Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 5)!

Greetings, Glancers! We’ve finally made it – the final part of Marbles before we move on to something else. Or Somewhere Else. I’m ready for it.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Angelina doesn’t need to be seven and a half minutes long. I’m sure the opening thirty seconds or so mean something, but I’m guessing the average listener or fan wouldn’t miss it. There’s radio chatter and the lyrics mention ‘tuning in to Angelina’, but again you could get that across without the thirty seconds of noise. It’s not until the 2nd minute that the meat o the song begins. The slow and static section before then is echoed later – I suspect the opening would drag for me with time and more listens, but I’m fine with it for now. The actual meat of the song is right up there with the rest of the album, chilled, smooth, more reflective melodies. The vocal harmonies are quite lovely, the introduction of a woman’s airy vocals add an unexpected depth, and the guitar solo is tasteful. Perhaps the song’s biggest problem is its placement – we’ve already had several similarly paced songs on an album which we’ve been listening to for an hour. I didn’t find it any better or worse than those, but did we need another? In isolation it’s another strong Marillion song, in the thematic context of the album it makes sense, but considering the running time of the album I wouldn’t be surprised if listeners are exhausted or distracted at this point.

Is Angelina H’s favourite Babestation performer? I can read the lyrics as pointing towards such an assumption, or that she’s a radio DJ. But why? What’s it all about? In a album concerned with memory and regret, is this a memory of sneaking a phone to call up some sex hotline when you’re a teenager? Is Paul going to have a story about H’s parents fighting over mysterious, costly entries on their phone bill – Mum asking Dad what The Permed Milfs (or whatever sex lines were called in the 70s) is? Too many of the lyrics don’t suggest childhood, but an adult drunk, stoned, and unable to sleep, lost in a routine of addiction and insomnia. Is this just another song exploring the pitfalls of the lonely rock star life? That would make sense in tying up the various thematical strands of Marbles. 

Drilling Holes feels like the most overt Beatles-esque Marillion song yet. Musically, lyrically, even the name all gave me Beatles vibes. It’s not a bad song by any means, but I think it’s one of the weakest on the album. Having said that, even though I prefer Angelina, I might pick this over Angelina to stay on Marbles if I was asked to cut a song. It’s a little shorter, but the difference in tone and structure breaks up the momentum of the album and acts as a breather before the final two songs. It’s has a noticeably harsher sound, with warbling phasers, clattering keys and bass, and the layering is aiming for chaos rather than the relaxed vibe felt on the majority of the album. There’s a lot going on, from the Lucy In The Sky floaty interludes replete with harpsichord sounds, the day to day detail of the lyrics, the funky bass transitions, the swelling of sounds with barely a note or sound repeated – it’s maybe the most dense production on the album.

Lyrically I was reminded of A Day In The Life – the lyrics seemingly randomly fixating on small matter of fact details rather than some overt grand theme – while being open enough to interpretation than you can apply a variety of themes to it. It’s also has that slightly nonsensical, Goons-esque playing on words which Lennon was so fond of; Non-sequitors, Escher sentences, words looping and contradicting. I did like how the idea of a man drilling holes, and the various other characters coming around and causing interruptions through the day (s) was mirrored by the throng of musical shifts and dissonance.

I originally read the lyric as being another childhood recollection, a child seeing all of this going on in their home, but it seems to be more of a day in the life of a rock star in a band. Hours pass with the only notable incident being someone arriving to drill holes or work in the kitchen, before the band (most of them, anyway) show up for a party. The ‘woman in a panic’ I interpreted as Lucy, the ‘man wearing plastic’ as your cliche record company exec – but more than anything the references all serve the goal of explaining the matter of fact, daily grind of a random day in a rather strange life. So while I think it’s one of the musically less enjoyable songs on the album, it’s arguably the most musically interesting and creative, and one of the best written lyrics.

