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

This Is the 21st Century Lyrics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anoraknophobia - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

marillion.com | Racket Records Store

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

marillion.com | Racket Records Store

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Radiation Part 3!

Greetings, Glancers! For those of you wondering why there’s a part three – it’s mainly because I got ahead of the guys in my Marillion posts and didn’t include any commentary on their podcast episodes for Radiation. Therefore, this post is going to be another quickfire round of bullet points and meanderings. If that’s not your sort of thing then ride on, cowboy!

  • Bong! Marillion news – new album almost done, and live dates confirmed.
  • Paul fell out of a taxi once, in Stockholm. I’ve never been to Stockholm, but I have been to a taxi (and fallen out of one, or at the very least stumbled gracelessly). Incidentally, any mention of taxi stories makes me think of my friend Mike from school who was so drunk after one of our pre-Formals (basically an excuse to go out on the Friday nights in the months running up to our School Formal/Prom and get drunk at the prospective venues) that he forgot his dad was picking him up, sauntered over to his dad’s car believing it was a taxi, opened the door and asked ‘are you waiting for anyone, mate’. You had to be there.
  • I barely have enough money for a weekend at the mother in law’s in Portstewart, never mind crowd-funding a romp to Poland. I do have Polish friends, maybe they could set me up if I ever decided to travel there. One of them is from a town called ‘Hell’. Possibly Hel.
  • I once won a Bee Gees VHS.
  • So Marillion didn’t create crowd-funding, it was Bedford Jeff.
  • That’s some great fandom, but I am too tight to give anyone money. I love the idea that traditional ways of doing things can be circumvented. If only we could do the same for the many other ills of modern music (cutting out the middle man, distributors, money men, etc).
  • So basically that 60 grand enabled every album Marillion has released since to exist. Money well spent, I would imagine.
  • ASWAD. TISWAS more like. JIZZWAD?
  • Your latest album is always going to be promoted as your best album. ‘How’s the new album coming along?’…. ‘Yeah, it’s almost done, but it’s a bit shit…. enjoy!’
  • I think These Chains deserves to be Top 40, but 1998 was all post Brit-pop gubbins and weird stuff. As Paul just says.
  • I don’t see much comparison between Radiation and OK Computer. 
  • I still haven’t heard the original mix.
  • I miss Mansun.
  • Prog was really making strides in Europe and Metal at this time – it wasn’t quite big in the UK yet, but this was around the time I got into Nightwish. Ray Of Light is a masterpiece. This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours came out in 98 too. Hardly a Prog album, but definitely an album which marked both a growth and departure for the Manics.
  • The context is obviously important, but to me as a new listener it does sound flat and not adventurous.
  • Speaking of freebie copies, today’s freebies from Amazon for me include 2 Barbies, Shampoo, Conditioner, a Pikachu toy of some sort, a Polly Pocket compact, and a set of Post Its.
  • I’m trying to think of any instances when one of my favourite bands has come out to say that they’re essentially denying their past in the ‘we’re not a Prog band/we’re not a Metal band’ etc… I think plenty of my favourite bands have said they’re changing their sound for a particular album but I don’t recall them explicitly saying ‘that’s not us’. Radiohead have done a bit of denying their past over time – refusing to play Creep, then refusing to play songs from The Bends, and even stopping songs from OK Computer. Again, that’s not a huge issue for me as a band can do whatever they wants and those albums are a million years old now, so of course people and tastes grow, people get sick of playing the same old hits, and people want to promote the new stuff.
  • Did I get any Beatles vibes from the album? I don’t remember.
  • Cathedral Wall was an attempt at a Bond song? I definitely didn’t get that, I’ll have to listen again. In any case, I wasn’t a fan of the song.
  • Sounds like the guys like the album, Sanja in particular, probably more than I did. It’ll be interesting to see if their favourites are the same as mine – they’ve already called out A Few Words For The Dead, which I love.
  • On to Episode 2 of the Podcast – we have a Digi interloper to provide an unexpected intro.
  • Ooh, a new Switch model has just been unveiled, hold on, got to check that out….
  • I’m not really sure what the difference is… it’s bigger?
  • Back to BYAMPOD and an alarming disclaimer that not everything Paul and Sanja say should be taken as truth. I’m waiting for the shocking twist in the final episode that Marillion never existed.
  • H is a sad boy. But likes the bants. So H is all of us. The production process was somewhat laid-back, even though H was going through personal stuff.
  • Paul realised he was going through personal stuff too at the time Radiation was released, which gave a spin on his feelings about the album.
  • Sounds like some of the differences between the original and the remix were good, most were bad. Go take the bits you like and add them back in.
