Nightman Listens To Marillion – Radiation – Part 1!

Greetings, Glancers! Here we are, Marillion’s tenth album. Not many bands make it to ten albums these days, but I’m inclined to believe that bands which started out in the 80s are more likely to have made it to double figures than bands which started in the 2000s. More time to reach that target, I know, but how many bands who released there first album around 1999/2000 are even still going today? How many bands are able to or capable of releasing two albums in the space of a couple of years these days? That’s what Marillion appear to have done with Radiation, coming roughly 12 months after This Strange Engine (which itself came two years after Afraid Of Sunlight). 

At the time of writing this intro, I know nothing about the album beyond the tracklist and the fact that the 2013 Remaster cleans up a lot of the Production criticism which the original faced. Presumably it’ll be the Remaster I listen to on Youtube. Actually, it looks like there’s more to it as some tracks have been made shorter on the Remaster and have removed some interlude pieces of music. How strange. Am I going to have to listen to both? Balls to that, I’ll write about the Remaster and listen to the original once if I can find it.

The cover art makes me think of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (Death, chess, marching etc) except that Bergman was known for dreary black and white rather than crystal oceans and blue skies. There’s a dude all cloaked up and shrouding his face with a flaming torch. It’s all a bit cult like – Hammer horror movies from the 50s or The Wicker Man. Is there something wrong his feet – in the picture I’m looking at his legs appear to end with wooden stumps instead of feet. Some of the letters in the text are highlighted – seems to be suggesting that this is the 10th album – and along with the album title and the beach backdrop I can surmise that maybe some themes may include health, heat or burning, pain, nature, environment, and good old water. How can water be a ‘theme’? As always, I’m clasping, so lets get into it.

Costa Del Slough is a funny name. We’re not a sunny nation, but we’re a nation of sun seekers. I can’t speak for Slough personally; I’ve never been and I’m not sure exactly where it is, but the Costa Del (insert name of random beach town) is something we say in Northern Ireland too. We are even less of a sunny nation than England…. roughly the same in terms of sun-seeking I would say, with the added bonus of more than 3 days of 20 plus degrees in a row likely to make us angry and long for a bit of drizzle. It’s more of an intro piece than a song – I can’t imagine this appearing in many playlists or in Live concert rotation as a standalone. Maybe the original was longer but this one is under a minute long. It’s pure McCartney. I don’t know if this was intentional, but it has that old timey dance hall number vibe which McCartney increasingly whipped out in his Beatle days. You could see Betty Boop appearing in a video for this. It’s too short to cause any offence or stay in the memory, but does work as a lead in to the next track.

The lyrics are effectively funny and also tie into the next track. I’m assuming the song is taking the piss out of sun-seekers and people who would sacrifice their health for a bit of sun… of all the ills in the world to write a song about, this is an odd hill to choose to die on but I’m guessing it’s painting a wider picture and introducing the wider themes of the album. Obviously the band has done Environmental songs before and maybe I was correct in my guesses based on the album artwork – surely they’re not going to do a whole album about, what, people arsing about in the sun while the world and the next generation burns? A light bit of satire to kick us off.

Under The Sun gets the album going 4Real, a straightforward rocker which doesn’t scrimp on energy or melody. I’m conscious of wanting to avoid calling out comparisons that I only I hear, but the opening riff did remind me of Kula Shaker’s cover of Hush and some other Britpop tunes. Britpop was on the wane at this point, but still popular enough that you could hear its influence in other artists – new and longstanding. There’s an undercurrent of funky keyboard bashing and I liked the opposing scales used in different places – the upwards scale whistle type sounds which are played in the chorus before the ‘under the sun vocal comes in’ which are countered towards the end of the song by the guitars working downwards through a scale. This creates a chaotic ending as both scales play at the same time – one climbing, one descending, each acting as a counterpoint to the other almost like two sides of an argument.

As straightforward as the song is structurally, that sense of chaos is ever present. The guitars scorch and screech from the first moment with significant overlapping and layering, and you have the underpinning of clattering drums, sudden pauses and shifts, and an unusual middle section featuring plenty of effects, battered keyboards, and wicky wicky wha chords. While it is quite noisy and messy, the lead ‘under the sun’ hook works very well and the verses are suitably bouncy – I can see this working well at a gig even if I don’t see it as one which would be in regular rotation.

I was mishearing the first line in the lyrics as ‘It is to rain’ – Google tells me it’s ‘It used to rain’. ‘It is to rain’ I prefer – it works as both an overly dramatic Latin/French phrasing which suggests exasperation at the fact that is is constantly wet and grim, and as a prediction of the future state of the weather. ‘What’s it going to be like tomorrow – weather guy says it is to rain’. None of that fits with the song though, which is talking about rain more as a memory rather than the current and future state. It used to rain, but now everything is sunny and warm and perfect and too sunny and too warm and terrible. It looks like we’re in some post-pollution end game where there’s no turning back for the world as the polar ice melts but no-one seems to care. I’m going to guess the ‘going to the beach on the Northern Line’ is meant to be a joke of some sort – North usually suggests coldness, at least in terms of England’s geography, but in this new warmer world you do head North for a day at the beach. That’s probably a stretch, but it seems like an odd thing to write without there being some meaning behind it. Ironically, it is the North of Northern Ireland where people travel to for a day at the beach (15 minutes from me meaning our Summers are overpopulated with ‘chip eaters’). Of course it all ends with the sea coming up the street, but everyone is still having fun under the sun. The moral of the song… please recycle?

Thematically, it’s a continuation of the opening track, but with a more serious bent. It’s also a continuation of what is, lets be honest, my favourite Marillion song so far – Season’s End. Environmental concerns are not something which seem to be brought up in music all that often, which is perhaps surprising in today’s Woke world. Historically it’s not exactly the sort of sexy subject matter which sells records, but everyone from Led Zep and The Beatles and many of the folk singers of the 60s onwards, up to the likes of REM and Michael Jackson have written notable hits on the topic. That Marillion was doing this in 1998 and earlier is a testament to their cultural awareness and I always respect bands who aren’t only singing about love and/or sex. It’s not as powerful a song as Season’s End is to me but while Season’s End felt mournful and resigned to the fact that the planet is DOOMED, this was written from a more satirical or cynical perspective.

The Answering Machine continues the high energy and rock sound. There is a lot going on again in terms of texture and soundscapes – I’m sure the production of this one was a pain – but you would still class it as a straightforward rock song from a structural standpoint. I’m not sure what Paul makes of these two songs given he’s not typically a fan when the band positions themselves as a rock band rather than a Prog band, or whatever odd mixture Marillion is. I will say that the weird sounds and the overall mix do their best to elevate the song beyond standard fare. The sudden intro, straight in with the vocals and energy, is unusual for the band and the cartoon alien/robot sounds flashing around behind the guitars show the band is still tinkering with new ideas even if they don’t appear to be truly pushing themselves creatively. There are Celtic rhythms buried under the sound textures giving the song the feel of a jig, and H has a few spoken parts and plays around with different vocal styles. It’s not a disjointed song, but like the previous track it does feel chaotic in places.

H is up in the sky looking down at the world – there was a lot of that in This Strange Engine – and he’s separated his self into different parts again; ‘…My feelings and I…looked down on the city from up in the sky’. I was about write that all we needed was something about drowning or a lake and we’d have the traditional H lyric, but then I saw the word ‘water’ in the very next line. The song does have some interesting phrases – ‘heartbreak of a statue’, ‘bulletproof mirrors where your eyes used to be’, but we’re left with the question of who or what is ‘the answering machine’. My best guess is that it’s simply another part of himself or his conscience, some private part of himself where he can speak and record the truths that he’s never going to tell anyone else. This of course gives the song a sad and dark tone which doesn’t exactly bit with the bouncy jig nature of the music. I think it would be too easy to say that it’s some type of love song with the narrator traveling the world to reconnect with someone they had fallen away from, and I instead see the song as H simply trying to come to terms with himself. He’s travelled the world, he’s trying to find that person he once was, but too much has happened that the past and present can never reconcile. Though it probably is a break up song.

Three Minute Boy marks a turn in the album. It’s the point I begin to connect with the album – the first three songs were unremarkable and didn’t have a huge impact on me. Three Minute Boy musically embraces the darker tone of the lyrics and is as such a slower ballad instead of an up temp rocker, though it does have a brief rock breakdown before the epic outro. In terms of quality, it isn’t a huge step up from the first few songs for me, but it does feel more like Marillion doing what they do. There’s more of a Progressive element, the production is less chaotic, and while it follows the path of chucking a lot of different layered sounds into the mix, those parts are given more time to breath and stand apart. We begin as a sorrowful piano led piece and close with a Hey Jude coda perhaps echoing the journey of the character behind the lyrics. Those first ‘yeah/hey’ vocals leading into the ending along with the string type synths around the two minute mark gave me Duran Duran vibes again – something I called out for one of the songs on This Strange Engine but this seems like such a strange comparison I’ll assume it’s only something I’m picking up on.

I would argue that the outro is a little too long, taking the song to close to the six minute mark when a solid five may have put the same point across. There is time for a hefty solo and extended guitar shenanigans, and the aforementioned rock and roll breakdown which ties the two central parts of the album together is a interesting little curio which somehow works well. This is the song I’m most curious to hear if there is any background story. The lyric itself works as a story and it seems both personal, satirical, and it could have been based on any number of artists in history. The first verse sounds like the memory of a one-hit wonder song, here today for a moment’s success and hype, then gone tomorrow. In the second verse we delve into the the person behind the one-hit wonder, a kid who grew up apparently dreaming of fame and suddenly achieving it, yet that fame was entirely based upon a single three minute song which was written as a bit of a joke. You hear those stories every so often by bands who write a throwaway piece of fun which ends up becoming the song which defines them.

The chorus further suggests the fleeting nature of fame and how transitory it all is, with the good times rolling beneath his feet, with it leading only down a one-way street it’s impossible to return from. My assumption in the next verse is that the man who wrote this three minute song just happened to meet a woman in a similar position – she made a movie people half remembered – and they fall in love. Or sort of in love, the language used tinged with sarcasm – ‘measured up’, ‘giggled’, ‘la la la’. The ‘three minute’ metaphor comes around repeatedly with more bite on each successive line – he becomes a three minute millionaire suggesting that he was lucky and perhaps undeserving, he’s referred to as a ‘three minute kid’ suggesting naivety, innocence, and/or immaturity, and he’s surrounded by fleeting, ambulance-chasing three minute friends. Those last few verses hammer the nails home – nothing to hold on to or look forward to, no escape, no money, girlfriend leaves, talent and confidence shot, media hounding him. The final line I’m not sure which way to read it – it could be a positive in that his next song gets in at number 2 on the charts, but I think that’s too much of a sudden shift back to optimism. Possibly it’s only semi-hopeful in that his song is successful, but his girlfriend is gone and he no longer cares about music so the song’s success is meaningless. Most likely though is the logical bleak conclusion – the girlfriend has simply left and latched on to a new three minute boy, and this new person has written their own song and is just about to ride the same wave of success as our narrator had before. As I said, I’m keen to hear if there was an element of truth or reality behind this one.

Now She’ll Never Know is maybe my favourite on the album. Probably my favourite. There are clear Thom Yorke vibes in the vocals, something which is always going to work with me. Not to compare myself with a professional who has sold millions of records, but he kind of sounds like me here too. This ticks plenty of my boxes – bloke with a high pitched voice, soft and subtle, pained and personal, dripping with melody and emotion. It’s pleasingly understated and has an uncomplicated production which opposes the previous songs. While there are backing sounds and eerie noises and wavering synth, and while those strengthen the song, if you were to strip all of that away and leave just the vocals and guitar the core power and quality of the song would still be there. Even with these positives, I do think the song peters out towards the end and could have done with a touch of shaving here and there to keep it closer to four minutes. It’s a plain song from a structural perspective, and the melodies and vocals are so light and airy that you risk becoming boring the longer you run on. Due to it being quite a plan and uneventful song, I don’t have much more to say about it – it’s lovely and hopefully it doesn’t lose its impact on me over time.

Lyrically it could be the partner of the previous song, the dirty cousin you hide your best toys from when he’s coming to visit because you know picks his nose and probably scratches his ass. Not that the lyrics falter in quality, just that there’s an indirect relationship between the songs with this lyric getting into the nitty gritty of the breakdown between two people. That opening verse sums up the feelings of anyone who’s ever been in an emotional fight and is trying to piece it all together. There’s a lot of guilt, there’s confusion in the disjointed half-finished thoughts and lines. There’s the feeling of stupidity too – ‘now she’ll never know what anyone could tell her’ – stupidity on both sides is how I’m reading it, on one for making a mistake, on the other for not seeing the mistake or being prepared for it. Nothing more than a sad breakup song, but song with particular poignancy and with universal all too recognisable lyrics.

