren-sounding section. There is a lot going on here, but it’s uneventful. The little blips and bloops, nuggets of sounds, jangles are not used to enhance the sound but instead feel like, well, corn flies. Instead of building to something interesting, I want to swat it all away. The eventual building comes too late and also inconsequential. When you think it might be a jubilant building up through chords, it stays in the same place, crawling forwards while H mumbles and the music trawls through quicksand towards its end. Through all this, there are glimpses of interest, but they’re as fleeting as the kaleidoscopic colour blots we see when we blink. What is already a dull song is worsened by its length.

Lyrically, if the song were a Reddit post, it would show up on r/therewasanattempt. It’s a not quite stream of consciousness ramble, a bit like my blog. H is at least going for a vibe here, trying to write in a cutesy pseudo-Radiohead, pseudo drug-influenced way, but it comes off as false and even amateurish. If there’s anything I can say about H’s lyrics – they always feel honest. This doesn’t seem honest.

Still, a line here or there works, kind of. ‘Net-curtain lungs’ is evocative. The potency of whatever message there is supposed to be, is lost. He’s positioning himself as this confused bystander figure, floating through life observing the state of the world, and as such putting himself on some sort of pedestal. He offers no solutions or alternate suggestions to help what he sees as the plight of humanity – that plight here listed as fame and religion. Maybe I’m being overly critical. Maybe it’s fine. It just feels to me that he wanted to write in a very specific style, but that it didn’t come off. For me. Calm down.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

We’re back with a new BYAMPOD episode. This is the first new track by track run through of the year, but the guys have treated us to plenty of other episodes since the Volume 1 walkthrough. In the previous episode, Paul did a bit of an overview of Volume 2 and its issues. We won’t cover that here, but it’s enough to mention that we have a fair understanding of his opinions of the album coming in to this episode. Incidentally, it seems like Lucy disagreed with Paul’s assessment of Whatever Is Wrong With You from his summary episode. We’ll get to my opinions of that song next time, but lets just say that I was surprised by Paul’s level of contempt for what I felt was maybe the only song which had a standout vocal melody after my early listens.

Paul and Sanja kick off by disagreeing over whether or not Volume 2 should have been released, with Paul reiterating that he feels there is nothing essential on it and that its release hurt Volume 1, while Sanja feels it’s more important for the fans to hear everything which the band has made, regardless of the songs being crap or not. I’m somewhere in the middle, when I think of my own favourite bands. I’m a big B-Side collector and will buy special edition re-releases etc, but I get those only for the new songs and I don’t much care for demos. I don’t need to hear every little piece of music a band ever makes, but if a band gets to the point of writing, rehearsing, playing, and recording a song, then yes, I want to hear it. Does it need to be a one-off solo release per song, or a collection of rarities, or a dedicated new album… I suppose it’s on a case by case basis. It sounds like what should have happened with Happiness Is The Road is that Volume 1 should have been released on its own, and then some time later, say one year, the album was either re-released with Volume 2 as a Double album, highlighting that Volume 2 was just extras, or release Volume 2 on its own, but still advertising it as ‘leftovers’ albums, as harsh as that may sound.

We begin with some quotes from the band about Volume 2, sounding mostly positive. Paul counters this by saying that the moment he heard Thunder Fly, he was worried that it was going to be ‘one of them’. Marillion trying to be heavy, when that’s not something they’ve been particularly strong at. Sanja doesn’t hate it, thinks it’s catchy enough, and is curious about whether it has ever been played alive. Paul is more positive when it comes to comparing it with the other ‘one of those’ songs, yet agrees that it is very odd and all over the place.

Anyone else think ‘Thrips’ sounds like a genital disease? ‘Have you seen Bob recently?’ ‘No, but I texted him and he’s stuck inside with a drooling case of thrips’. Sanja then does a strange impression of Unknown American. Paul and Sanja, if you guys are reading this, you need to edit that snippet into its own trailer and tweet it out. Is that good advertising – not only posting a link and a blurb to each new episode, but a soundbite to entice new listeners?

Sanja wonders if the song is comparing these little annoying creatures to certain people who at first seem harmless, but end up causing more damage. Paul loves the lyrics and thinks it’s about a girl who you become obsessed with and who may not be good for you.

We jump straight into the next track, and have a discussion about ‘addicting’ versus ‘addictive’. That’s absolutely one of those words which gets under my skin. It just sounds ‘wrong’. I like marzipan, depending on what it’s connected to. A Battenburg cake for examples – yum. A Christmas cake? Fuck off. Sanja had a mixed reaction to The Man From Planet Marzipan – she hates a lot of the bleepy bloopy stuff in the opening, the rapping, and a few other moments. Yet elsewhere, the scope, the atmosphere, and the other bits she love means the song is now mostly positive. It has always been Paul’s favourite on the album, and both prefer the second half. I preferred the opening half and felt the song fell apart in the second half. As much as Paul isn’t a fan of the album, he would still prefer to hear some of its songs live rather than the usual. I get that – for the more rabid fans of particular bands, we can agree with that sentiment, but for those who only see the band once, or once every few years, they probably want the hits.