Marbles IV closes out the Marbles arc, another drifting, dreamy short entry, but harmless and not without its charm. From my own standpoint, the most interesting thing I have to say about the song is my own mishearing of the lyrics. The closing repetitions of ‘only words’, I heard as Hollywood’, but before reading ‘sometimes I think I should go see a shrink in case he can find me some more’ (which makes perfect comical sense in line with the whole marbles/sanity thing), I was singing it as ‘sometimes I think I should go see a shrink if Lucy can find me someone’. I had this whole bit prepared in my head to write about how even though H is no longer the helpless, he admits to still relying heavily on a mother figure to help him figure out his problems. Turns out I’m a half-deaf idiot, though we likely knew that anyway.

Neverland closes the album, another lengthy song, and one I keep forgetting is there. I think during my first listens of the album, I would accidentally turn Youtube off after Marbles IV or I was listening to some gimped upload which didn’t actually include Neverland. It’s another great song, a little overlong sure, with some pieces maybe feeling artificially stretched towards the end. The opening is on par with the best of the album – sombre, melodic – and the minimalist synth backing coupled with some of H’s vocals set us up for another great ride. The jump-scare introduction of the rest of the band pushes the emotions up a notch and H moves into a more rock oriented vocal. I know Paul isn’t a fan of H’s harder vocals a lot of the time, but I think this is an example of H doing it well. It’s sincere and led by the emotion of the song and the individual take, rather than some pre-conceived idea of having to sound raw.

Elsewhere, more good guitar moments – the pained D Sharp to D transitions and onwards down the scale are potent, their Gilmour-esque sustain wrenching every ounce of emotion out of every second, lovely orchestration of the layering keyboards, the lyrical call-backs to previous songs. The final couple of minutes I can take or leave but I imagine the song’s better instrumental moments could be dragged out even further when played live.

Being called Neverland, we’re firmly in the realm of fantasy again – the world created by a mind devoid of marbles. We get a more specific reference to the title in ‘Wendy Darling’, and again with the talk of hooks and tic toks, and it would be easy to see this as another song of escapism. The escapism is there, but it’s also about love, about loneliness, and seems to be a complimentary nod of dedication to H’s muse, whether that be a real person or otherwise. They’re the person, the thing who made H who he is, providing the spark and the soul, and allowing all of these thoughts and songs to be shared. Sure, this relationship may have caused damage elsewhere, caused damage to other visible relationships, but this is the one which will last. It’s an ambiguous note to end on – is it a good thing or a bad thing, and who decides?

Yes. Marillion’s best album, up to this point. It’s exactly the sort of music I was listening to around the time it was released, but it’s only now that I’m hearing it. If any album was going to make me a Marillion fan, this would be it. In a fair and righteous world, any number of songs, albums, and artists would have greater levels of success, acclaim, and fame than those who get the plaudits, and Marbles is an example of one such album. It’s deserving of what it has received, but also of so much more. We’re not in a fair or righteous world and I’m a firm believer that most of the best art and music ever created, or potentially created, will never be seen or heard because the creator never had the opportunity or the will to actually create or share it. We should thankful for what does get out there.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

On to the final Marbles BYAMPOD (unless there will be a postbag episode), and Paul begins with an alarming shout of ‘I’m not putting it in’. Read into that what you will. Paul and Sanja have heard some stories about the recent Marillion live shows from friends and discuss themed restaurants. What would a Marillion themed restaurant be called? Surely the Dessert Menu would include Sugar Mice and the bar would be known as The Bitter Suite? Those are too easy. Barillion? Enough. Has there ever been an album cover which is just bird shit? That’s my car bonnet.