I’m going to leave this post here for today – at the time of writing, Paul and Sanja are getting over their Covid issues and haven’t released the first Radiation episode. It sounds like it was a particularly nasty bout of the illness, so ease yourselves back in to everything! I’m keeping out of mouth range from everybody until it’s safe to go outside without face condoms – so roughly the year 2525 (if man is still alive). That means I get this post earlier, that post two will only look at the remaining songs, and that I’ll do a podcast thoughts specific post to close out the album. For anyone reading this and wondering what the hell I’m on about – go listen to the previous episodes of BYAMPOD as Paul and Sanja listen to and discuss each Marillion album in order, with assorted guest and bonus eps and goodness. Then come back here and let me know thoughts in the comments!

Nightman Listens To Marillion – This Strange Engine (Part 1)!

This Strange Engine

Greetings, Glancers! At the time of tippidy tapping out this intro, Paul and Sanja have just released their episode about some of the non-Marillion albums which the Marillion boys released in the time between Afraid Of Sunlight and This Strange Engine. I was hoping I would have caught up with my posts more than I have, but between work and family and hunting down a draught of Pfizer to shove into my arm, I haven’t been able to listen to much. But I’m here now with my ears agape. But daddy, what is a strange engine? As a modern man and a filthy Humanities graduate, I have no conception of any engine – how they work, where to find them, or why they shudder and smoke when I throw handfuls of WD-40 at them. Full disclosure – as a fan of The Gathering, I have been accidentally referring to this album as This Strange Machine – because The Gathering has a song called Strange Machines. Did that require a full disclosure? Or any disclosure? Why am I still talking?

As always, I have next to no knowledge about the content of the album – but perhaps the artwork will uncoil the conundrum. The cover art is of a brown/bronze capsule type machine, looking like an old timey submersible used by Victorian era explorers (feat. Doug McClure) to plunge beneath the depths and trawl the ocean floor for evidence of some ancient Harryhausen-esque Atlantean civilization. It appears to be powered by a giant heart – is it feeding off blood, love, or some thermal-pumping energy sown only via the power of a troll’s beating life source? This doesn’t tell me much about what the album could be about – is it simply meant to be a nifty piece of artwork? Do the themes include a philosophical debate concerning man’s relationship and growing dependence on technology? Is there a bit about removing hearts and placing headphones on them, because hearts like listening to Marillion too? The artwork looks like a heart besieged on both sides by earphones. Or giant toilet plungers. I’m stalling. Have you watched Twin Peaks The Return yet? Why not – it’s wonderful. It has a tonne of strange machines and engines throughout – bizarre contraptions running unknown begotten tasks behind the veil of reality, contriving to fiddle with and control the outcomes of future and past, dishing out morality, and… well I didn’t get all of it. It’s David Lynch – we’re not supposed to be his level. Look. Still stalling.

Man Of A Thousand Faces, if you’re listening to the album on Youtube as I have been – is preceded by a lovely advert explaining how working for Lidl is like being part of a family, opens the album in a gentle acoustic fashion. It starts out in singer songwriter fashion and made me think of some of the post grunge era type American bands and solo artists who were around in the mid-90s who released those one hit wonder forlorn lighters in the air ballads. Those acts captured some of what made the Grunge bands successful, but made the internal anguish more quiet and palatable. The gruff edge in the vocals and the clean piano gave me ever so slight Springsteen vibes. This being Marillion, they Prog things up and stretch the song past its logical conclusion and take it to a different place – a more tribal, folksy ending. Was this another case of there being two songs and the band elected to smoosh them into one? Both parts are melodically similar enough to make me think that they simply wanted to extend the idea past the four minute mark and experiment with another new type of sound, rather than there ever being two distinct parts. As earthy as that ending is – filled with what appears to be a choir of children’s voices – it screeches to a halt with an electronic howl and swoosh. Is that the impact of machines on nature? I’m really pushing for that to be a thing with this album, but I’m sure it’s not.

Man Of A Thousand Faces is a song which made me stop in my tracks when I first put it on. Sometimes when I do my first listen of a new Marillion album, it’ll simply be a background kind of listen – it’s playing, but I’m not taking any notes and I’m not trying to absorb anything. I’m just letting it wash over me. The acoustic approach and the rougher edge on the vocals was different enough and unexpected enough for me to stop whatever I was doing and fully engage. That quality didn’t survive for the entire running time during that first listen, but it was powerful enough for me to remember it once I was ready for the next run through the album. While I enjoy the transition between the two halves of the song – H’s voice being sucked off (matron) like a rocket (there’s that thing about machines and nature again – just adding these brackets for Sanja’s sake as I know she loves them so much) – I much prefer the first half of the song to the second. Those childlike vocals are fine here, they serve their purpose, but that whole style rarely works for me. Add to the chanting rhythm and the tribal (I don’t like using that term, but I’m not sure if there’s a more appropriate word to use here) beats and it made me think of Michael Jackson’s more self indulgent moments on the likes of Will You Be There or that Enigma song Return To Innocence. Those are two songs I like, but being reminded of them here on a Marillion song felt a little…. off? More listens will presumably rub off these edges.

For one of the first times in the H era, I was very curious to read the lyrics for this one. They sounded more verbose, they felt more poetic. The title provokes the image of a liar or deceiver – someone with a different face for every person they meet. While we would usually assume this is a negative trait and associate with a back stabber or otherwise untrustworthy person, it can also simply mean that the person has been forced into behaving a certain way depending on their audience. This is something we all do – we all behave differently based on our environment or who we’re with, and that is a perfectly natural human, animal trait. In the context of this song, it feels more like H is either singing about himself or taking on the persona of another person with a band of followers – whether it be a politician or a rock star, or a religious zealot preacher. There are references to each of those in the first verse alone, at least in how I read it.

‘I speak to machines with the voice of humanity’… am I on the right track with this John Conor/Skynet dichotomy? This chorus is filled with such comparisons and polar opposites – I quite enjoy lyrics which offer up two opposing images and pair them in this style, especially if they’re not the norms of love/hate. I’m not sure what sort of picture it is trying to paint though – that of a wilful contrarian, or that of a control freak? The second verse simply made me think of some evil controlling force manipulating people through time – lets just called it The Devil for ease’s sake. It’s something which has always been with us, and which has always controlled us.

The third verse brings things more up to date – there’s a reference to CNN at least, not that I took much from that reference. Here we seem to be on the more familiar ground of fame and celebrity again – reaching for too much too soon. The remainder of the lyrics are repetition with a few minor additions – voice of a snake, speak like a leader, talk to God – they don’t add much to make things clearer, but they fit with the few scattered thoughts and allusions I already conjured. The whole lyric wasn’t as ‘poetic’ as I was anticipating, but it’s definitely well written and again strikes that sweet or sour spot between being vague and being open to interpretation.

One Fine Day has something of the While My Guitar Gently Sleeps drawl to it – a similar slow pace and downbeat tone and there’s a vague comparison between the chord structure, but that’s a lazy way to potentially compare any two songs. One Fine Day simply has a vibe or unspoken aspect which made me think of The Beatles’ song. Even though it’s only the second song, it did give the impression of an end credits song. It’s definitely a rainy day contemplative song – even the lyrics support this idea. Even though on the surface this is a basic song – a handful of repeated chords switched up for the chorus – we do get brief piano interludes and a deep organ underpinning, and there’s a lovely string led middle section which leads into a guitar solo both laidback and fiery. H retains the rougher vocal style with some dashes of gravel at the right moments. Musically and emotionally it didn’t do quite enough for me to make it stand out and now that we’re past the point where the band has a bunch of songs I would struggle to call up in my mind if somebody asked me to sing a snippet – this feels a little plain and dull and won’t hold a place in my memory for long.

The lyrics of One Fine Day are more interesting for me than the music, even if I do have some picky issues with them. A pet peeve of mine is using ’cause’ or ‘cos’ instead of ‘because’. Every songwriter does it and I understand that it makes it easier to scan and to ensure the rhythm of your lines are in sync – it’s one syllable instead of three, so why not use it when the meaning is the same? Still, it does annoy me when it’s overused or when there’s a perfectly suitable replacement. In the first verse, ’cause’ is used when ‘but’ would have been a better alternative – that switch may modify the meaning of the line as read (we live in hope cause so far it hasn’t come/we live in hope but so far it hasn’t come) but that switch in meaning seems to make more sense too, given what the verse is talking about. The verse is about hope for better days, youthful idealism, so the ‘but’ closes the sentiment off neatly with a touch of reality.

I mentioned that musically, the song feels like one of pondering, and staring out the window on a rainy day. That’s precisely what the lyrics do – you can easily imagine the poor tortured poet staring from blank page to windowpane, delving into memory, questioning the future, struggling to put thoughts into words in a meaningful way. Most lines are brief – barely more than 6 syllables – and for me echo that struggle. There are complex issues and feelings, and as such the writer elects to almost shrug and dilute them down to their most simplistic and pure state, easily incapsulating them in snapshot one-liners without artistic flourish, and because these are issues and feelings we’re all familiar with, that dilution still works. While I do tend to prefer unique language and structure and imagery in lyrics, there’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple when they should be – simple and understood, while retaining a base musicality.

This is going to forever be remembered as the album that I kept finding strange comparisons in. Eighty Days for example recalls any number of 90s sitcoms and TV Dramas. Party Of Five was my main reference point here – I was getting visions of H and the boys acting out various daily suburban scenes just like any 90s TV show intro credits sequence, before spinning to smile at the camera as their names flashed on screen. All while this song played, of course. Eighty Days doesn’t sound much like the intro song to Party Of Five, but the jolly piano playing was enough for me to strike the comparison. Incidentally, Party Of Five shouldn’t have had such a fun and bouncy intro song because the show was as dark and depressing as an Eastenders and Prime Minister’s Question Time crossover.

Notably it’s another acoustic based song – I get the impression that the songs so far may have been written in a simple demo form by one member, then played to the rest of the band who decided that the song only needed the bare minimum instrumentation layers added on top. Eighty Days does not feel like a song crafted in the studio with different parts being added and switched around. I don’t think each band member wanted to force their instrument in (matron) as much as letting the song take its natural course – here’s the basics laid down in singer songwriter style with guitar and vocal, these empty spaces are where the percussion and keys should come in.

It’s another contemplative song, fitting with the singer songwriter vibe, and there’s isn’t a trace of Prog to be found. There is a strange synth solo in the middle (which features some very unusual high bass notes) but that’s not enough to push us into Prog territory. It feels like a sweet, summery single and the only thing stopping me from guessing that it was the lead single for the album is the fact that it’s maybe not a very ‘Marillion type of song’ and that it may have alienated existing fans while not being the sort of thing general music fans wanted to hear in… what year was the album released… 1997. Yes, the height of Brit pop, girl and boy bands rising to their peak, new emergence in R’n’B and EDM…. it’s difficult to see where this would fit beyond what I stated earlier about those one-off softer post grunge acts. Good song though, but in retrospective it seems a little out of time.

Fitting with the singer songwriter and contemplative thing, the lyrics are thought based once more. Again, we’re looking out windows and deep in thought about the people we see and the state of our own existence. It seems to be a touring song – talking about the toils of being in a band, being on the road, and the impact this nomadic lifestyle has on forming and holding on to any long term relationship. There’s a bit of consideration for the flip side – the love of visiting and seeing all of these wonderful places – but the focus is on the mental state such an existence can leave you in. The line ‘the friction grind of travelling/this is the neverending show’ is one of my favourites from this era of the band, summing up the feelings and reality of this life in both a matter of fact and poetic manner; you’re always going somewhere but it feels like you’re caught in the mud, grinding gears, and making barely perceivable progress, and you know that it’s all there is in your future… there’s no sense in me trying to explain because it’s all there perfectly in that lyric. 80 days… around the world in 80 days… there’s a bit of self mocking in the line ‘what kind of a man could live this way’ however that pre-chorus line gets progressively darker with each appearance moving from ‘I do okay’ to ‘I can’t escape it’ and ending on ‘and stay the same’.

Estonia is the mini epic to close the first half of the album. In reading about the song after taking my notes etc, I learned that it was inspired by the tragic boat disaster. During my first listens I was asking why the band was writing about a Country where most bands do not travel or tour to, but maybe there was some sort of connection to the tiring touring life and the country of Estonia – with the band selecting that country for the song because of how distant and foreign it is from England. Exactly like the Manics did with Australia. I should have known that Marillion would have something else up their sleeves as they have increasingly written about real world events. If I’m honest, I don’t remember this incident specifically. That’s maybe not so surprising as what 11 year old boy is watching the news? I do have vague memories of seeing sinking boat footage and reports from around that time, but I could be mixing those memories up with anything from oil leak disasters to plane crashes. There’s also the fact that here in Northern Ireland in 1994, most of our News was probably mostly made up of car-bombs and knee-cappings.

At a shade under eight minutes, it’s the second longest song on the album and one of the more progressive tracks thanks to the structure and orchestration. There’s the slow and sombre atmospheric intro, there’s the big emotive chorus, there’s the use of specific instruments and effects only at certain points in the song, and there’s the various instrumental and vocal breaks in the middle to give the impression of multiple songs smooshed together. It moves at a leisurely pace and retains a relaxed atmosphere even as it peaks in the chorus and wanders down its keyboard led instrumental off-paths. It’s a lovely vocal performance with the respectful amount of emotion given to the peak chorus moments and H doing a sweet and smooth falsetto. Is it the best song on the album? It’s my favourite at the very least.