Sanja describes Marzipan as a Sci-Fi song – a detached alien viewing humanity’s madness from above. I can understand that… I just didn’t care for the song or the lyrics. Sanja gets a lot more out of the lyrics than I did and Paul adds that it’s not even new territory for the band, even as it is relevant for the outsiders among us. I suppose I’ve always felt like this, no matter what age I’ve been. It’s a very strange place and we’re all weirdos clinging on. I’ve always been very happy with my own company, and I don’t really get social media as a whole and I’m the first person to admit I’m crap at keeping in touch with the people and things I do care about. AI taking jobs, population increasing… we’ll all be in Wall-E in a few years.

It’s true though – putting yourself out there, behind a screen where there is not direct 1:1, face to face conversation, is difficult. If you’re being sincere, if you’re being harmless, you can almost guarantee that if you have any sort of audience that someone will at best, not like what you’re saying or doing or at worst absolutely hate you and attack you for it. It’s that barrier which is both protective and preventative for the poster and the responder – authentic is you are, it’s not really you, and the shield of anonymity or distance means anyone can reply how they see fit with zero consequence. On that note, have you seen the nonsense I’ve been putting on Youtube recently? If you like cats sucking human arms – well, go ahead and Carlos Nightman that shit up. It’s… something, and is getting views in the tens of thousands, so why not give the people what they want.

The discussion has gone from Marzipan to Weed in a matter of minutes. The thing about… I know they’re not directly analogous, but weed in particular as a product when compared to something like beer… or anything really, they all have a chain. Someone, somewhere is always being exploited. Slavery is alive and well in our Capitalist world. It’s sickening to think of and it’s easier to ignore or be ignorant of. That’s not drugs, that’s the normal, legal, everyday shit we use. In the words of The Manics – ‘everyone is guilty’. Maybe you have less of a reason to trust the guy you buy your drugs from than the farmer you get your spuds from, but people in the know find people to trust and buy from. I’ve done and taken most things, purely because I’ve wanted to see what would happen. In most cases it was fun, and it’s easy to see how certain substances can become a very slippery slope. I don’t touch anything anymore, mainly because I’ve done it and don’t feel the need to do it again. That and getting married and having kids means I have less time for thinking I’m a witch by wearing only my leather coat and ‘riding’ a floor cleaner up and down the halls of the health centre where my friend and fellow reprobate used to work.

What Paul says about ‘slipping away’ is part of what I’ve assumed people mean when they say that they wouldn’t want to live forever. I’d love to live forever, or at least for a few hundred years. But obviously everyone you’ve ever known would die, you would inevitably become some sort of obsolete relic, perhaps to the extent of Robert Neville in I Am Legend, and maybe you would have zero connection to the present day because your formative pieces are so far removed from the modern culture. Would your brain short-circuit due to an over-abundance of information, or would you at some point cease being yourself because you’d forget so much of what you learned, or would you adapt? We’re only ‘supposed’ to be here for a short while, it seems. How would culture be impacted in these respects, if we were a species which expected to live 200 years? Are we avoiding talking about Asylum Satellite 1? I had anticipated we would get to that song in this post, so let me just cut and paste my thoughts out of this one and into my Part 2 post.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Wild Life – Wings (Non Beatles Series)!

Album Review: "Wild Life" - Paul McCartney & Wings (1971) - HOKEYBLOG!

Greetings, Glancers! Not content with arsing about on his own and making sweet sweet music with his Missus, McCartney returned to what got him on the ladder in the first place – a band of buddies. Wings is a band I always knew from a young age due to Live And Let Die and I’ve been looking forward to delving into their catalogue to see how the differ from and compare with The Beatles. Of the eight songs listed, I don’t recognise any of them, beyond a cover. Oh dear, it doesn’t look like the album was received very well so this could be a slog.

Mumbo‘ has a lot to live up to, you would think. I assume there was a fair level of hype around this at the time – Paul’s first band after leaving The Beatles. You would think that, outside of whatever singles were released, the album opener would need to kick you in the nuts (with glee). It does begin with a nut-kicking series of screams from Paul. The solo piano notes – you already know I’m not a fan of that particular style – but at least it’s spliced with organ blasts and smatterings of guitar. It’s more loose than what I would have expected from an opener, but the band sound like they’re having fun, which isn’t exactly the vibe you get from the last couple of Beatles albums. It’s quite groovy – I don’t think there’s enough substance to justify the full four minutes, but it does the job for me on first listen.

Bip Bop‘ open like a jaunty back-woods precursor to someone’s baby being eaten. ‘Bip bop’ in other words. It screeches into the Blues lane as the vocals start, while retaining the McCartney rhythm we all know. The vocals are quite unusual, the lyrics a mixture of nonsense and warbling, and with sprinkles of backing vocals from Linda. You see I fall back on mentioning the length of the song when I’m bored – I’m typing this line before the three minute mark and there’s another ninety seconds or so to go. The remaining 90 seconds are essentially identical to any other 90 seconds from the song.