On to Angelina – Paul likes it, Sanja less so. They agree it’s a late night song, with Paul drawing comparison to House. Like much of the album, it’s a success in terms of atmosphere and painting a mood with sound. It’s not a song which gets a live airing too often, but Paul says it always works well. Sparse jammy openings. Warm Wet Circles. BIRTH CANALS. Actually… H, water based songs, canoes, horny dirtbag… how has H not written a song called ‘Birth Canals’ yet? While I said I would potentially cut the song, that was more in relation to finding something to cut from the second half to ease up the length. It fits sonically. Thematically too, even if I wasn’t sure exactly what the theme was. If I were to make my own cut of the album – a single album – I’d keep Angelina on. It’s one of the songs which will make my own playlist. Actualina.

H says the song was inspired by seeing a Capitol Radio poster driving in to London. The interplay between DJ and Babestation is mentioned and that’s what I picked up on. So… not really about anything, but by extension loneliness and escape. The production keeps the emotional relevance in place, it sounds like the Steven Wilson mix is too polished and removes some of the feels.

Drilling Holes is a lot of fun for Sanja – she wouldn’t seek it out, but enjoys it when it’s on. Paul doesn’t like it, saying it feels contrived and too whimsical, unlike the bands they are trying to emulate. I don’t have as much of an issue with this because I found them clearly trying to ape a sound. Does it make it better saying ‘lets make an early Pink Floyd/Beatles song’ and then making it – being honest about it up front? I suppose it doesn’t matter much to me, though I get what Paul’s saying. In any case, we agree it’s one of the less enjoyable songs on the album. It’s interesting that Dave mentions how it’s a mixture of so many takes and him throwing in the parts which didn’t repeat. I definitely picked that up, and I think that’s a cool idea. I’ve mentioned before, but I love the idea or experiment of handing a sheet of lyrics to 10 different artists and having them write music for it to see how different the results are. Kind of what’s going on here, but with one artist recording different takes and one producer taking the parts he likes. It’s a hippy, drug-fuelled, Alice In Wonderland day according to Sanja. Paul tells us it seems to be a recollection of them enjoying their time recording Season’s End while actively avoiding the sound of the rest of the album.

Neverland is described as many fans’ picks as the best Marillion song. That’s interesting, I’d rank quite a few on this album alone as being ‘better’ in my eyes. Still a great song, but it’s no Invisible Man or Ocean Cloud. We agree about cutting a few minutes out, but it goes on my playlist. I’m not sure a shorter version would have been a huge hit single, but it certainly would have been stronger – as a standalone and in the context of the album. It’s the perfect end to the Marbles. We’re then treated to a Teaser trailer for BYAMPOD season 2 – Mr Biffo Reads The Works Of J.M Barrie. Incidentally, Michael Jackson’s favourite book.

The guys talk about the repeated references in interviews to this being ‘a male album’. What anyone means by that is anyone’s guess, but it’s not a thing I listened for or something I ever look for in any media. Man, woman, whatever – I’ll listen to whatever you’re offering and try to bridge the gap between the artist’s emotions and mine while listening. Sanja sees Neverland as a gorgeous love song, starting out in a dark and hopeless place and coming into light, and an opposing, correlated force to Invisible Man. Both see it as a song of reconciliation, of forgiveness, and as a powerhouse performance lyrically and vocally from H. Paul has a lot of personal emotional ties to the song, while it may be one of H’s most revealing lyrics.

Turns out we will have a postbag episode, but the guys give a brief summary of their feelings as a whole. Even in my most favourite albums of all time, there are songs I would change, or something I would change – cutting a few moments, changing the running order etc. Is there a perfect album? I look at my favourites – The Holy Bible I would take off She Is Suffering, Joni Mitchell’s Blue I would switch out The Last Time I Saw Richard, The Wall I’m not much of a fan of Run Like Hell, G’n’R’s Appetite For Destruction has a couple of songs I’d swap with others, The Bends has some better B-Sides than what makes it on the album etc etc. And that’s that – go listen, subscribe, like, and share, and let us know what you thought in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 4)!