I can’t pass by Estonia without mentioning a selection of the personal comparisons I felt. The one I suspect most people might understand – Estonia’s chorus (at least the vocal melody) is quite similar to Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls. You could switch out some of the lyrics in Estonia’s chorus with ‘and I don’t want the world to see me’ from Iris. I’m not suggesting anything beyond a simple melodic comparison, but with Iris coming out in 1998 and This Strange Engine in 1997, it’s another of those odd, innocent, coincidences which pop up every so often in music. Elsewhere, in keeping with my regular plugs for The Gathering, the triplet B-E-G guitar part which runs through Estonia reminded me of The Gathering’s The Mirror Waters piano intro. Same three notes, except played on piano. And on a higher register. And not looped. At least their later acoustic version. Some of the guitar moments and tones also reminded me of Duran Duran’s 90s hits Ordinary World and Come Undone. Enough!

Once I learned of the boating tragedy which the song is named after, I was keen to see if the lyrics outright called out the even or if they were only loosely ‘inspired’. If I had gone in to the lyrics without knowing the context, I would not have guessed that the song was about or was borne out of the event after H met one of the survivors. There are slight allusions to water – ‘salt water runs’, ‘watery world spins’, but I would have simply taken that as being H’s obsession with water again. Dude must be thirsty. Rather than being about the event itself, it feels more like an ode to the survivors and those who didn’t make it, an honest attempt to push back against survivor’s guilt, and when considered alongside the music it’s a genuinely emotional, tender, and respectful dedication. Having, thankfully, never been through such an unthinkable tragedy I can’t possibly understand the loss, grief, and potential guilt felt by those who have, but I can empathise with the pain and the fear and I can feel the attempt to portray all of these emotions in the lyrics; the guilt of ‘if only if only’ and ‘not this way not this way’ accentuated as a pleading mantra; the admission in ‘we won’t understand your grief’, and the hope of the entire chorus. Beautiful song.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

Lets head over to the BYAMPOD This Strange Engine first episode and hear what Paul and Sanja make of it all. Paul introduces the episode by saying he’ll be having a guest coming up – the host of the H/Marillion Podcast. He’s not a member of Marillion but runs the Podcast and speaks to H every week. I haven’t listened to that podcast at all, for fear of spoilers and not understanding any of it. Can you have spoilers in music? Apparently Marillion have been (has been?) in the studio, prepping for their new album, and the lads have been adding update vids on Youtube every Monday. Paul is a bit concerned by the announcement that the songs are up-tempo, and it worried that after a five year wait they might release an album that he won’t like. I know what it’s like. The Manics have a new album coming in September this year, and their first singe (Orwellian) was just released. It’s… okay? Like anything I enjoy it increasingly with each listen but, lets be fair, it’s hardly amazing. Paul mentions something about a sound that can’t be made… I once made a sound that can’t be made – it sounded like a dog barking backwards. I’m not sure about having low expectations being a good thing because the only way is up – that’s the positive spin – but my concern is that those low expectations are met. I thought it would be shit, and lo, it was shit.

Paul’s going to get into some personal history with this album, at least in terms of where he was with the band in 1997. This was the first post EMI album, released with Castle (Raw Power of course a Stooges song and album) and was the first of a stepping stone series to what they would achieve in the 2000s. It sounds like the fans had stopped caring considerably by this point – it happens even with the best bands, but typically the best bands will always find new followings. The album did sell very well, neither did the singles, to the extent that Paul wasn’t even aware of one of them being a single at the time. It does indeed have a horrible brown cover – Twin Peaks tho. The Internet, and associated fan gubbins, started to pick up steam yet This Strange Engine was a black hole of press. The online fan community was building and the band members were aware. It has taken till now for Paul to realise that he was disappointed by the album and worried that his love for the band had gone, or that the band had ‘lost it’. As someone new to the band with no personal association or… cognition to be dissonant from… my feelings since listening to the album are of being underwhelmed. Songs I like, but beyond a few moments ‘flat’ does seem like a good term to use. I still have the second half of the album to write about, but I already know what I’m going to write having listened to it enough times as the first. Even the songs I liked most, they didn’t hit the highs.

Paul goes through a list of the other albums released in 1996 which were adjacent to what Marillion were doing or which were signs of long term bands reinventing themselves. I’m not a fan of Blur, but at least they switched up their sound, I’m not a fan of Spiritualized but did somehow see them live once. I love Dummy, but I don’t think I ever heard Portishead’s self titled album. The opening track of Mansun’s album…. as much as it sounds like something from a Bond movie I can see some Misplaced Childhood comparisons there, and Ok Computer we all know. Bands were pushing themselves, Marillion felt a little stale. Do bands need to always experiment, does a band always need to reinvent themselves? As a Metal fan… lets just say bands have a habit of finding what they’re good at and keeping at it. I’m less inclined than most to always want bands to innovate and improve in the broader sense, but I’m always excited and impressed and enjoy it when they do. I’m drawn to bands because I like their music, and if they keep playing that music then I’ll still be happy. That’s a very simplistic way of stating things and doesn’t really account for those select artists we all have that we have a much stronger love/obsession for us. They become like children and we want them to always be the best version of themselves. Marillion has been going for what, five decades now? You can probably name on one hand the amount of artists who are still going five decades in, while keeping fan happy, while innovating, and doing it successfully. The million monkeys approach to writing…. I’m not a fan of this jamming style personally. I do prefer the approach of someone having a more or less complete idea for a song, and everyone else working to grow that idea. Ironically, that’s what I felt like This Strange Engine was. Counting Crows is the perfect example of the sort of sound I was trying to explain while writing about Man Of A Thousand Words. The best approach (as with most things in life) is the Jeet Kun Do way – absorb your influences, and spit out something new which is definitively you.

Paul and Sanja later make a comparison to children, at which point all their kids wake out of the house. It’s an interesting feeling for me because I have difficulty finding people who love music to this extent in my life. When you’re younger it seems like more people and more peers feel this love more acutely, but when you get older and more important stuff comes along, music becomes an after-thought. But I’m still there having all of these feelings and being unable to share them with anyone. I sometimes struggle to get on with or really understand people who don’t have a similar passion. Is that a spoiler for an upcoming podcast from me? Lets be serious, I’m too lazy for that. We’re an hour in, so it doesn’t look like we’re getting to any of the songs today. My Part 2 post may be a biggie if we’re covering the whole album in the podcast. As a new listener to Marillion, and as a superfan of other bands, I understand what Paul is saying about giving an honest opinion. As much as I love the Manics, they’ve done their fair share of shite too. What’s the benefit of lying to yourself? Where’s the harm in going against the crowd? Criticism often makes me re-evaluate my own position and opinion about things, often making me think more of songs I dismissed or possibly less of my sacred cows. That’s enough for now – I’m off to Lidl to claim my free bag of Golden Gummy Bears from the App. As always, go listen to the album yourself, go listen to the BYAMPOD yourself, and buy Paul’s album. I’m poor.

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – This Strange Engine (Part 2)!