Love Is Strange‘ has a loose feeling again, a riff looping over and over before the drums do something similar, but nifty, then it all pulls together. Is it an instrumental version? It’s almost the two minute mark when the the familiar melody and lyrics begin. It is quite different from the version I know – not a song I have any great love for in the first place, nor do I have anything against it. This feels more like a B-Side – some things I like, others I wonder why they bothered.

Wild Life‘ is over six minutes long, so it better be a masterpiece compared to the previous tracks. A brief vocal intro followed by almost a minute of overlapping chords give way to a lead vocal. Some great yells in the middle of these vocals, though it does feel repetitive. Once the backing vocals join we get a little more depth and density. Halfway now and, it’s a little boring. Not quite tedious, but it’s hardly exciting. The final half is more repetition, more screaming, not a lot more.

Some People Never Know‘ is also over 6 minutes long. If the last song was anything to go by, we could be in for a slog. It opens with some pleasant folk ditty guitars, expanding into an old sitcom intro style. The verses are tidy – nice dual vocals from Paul and Linda – so far so good. This is a simple, old fashioned ballad with a modern 70s twist – a dash of hippy charm, a fluid ounce of McCartney magic, and any arsing about stripped away. Lyrically, it hits that sweet spot of being both personal and universal. It’s maybe longer than it should be, but beyond the final thirty seconds or so of hand drumming, it doesn’t feel drawn out.

I Am Your Singer‘ takes us back to a sub three minute time-frame. It’s a strange, maudlin-toned song with a broken beat which picks up after the thirty second mark. From there we get a catchy melody, flutes, and plenty of vocals of Linda. It’s quite sweet while it lasts.

Tomorrow‘ threatens in its opening seconds a retread of the single piano rhythm I’m always yapping about. Thanks to the eventual beat and the vocal melodies it avoids this. It’s another sweet love song. Lovely harmonies to back up Paul’s lead make this feel like a lost Beatles track.

Dear Friend‘ closes the album. It features a sullen piano opening along with an emotive Paul vocal. The lyrics sound like they are about John. Some percussive nudges drop after the first minute and Paul reverts to moans and ooohs before a huge string surge steers into view. This feels like the album’s centrepiece, and clearly a lot of thought and emotion went into the writing and recording. It probably doesn’t need to be as long as it is, but unlike those in the first half this doesn’t feel as stretched.

There aren’t any bad songs here, but the opening half is let down by a reliance on feeling loose and using ideas which probably sounded good at the time but didn’t translate to an interesting listening experience. These songs tended to be overlong which made them feel more average. Thankfully the second disc is stronger – Paul’s melodic and lyrical prowess comes to the fore and as such the songs feel less like rarities and more like they were put together with effort and passion. In other words, a strong second side does its best to dispel memories of how plain the first half was.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Some People Never Know. I Am Your Singer. Tomorrow. Dear Friend.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Wild Life!

Nightman Listens To – Deep Purple – Machine Head (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! It’s finally time to listen to another one of the bands known for laying the ground work for Heavy Metal. Out of all the late 60s, early 70s bands who contributed to the genre’s foundations – Deep Purple are likely the most important alongside Led Zep. I know a few Deep Purple songs fairly well – they are a band you come to early on when branching out in rock and metal’s roots, and they’re a band whose songs you become familiar with when you first decide to play guitar.  Machine Head is their most famous album, and while I’m not sure if I’ve heard all of it, I know I’ve heard most of it at various points. There was a kid who lived on the street I grew up on – his dad (who bore a striking resemblance to Gerry Adams and was therefore the brunt of much pranking around Halloween) was a big Deep Purple fan. He would blast tunes while washing his car. Just a random memory for you – you won’t get this content anywhere else folks!

But before we take a closer look at the tracklist, lets check out that album cover.

The combination of me not being as familiar with the facial features of the band members as I am with other artists, and the warped and blurred puddle marked cover mean I don’t know who’s who. The fella on the right gets the worst of it, his forehead being hoovered up into the psychedelic mire of the upper half, leaving his chin and ‘tache dangling like a swollen scrotum. Elsewhere, fake Syd Barrett is popping up looking all serious like, while on the far left a random college professor seems to have accidentally stumbled into the shoot – his faintly nervous gaze betraying his awareness of an imminent kicking by the rest of the band.

I don’t recall the album being so short – only seven songs and only one of those is over seven minutes long. The big one here is of course Smoke On The Water, but Highway Star and Space Truckin’ I know. I’m sure some of the others will come back to me when I listen. Lets see what Blackmore and co. have to say for themselves.