  • I am beginning to hear some weird audio blips – Mr Digi Interloper’s prophecy has been fulfilled.
  • Costa Del Slough – confirmed as a joke song. Nah, we allow the corporations to exist and wreck the place. If we didn’t buy, they wouldn’t sell.
  • <Skims through memory to recall any songs about burning cats>
  • They don’t have much to say about Under The Sun. Did I? Oh yes, Britpoppy, ‘it is to rain’ etc. Nobody likes Cannibal Surf Babe.
  • Parp.
  • I think I gave a range of possible explanations for the lyrics for The Answering Machine. Sanja goes down the same route as me in terms of explaining H’s psyche, yet takes the approach of thinking it’s a love song.
  • Paul thinks the answering machine is the person he is trying to talk to, while Sanja is more literal and says the narrator finds it easier to speak to a physical answering machine rather than the person. Did I think H was the answering machine himself? Can’t remember, no-one even has an answering machine anymore.
  • Is anyone going to say it’s like a medieval jig?
  • The jauntiness of the rhythm does match the mood of the lyrics, I can see that, but it almost feels too bouncy which gives it a lightness which doesn’t convey the lyrical sentiment.
  • Paul thinks Three Minute Boy is pure Beatles. And now I remember saying Costa Del Slough was pure McCartney. I found this one more like Duran Duran. I did make a Hey Jude comparison.
  • Sanja’s not a huge fan of the song, especially the lyrics. I liked this one more than the first two. Paul doesn’t like the lyrics either. He finds it very bitchy and jealous. I didn’t pick up on any of this jealousy regarding Oasis or their ilk. They like the music, shame about the subject matter.
  • Paul and Sanja turn into Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke doing their baby characters.
  • H’s explanation of the song is precisely what I picked up on, not really any of the envy or jealousy. I remember Patsy Kensit from Silas Marner. Damn forced GCSE literature balls.
  • H confirms he will never appear on BYAMPOD.
  • Now She’ll Never Know – lovely, innit? It’s their 2nd favourite on the album – I think we know what the first is. This is my favourite, with their favourite being my 2nd. What?
  • People don’t like this? People are idiots. I get it’s not Prog, not musically complex, I get some hairy dead men don’t like falsetto, it’s definitely Radiohead inspired, but I love Radiohead and I love the song.
  • These Chains is my 3rd favourite on the album. I’m not sure what else could have been a single from this one, it’s an obvious single for me – just maybe released in the wrong period.
  • The lyrics are quite personal again, while easy to extrapolate onto any person. Surely the H equivalent of Torch is Horch?
  • It’s a song about insomnia, which I don’t think I picked up on at all, or with Cathedral Wall. I’m losing touch. H says the song is a bit of an encapsulation of ‘life’, decade by decade. Oddly enough, we’re all different.
  • On to the sex song. They say it’s weird, which is exactly what sex is. Sanja also fell for the Springsteen trap. The song already has a new name – ‘the sex song’ is as good a name as any.
  • Mystery songs appearing on album is always amusing – then the real thing sounds wrong without them. Sanja gives basically the same interpretation as I did. I ran away, though was self aware enough to fully embrace my roots.
  • Late night, smokey – that’s another way for saying sex. Mutter singing/mumblecore?
  • Paul loves the keyboards – that’s the obvious standout musically. Abraham who? They love this one more than I do.
  • They don’t love Cathedral Wall – neither do I. Can you imagine Goldfinger with Shirley Bassey whispering the vocals instead. Go on, imagine it.
  • I get the song is authentic – dog shit is authentic, doesn’t mean I want to stand in it. The song isn’t dog shit though…. it’s not funny enough.
  • If it’s about insomnia, I can see that now. I used to go for walks at night when I had insomnia, but I didn’t live in a rich enough town to have a Cathedral. Plenty of Gospel Halls, if that counts? I would climb out my bedroom window and go for a wander. Then wonder what the hell I was doing and go back to bed. The world can be a lot more interesting at night, I love the quiet. I did dream about seeing a spider the size of a cat in my garage last night. I’m always dreaming about spiders. The H quote makes sense and maybe the sound is given a dreamlike gleam – Lynch style.
  • Paul gives it the basics – hate then love – and doesn’t think there’s any more to it. I was assuming there would be a reason or an inspirational spark behind the lyrics. Sanja does allude to the quiet ‘or you could love’ so I’m not the only one you thought that was interesting.
  • Sanja appreciates the depth of the mix which gives you something new and extra with each listen. Paul says it almost feels like it doesn’t belong on the album – I can see that.. it almost deserves to be on an 8 track album, one with a ten minute opener, and instrumental in the middle, and this to close out.
  • Paul says this is the album which made Paul realise that the band was trying to do something different with each album, deliberately.
  • It sounds like the next album is balls. I haven’t started it yet.
  • And that’s that. There will be a letters bag coming. Please give money. Please give me money too, though you won’t get anything in return.