This Strange Engine
Greetings, Glancers! Diving in to Part 2, we open with Memory Of Water. The moment I read that title, I thought of the rather lovely piece of music from a fellow Neighbours fan called Memories of… Yeah alrite alrite, I know Neighbours, Harold Bishop, Mrs Mangel, hardy har, but I like it. I’m not sure if the actual piece of music from Neghbours is called Memories Of, but that’s what dude who did a cover of it has called it. The thing is, I’ve always referred to it as ‘Memories Of Water’, because the same dude who did the cover has another Neighbours piece called My Knees Go To Water, and both are wrapped up in my mind as parts of the same thing. Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t, they’re just rather lovely pieces of music which soppy old me gets emotional to while hearing and thinking back to sad moments from Neighbours. Feel free to ridicule me in the comments Memory Of Water is a lonesome, forlorn song with a brave opening – vocals only before the horn synths join. Trying to not sound like a dick, but the band absolutely nail the sea shanty melody with this one. Before I knew what the song was called, those opening melodies made me jot down the note ‘pirates/sirens/fisherman’s friend/handsome Pete’. Handsome Pete was a bit character in The Simpsons who would hang out at the harbour and dance with an accordion if you chucked him a Quarter. It feels like either an atmospheric album opener or an interlude between more impactful songs. I suspect many won’t like this one, but it did strike a chord with me and I could see myself sitting near the sea, legs swinging off a ledge, watching the water and thinking about the past. Maybe the song’s biggest problem is that you can’t talk about it without sounding like a dick. The song doesn’t go anywhere and there’s not great emotional high or melodic hook to grab, but it holds that position of being a quiet, introspective song without need of flourish. I like it, but I fully expect most people to dismiss it. In fitting with some of the, admittedly self-imposed mythological imagery I impressed upon the music, the lyrics have a touch of the Fantastic about them, conjuring silly sights such as wood nymphs frolicking my glades and enchanting men away from certain demise to a deeper sorrow. As if that wasn’t nonsensical enough, it’s capped off with the line ‘you’re freckled like a speckled egg’ which is about as ridiculous as lyrics get. Short song, not much to the lyrics, but I enjoyed it. An Accidental Man is a big boy, trousers down Rock song. It’s trying to be at least, but for me it falls apart in the chorus. Good riff, great intro verse full of energy and promise, but fails to deliver the anthemic chorus it needs. Not only that, the chorus feels like a watered version of the verse which in turn dampens the power of the verses. Credit to the slower, little experimental moments – those would work in a song which didn’t have the potency of this song’s intro. They do at least take the attention away from the disappointing chorus, and we do have an organ solo slapped in the middle. This seems like a song which was built off the initial riff but the band couldn’t quite work out how to extend that riff and verse into a full song – which sounds odd to say given the song is over six minutes long. On the lyrics front, when I first heard An Accidental Man I thought the song was about a collection of circumstances beyond our control – we have no choice how or where we’re born and the environment we grow up in influences our opinions and often sets our lives on an unavoidable path. I think the song can absolutely be read that way given the mentions of being ‘taught from much too young’ and how an ‘accident of birth’ holds you to a certain point of view. Reading the lyrics it becomes clear that the song is likely more about gender and the pressures which environment and circumstances can have on a person’s identity. I don’t think gender identity or politics was something which was discussed much in the media in the 90s and it isn’t something you saw coming up too much in mainstream music. You did have bands such as Placebo challenging traditional notions of gender, possibly Marilyn Manson broke some ground on that front but I’m not a fan of the dude or his music so I can’t say for sure, and of course the Manics have always spoken frankly about this in interviews and in songs such as Born A Girl. As it the Marillion style, there isn’t anything overt, the lyrics are not done for shock value or in a disingenuous way, but I think there are enough hints to suggest gender identity is what the song is about. Hope For The Future gets us back to the more acoustic sounds of the first half of the album. H goes for a more Bluesy vocal approach, there’s a touch of the ‘Bon Jovi trying to be cowboys’ to proceedings, but then the song takes a complete left turn into something altogether more zany. And that’s before it goes all Jamaican. That first zany left turn is refreshing, and I’ve been trying to figure out what song it reminded me of. I narrowed it down to it being a song I knew that I didn’t like, but I struggled to name the precise song. In the end, while it’s not 100%, my best guess for the song which this section reminds me of is You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon. Cannot. Stand. That. Song. It goes into some sort of Caribbean space which was quite amusing initially, but gradually became irritating. I don’t hate it, and credit again for trying some new sounds, but I’m not sure if this was the band trying to make a genuine artistic statement or just someone shouting ‘Dyer Maker was one of Led Zep’s most interesting, most hated songs, we should do that!’ For the record, I love Dyer Maker. I don’t love this. It stands out, it is different, there are interesting instrumental choices. But like I always say – just because it’s interesting, doesn’t mean it’s good. I’m going to go ahead a Rosicrucian Pope is some sort of fish… Jamaica is famous for fish. See, it all fits. Wait… fish? Is this a song about Fish? The band’s hope for the future is for Fish to come back? Something about The Illuminati? Obviously I did Google Rosicrucianism and went down a rabbit hole for a while – interesting stuff. What a strange song though – musically and lyrically – that part about palindromes whispered deep in the midst of the jangling stuff and lines which seem to be about some sort of Mystic or Prophet finding arcane knowledge and gaining forbidden earth-shattering knowledge. It’s all a bit silly and funny and silly. We close with the title track, and it’s a biggie. It’s the song I’ve listened to least on the album, not necessarily because of it’s length, but more because it’s right at the end and by the time I get to the album I’ve already checked out and want to do something else. Is it their longest song so far? It’s over 17 minutes long (not if we remove the laughing nonsense at the end), so we assume we’re firmly back in Prog territory. I could be wrong, but so far the feeling I’ve had with the Marillion epics is of different songs spliced together to make something longer. That’s fine, but speaking for myself the songs I love which reach the 10 minute mark and beyond feel more planned, more natural. In short, they don’t feel like different parts pulled together but feel like one seamless plotted out journey and even though that journey is linear and has been plotted out it doesn’t mean the journey is any less surprising. Lets get it out of the way – This Strange Engine is a great song – a breath of fresh adventurous air which stands apart from the rest of the album. I won’t say it sounds like the band taking chances, because they’re supposed to be a Prog band and do that anyway, but it does sound a little like a reminder that they haven’t forgotten their roots. Most of the different parts work on their own, and I guess they work as a whole, but those transitions aren’t as smooth as I would have liked. In fact, in many places they are not transitions as much as dead stops before the next part begins. It feels more like an overture for an album that we didn’t get – bits of songs that I’d love to hear but which don’t appear elsewhere on the album. Paul mentioned in Part 1 of the BYAMPOD Ep that the band sounded almost out of ideas with this album – maybe this is where most of their ideas went. I’m not going to break down the entire song, but I’ll call out some of the more notable moments for good or bad. I felt like the opening was too sudden and should have had some sort of musical build up – the song didn’t come to life for me until the minute mark, but the majority of those opening minutes lacked a melodic or emotional connection for me. Those connections were made after the 2nd minute once the piano kicks in. I don’t like how this section ends, but I do like the energy and impetus of the next. The Kashmir style strings in the middle – good. The ‘Triumph Motorbike’ line – fuck right off. I have no explanation for it, but something about that line felt so badly timed or misplaced that it’s like a Cov Id test right up my nostril every time. The ‘Montego Bay’ section into the ding ding dong downwards keyboards notes followed by the smooth tapped, near synth guitars is glorious. The intro music to BYAMPOD I’m guessing was a little influenced by this solo? I would have liked that section to burst out of the solo into something new immediately, but it does a bit of a musical Montego Bay reprise first. I can’t say I love H’s vocals in places – at some points he’s as good as he’s ever been, elsewhere the yelps and affectations don’t hit the mark. Most of the closing vocal section does work – it’s all a bit Jeff Buckley Live – the laughing definitely doesn’t work for me. I will always laugh if I see someone laughing on TV or in real life – can’t help myself – but when I hear it in a piece of music it sounds decidedly creepy and… not right. Lyrically I think the song is more coherent than the music – less dead stops, more like a consistent journey. I initially thought the lyrics were tied to the previous song, beginning as they do with a child being born in a Holy place. I thought this was going to chart the life of this kid who grows up to be the prophet character from Hope For The Future, but these lyrics remain mostly rooted in realism. They do chart a life but I’m at a loss for most of the references. A holy woman and a holy place suggests a Convent, but the red coat and the bulldog? Do Cardinals wear red coats, or am I confusing Cardinals with Imperial Guards from Star Wars? Is the Convent in some peaceful, idyllic mountain and lake spot? There’s a mum, there’s a Dad far away and missing home, there are smells. There is loneliness. Memories of a time before birth. Is there the suggestion of an AI in all of this – I’m probably making connections to various movies and TV shows I’ve seen which have no bearing on this song whatsoever, but is there something about this life being an experiment? The latest in a long line of experiments to, I don’t know, create the perfect person or some balls, but reboot the thing when it fails leaving the latest version of the ‘human’ with some fragmented memories of past lives. Once again we’re left with a lyric which it seems we can let our wildest imaginations run away with. I’m curious to see what Sanja makes of it all and if she made a narrative out of the album. The most I can get out of these lyrics are the connections to themes we’ve encountered throughout the album – identity and self, confusion, innocence and guilt, and lets just say man and machine again because I haven’t mentioned that for a while. This may be one of the most cryptic instances of an H lyric so far, though I’m sure Paul will explain the inspiration behind it all. The most logical explanation should be that it’s about H himself, his own issues with his different personalities and, his own sacrifices and the sacrifices of those around him. And then he gets murdered by bees. No idea. It’s an unusual album, all told. There are a couple of standout songs I’ll probably listen to again, but it feels more like a collection of curious and experiments. Lets head over to the podcast to see what Paul and Sanja have to say about each song.
Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter
We begin with some additional history of the band – namely another greatest hits which seems to be a better collection of tracks than their previous effort. The band produced This Strange Album themselves – a good way to save money and perhaps have more control over the overall sound and tone. Sanja thinks Man Of A Thousand Faces is a strong opener and guesses correctly that it’s about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey tome. Not sure how I missed that as it’s fairly obvious now she’s said it. Did I mention the book in a previous post. I must admit I haven’t read the whole thing, but skimmed parts of it at University. As someone who loves myths ancient and modern, it’s something I should track down and give a go. Paul was surprised by the sound of the song on his first listen, something I did feel and mention myself. Paul says it may be his favourite song to see live and then goes on to give H’s explanation for the song. Sanja got a very 90s, bluesy vibe from One Fine Day – the 90s thing stood out for me on the first track so with this song I simply took the sound as a facet of the album’s production and the era it was recorded in. Neither are too keen on the song, Sanja thinks it’s pretty, Paul thinks it’s fine, boring, and doesn’t care what any of it is about. Eighty Days is a song dedicated to the fans, apparently. Paul is more aligned with what I thought it was about – the pain and occasional delight of touring. It’s another boring one for Paul in that it doesn’t make him feel anything. He hates the synth solo, Sanja loves it. In a surprising turn, Paul doesn’t like Estonia either even though it’s the fan favourite of the album. Sanja is surprised by this, given she finds the music and lyrics beautiful and touching. Paul does like specific moments – the atmospheric opening, it’s pretty in places, and he’s uncomfortable saying he doesn’t like it due to the subject matter and because it’s a fan favourite. It’s the simplicity of the sentiment which Paul struggles with. I get it. Grief is absolute torment. Loss is exactly that – loss. You don’t get that person back. While sentiments like these can be a comfort for most against the incomprehensible mourning and suffering people go through and while I certainly wouldn’t be cynical enough to tell someone who’s grieving ‘no, they’re not looking down on you, they’re gone forever’, this is a difficult subject to convey in a song. I think if you’re going to write a song about a tragedy like this, or any sort of death or loss, it makes sense to ground it in honest sentiment, but there’s no way to not make it sound simplistic. My wider family (and my family is stupidly huge) are fairly religious and would use their faith as their strongest comfort when someone dies. My Grandmother died a few years ago. She had lived with her youngest daughter, Heather, who sacrificed her own life, career, relationships ever since she was basically a teenager. My Grandmother wasn’t very mobile in the last ten years or so, and spent most days in the house on the same chair, relying totally on Heather for everything. They were basically joined at the hip. While the family was large and mostly lived nearby, meaning there was always someone dropping in to visit, Aunt Heather still was unable to be with her partner or even attend a family Wedding or Birthday party for more than a couple of hours because she knew she was needed at home. When my Grandmother died, it was obviously terrible for everyone but especially her given their closeness. The silver lining was Auntie Heather could finally begin living her own life. She was still relatively young (48-49) and could begin plans for decorating the house and looking forward to getting married herself. A couple of months after Granny died, Heather felt ill at a party. A quick visit to the Doctor revealed a particularly aggressive Cancer and that there was nothing anyone could do about it. She died five months to the day after Granny, one day before her Birthday. One of the last things she said was that she wouldn’t have wanted her life to be any different, and that the Cancer was a sign that Granny must need her in Heaven. How do you respond to this, her most personal sentiment? Being naturally cynical and a bit of a dick, this is the sort of thing I would laugh off if it hadn’t happened so close to me. The whole thing is a mess and we’re all as ill equipped to deal with loss as we are with related discussions and contradictions. There seems to be little wiggle room in writing, whether it be for a song, a movie, even for a book, between either utter gloom or cheap sentiment. Telling things in a matter of fact way would likely make for a hollow and boring product. I’m sure there can be nuance. Buffy’s The Body is still the most realistic, perfect, representation of grief I’ve seen beyond feeling it myself. In any case, the song doesn’t do much for Paul, and that’s perfectly fine. On to Memory Of Water and Paul telling us that the song was reworked numerous times before its final state. As expected, neither Paul nor Sanja think much of it – a nice enough interlude, but nothing memorable. No ridiculing of the speckled egg line, which I’m disappointed by. Accidental Man Sanja went in an opposite direction from me, nailing the gender stuff first, then expanding to thinking about hiding your truest self. It sounds like it’s a mixture of all of that stuff. It seems like I am an accidental man, though I’ve always been quite happy to revel in my fingers up to masculine stereotypes. I cry watching The Body every single time. Hell, I cry watching Youtubers react to The Body. Why is crying not a masculine thing? Blue clothes? Deep voice? Beards, beers, and hunting bears? It’s all bullshit. I draw the line at football, what sort of chump doesn’t like a bit of footy!? To be fair, football’s the only sport I’m interested in, and I watch about 90% less than most fans. Paul loves the lyrics, isn’t a fan of the music, and says there’s a more pop oriented version out there which he enjoys more. We then learn that Hope For The Future is considered by many Marillion fans to be their worst song. Sanja is surprised by this, but I get it. Going back to Dyer Maker by Led Zep – I’m on a few Zep fan groups on Facebook and some of them come awfully close to good old boy, Harley riding, flag waving, MAGA wearing, everything after the 70s was shit, nonsense. It’s one of the songs which gets a fair bit of ire from those fans, probably because it’s not a big riffy riffy, blasting drums orgy fest. It’s a silly, light but of Reggae influenced fun. Once again, I love it. I’ll never fault a band for trying something different. If you’re going to try something different, you have to commit to it so that at least some of your fans will enjoy it. With Hope For The Future I’m not sure if it was meant to be a joke, an experiment, or whatever, but it never shakes the tone of being a bit of a piss take. No matter what, it looks like the fans didn’t appreciate it either way. I don’t often pick the obvious song as my favourite by whatever the band – with Led Zep All My Love is my favourite – a song dismissed by many (beyond its inspiration), and I rate Mr Moonlight as one of my favourite Beatles songs – one hated by most Beatles fans. Sanja likes Hope For The Future and thinks it’s a lot of fun and Paul appreciates how unique it is. Oh well, Paul doesn’t have a clue what this one’s about, that’s a bit disappointing too. We close on This Strange Engine. I don’t listen to the Marillion podcast, so I’d like to know what it’s about. It’s about H’s dad and his sacrifices, which I believe I did mention as my most obvious interpretation. Paul’s not a massive fan of this one even if it is his favourite on the album, but says this was a template for some of the bigger, better songs which would come later. Paul thinks it shouldn’t be on this album necessarily and isn’t a fan of the song originally stretched out to 30 minutes by silence, with the assumption being that the band pretended they made a 30 minute song to wow long term fans, only to have a song half that length. I mean, it’s still 16 minutes. It’s clearly the ‘best’ song on the album, but I get the band being pissed off by certain labels and wanting to do their own thing. Paul says the next two albums are more interesting, if not better. As mentioned somewhere above… I usually take ‘better’ over ‘interesting’. Though both is best, please. He summarizes by saying it’s a beige, boring album that he doesn’t and has never had much to say about it. I’ve managed to fill two blog posts about it at least. Sanja’s more positive about it and both say there isn’t a bad song versus some better albums which did have crap songs. These things happen. Let us know in the comments what you think of the album, and don’t forget to go check out the BYAMPOD for yourself!

Nightman Listens To – Biffy Clyro – A Celebration Of Endings (2020 Series)!

A Celebration of Endings Cover.jpg

Greetings, Glancers! My first adventure into 2020’s offerings went about as well as expected – TL:DR version – I am old and I don’t understand modern pop music, but that’s okay because it’s factually crap, but that’s also okay because it’s not meant for me. Metal though…. I’ve lost my way with modern Metal in recent years. I keep track of my favourite new bands, I still follow the latest releases by the bosses of the genre, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to new stuff as much as I did when I was DJing. Apparently Biffy Clyro are still going, so I guess that’s good? I was never a big fan but I knew some of their songs and I saw them live the odd time. I had a friend who really loved them when they first arrived on the scene, but he has since found The Lord and I don’t know if he entertains such musical diversions any more. Sad.

North Of No South – jazzy intro. Biffy Clyro do that so many metal bands from the Noughties do that I’ve never enjoyed – having a loud, riff heavy intro, then suddenly sucking all of the sound and power out for a tame verse. I can’t state clearly why this is something I don’t like – I enjoy when bands do the quite verse loud chorus bit in previous eras, but there’s something about the Noughties approach or tone that irks me.

The Biffy Clyro singer (lets just call him ‘Mr Biffo’) has a very affected North American accent – another thing which gets on my goat. Maybe there’s a correlation between the natural Scottish accent and how it translates while singing. I’m quite picky about accents while singing – I don’t enjoy the forced clipped Hard Rs which non-US singers adopt to apparently make them sound more North American – yet I don’t mind it as much when actual American singers sing in this style. I also can’t stand English singers singing in what may be their natural regional accent – possibly it’s the fact that I’m not a fan of those accents regardless of them being spoken or sung, or possibly I prefer my vocalists to sing in a more plain, classical sense? There’s some truth in both, but given I enjoy singers with unusual singing accents and styles – natural (Anneke Van Giersbergen, James Dean Bradfield, Natalie Imbruglia) or affected (Tori Amos, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell) I would put less stock in the latter being true. Mr Biffo does sound Scottish later in the album – certain words, vowels, phrases stand out.