Highway Star‘ gets down to business off the bat with a series of charging beats and chords and a classic rock yell. The overall force and production is a little thin, weak which means the vocals and percussion lack bite. The drums are top notch, with lots of rattling fills at speed and the instrumental middle is zany fun. The extended solo in the second half is nifty too – more like a repeated series of different riffs up and down the neck. With more oomph in the production this would be an ideal driving song – that’s really the only thing letting it down for me.

Maybe I’m A Leo‘ has a fatter sound, the cymbals do still feel too tinny for my liking, but the lead riff is chunky, accompanied by a funky beat. In terms of metal – this does feel much more in the vein of ‘classic rock’ than metal, like most of the heavy rock bands of the time do. The organ shenanigans and the changes in beat also give it that 70s blues and jazz infusion which a lot of bands of the era had.

Pictures Of Home‘ opens with a splattering of drums before the guitar assault. The vocals still sound distant – they’re just not prominent enough in the mix, but it feels like everything is at an arm’s length rather than being in your face like this sort of music should be. I see Martin Birch was in the studio – usually his work is beefed up more than this, so maybe it’s just the copy I’m listening too. Again I can’t fault the playing – the song has a set structure but is loose enough to allow each member to off-shoot when they desire. Melodically, the song relies on those off-shoots to be interesting as the main vocal and core are plain, but I’m not getting much from it on an emotional level.

Never Before‘ is another slower, funk filled song. The verse raises the tempo and adds a big blues riff while the chorus brings a more notable hook. There are quite a lot of time shifts in the four minutes, including a brief pre-solo mellow phrase. It’s a simple rocker, spiced up with sprinkles of creativity lacking in chart music today.

Smoke On The Water‘ is the one we all know. Big, famous riff, strong chorus. Not a lot to add.

Lazy‘ surges into view with an electronic throng which reminds me of Money For Nothing. It then takes off into a jaunty organ jazz-fest before the rest of the band make up their minds to join in. Is it a 7 minute instrumental? It’s working well at the moment – a collection of riffs and zooming beats, but instruments rarely sustain their value for me for more than a few minutes. Like a lot of these instrumentals, this feels like a jam, except I get the impression this one was more well-practiced and performed than most – it’s tight. Ah, four minutes in we get our first vocal, interesting. Harmonicas now, followed by more vocals and screams. It’s pretty good fun.

Space Truckin‘ has that highly distorted electronic throng sound again – like a lightsaber swung through a brass tube. It’s a riff led song with a fair amount of groove thrown into the mix, and the chorus is one of the snappier sequences on the album. It builds to freak-out levels before the final chorus and the drums are once again the most noticeable instrument. Gillan then goes all Halford for some reason.

That was a little underwhelming, probably because the album is so short. There are no bad songs but even the best songs don’t hit any heights for me. The band sure knows how to play – drums, keyboards, and drums being the highlights while the bass and vocals didn’t have a huge impact on me. The production on the version I’m listening to gave the whole album an unfortunately thin sound – that’s not what you want to feel when you’re a hard playing rock band. While I eventually got used to this, it does still leave me at an emotional distance from much of the music. It is a consistent album – I’d say every song is around the high C, low B grade for me – but really Smoke On The Water is the only song anyone beyond the band’s fans are going to care about. I’ve added a few others to my playlist, but I can’t see me listening to them more than once or twice. While this may be seen as Deep Purple’s most famous record, I’m hoping it’s not known as their best.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Highway Star. Smoke On The Water. Lazy. Space Truckin.

Nightman Listens To – Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately (2020 Series)!

PERFUME GENIUS – ” Set My Heart On Fire Immediately “ | The Fat Angel Sings

Greetings, Glancers, and welcome to my first newly written 2020 Series post of 2023. I know I’m dragging this shit out like a child being torn from its parents, but I hope to finish off the 2020 series in the next couple of months. This will be album 16 of 24 (it was 25 but I removed Harry Styles for some reason). So there’s not many to go, and I’ll prioritize getting this finished before starting something else. Stop starting and start stopping, as they say. I’ll likely do some sort of Round Up ranking post at the end too, ranking the 24 albums by score and maybe some general comments.

Perfume Genius then. Is this a band? A singer? Male, female, or miscellaneous? Was it in the Metal category? Generic Pop? I can’t be arsed pulling up my original post at this juncture, which would surely give me the answer I so dearly do not crave. The artwork points me in no particular direction – a topless gent who looks like he’s spent the time down a mineshaft. Is that the singer? An object of the singer’s affection? A rando? The album title suggests pain, heartache, emotion. Which is just what I need after two Hip Hop albums devoid of those. I’m going in to this completely cold – I don’t know a thing about it and I’ve never heard the name of the artist or the album at the time of writing. By the time I begin the next paragraph, I will have intimate knowledge of both having listened to the album a number of times. Lets do this.