Let us know what you think of Radiation in the comments, and as always check out BYAMPOD for yourselves!

Nightman Listens To Marillion – Radiation – Part 2!

Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a while since Part 1 was posted for Radiation. What with Paul and Sanja getting a particularly filthy bout of The Covid and a few postbag episodes, I managed to catch up and overtake them. That has meant I’ve jumped back into some of my other series – my 2020 albums list, Top 500 Metal Albums etc. Today though, we finish off Radiation, an album which so far does feel a tad like it was out together in a year. Not that it feels rushed – just that the quality of the songs doesn’t shine through. I think the approach and ideas are sound, positive, and there are some interesting creative choices, but the songs don’t scream out to be listened to, those same ideas haven’t engaged me, and anything interesting does not make up for the fact that the songs when taken as a whole, are mostly on par and not memorable. For me. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves – lets crack on.

The first note I scrawled for These Chains was ‘Savage Garden’. I assume that on my first listen I found some similarity between this song and the soothing alt-pop of the 90s band Savage Garden, but listening now I don’t hear anything which led me to that comparison. The early, faint appearance of the chorus vocal is maybe reminiscent of the lead singer from Savage Garden, possibly the strings once the true chorus erupts? These Chains is a positive continuation of where we left off – I don’t think the song is as strong as Now She’ll Never Know, but it is the more commercial song, the more obvious choice to be a single, and is more my attuned to my preferences than the earlier songs on the album. Cheesy as the Continental foods aisle in my local Lidl though.

I’m curious to know how this one is received live – it’s such an obvious anthem – but while I love the quieter delivery of the ‘these chains’ line early in the song, the chorus feels like the sort of thing Bon Jovi would have unleashed back in their heyday – just needs some crunching guitars. There have been plenty of songs using the image of chains while singing about love and pain – I’m sure Bon Jovi probably have something in their back pocket about this, but famous mullet dodger Richard Marx had Chains Around My Heart. The idea seems to lend itself to cheesy anthems. I can’t help but like it though, as I’m not immune to good cheese, and it’s probably my second favourite on the album. The music almost does a disservice to the lyrics as the lyrics are a cut above simply painting the idea of a poor broken heart in chains. Before checking out the lyrics, I should drop in my unwarranted unconnected song comparison here – the intro synth sound and melody here reminded me of the intro to Lost In A Melody by the horrifically underrated The Delays. Look, I’ve even linked it here for you to judge!

Although the song takes the perspective of writing about someone else, this feels very autobiographical. Did I hear in one of the podcast episodes that H has broken up with his wife or girlfriend around this time? If that’s true, it gives a different, more personal slant to the lyrics and makes me a little disappointed that the music has such a glossy, crowd-pleasing edge. I was reminded of Radiohead’s Just by the framing of the finger pointing. Thom Yorke screeches ‘you do it do yourself… that’s why it really hurts’ while here it’s ‘these chains are all your own’. It’s an admission of fault, and the seeming admission in the ‘comfortable’ line that the chains were self-imposed and that taking them off, hurtful as they are, would be more terrifying than keeping them. Allowing yourself to be free, truly free, is something I imagine few of us achieve especially after a lifetime of stuff – education, expectation, family, career, friends, possessions – giving all of that up and chasing the thing you truly want or the life you truly need, is scary. Change is scary at the best of times, worse when we’re comfortable, worse when your British and are expected to make do with the hand your given, and worse if it means failing or hurting others. When the ‘The dawn was breaking’ line drops, there’s a shift in the tone of the music to a more hopeful and anthemic quality which suggests a turning point in the narrative – the narrator has seen the light and is going to break free, but the songs trails off as if lacking a final verse proclaiming resolution. Instead we get repetitions of the chorus, a chorus which simply questions if the narrator will ever leave his cage and chains behind. It’s an unusual mix of stadium filling choruses and downbeat introspection.