Both first tracks are very bouncy and melodic, each has a variety of hooks which I can see people loving. The second track is a lot of fun, sounding like Muse in places, but I just wish the vocal approach was less of the hard R USA style. Muse isn’t the only obvious comparison which leapt out at me in my early listens – certain riffs are very QOTSA and the album seems happy to be stuck in a 2002-2006 rock sound. That’s fine with me as that era had a lot of great bands (an awful lot of shite too). To the band’s credit, songs which begin with a certain sound or comparison, don’t always end with that comparison in place – Weird Leisure has an obvious QOTSA intro, but ends in a completely different place.

Tiny Indoor Fireworks is a fun, summery rock song, perfect for festivals and cider if we can ever have those again. As a rock or metal album, it never gets particularly heavy. It’s definitely aiming for a more accessible and commercial sound. It’s maybe the sort of accessible rock album which gets newbs interested in the genre – there’s enough melodies and big choruses for people to bop to while simultaneously getting accustomed to those heavier intros and sections so that when they hear a heavier album or band the experience is not as jarring, and they’re more willing to accept it. Even the more consistently heavy songs – End Of for example – have plenty of melody to invite the uninitiated. That song is an example of the band retaining their willingness to change things up within a four minute song., adding bonus riffs, jazz-infused licks, a brief instrumental, and layered vocals which range from screamo to choral.

The ballad of the piece – Space – it’s a little too on the nose and cheesy for my liking, coming from someone who loves cheesy ballads by rock bands. The lyrics are copy/pastes of every other love song you’ve ever heard and the simplicity of the melody alongside the not-great vocal performance are buried under too many layers of strings and noise. I do enjoy layered noise, and certainly layered strings, but Space should have been an example of less is more. Opaque fares better in this respect – the strings are awash with emotion, but they are restrained, and even the repetition of ‘take the fucking money’ which would normally come off as very silly just about clasps on to being earnest. It’s a much sweeter melody too, and the song builds through its restrained openings without ever reaching excessive levels. The closer does what good closers can sometimes do – encapsulate the entire tone and style of the album in a single song while wrapping up the themes and finishing things in a satisfying, moreish way. The Scottish accent forcefully comes through and the mixture of pop sensibility and furious pointed rock is at a high. Being the longest song on the album there is room for a little more artistic expression and musical freedom – the song moving into a beautiful instrumental section near the three minute mark. It’s a moment which stands out as unique on the album with the band feeling relaxed and confident enough to repeat and grow the melodies housed within the section. It’s the best part of the song and one of the finest moments on the album – there’s a shred of pity that the opening minutes of the song are more atypical shouty rock, complete with painful ‘fuck everybody’ chanting.

Lyrically the album is as mainstream and commercial as your generic pop – with this being Rock music the thematic content is more closely aligned to anger, regret, and pain than your boy/girl band/RnB fare. This means we get plenty of dramatic F-bombs, adolescent adjacent emotions, and plaintive choruses designed to be easily parotted by the masses. The album title has close ties with the recurring themes of the album – breakups, collapsing relationships, moving on, uncertainty – these are terrible things which we’re all likely to face but you can find strength in how you react to and progress from them. These endings can be celebrated, but throughout the album there are questions asked and sometimes the answers aren’t the beacons of hope we needed. The style is not overly poetic to the extent of being heavily laden with metaphor or reference – this increases the likelihood of listeners and readers understanding the sentiment and relating those to their own lives, but simultaneously makes the lyrics less interesting on an intellectual, personal, and emotional level.

It’s an immediate album – there’s nothing groundbreaking or challenging even as the band play around the format of a 3-4 minute rock song – but the hooks are not evasive and I found myself familiar with them after a single listen. Some of that immediacy was perhaps at a surface level as the songs rarely stayed with me by a few hours later, and any melody I found myself humming was quickly replaced when the next song came on. On the less cynical side – the sheer number of melodies suggests that anyone, myself included, would distinguish between these with additional listens and the album would become more distinct, memorable, and enjoyable. On a personal note I don’t think there’s actually enough here to encourage me back to the album, and even the standout songs aren’t screaming for me to hit play again.

Album Score

As I’m a maniac, lets try to continue with this scoring malarkey. You should know the drill by now; Twenty sections, each with a score of five, giving a total out of 100. Some sections are based on personal preference, but others should be mostly set in stone and free from bias.

Sales: 4. Look, we know this category and the next are not what they used to be – it’s no longer easy to say exactly how many copies have been sold and if those sales are high or low comparatively. What we can say is that the album sold fairly well in its opening weeks – enough to knock Taylor Swift off the top spot in the UK. Time will tell if the album continues to sell or comes to a dead stop. A four for now, based on how well it sold against its contemporaries.

Chart: 4. As above, early signs were positive. It didn’t make much of an impact in the US but was number in UK, Scotland, and 2nd in Ireland. A number 1 album in one of the major markets – basically US or UK – is usually good enough for a 4, but if it peaked there for a week and dropped away never to be seen again, you could have a 3. Some high spots in Europe, but average on the whole.

Critical: 4. Not flawless critical acclaim, but easily one of the most favourably rated rock albums of the year across the board. No negative reviews from any of the major outlets, but not always positive on the fan and blogger side (not counting myself in this discussion).

Originality: 3. It sounds like Biffy Clyro to me, if a little more commercial. Various critics pointed out the invention and creativity on display, but to my ears there is nothing out of the ordinary here in genre terms.

Influence: 2. This is one of those categories which you can only accurately score in retrospect – unless it’s so groundbreaking and pervasive that you see copycats and parodies within a year of its release. It’s unlikely for bands to be influential this deep into their career, and based on the info we currently have it feels like just another album.

Musical Ability: 3. I’ll get flack for pointing this the same as what I scored Bad Bunny’s album – an album which didn’t really contain musical instruments. But we had to rate them based on their genre and we rate Biffy as a rock band. They can play, then can make some noise, they can craft a meaty riff and melody. They do what they do, but there’s nothing jaw-dropping.

Lyrics: 3. A few embarrassing moments which fall into the trap of shouting swears in lieu of genuine anger, but by and large the lyrics are serviceable and get their point across without being especially poignant, poetic, or ingenious.

Melody: 3. I’ve gone back and forth on a 3 or a 4 for this. The album is jam packed with melodies, but as yet there aren’t many moments which have stuck with me or that I can recall if I read the song title. I could understand a 4 here as the melodies would have more impact on me with further listens and because the are simple and immediate… they just lacked a single outstanding earworm which I couldn’t dislodge from my brain.

Emotion: 3. There’s a lot of anger, there’s a lot of fear, pain, sadness, even some happiness in there. None of it truly resonated with me personally, as much as I could feel it pouring from the writing and the performance. As someone who rates emotional connection as second only to melody in terms of my enjoyment of music, I can’t go higher than a three when it didn’t make me feel anything.

Lastibility: 3. Difficult to gauge at this point, even if the album is almost a year old. I don’t think people are still talking about it now – in today’s musical landscape, if your song or album is still in the charts or being actively engaged with and spoken of within 6 months of its release, that would be considered a huge win. While I don’t as much stock in this category for a modern album versus an album released in previous decades, it feels like only long time fans will continue to sing this one’s praises.

Vocals: 3. I raised some of my personal grievances with the vocals in the first part of my post, but assuming most listeners won’t share those issues I’m happy to go with a 3. Nothing emotional or distinct enough to make me consider going higher.

Coherence: 4. It’s coherent – it doesn’t jump about from style to style, it doesn’t feel like there were a lot of different cooks adding their spices to the broth, and each song feels like a Biffy Clyro song.

Mood: 3. There’s a mixture of introspection and the need to break free from those inner thoughts – a constant war between bottling up feelings and letting them out. It’s not much of a stay in and listen album, more of a collection of 3 or 4 songs which would be fun to jump around to at a festival.

Production: 3. Solid. Crisp. I would have preferred some more variety in the arrangement but the production holds clear where it matters – the vocals, guitars, bass, and drums.

Effort: 3. Whether or not bands put the same amount of effort into writing and recording an album late in their career versus starting out is an interesting question. The people doing the writing and recording would of course say they’ve worked their asses off. I have called this a fairly standard Biffy album, while critics who presumably know better than me have said how surprising and inventive it all is. I go with a 3 – 4 seems reasonable too.

Relationship: 3. I’ve already mentioned that the music and lyrics didn’t make any grand emotional or intellectual communication with me. It is still big shouty rock music, so even if it’s garbage (it’s not) there will be a bare minimum trace connection I can latch on to. This is the genre I have most affinity for and I understand what goes into making a good rock song. As also mentioned – if you know anything about the band, you’d know this was a Biffy album as soon as you heard a single song. They know what they’re doing and they’re still doing it.

Genre Relation: 3. It doesn’t do anything especially non-committal or shocking for the genres of rock or metal, but it was highly rated and sold well commercially – those factors count for a lot in this category as it means the album stands out over and above the albums which didn’t sell or received average reviews. It’s hardly the pinnacle of the genre and there are plenty of bands going today who are making much stronger, much less known albums. 3 for me.

Authenticity: 4. It’s true to what a Biffy album should be, even if it does aim to be more commercial. There’s nothing wrong with trying to be commercial, but there can be trouble if your band started out with a specific agenda or specific audience which you later move away from. This album should see the majority of existing fans happy with the end result, and the more commercial touches could invite new listeners.

Personal: 3. It’s fine. I can’t see me listening to it again, but I’m not a long-time fan. I’ve been aware of the band, I’ve seen them live, I’ve heard plenty of their songs, and while they’ve never been for me I appreciate their cult following. This album hasn’t changed how I feel about the band, but it’s cool they’re still going and that they’ve found their niche and are able to be successful. A handful of songs I had more than an average enjoyment for, a few annoying moments and choices, but by and large an album I’ll forget.

Miscellaneous: 2. Nothing striking about the artwork, any of the videos, nothing interesting about the release of the album that I’m aware of. Lets go with an average 2.

Total: 63/100

Let us know in the comments what you think of A Celebration Of Endings!

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Charm School!

Charm School by Roxette: Amazon.co.uk: Music

Greetings, Glancers! I’m fairly certain I’ve seen a Barbie movie called something like Charm School. That one where she’s Blair Willows. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to hear something we haven’t heard before, and by ‘we’ I mean ‘me’, and by ‘me’ I mean ‘I’. I haven’t heard any of this album before and in truth I don’t have high hopes. Charm School was the first album in ten years from Roxette, after the not so good Room Service. Marie had had a brain tumour you see, and that sort of thing gets in the way of, well, everything. But the band and Marie kept fighting and returned with another record. I have no idea what it’s like or what it’s about, but the best I’m hope for is one good single in the vein of their past greats – one song that I hear and can say ‘hey, that was actually pretty good’. Lets do this.

Way Out‘ starts out with some distant swirling before a laid back beat and acoustic guitar section starts. Per’s vocals should always take a back seat to Marie’s for me, but that’s me. It’s nice to hear that Roxette pop rock sound again, in this modern world of clipped melodies and auto-tuning. There’s some crisp guitar, some light melodies, and the chorus is as always the focal point. It’s not bad.

No One Makes It On Her Own‘ begins with Marie and piano. With a name like that, it’s easy to draw parallels with what she had been going through when gone from the public eye. Her vocals are still good, but is there some sort of mumble quality or lisp there now? Or is she struggling more with English? There’s definitely something a little different from before. Otherwise, this is very nice – a melody as simplistic as something like Imagine but honest and heartfelt. Two songs of varying B Grade quality.

She’s Got Nothing On (But The Radio)‘ opens with a funky beat and strange oozing distortion. Per leads again. The verse is guff, the chorus isn’t bad but too short versus the longer verse. The verse is C or D grade, the chorus B, the bridge B – whatever that works out for you. I’d call it the weakest song so far, but the most up-tempo.

Speak To Me‘ starts with one of those oriental sounding string instruments. More Per. A better melody and verse. The Marie comes in with a blast of a chorus – that’s a very Roxette chorus, very reminiscent of their heyday. It’s good. I get the impression that this one would act as a comeback anthem for diehards. It’s not challenging, just a reminder that they can still do the big emotive power pop thing when they choose to.

I’m Glad You Called‘ is slow acoustic guitars and the start. It’s Marie and that lisping mumbling quality is even more prominent here. It’s quite distracting, which is a shame because the music is quite lovely – no booming drums, but lots of string accompaniment and unusual vocal choices, even when Per joins. I think this could be really good with a more powerful vocalist in their prime, or Marie twenty years earlier.