Most of those above questions were answered in the album’s rather lovely opener. Not only is it smooth, melodic, atmospheric, and the sort of subtle opener I generally enjoy in an album, it has a potent lyric, vibe, and voice which had me hooked and hopeful. It’s a powerful opening song, but the album only matches or succeeds this potential two or three more times throughout the album’s run time. There’s a searing frustration permeating my overall thoughts, because so many songs just miss the mark. It’s like watching your favourite football team or played having a solid game, but consistently missing the final product – a misplaced pass, hitting the post, crossing the ball and sticking out your neck only for the ball to graze your scalp and go sailing out of play with no consequence. There are so many positives and potential, but whether it’s personal taste on my part or something unspoken lacking, none of the songs perfectly hit the mark for me.

It’s frustrating because it’s clear there’s talent here, and it’s clear this could have been more impactful for me. Not that my personal feelings matter to the artist, but they matter to me for the purpose of my review. Even with my frustrations, it has been a more positive than negative experience and a few songs have been added to my near-mythical car-driving playlist. The vocals are good throughout, even if they do touch on the nasal at various points, but it’s refreshing to hear something unfiltered these days and great to hear some heart, melody, and emotion in a pop album, especially after my adventures in Hip Hop recently.

In terms of highlights, outside of the opener, Jason, Borrowed Light, Your Body Changes Everything, and On The Floor are the ones to return to. Elsewhere, you can feel the Cocteau Twins influence in the messy Describe and the dull Just A Touch, and Moonbend is a clear riff on Sia’s In Between. I can’t stand Cocteau Twins and In Between is a much more interesting and powerful song, with Moonbend at best a whimpering copycat. Even with that song, and others, which didn’t grab me, there’s usually some minor point of interest – Moonbend going all Rosemary’s Baby in the middle for example. Like quite a few songs on the album, there are potent component parts, but the whole is often much duller than those fleeting moments.

Production wise, it’s top notch, which has generally been the case all the way through the 2020 albums I’ve heard so far. There’s a bit of a seaside vibe throughout and there are many good choices promoting variance in instrumentation, whether it be the harpischord in Jason or the electric pianos and organs in Borrowed Light. It’s and approach which reminds me of The Beatles where they would write the structure of their song on piano or guitar, then head into the studio and say ‘what about if we replace this part with that instrument‘ or ‘what’s that thing over there, how can we stick it into this song to give it something different’?

A few of the slower, lower register songs and more mumbled and artistic efforts don’t do much for me, and bring the overall vibe and quality down for me, making the album plod in places. Leave is a prime example – as a piece of work it’s interesting and has a lot going on in its instrumentation and lyrics, but it’s a slog to listen to. Its pace and sloth is all the more striking given it comes just before the bouncing On The Floor, with its gorgeous melodies and fun synth guitars. Your Body Changes Everything is a dramatic highlight. I would have played the vocals plain, acting as a counterpoint to the synthetic potency of the instrumentation. I’d have tried to push a little more of the drama into the vocals, really bite into those lyrics and put some theatricality into it, accentuating the emotion.

After this mid-point, the album falls into a mire of stunted melancholy. Again, it’s interesting, but a drag to sit through so many songs which never get out of first gear or whose moments of brilliance are all too brief. These are not bad songs, but in the context of a full album play through they bleed into each other and the latter half feels like one mumbled, pained ballad after another. Which, by the end of the album, leaves me feeling somewhat worn out, frustrated, and bored. Going back to the opening paragraph, the overriding feeling I get from the album is frustration – the songs I enjoyed are significantly better than the ones I didn’t, and those songs I fully enjoyed didn’t have enough to get up to an A Grade score. As a whole, it’s a strong enough album that I won’t mind hearing again in its entirety, and those standout songs are solid enough that I’d be curious to see what else the dude has done.


Sales: 3. Didn’t set the world on fire (immediately), but seems to have done okay.

Chart: 3. Very middling, potentially a 2 depending on how you gauge these things, but it still charted Top 30 in US and UK.

Critical: 4. I struggle to give a 5 for such recent albums as critical thought can change even after a few years, but go on and give this a 5 if you want to. That’s because the album was very highly acclaimed, making many end of year charts and generally in the 90s%s in those aggregator sites.

Originality: 3. Personally, a low 3 for me. I didn’t find anything startlingly new here – it’s very much ‘just a pop album’ – but it doesn’t do much of what other pop albums these days do. It’s rich, it’s not over-produced, and it’s pure. In the grand scheme of things, maybe it’s a 2, but based on what I’ve heard recently, it gets a 3.

Influence: 2. I don’t see it influencing many people or musicians.

Musical Ability: 3. Fine, does the job.

Lyrics: 3. There’s a certain poetry there, and there’s a function to the lyrics in serving the vibe of each song. Nothing particularly fresh, no startling one-liners of new perspectives.

Melody: 3. A highish 3, but the best songs aren’t memorable enough for me and the monotonous songs don’t have enough.

Emotion: 4. Inward looking and exposing the artists fears and hopes, the album’s focus on and expression of emotion, is one of its plus points.

Lastibility: 3. We’ll see. The dude seems to pump out a lot of albums in a short space of time, and I don’t know enough about how this compares to those to say that this one, or any of them, will still be played ten years from now. Low 3 for me at the moment.