When I saw the title Born To Run I was expecting some Springsteen-esque tale of working class struggles, love against the odds, with a fist-pumping chorus to echo through the gullets of every blue collar worker across the planet. What I was not expecting was sex music. Make no mistake, Marillion’s Born To Run is the soundtrack to every softcore porn Channel 5 movie you’ve ever pretended not to have seen. I should expand upon that by saying it’s not one of those lurid pornos where some PI is fiddlin’ where he ‘shouldna’ be fiddlin’, but one of the more tender types. Now that I think about it, I don’t think such a thing exists. Look, it just sounds like sex music, okay? From the keyboard to the guitar solo, all I could think of when listening to this was slow-mo nip shots and heads being thrown back in ecstasy. I guarantee when I read the lyrics it’ll be some loving dedication to one of the band’s new born children or a touching ode to a dying pet. 

I promise I wasn’t suffering from a major dose of the horn when I heard the song and envisaged all of this sex nonsense – as I type this I’m in the least arousing room ever devised, surrounded by cat poo bags, Switch game cases, Yoda’s Galaxy Atlas, and something called ‘Galt’s Body Lab’ which features a picture of a cartoon carrot dissolving inside a stomach yet looking only mildly displeased. Aside from reminding me of Shannons Tweed and Whirry, I think the song is one of Marillion’s slowest so far – beyond picking up slightly for the solo it remains sloth-like and settled with long spaces between vocals and an overall loose and relaxed musical style. 

The song is just about five minutes long and I’m surprised by how short the lyrics look on paper. Three verses of different sizes. It doesn’t read like a lyric, more like a slice of modernist poetry with short, image-packed lines designed to create an overall mood. Best guess is it’s another song about escaping, escaping your past, the place you grew up and all the things you hated about it only to discover that after doing it all you can’t run from yourself. A well worn trope and something I think Marillion has already covered, but the writing style is more novel for the band. Even with all of Fish’s poetic moments, I don’t recall him writing like this. I’m not sure how I feel about the song – it’s pleasant enough but it doesn’t do anything for me. It’s here, then it’s gone. I think I’m only going to remember it as the sex song.

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We close out with the two longest songs on the album, giving us the impression that we may get something more along the Prog lines than we have elsewhere. Cathedral Wall isn’t Prog with a capital P, but it does see the band playing around with different sounds, tones, and textures. It gets heavy in places and I enjoy the swell of sound for the chorus, but I can’t say I’m a fan of the whispered, baby-ish vocals. I don’t know if H was going for creepy or sultry or what here, but mostly it just annoyed me. The main riff, if you want to call it that, bolstered by clattering drums and chattering guitars all – these pieces do work for me and as annoying as I found the vocals to be, I didn’t think the song dragged and I was frequently surprised when the song ended as it doesn’t feel like it’s close to seven minutes long. It’s a curious one; things get muddled in the mix for the last minute or so and I’m curious to know how the original version sounded as it got heat for being poorly produced, right? Beyond the yelping and disembodied howls faffing about in the background, I don’t have much else to say about the song. The ‘massive friend’ line.. that’s another instance of two words being put together and somehow making my skin crawl. Strange

On my first read of the lyrics, another phrase leapt out, one which I didn’t actually hear through my various listens. ‘Peckish evening’ – what the hell is that? The song seems to be about some dude sleeping in the shadow of a Cathedral, its age and girth, and lack of judgement acting as a friend. It’s a nice idea, but I don’t know what led the dude to be in this mental state, or why he chose a Cathedral wall to snuggle up to. The lyrics are fairly disjointed and jabbing, but beyond those handful of odd phrases there’s nothing remarkable which caught my attention. Like the music, I don’t have many thoughts about the lyrics.

A Few Words For The Dead perhaps relates to the previous song – Cathedral, gravestones, dead. Musically there aren’t many comparisons to be had – this being Prog with a larger P (matron). The slightly middle Eastern, spacey, ghostly intro has enough of the feel of a mantra that when the central musical motif drops around the 2.20 mark the song unveils itself as some tantric trance-like piece. It’s the sort of song that, if it had been written in the early 70s you could see the band extend it out to the forty minute mark while playing it live. If the band does this one live, I imagine the pay off is great when the song finally bursts into life. It’s all quite groovy and hypnotic though I think it’s probably the sort of song you might have to be in the right mindset for. I’m enjoying it now, and it’s one of my favourites on the album, but I can definitely understand if some people want to get to the more lively parts sooner than the 6 minute mark. I might say the same with time, but for now I can’t see anything that I would deem cutting floor worthy and if I had been around in the early 70s you can be sure I would have been one of the maniacs waving and shuddering in tribal trance movements for half an hour before going buck nuts when the ‘or you could love’ line drops. 