Only When I Dream‘ kicks off with the big hook first, some fuzzing guitars and synth stuff alongside it. Per propels another decent atmospheric verse forwards before Marie joins. It keeps kicking on and building and then the chorus drops suddenly. It’s pretty good too, but those transitions are slightly too sudden – like there’s a few seconds just missing to connect the pieces and heighten the emotion and solidity. Still, it’s more compelling than most of what was on the last couple of albums and it actually feels like a return to form.

Dream On‘ opens with a nice acoustic flourish before trending towards an early Britpop sound – like James or one of those bands who were doing the Britpop thing before Blur and Oasis exploded. They’ve pulled way back on the experimental outbursts from the last album and are dedicating their focus on melody, which is a big plus for a band like this. Marie gets a quick hook in there too, followed by some harpsichord type jingling.

Big Black Cadillac‘ sounds like they’re going experimental again. There’s synth humming but at least it’s melody based again rather than just chucking in sounds for the sake of it. It’s more that they’ve said ‘instead of guitars, lets try this’. The verse is silly and bouncy, the chorus better. A little similar to some other songs on the album but not so overt as to make me discount it.

In My Own Way‘ is another slow one – arpeggio and Marie, singing more clearly now. Another good melody, more building in the background. We get the few seconds of space before the chorus. But is that the chorus or just another verse? That’s a shame as there is no clear and obvious standout chorus. The rest is good, though we probably didn’t need Per’s part.

After All‘ has another quirky Britpop approach. Feels like the start of a sitcom or a kids TV show. It’s fun and silly and nonchalant. This one feels like a sleeper single.

Happy On The Outside‘ has some brief synth beats and swirls which pull back to allow Marie’s vocals through. Atmospheric again, melody focused again. The chorus clearly owes a debt to Coldplay with the way the drums and piano jangle together, but the melodies remain strong. It all seems effortless, though the cynic in me could say they’re treading water and barely trying. I don’t think that’s the case – I think it’s more a case of them finding comfort in music again and re-introducing themselves to the world in the best way they know how.

Sitting On Top Of The World‘ has more synth sounds. Marie in the verse again and more decent verse. That plinky instrumental overlay reminds me of Michael Jackson’s Someone In The Dark from ET. It’s a strong ending, gentle, easy, clean, they’re not breaking any new ground but simply saying ‘hey, we haven’t been around for a while, but we’re back and we’re still doing that thing you like’.

Well, I got more than I asked for. Quite a few songs met my categorization of ‘pretty good’. When they stick to what I feel they are best at – emotive pop – then you know you’ll get some good stuff. When they try to branch out into different styles and approaches it tends to fall to pieces. Here the softer songs are stronger, the weaker tracks reserved more for the upbeat, up-tempo, more rock oriented songs. Also, it’s a consistent album – it doesn’t bounce from sound to sound and style to style, and it’s not bloated like some of their biggest released. As such, there are plenty of songs I’d gladly listen to again. I don’t think any of them come close to their absolute best, but a few drop into the same crowd as their second tier stuff. It definitely works as a comeback album, a reminder that they can still write crowd-pleasing anthems and emotional ballads. It would take sterner critic than me to complain about that, given the length of time they’ve been away and the circumstances surrounding their absence. If you like Roxette, or if at some point you’ve enjoyed their biggest hits, there will be something here to pull you in.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Charm School!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Speak To Me. No-One Makes It On Her Own. I’m Glad You Called. Only When I Dream. Dream On. After All. Happy On The Outside. Sitting On Top Of The World.

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Afraid Of Sunlight (Side B)!

Afraid of Sunlight - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! You should be used to how I begin my Part 2 posts by now; Like this.

Out Of This World opens with an atmospheric slow dance reminiscent of the more dreamy Angelo Badalamenti pieces from Twin Peaks. It’s a return to the dark, shadowy style I’m always harping on about but which the band has stepped away from in recent albums. Even on Brave they didn’t quite nail this tone. As such, Out Of This World is probably my favourite song on the album. It’s one of those songs which manages to disguise how Prog it is and how many shifts and movements there are. The key to the disguise is the keyboards running through each phase and connecting the individual pieces. The atmosphere remains consistent even as the mood moves from gloomy and introspective to emotional outbursts. What stood out was that every time a change was coming, I anticipated where the song would go, but then a last gasp about turn would take the music in an unexpected direction. The song is surprising at every turn. It feels like it’s about to end at several points, but instead there’s an instrumental or sound-clip which leads to some new phase. Tonally, I think this one would have fit neatly on Brave but it works perfectly here and acts as something of a centrepiece. At no point does it feel like an 8 minute song because it’s so absorbing, and I only realised how long it was when I began pausing and taking a closer look at each section.

I’ve already mentioned the dark dreamy, almost sultry sway and swoosh of the intro, but the guitars at times reminded me of Radiohead’s Nice Dream. The opening lyric – no matter how many times I hear it I keep expecting H to sing ‘3 AM’ instead of ‘3 hundred’. This soft and moody shuffle leads into a slow but fierce guitar solo – it’s a solo which could have run on but instead is overtaken by the piano intro of the next section. This section is the emotional peak of the song, with H’s pained ‘only love will turn you round’ refrain yanking every last ounce of wrung anguish from the listener. I imagine it’s a completely unrelated stretch, but this did all remind me of the Orpheus and Eurydice story – how Orpheus went to the Underworld to bring his wife back to the land of the living with the warning that if he turned round to look at her once, to make sure she was following him out, then she would be dragged back to hell for ever. Sadly for him, love turned him round and she was lost. Wanky yes, but one of my favourite myths, and we know Prog bands love their myths and legends.

On to what the song actually means – I don’t have a clue. I Googled Blue Bird in the hope that it was the name of Mike Tyson’s yacht or some such balls. In doing so I did find out about the Campbell family’s Bluebird racing vehicles. What that has to do with the rest of the album or anything else, I’ll leave Paul to explain. The lyrics, or at least the opening set, don’t fit at all with what the music makes me feel. When The Beach Boys sing about surfing or cars, the music feels summery and the sort of thing you might listen to while driving beside a beach as people surf. Listening to Out Of This World does not make me think about speedboats, so there must be more to it. Is it equating the chasing of an impossible dream, of a speed record, of living on the edge, to a relationship. That seems like both a stretch by me, and a stretch by the writer if that’s what he’s going for. The last verse may bring the most educated guess – that being in the spotlight and chasing the adulation of an audience is addictive and potentially dangerous, lying somewhere being obsession and a dream.

Afraid Of Sunlight is a much lighter song tonally. If Out Of This World feels like midnight, Afraid Of Sunlight’s synth and shimmering guitars feel like dawn – the peaceful waking of the world. There are drum sounds which I first noticed in this song and which pop up again in later songs which I’m not a fan of. They’re too weak – they sound like a drum machine – and while I get the decision to do this, it’s a sound which gets on my lid. I do enjoy the quiet/loud dynamic which sees the chorus explode in classic chorus fashion – it’s one of the most simple, oldest, yet most effective dynamics in music, separating the two parts of the song, making them more distinct, and encouraging the listener to get hyped for the chorus and relax for the verse. The little vocal bridge/chorus extension peaks like… licking the squishy part of a pavlova before finishing off the crust (?) before leading into a slight instrumental section and the finale. The ‘how do you feel/I will leave you’ build up parts are my standouts, letting loose that particular yearning quality of H’s vocals. I like the song and I have found myself singing it around the house – always a sign that it’s done something right – but I’m not sure if it has the staying power of my favourites.

Lyrically it does bring us back to the idea of driving, not to escape this time but apparently to surrender. There’s the sense of acceptance – of time moving on unaware or uncaring of your actions – and there’s the sense that it’s a guilty conscience pricking at someone to own up to their crime, a Banquo’s ghost backseat driver, prodding and reminding. The ‘spirit rack abuses’ verse is well constructed, the incessant questioning is recalled in the final track, and there’s a neat cyclical nature to the callbacks to Afraid Of Sunrise. 

Beyond You continues the lighter musical tone but also the annoying drum sounds. One other noticeable item (for me) introduced in this song is how I begin to immediately notice similarities with other songs. None of these are intentional, and some of them are impossible (given the song I’m comparing it to had not been written yet), but nevertheless it’s something which leapt out at me in the final songs. For Beyond You the comparison is the little bloopy sounds which come around the ‘don’t want my heart’ vocals – I couldn’t precisely place what these were reminding me of, but my first and best guess was Another Day In Paradise by Phil Collins. And the Commando soundtrack. It’s an 80s bell/synth sound which I think was quite prevalent in the previous decade but something about the few notes showcased here did stir up those comparisons in my first listen.

As we get towards the part of the song about being like a child having a tantrum (more on those lyrics later) there are some drum blasts which reminded me of the boom drums in Every Little Thing by The Beatles. When I listened to both songs alongside each other – they’re not very similar at all, but I can’t shake that comparison. Possibly it’s their placement – the fact that they seem a little out of place and only pop in momentarily, yet the songs would sound weird and have less character if you removed them.

There are a few things about this song which didn’t land for me, beyond the aforementioned drums. The way H sings in the opening feels too much like he’s forcing himself to sing too softly. Whether this was done for deliberate effect – to make him sound more childlike or more deceitful (feigning sadness to manipulate someone), I don’t know. I didn’t get the impression that it was genuine, but I’m almost certainly misreading it. On top of that, some of the more matter of fact lyrics pissed me off. This is entirely a personal thing but I hate it when bands use colloquialisms in their lyrics or write in a day to day/real life example/matter of fact way. You could say that for almost every song ever made and I get that I’m not explaining myself clearly, but lines like ‘I would sit down on the street, kick my legs and scream’ somehow spark some annoyance trigger within me. That whole section in fact. Is it related to the delivery? Is it because it sounds like something someone would say instead of something someone should sing? I’m not saying every lyric needs to be poetry or unique or some disjointed line free from reality, but every so often a line will come along which feels like it belongs in a conversation and not a song. It’s rich coming from someone who writes a blog about music and movies in a conversational manner, but that’s a deliberate choice by me to allow any audience to (hopefully) understand what I’m writing.

Everything else in Beyond You is tasty goodness. I love how the song ends up in a completely different place from where it began and how the volume and intensity increases evenly throughout. H’s vocals grow and get stronger as the song progresses, the mixing of tinkling keys and ghostly synth in the intro is skilful (I’d switch out the drums), and the little cymbal taps taking over from the drums in the middle is a masterful touch, pulling the song back into itself before pushing forwards for the climax. It’s one of the songs I’ve found myself humming or singing least, but the vocal melodies are concert-bait in the best way.

I believe Paul did a bit in one of his interview episodes about this song. That was weeks ago though and given that I wouldn’t be able to answer if someone asked me right now to describe the paint on the walls in any of the rooms in this house I’ve been living in for ten years, I can’t recall how it was interpreted. Does the fact that this song was discussed (at least I think it was this song) mean that it’s an important song in the discography, or that it’s one fans argue over? That opening line I incorrectly heard as ‘If you were a banquet’ and I’m not sure if ‘folds of my heart’ is supposed to be sweet or gruesome. As a whole, the song seems to be about obsession and being unable to move on or even complete every day tasks without freaking out and giving up. Having never been obsessed about a person or a thing to this extent, the only way I can relate is to ideas. As someone who claims to be a creative person, if I have an idea which takes hold, I can’t focus on anything else until that idea has been realised to some degree. You can’t tell from my writing on this blog, but I can be a better than average writer when I put my mind to it. But when I do have an idea which I feel is genuinely strong and interesting – whether it be for a song or story or whatever, the obsession to simply get it out of my brain and onto paper is much stronger than the need for it to be good. No matter how promising the idea is, the moment I’ve jotted down an outline or the central conceit, the obsession vanishes and the need to care about it dissipates. This may be point to the ideas actually being crap and once the basics are written down there’s not a lot more to it, but I think the truth is more that I’m too lazy and/or not good enough to turn an idea or a premise into reality. It also may explain why I currently have 301 draft posts in my blog and why some of those individual posts each contain well over a hundred reviews of books/movies/albums/games/songs etc.

As much as I didn’t enjoy the ‘kick my legs and scream’ lines, the following verse featured my favourite lyrics of the song – a list of feelings and admissions gradually becoming more visceral and potent, from ‘And the feeling comes in waves’ to ‘exhausted and insecure, took all you have and I still want more’. So, it’s about obsession, but is it over a person, is it being obsessed with the limelight? Is it a mixture of both?

King closes the album, but opens with another instance of me immediately thinking about another song. While I don’t think the chords are the same and while I’m hardly a Green Day fan, King sounds an awful lot like Boulevard Of Broken Dreams. The chord structure and vocal melody in Green Day’s (much later) song is so similar that I found myself singing the Green Day song over the verses of King – they fit almost perfectly. It’s all the more unusual because the songs are completely different in every other aspect. It’s one of those once heard never unheard deals, so I’m stuck with it now.