Vocals: 4. Smooth, expressive, good.

Coherence: 4. The ideas and the music hold together well.

Mood: 3. Drags in places, particularly in the second half, and not in a good way.

Production: 4. Solid.

Effort: 3. Fine.

Relationship: 2. In younger days this may have spoken to me more, but where I am currently I don’t think it gets to a 3.

Genre Relation: 3. This is a strange category – a crap album can get a high score because it sounds like everything else, but a great album can get a lower score because it stands apart. This is a decent, average album which sounds like many other pop albums.

Authenticity: 4. Dude seems to feel the words and the music, and put his whole being into the songs.

Personal: 3. Starting out I felt like the album was going to be a 4, but that second half drags things down. Repeated listens show that there are only a few highlights, but no stinkers.

Miscellaneous: 3. I’m happy for there to be a heartfelt male pop guy who doesn’t seem to be following the crowd and is happy to do his own thing.

Total: 64/100

I would have guessed this would get closer to the 70 mark, but this seems fair enough. Let us know your thoughts and scores in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Operation Mindcrime – Queensryche (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Sweet Lady of Pain”: The History of Mary in Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime - The Rockpit

Greetings, Glancers! Queensryche. They were ‘one of those foreign bands’ my 10 year old self would have said without a hint of irony. It was a shock when I later found out they weren’t even ‘foreign’. When I used to read metal magazines back in the day, they were one of the bands I felt I knew, purely because they were mentioned and discussed quite a bit, without me ever hearing any of their stuff. At some point though, I did hear them. I had a few friends who had older siblings, which is likely how I got into a lot of music and movies – seeing posters on their bedrooms of things I wasn’t allowed to watch, or was too young to full comprehend beyond thinking it looked and sounded cool. Operation Mindcrime was one of those things – it wasn’t scary and devil-worshippy like some of those foreign bands, but they told stories with their songs and their songs had cool names. Come to think of it, it may have been one of my first exposures to the concept album, though I would have heard Pink Floyd and a lot of Alice Cooper by this point.

I’ve no idea when it was I last heard any of this. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to Queensryche beyond what is on this album. Popoff ranks it in the Top Ten metal albums of all time – far above albums I know I love a lot more. It’s time for a re-evaluation. I probably won’t go into much detail with the concept or lyrical side of things – I get the feeling that will require more focus on my part, rather than me listening and typing at the same time.

I Remember Now: The thing I never liked much about Concept Albums (especially Metal ones) are the spoken tracks like this – I mean, Eminem is probably the best at this sort of thing. Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd had the wit to make the spoken part a part of a genuine song. Stuff like this has a tendency to come off as naff to anyone who’s not au fait with prog, and even then it’s touch and go. But it’s okay, this is just their way of setting up the story.

Anarchy X: The album gets a proper introduction with this brief instrumental, a militaristic march and series of chants all heightening the themes of protest and anti-whatever. We get a nice guitar piece and the music builds before blending into –

Revolution Calling: – which has that nice atmospheric guitar tone I always enjoyed. I remember clearly pieces of this, the vocals aren’t exactly my thing now but I used to think it was bad-ass back then, back when every metal singer sounded like they had no balls. The guitars are still good, melodically the verse is a little scattered, the chorus better, the solo strong. Lyrically it’s like a carpet bomb of all the stuff we should be fighting against, again without much focus – politicians are bad, rules are bad, religion is bad, greed is bad – they basically could have sung those four statements and followed it up with the chorus and had the same result.

Operation: Mindcrime: This song starts with a bit of a tease – you always think the drums are going to come in earlier than they do, and when they finally do the song is revealed to be much slower than you anticipated. I wouldn’t go so far as saying it’s funky, but there’s certainly a rhythmic quality to the structure, and the bass is going places where metal songs usually fear to tread. The guitars are the highlight here, without being amazing or being particularly inventive. It’s a song with ideas, just lacking a major hook if you’re into such things.

Speak: This picks up the pace and adds a sense of urgency. The problem is again the lyrics – when you’re doing storytelling in lyrics you don’t leave a lot of room for both the words and music to be strong. Here the music is straightforward and the lyrics are pretty silly and simplified, but we get the point – stuff is bad, we must make it better. You get the impression that this was (and still is) probably taken as a call to arms by both sides of the same coin. Because people are stupid. Another nice solo.

Spreading The Disease: We all know this one. Phat drums give way to guitars and a charging verse. I took this as a ‘lets get angry at rich people’ song or sometimes a ‘drugs are cool’ song when I was young, but most often a ‘whatever the disease is, lets spread it’ song. It’s pretty obvious what it’s all about now… glad to see America has changed since its release. Oh wait. The rich are still rich, and the US still funds wars in other countries to increase the wealth of their 1%? Well, it’s not like that has ever come back to bite them in the ass.