There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the song – the speaking parts I can generally do without – but from start to finish the drums are top notch, the production is glassy and clean, all of the backmasking is effective and warbling, and H’s vocals make up for whatever crap was happening in the previous song. The lead guitar riff is simple, almost childlike, tickling it’s way up and down the scale with slightly notes every time. Maybe not every time, but it’s not a simple copy and paste each time,, which is the standard for riffs. The explosion of sound after ‘or you could love’ is euphoric and I particular love the subsequent riff and harder edge which takes the song further away from its beginnings, if only momentarily. If you listen carefully, you can still make out the lead recurring riff still being played under all of the heavier stuff. I don’t think I’ll get bored of this one over time, it’s more likely to become better in my estimation. What else to say but another couple of unneeded musical comparisons – Pink Lady Lemonade (short version linked) by the always wacky Acid Mothers Temple, and The Gathering’s MandylionNot much in the way of direct musical overlapping, but both songs have a similar trance like nature.

There’s a lot of violence in the lyrics. Some of the words and images reminded me of Pink Floyd’s Sheep – the whole Animals album in fact. I think there’s a touch of OK Computer in there too, echoing the way Thom could sprinkle a violent shotgun blast with his words onto something which sounded angelic and peaceful. The different verses and sections tie together lyrically, but I preferred to see the opening few verses as little vignettes showing the results of anger, bookended by the ‘it carries on’ refrain to symbolize that these darker human emotions and acts are eternal and have always been part of us. It’s all anger and violence until the explosion of joy comes with ‘or you could love’. It’s interesting, to me anyway, that the explosion doesn’t come on the first ‘or you could love’. There’s a terse little tryout first – the music shifting a little as if almost teasing this alternate approach to living out before fulling committing to it for the final part of the song. As always, I’m reading too much into it, but the idea fits. 

The lyrics talk about shooting up a club in manly jealous rage, or at least that’s how it seems. I don’t think the Columbine massacre had happened yet and we were certainly before the horrific ‘incel’ events of recent years, but given the current climate it’s easy to draw parallels with these lyrics. Each of the three opening vignettes are written in that matter of fact way – nothing flowery, nothing poetic, and in this case that approach helps stamp down the point about the recurring perpetuation of hate. I’m not 100% clear on the final verse – presumably it’s one of these people who was about to go down the path of hatred but instead turns to love, but I did get a hint of the suicidal and the insane about that verse too. It’s the most poetic verse, and it’s a somewhat stark departure. Assuming I’m reading too much into that final verse, is this another case of making things too simplistic? It feels like it’s saying ‘why would you want to hurt those who have wronged you, why would you want to carry on the hate which your parents taught you, why would you want to shoot up a club because a woman turned you down, why would you do that when you can just love? You know, go love!’ People who turn to violence against others, not that it’s ever justified, but they justify it in their own minds if it’s not blind fury. This hatred builds over time to the point of consumption, to the point of insanity. As clear minded and prepared as a killer can be, isn’t all murder insane? My ramblings only prove that it’s a topic not easily resolved in a song, and certainly not with a hippy’s mantra of love. The 60s are over, man, get a job.

Who are (is?) the dead? Which words are for them? The whole song? Are we saying this is a dedication to the victims of hate, or are we calling the perpetrators ‘the dead’ and this is not a dedication but a satirical attack on them? The dedication seems the easiest answer, so lets go with that. I’m especially interested to see what Paul and Sanja make of this is, not because the lyrics are difficult or especially interesting in themselves, but because the subject matter seems complex and violent.

And that’s that! It’s a bit of a middling album for me. A few songs I know I’ll forget very quickly and some I have no interest in hearing again. My three favourites are songs I will come back to but outside of those three I’m not sure if anything else will stick. I did leave it a couple of weeks between posting Part 1 and writing this. I need to go off and check if Paul and Sanja have caught up yet. I think at the time of writing this, their Part 1 Radiation episode is out. My next post will cover the BYAMPOD episodes on Radiation and will likely take a bullet-point approach because writing a commentary about a commentary is too meta and futile even for me. Don’t forget to check out the album if you haven’t already and make sure to listen to the Podcast for yourselves!

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 one 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 – 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.

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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!