I’d be interested if there’s a radio edit or shorter version of King as there are a few moments which I would shave off to make the song less jarring. The soundbites after the initial guitar intro – get rid – and the long pause of silence towards the end of the song, either scrap it completely or reduce it to a single second. That’s possibly some sort of heresy to longstanding fans but I don’t like empty space in music. Having said that, maybe there is something going on in that empty space that I’ve simply missed because I’m not listening on headphones.

It’s one of the heaviest songs on the album – it never approaches hard rock, but there’s more of an edge to King than most of the other songs, plus the chaos and dissonance and distortion at various points (especially the ending) makes it sound much rougher and more Rock influenced. H is quiet again in the opening verse, but it doesn’t sound forced. He sounds resigned yet accusing, like a disappointed father berating a child for doing something bad after many warnings – ‘Look, I’m not going to shout any more, I told you not to do it, I told you what would happen, and now it has’.

For what is essentially a simple four chord song, the band spice it up and add more complexity and interesting choices – completely removing all instruments from that four chord structure just leaving keyboards and vocals, bringing it bath with single wavering guitar notes like an abridged arpeggio verses the more loose yet traditional guitar tinkering in the opening verse. Even though it’s all repetition of the same structure they do something different on each lap to make the 7 minute running time not feel like 60 seconds of content on a loop. There is of course time for both a guitar and keyboard solo in the middle. It may not be one of my favourites on the album, but it’s an apt closer.

The lyrics remind us of the various motifs and themes of the album – running, fame, guilt, boxing, private self and public self, questions. Assuming it’s H speaking he seems to take on the perspective of that disappointed father/advisor/bystander, asking how long the person can cope with their lies and performance, proclaiming that he hopes ‘for your sake something gets in the way’ in their pursuit of what they want. By proxy, is he talking about himself and the band? By extension, is it all a warning to others hoping to become successful because it all comes with an ‘ensuing, all encompassing mess’? Incidentally, I did appreciate ending one line with ‘mess’ and starting the next with ‘message’. Every good thing is countered by bad; message of love – but there’s so many of them to cope with, there are people to touch, but they all waste away, until finally your choices and free will are taken by strangers. The building of accusations and home-truths with regards to fame becomes one of the more effective and lucid takedowns of fame and success I can remember hearing. The song does appear to become more personal towards the end as it references the writing of songs rather than a boxing match or movies or…. breaking the land speed record. It mentions with a final nail in the coffin – ‘I hope you’ve got what it takes to be spoilt to death’. Like we mentioned in Part One, or possibly in Brave – the chasing and acquiring of fame can be wonderful… but it could end up killing you.

This is one of the first times that I didn’t want to (or couldn’t be arsed to) write about the album, primarily because I was enjoying listening to it so much. I’ve had it on constantly while I’ve been working, and the times I tried to jot down my thoughts I simply listened to it and ended up reading or doing something else instead. This is one of the best examples so far of the band being both accessible and not losing touch of their roots or their creative integrity. It’s an album with the hooks to pull casuals and new listeners in, but enough depth to interest those who want a bit more to their music, while not being as obtuse as their more lengthy prog moments or as much of an emotional challenge as Brave. 

I will admit to eventually tiring myself of the album before coming to solidify my thoughts about it in these posts. I can see why people will rate it highly – it’s certainly one of my favourites by Marillion so far, even if the individual highs may not be as high as on other albums. They experiment without sounding experimental and got most of the novel new sounds and playing around with different genres out of the way in the first two songs. After those opening tracks the album finds its feet in a more cohesive way, eventually gelling and finding a concrete identity, with recurring lyrics, themes, and musical ideas popping up again and again. It’s going to be an album I listen to in the future, but I’ll need a break from it – in the meantime a few of the songs will make it over to my ‘new music’ playlist in the car.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

Hopping over to Episode 3 of the Podcast, Paul prepares us for Sanja asking forbidden questions. I wonder if I have committed any crimes in my post above. Sanja doesn’t like Out Of This World, while it’s my favourite on the album. It’s her least favourite. Paul isn’t a big fan either. As we know, I like dark and atmospheric things and that’s exactly what it does. Am I a traditional Marillion fan because the majority of fans love this one? Hey, I was right about Chelsea Monday so I wait for Paul loving Out Of This World in a few weeks time. Paul’s feelings on the song seem to be influenced by how popular it is, at least considering it’s a Live favourite. Having almost zero experience of this live, I can’t really relate, but I do get the sentiment. You Stole The Sun From My Heart is a perfectly fine Manics pop song – but I can hardly listen to it because it’s played live every time I see them. Turns out Paul doesn’t like the solo much – I like what it does more than what it is if that makes sense.

There is a story behind the song – great, because I didn’t have much of a clue about it beyond the snatched references which I had to Google. If I hadn’t Googled those, I wouldn’t have had much to say about the meaning of the song. So the song is directly about what I mentioned – again, this is a story I had not heard of until Googling. I didn’t know that the soundbites were actual recordings of the dude dying, so that’s nice. Or more appropriately, not. I assumed there was more to it, for such an atmospheric song. Seems the band simply had an affinity for the Campbells and the event. There is of course a rich (?) history of bands playing soundbites of people’s final moments, or clips of their last interview etc. To chuck in another Manics reference, because that seems to be what I do now, The Holy Bible incorporates soundbites from all manner of places, including one of the last interviews with a young woman dying of anorexia, and the mother of one of the victims of Peter Sutcliffe. Not exactly the same thing, but the first examples which leapt out to me.

On to the title track, which Paul says is in the mix for their best song. I liked it a lot more in my early listens but it did take a bit of a beating due to me over-listening to the album. By the time I came to writing about it, my initial love of it had subsided somewhat. Sanja affixes the song into her story of the album, and it fits. Paul agrees that it’s more introspective than Afraid Of Sunrise while I took this less about escape and more like and admission that the person has tried to escape but realised it’s impossible. Which Sanja just paraphrases as I finish the sentence.

The title track and Beyond You are the two Marillion songs which made it on to Paul’s mixtape for Sanja. As such, there’s obvious personal connections to them. It’s always an interesting conversation – which songs would you give to someone to get them into the band, is that different from the type of song you would give to someone whose musical taste you respect, and is it different from what you would give to someone you would like to go on a little date with and hold hands on the way to the Cinema to see Freddy Vs Jason? Slipped into my own personal life then, sorry.

It’s Paul’s favourite on the album, and maybe his favourite Marillion song. H has said he couldn’t play it live because it’s too personal. Fraser Marshall sees the song as a little darker from how Paul does – my interpretation was even further into the darkness reading it clearly as a more unhealthy obsession. The line which Paul and Sanja read as not wanting to leave… but it comes with a caveat… I wouldn’t want to leave if I were a child. He’s not a child, he’s an adult, and sometimes adults have to make other decisions. Am I reaching? Who knows? The only H quote about the song… I can’t say that’s what I felt from the song – I certainly felt the pain and that seems like the most obvious read…. but I definitely took something darker from it. Sanja likes the soft vocals… as I said that did feel forced for me, which fits with my more cynical read. Before Paul and Sanja rip me for not loving it as much as they did – this was another which I liked a lot more before too many listens dulled it for me.

Neither of the guys are overly fond of King. I’m of roughly the same opinion – it’s fine, a good closer, but in a few weeks time I won’t remember much about it while I’ll still be singing Out Of This World. Paul thinks this may be their heaviest song – the chaos at the end does come close to the noisier elements of Rock – and has come to appreciate it more revisiting for the podcast. I think it does suffer by coming after three much stronger songs, and I think the lyrics are more interesting than the music – even if the music is spiced up with the little variations I talked about earlier. Sanja gives an interesting take – previous dark albums ended with more uplifting songs while this one doesn’t. I don’t know if I would say this album ends in the same place as where it begins – I see King more as a comeuppance and a warning and a suggestion that ‘hey, you wanted the fame, you invited the monster into your home, well you got what you wanted so now live with it’. I think that’s a cool sentiment to end on, the hero becoming the villain over the course of the movie, Tony Montana floating in a pool of blood or Michael Corleone closing the door on the woman he loves.

H was heavily influenced by Kurt Cobain’s death in the writing of the album, as Paul reads a quote. I didn’t know that little snippet of history about Marillion being the first band to play on the same stage where the last Nirvana gig took place. With that, we’re done. I know there’s an interview with John Arnison which I haven’t listened to yet, and there seems to be some other bonus eps. I’ll listen to those, but I don’t think I’ll be writing about them which should give me a chance to catch up on all these other non-Marillion albums I’m meant to be listening to.

Let us know what you think about Afraid Of Sunlight, as always make sure to go listen to BYAMPOD yourselves, and don’t forget – Spread em!

Nightman Listens To – Judas Priest – British Steel (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

See the source image

Greetings, Glancers! I realise it hasn’t been that long since my previous (first) Judas Priest album, but I’m following Martin Popoff’s list chronologically and he seems to have a thing for men in leather. British Steel is of course an album I’ve heard of and it frequently hovers near the top of the Heavy Metal Premier League. I don’t know much about the album, and in these reviews I want go in with limited knowledge so that I don’t add any further bias. I do look at the album cover and the tracklisting – the cover is very familiar to me, and I’ve heard a couple of the songs – at least two are metal classics familiar to most metal fans of a certain age. The cover is fine – not quite iconic, not embarrassing, though I could have done without the cute little spiked bracelet. Then again, this is Judas Priest. I mostly enjoyed my last JP outing so I’m hoping for a similar positive experience today. Lets do this.

‘Rapid Fire’ gets us off (matron) to an almost blistering start. Simple guitars, furious drums, plain vocals and melodies. They repeat the main chord slide as if it’s some revelation, but it’s one of the first things you try when you learn power chords. They discard this thankfully for some more intricate solo play in the next section, but bring it back for the final stages. Halford finally shows his pipes on the last note and some stormy percussion takes over, leading into…

‘Metal Gods’ – a slower song. It’s very plain again and doesn’t make any interesting choices until the synth-like singing of metal gods before the decent solo. It isn’t notably forceful or melodic, but it does allow for the sound of a whip cracking which always raises a giggle.

‘Breakin The Law’ is of course a classic. It’s one of the most famous metal songs of all time, in that people who don’t listen to metal know it. They get away with the chanting nature of the chorus by not shouting it, by not making it melodic. It’s a literal chant, and all the more musical and memorable for it. It has a great riff and the verses and bridges are melodic, and it’s both short and punk-driven rather than trying to pulverize you. Then the lyrics compliment that rebellious streak which Metal is supposed to embody, in a cheery 80s sort of way.

‘Grinder’ has a driving bass and beat and that unique 80s way of conveying masculine swagger. It’s another song which sacrifices speed for stomp and doesn’t go out of its way to provide a vocal hook. The main chord line is fine again – very simple and doesn’t leap out.

‘United’ is the slowest song yet. It still stomps. It has the most bizarre chorus – it’s ridiculously cheesy and soft – I get the message they’re going for, but it feels like Queen via Westlife through an ill-advised football chant. It’s truly awful, but props for trying something like it. The pre-chorus isn’t as bad, but seriously, wtf?

‘You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise’ sounds more promising. Props to the clean production – everything is crisp, clear, and meaty. This 30 second intro already feels more like an anthem than whatever that last disaster was. Halford at least sounds like he’s biting on this one, wrapping his gums around the words and spicing them up. There’s a touch of AC/DC here, which can either be a very bad thing, or not so bad, and Halford goes a little Plant at times. It’s not the fastest son in the world, something as a whole the album seems to lack.

‘Living After Midnight’ is another famous one. Could be another case of an album being acclaimed because of a couple of hit singles. That’s the way these things usually go. It’s not as good as Breaking The Law, but it’s a fun metal-lite song, catchy, and the sort of song people who don’t like metal can mistakenly head-bang to.

‘The Rage’ opens with bass plonking all over the place, then it sounds like they’re going reggae, then the crunch sweeps both away. Halford sounds more keen on this one too. Decent solo, back to the reggae, back to the crunch. It’s not bad.

‘Steeler’ is the fast song I’ve been waiting for. A quick check lets me know this album came before Screaming For Vengeance, so maybe they hadn’t quite latched on to the speed angle yet? This proves they have the chops – the drums and guitars outshine most of the rest of the album, though it’s not the most creative and the melodies aren’t there. I can tell the influence this had on other British bands of the era.

Well, that was a disappointment considering how I felt about Screaming. Aside from the two songs I knew going in, the rest of it seems and sounds average. Maybe because I’ve heard so much metal in the years since this was released this feels very tame. Tame and lacking in creativity and energy. Still, it’s obvious they can play, it’s obvious they can write a hit, it just seems that they needed another couple of years to hone in on their most potent skills. It’s not a bad album – distinctly average in the grand scheme of things, and a let down because of the hype.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Breaking The Law. Living After Midnight. Steeler.

Nightman Listens To Lightfoot – Gordon Lightfoot (1966 Series)!

Lightfoot! - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Never trust an album which ends with a exclamation mark. Anyway, I don’t know an awful lot about Gordon Lightfoot beyond that he’s a singer songwriter. At least that should mean we get an album of original material rather than the same old covers and standards. Looking at the tracklist, there is one song I recognise – a cover –  but it’s a song I like. Lets see what this is all about.