The Mission: A sermon and a bell delivered to the sound of a gun being loaded, before church bells and ominous riffs collide. Church bells and riffs always seem to go together. This is more my style of things – a nice and thoughtful build-up before a throbbing, sinister verse. It’s a pity so many of the melodies and chorus styles are so similar from song to song. Good thing we make up for it with great solos and, here, synth work.

Suite Sister Mary: A near eleven minute epic starts out with some more story, go kill Mary and The Priest etc. We then get a stalking riff conjoined with Omen style chanting, all building up a nice atmosphere. I would have preferred this to continue but the verse largely abandons the good ground work for a more whispering, subtle approach. The verse gets better as it progresses and the storytelling lyrics work more fluidly. The chanting comes back, acting as an interlude before the heavier guitars take us to the next section. There’s a definite grasp at the operatic, at the epic here – melodically it still doesn’t quite get there for me. The various repetitions of the main hook do grow on me, but not quite enough. It’s a song you’ll need to listen to four or five times before any of it will stay with you. There’s some great, epic stuff in the middle which shows the heights the band were aiming for – if you’re doing an album like this you need the balls to shoot for the moon, and the talent to pull it off.

The Needle Lies: A much needed blast of pace highlights this as obvious single or metal club hit – it’s the song you could lift off the album and listen to out of any wider context, it’s the song you’d want to share to get your mates to listen to the album. This is straight to the point, lyrically and musically, and as such is probably my favourite of the album so far. There’s no grand aspiration beyond making a face-melting metal classic and that’s what they do.

Electric Requiem: Of course they follow it up with a brief track of chatter and instrumentation and yells. It’s not skippable, like many similar tracks on similar albums are – I’m looking at you Nightfall On Middle Earth – but it’s not one you’d go looking for either.

Breaking The Silence: I recall liking this one quite a bit when I was younger. It has the atmospheric chugging guitars I like so much, and most crucially it has the melody and emotion to make it all worthwhile. It feels like an 80s Power Ballad and wouldn’t be out of place on one of those Power Ballad or Car Driving 3 CD compilations you see marketed to Dads at Christmas. It’s not quite as cheesy as most of those, but you know me – anything Power Ballad or Power Ballad adjacent I probably enjoy.

I Don’t Believe In Love: This one was pretty famous back in the day too, though I don’t remember much of it. It’s very much in the vein of the last song, though with more of an edge. The lyrics are of course cynical which adds to that edge, but you can still see it as a Power Ballad, the music video likely featuring a sultry vixen dancing in shadows while the singer throws a whiskey baller against the wall and shrieks into the camera.

Waiting For 22: Nice transition into another extended atmospheric intro. The song is just an intro track for the next song, but it works well enough on its own too. It’s not one you’re likely to play much on its own though.

My Empty Room: This one also feels like an introduction, a short build up to the closer. No need for the friend yelling and sudden end though – it’s clearly ripped from The Wall but doesn’t work nearly as well.

Eyes Of A Stranger: The closer begins as another clear rip-off of a very specific song from The Wall but quickly becomes its own thing. The swell of music promises something good, but it falls away for a more mellow verse instead. The volume comes eventually, good vocals sound emotional, and the melodies are fine. Good solo in the middle, not quite the epic closer I was expecting.

Almost every song in this album has a comment on Youtube either comparing this with The Wall or saying it’s better. I know that Youtube isn’t exactly the bastion of intelligence it thinks it is, but just remember that your comments are there forever once published. Even if you delete them. I’ll take the comparisons – they’re both prog albums of a sort, but they are both very different in style, approach, and tone, and subject matter. While this was taking metal in new, more expansive directions, The Wall was basically – nine years earlier – saying every final thing that prog ever needed to say. There’s honestly no comparison between this and The Wall, because there’s not really any comparison between anything and The Wall. 

Still, it’s an album that my opinion of hasn’t really changed over the decades. Mostly it comes down to that most base of Metal opinions – I like the guitars. There are plenty of ideas and obviously a lot of work and thought went into forming the songs and the concept. There are many many better metal albums out there, concept or otherwise. In fact, take the concept out of this and the music isn’t nearly as adventurous as other albums released around the same time. We expect progressive music to be just that – challenging, doing things that others haven’t, or doing things that others have but to the next level. I wasn’t in a position to compare these things when this was released, but in retrospect you can see other acts were already years ahead by the time this came out.

I enjoy the second half more – that’s when the band remembers they’re making music, not just telling a story, and slaps some worthy melodies into the mix. Some of the songs have become metal classics for many people, but for me the biggest and/or best songs hover around the high C, mid B Grade territory – not enough emotion of melody to truly engage me. The world can use these types of albums though, and if anything they can spur others on to better things. If the first half had the melodies of the second, I’d hold this much higher in my estimation. I’ll admit that, as with most albums of this type, it probably takes multiple listens to sink in and to fully get on board, but sometimes you just know it won’t ever be your bag.

Nightman’s Playlist Pics: Breaking The Silence. The Needle Lies. I Don’t Believe In Love.

Nightman Listens To – Imagine – John Lennon (Non Beatles Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! This is the big one, right? This is the one John Lennon album I’ve known (about) most of my life, possibly due to the impact and fame of the title track. That song is one of the most acclaimed and famous of all time – I can’t say I’m its biggest fan – but I do enjoy it. One other song on the album that I know fairly well, is one I’ve never been a huge fan of. Of the remaining eight tracks, I don’t believe I’ve heard any of them, but we’ll soon find out. I know the album frequently makes Best Of lists, so I have high (ish) hopes.

‘Imagine’ is peerless in terms of fame and impact. It is very pretty while avoiding being twee. The lyrics I go back and forth on – simplistic and idyllic  – yes, wouldn’t a world like that be wonderful, but it glosses over too many complications and emotions. The fact that it was written by a millionaire never mattered to me, but I can understand that argument. Anyway, it’s lovely, you already know.

Crippled Inside‘ opens in similarly lovely fashion, almost like Across The Universe. Then it transforms into some honkey tonk Ringo-esque slice of whimsy. This one, I enjoy the lyrics that I’m picking up. Is he aping Dylan in the vocals, or just generic Country stylings? The music is of course a piss-take, but it’s amusing and catchy enough.

Jealous Guy‘ is the other song I knew – more from the cover than Lennon’s original. This is much better than Roxy Music’s take. I like that it’s honest, I like the strings. I appreciate the simplicity. Still, it has that dreary feel that many of the piano led Beatles songs have – a little touch of guitar or, anything really, to take away from the piano could make it better in my eyes, but most would disagree.

It’s So Hard‘ sounds like a heavier take – it takes old fashioned Blues rhythms and adds a sprinkle of sass. The lyrics, again, are amusing but I can’t take the music all that seriously. You can dress up this sort of Blues anyway you like, but it remains musically unimpressive. I could accept an argument for the banal struggles and the saucy lyrics being deliberately placed alongside cliched Blues riffs to draw conclusions between both.

‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier’ opens with another dirty rock sound. Lennon always seems to employ this reverb on his vocals… I never like that effect on vocals. This does feel more modern, probably thanks to the production having more colour and depth. Parts of this I think I have heard – the ‘I don’t want to be a soldier mamma’ is very familiar. Sadly it’s quite tuneless. There’s no need for it to pass the three minute mark – six minutes is inexcusable.

Gimme Some Truth’ opens the second side with a mouthful of fury. It’s angry and sweet and the same time and sees John falling back on his talent for spurting words in a sharp, poetic, staccato fashion. This is more to my tastes, not quite punk because it sounds quite pretty in places, but there’s enough harsh quality to the vocals and lyrics and guitars to align it with the heavier music of the time.

Oh My Love’ is… ooh, much more to my tastes. Slow, sad, lovely melding of guitar and piano. There’s the vocal reverb again. Luckily the melodies are wonderful too – with the lyrics combined it does veer awfully close to being saccharine, but I’ve never had a problem with that as long as its honest. This flip flops between major and minor freely which also stops it becoming too sugary. I’ve heard parts of this somewhere in time.

How Do You Sleep‘ is a pretty infamous song, but I don’t think I’ve actually heard it before. Noted as being an attack on Paul, in response to an attack by Paul, the lyrics are amusing but still feel petty. We know John was a defensive little prick at times, with a massive yet fragile ego. He would make all these attacks and mistakes and dismiss them as jokes subsequently, rather than admit to them. Of course this totalled up to him coming across as not the most trustworthy or genuine, even though I’m sure he was. Back to the song. After that loose opening the slow beat takes control and accomplishes quite a funky rhythm. Solid Cowboy strings when they come, solid solo work from Harrison I presume. Strong organ work to finish.

‘How?’ opens with a question. And continues with more questions. The verses are broken up like neat little pauses which seems to accentuate the confusion in Lennon’s mind – every thought is followed by a moment of contemplation. It’s close to being quite repetitive, but the pauses and melodies keep the sum fresh and engaging. Tasty strings in what I’m taking to be the chorus.

Oh Yoko‘ closes the album, kicking off with a pleasing relaxed jukebox pop rock song. It’s very sweet, easy melodies and an atmosphere which makes me think of pleasing memories of love and friendship and sunny days and long warm nights. It would again be twee if it wasn’t for how unabashed and heartfelt and adorable it all is. See, it is possible to come across as honest. Hell, even the harmonica doesn’t ruin things.

A much stronger second half drastically raises my opinion of the whole album – the first half features the hits, but as mentioned those hits aren’t necessarily personal favourites of mine. The more rock infused songs on the first half feel tame given the output of other bands of the time, and the melodic hooks aren’t quite sharp enough. The second half though finds almost everything hitting the mark successfully and there are plenty of songs I look forward to listening to again. Not as consistent then as the recent albums by Paul and George, but I’m happy to have found some great new music.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Imagine. Gimme Some Truth. Oh My Love. How Do You Sleep. How? Oh Yoko.