Rich Man’s Spiritual: Lovely folk guitar intro, fills you with warmth and happiness. Vocals a little too deep, too Country for my tastes. Lyrics hit that idyllic 60s vibe. The vocals don’t hit the emotional peaks I’d want and the melodies are too short and cyclical. Still, good enough start.

Long River: Great guitar again, smooth and sweet. There’s still that flicker of Country in the vocals, which makes sense given what he’s singing about. Vocals are nice though, easy to swallow without being too saccharine. A whistling part. Good, but too middle of the road for my tastes.

The Way I Feel: There’s something I love about just a singer and a guitar and no other crap. It does get samey after a while if I listen to too much – much faster than a standard band with full arrangement. The music and melody in this one are more interesting. It’s music for a contemplative mood. Too much of it puts me in a funk. Especially when it’s repetitive like this.

For Lovin Me: Faster. Definitely more Country. A more fun song but still missing the emotional hook or the quality melody or the sense of change and dynamics.

The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face: Lets see what he does with this. I’ve loved versions of this – I can barely listen to the original though. This is unfortunately closer to the original. It’s more palatable than the original, but it’s drained of emotion. He’s just singing sweetly and I feel no connection to the words, and the melody and phrasing are changed from those versions I like. He seems to never change his approach – every new verse is delivered in the exact same way – he may as well be reciting the alphabet.

Changes: Another cover I believe, though I’m not as familiar with the original. It’s sweet again but every positive and negative I’ve mentioned on every other song also applies here. There’s a lot more to go folks.

Early Morning Rain: Faster. Lighter. More singing. Competent.

Steel Rail Blues: Into the second half and more of the same. This has more of a hook, every so often. White boy blues. More lyrics about going home or going somewhere.

Sixteen Miles: The thing about folk music that I like and can listen to consistently always comes down to the voice – Lightfoot has a good voice, regardless of whether it’s the style I prefer – but it’s that lack of change in his delivery. Taylor, Mitchell, hell even Dylan will change it up from line to line – adding inflections, slurs, runs, a bit of gravel, a bit of force or restraint. This guy just sings at the same plateau and it really does make the whole repetitive.

I’m Not Sayin: Another faster, lighter one. Musically. The lyrics are typically good – descriptive if not overly poetic or unique. Better than most chart drivel. This one is more fun than most and I could see myself choosing this over the others. I’m not sayin I would, but if I was forced to choose.

Pride Of Man: This is in a similar pace to the one before. I prefer these faster ones – not just because he gets through them soon, but they feel more urgent.

Ribbon Of Darkness: Country whistlin’. Quite possibly while sittin’ on a rockin’ chair, drinkin’ and a spittin’ and a lookin’ o’er a field of wheat. Slows nicely before resuming for the verse. Or was it the chorus? It’s all just a bunch of words and unvaried guitar now.

Oh Linda: Well, this one is different. Leading with some sort of bass. That alone has allowed him to try something different with his vocals and melodies. Unfortunately he falls back on the same traps and just keeps doing the same thing over and over and over. CHANGE. SOMETHING.

Peaceful Waters: This is moderately different again. Feels genuinely melancholy. Too little too late, and not startling enough to truly stand out.

As is often the case with many of these albums, I dig the first song but then thee next few sound the same, and then it becomes apparent that the singer or band have one level. Or at least that’s how it’s conveyed to me. Towards the end of this album he broaches new territory but doesn’t actually do anything with it. Maybe that’s the restriction of folk, maybe that’s because he is restricted as an artist and couldn’t break through the tropes. Maybe it’s because I’m writing from fifty years after the songs were written and everything here has become so hackneyed and watered down that whatever truth and power it may have had has long since faded. Whatever emotion he put into these songs doesn’t translate to me, whether that be down to the genre, his voice, his vocal approach. There isn’t enough in any of the songs to grip me or speak to me on a melodic level and even as much as I enjoy the simplicity of a solo performance, the limitations of that approach become apparent very quickly over the course of a whole album. Unless you’re a beast. Lightfoot is not a beast.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Lightfoot!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: None are bad, though none are really good. So take your pick as any is as average as the next.

Nightman Listens To – Bryan Adams – Shine A Light!

Shine A Light by Bryan Adams: Amazon.co.uk: Music

Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. And by ‘they’, I mean Bryan Adams. Yes, even though I had finished my run through of every Bryan Adams album, he went and released another in 2019. According to the charts it has done okay so far, hitting Number 1 in Canada and Number 2 in the UK, no doubt helped by the fact that the title track was co-penned by everybody’s favourite talent-free flavour of the month Ed ‘I’m not Paulo Nutini’ Sheeran. I haven’t actually heard that song, or any others from the album, but it does close with a cover of Whiskey In The Jar so that’s one I’ll be sort of familiar with. Let’s do this.

Shine A Light: Immediately it has that Coldplay/Sheeran repetitive beat. The verse melodies are sweeter than most of what passed for melody on his last album, but the chorus is a mere extension of this with no great ideas. Adams voice – it still sounds like him but it feels somehow artificial. It’s too tame a single to make much impact, not bland or lovey-dovey or modern enough to appeal to the Sheeran crowd.

That’s How Strong Our Love Is: J-Lo’s involved in this? Never liked her as a singer, never much cared for her as a person, always thought she was an underrated actress. A guy I knew in school despised her and back then would have been a prime suspect if her house was ever egged. This feels like a 90s boy/girl band ballad complete with wafer beats. It’s a direct duet with drippy melodies, but with Lopez barely audible in the chorus. It’s boring, soulless stuff, though Lopez’s verse vocals and occasional yelps do add a sign of life.

Part Friday Night, Part Sunday Morning: A more driving traditional rock song, though light on the guitars at the outset. Adams does this drooling thing with the vocals during the verse, as if he’s slurring the words. Stronger lyrics than he’s done for a while and much better melodies. It’s not one of his best but in terms of his last handful of albums it’s one of the better songs.

Driving Under The Influence Of Love: Or, it’s hard to steer whilst receiving a BJ. This one starts like a shit-kicker, complete with beer drenched bar stool piano and crunchy guitars. Adams gives the vocals the old blues rock swagger and the lyrics are pretty funny. He’s clearly having a good time with this one and it’s one which will probably get the crowd grooving in the live shows – all the better if it’s played in a jukebox dive.

All Or Nothing: AC/DC? At least the album has picked up after a fairly bland start, the subsequent three tracks being much more what we expect from Adams, with the added plus of actually being decent. Again if we’re comparing with his best work this is a few rungs down the ladder but in terms of his recent stuff its much closer to the top. Better melodies, more feeling, and a genuinely catchy chorus.

No Time For Love: I couldn’t actually find a good version of this song to listen to – so your guess is as good as mine….

I Could Get Used To This: A decent riff given space to breathe, followed up with some catchy ‘woo ooh yeah yeah’ refrains – it looks like Adams and Vallance have remembered how to write something worthwhile. This one is very cyclical, a collection of verses revolving around the central riff and brought together by the ‘woos’ and harmonies. It’s very short though.

Talk To Me: Hmm, going for a Lennon Imagine feel with the beat, sound, and piano. It’s a straight to the point ballad. Guitars subtle in the background of the verses. It really does sound like Imagine. It’s more sleepy than that and not as exciting, the chorus not as strong as the verse.

The Last Night On Earth: Now he’s channeling The Strokes. Luckily, it’s good. The verse is anyway, the chorus is a step down even with the ‘wooo’ stuff. I wish he’d used real drums instead of that wafer crap. It’s fine, fun enough that existing fans should get a kick out of. The guitar lines are good, just the chorus didn’t go where I wanted it to.

Nobody’s Girl: A wispy intro explodes into life before a driving verse brings coherence. This time the verse and chorus are closer in quality, though I do still find the verse more potent. It’s a good foot-tapping Adams song, similar to what he was putting out in the second half of the 90s.

Don’t Look Back: An honest sentiment delivered with charm and simplicity. This is a good all-rounder with the melody, lyric, and emotion not peaking or dipping from start to finish.

Whiskey In The Jar: Lets hope it’s more like Metallica and not like the original. Well, it certainly ain’t Metallica – it’s more like an acoustic version of that or the Thin Lizzy take. Good vocals, though there’s some effect work going on which is either covering some cracks or making an ill-advised stylistic choice. That does mean the great guitar riff is replaced by some harmonica wailing. It’s decent, but you’re never going to pick it over Metallica.

Well, that was a significant step up from his last album. At least we can now confirm that he didn’t end his career on that dud. This does contain a number of good songs I wouldn’t mind hearing again, although I’m probably assigning more credit to them by virtue of them being better than the previous album’s songs. Still, no single song here is going to crack his best twenty or thirty songs but they do remind us that he can still write and rock this late in the game.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Nobody’s Girl. I Could Get Used To This. All Or Nothing. Driving Under The Influence Of Love. Part Friday Night, Part Sunday Morning. Don’t Look Back.

Nightman Listens To – Heaven And Hell – Black Sabbath (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Heaven and Hell (Black Sabbath album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! It didn’t us long to get back to Black Sabbath. This time though we ring the changes, as Ozzy Osbourne has been replaced by the great Ronnie James Dio. I definitely know at least two of the songs on offer here, but I’ve never heard them in relation to the album. There honestly isn’t a lot to say about the album artwork – it’s not very Metal, but it does have smoking and gambling and big-titted Angels, so I guess it kinda sorta almost qualifies. I don’t have much else to say, so lets do this!

Neon Knights: Well, this certainly has a different sound from early Sabbath. It sounds eerily similar to Broken Algorithms by Manic Street Preachers. Dio’s vocals are a major part of the transformation but even before he start singing the guitars are chunkier, the tone isn’t as melancholy, and the sound is more upbeat. This being Dio, he’s singing about more fantastical subjects. It’s faster than what I tend to think of when I think of Sabbath, there’s not a slow, doom riff, but there is a blistering solo.

Children Of The Sea: This is one I do know, and again it feels more like a Dio song than a traditional Sabbath song. Lyrically, tonally, there is a definite shift. Possibly this is as much to do with the time that had passed since Sabbath first emerged and that they didn’t want to plough the same fields. In any case this is a slower groove, opening in an acoustic ballad style before crunching chords and funky bass come in. The two parts meld well and there’s another Iommi skin-melter in the middle.

Lady Evil: A fat bass intro hints at a more traditional Sabbath sound, but that’s blown away when the guitars drop. The drive and tone is more like a halfway point between 70s Rock and 80s Hair Metal. It’s silly fun, you’ll punch the steering wheel if you drive to this, but it doesn’t have the atmospheric edge of Sabbath’s best or the grandiosity of Dio’s. A perfectly fine album track.

Heaven And Hell: The title track and the other one I know. I hate to keep repeating myself but once again it feels like a Dio song rather than a Sabbath song. It also feels like a Maiden song – specifically Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. It goes without saying, but Dio’s vocals are exquisite. Like that Maiden song, there’s a long and meandering instrumental section. This one picks up during the instrumental, solo and drums gathering speed before a frenetic climax and half a minute of quiet tinkling.

Wishing Well: Another light-hearted rocker with that 70/80s hard rock vibe. Not much to say beyond the fact that it’s a driving rock song – more great bass work, the drums haven’t been as noticeable on the other tracks but they do standout here. It’s a simple, straightforward, fist-pumping song that everyone can enjoy.

Die Young: An atomospheric, spacey intro goes into more prog sounding territory than what Sabbath would usually try. It doesn’t last and we rapidly thunder into the fastest song so far. This one is very Maiden-esque too, it’s only lacking the double guitar thrust. We withdraw into a nifty little quiet, spacey section before embarking on another leg of insanity.

Walk Away: A mid-paced stomper raised by Dio’s character and quality. It’s a simple song once more with not many detours, although we do still get a decent standalone section for the solo to fit into.

Lonely Is The Word: The closest thing to a riff led song so far, this has a very simple, very repetitive riff. It’s a slow one with a terrific layered guitar section from around the two minute mark which just keeps going, reminding us what a talent Iommi is – not just a master of riffs he can peel off fiddling fret work with the best of them. Dio does his best with the vocals but the melodies don’t allow him to hit any real emotive heights. As if to highlight the master of the guitar work the band steals one of Page’s moments from Stairway To Heaven and deploys it as a keyboard refrain as the song fades out. An epic closer which could have been better if the vocal melodies were more potent.

A very consistent album with no weak link, this is an album which sounds fresher than it should given that it was released in the 1980s. It manages to circumvent most of the problems metal would suffer from in the 80s. While none of the songs, on first listen, have the impact of an Iron Man or a Paranoid, they are a lot of fun and the band feels almost rejuvenated. It always takes time to hit your stride when you onboard a new vocalist, but this is a promising start. I haven’t heard much of Sabbath’s 80s input but if it’s all like this then I’ll have no complaints.

Let us know what you think in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Die Young. Neon Knights. Children Of The Sea. Lonely Is The Word.