Greetings, Glancers! We begin our coverage of Side 2 of the Marbles extravaganza with another piece of the Marbles Suite. The third part of this suite is maybe the most commercially viable track of the four, felling both self-contained and having some nifty melodies, while leading perfectly into The Damage. It has a creepy drip-drip piano intro like some introspective window-watching scene from a BBC Detective show. It’s a section I could happily have had more of, but it leads into a more pop-oriented ballad 2nd half. The second half I could also have had more of. Without Biffo’s explanation of H’s childhood marbles terrorism act, I wouldn’t have known what to make of the lyrics. I don’t think I even made the connection between the lyrics and marbles until I heard the actual explanation, which seems stupid now. They form a neat little story which is evocative for any of us naughty little boys who got up to bad stuff when we were young and ran home to hide hoping that neighbours wouldn’t find out and come calling.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

The Damage, is pure Matt Bellamy. I brought this up towards the end of my Part 3 post, but it’s true. The jaunty piano bopping, the buzzing distorted guitars of the intro, even some of the vocal tics are all very similar Muse songs of a particular era. It’s a fun, fuzzy, pop rock song with amusing vocals. It’s very catchy and I’d call it another example of Marillion making a song which could have been a hit had it been recorded by a different, possibly younger/newer band. It doesn’t too dissimilar to what many of the big rock bands of the time were putting out. I think it could have been shaved by thirty seconds to hit that sweet sub four minute radio friendly unit shifter timeframe – there’s one or two chorus re-runs too many – but before it run out of steam it’s a fun, inoffensive song. This entire section of the album feels very hit heavy – a run of songs which could have been popular singles in another space and time, and this is the most off-kilter of the bunch thanks to the vocal antics, even if it does tail off in that regard before the end.

We have some callbacks to previous songs and themes in the opening lyrics – ‘I’m scared of opening the can/I’m scared of changing who I am’, which suggests both this inescapable internal battle but also a more deliberate placing because he’s done the deed, failed in his bid to defeat temptation. The song itself has its own internal repetition – howling ‘the damage’ over and over like a man banging his head off the wall in regret for the things he’s done. The parts about wanting what’s under the counter (which, now that I typed it also seems like a filthy euphemism) I can only read in relation to the repetitions of ‘natural woman’ in that the narrator seems to be looking for something real, the reality which other people are not allowed to see. What this all means in a wider sense, I don’t know. The desperate nature of the vocal delivery and the semi-crazed rhythms and tones of the song lead me down the path of thinking the song is some frantic cry for a new relationship having realised what has been lost – that could be with a new person or (less likely) with the old flame. But it’s all futile guesswork until Paul tells us what it’s actually about.

I only realised when I began typing this exact paragraph that I’d been listening to the ‘promo version’ of Don’t Hurt Yourself. There’s the album version of the song which seems to be two minutes longer, so I’m going to go listen to that now…. well, that was interesting. I was going to begin my bit about this song by saying how it’s a good single, but also fairly cheesy and that the frankly awful accompanying video only increases the cheese levels. The album version drastically decreases the cheese factor, adding a lovely extended intro and what seems to be a very different vocal and audio mix – possibly with different takes too. Now, I’ve only listened to the album version once and as such it sounds… wrong, compared with the promo version. That’s an interesting phenomenon which probably has a name, and it’s one I’ve experienced plenty of times as someone who has listened to a hell of a lot of music. Back when I was getting into certain bands in the early ages of Napster et al, I would download a song by a particular artist and assume it was the ‘right version’, only to learn (sometimes years) after that what I had downloaded was an alternate take, a demo, or a remix. My most fun personal example of this is when I accidentally hit the record button on my (recorded) cassette of Michael Jackson’s Bad. It was near the start of Just Good Friends that I hit Record, shouted ‘oh no’, and went abut my day. This meant that every time I played the cassette (which was at least twice a day through most of the 80s and early 90s), I would hear the recording clicks and me shouting ‘oh no’ before the song resumed, and any time I heard the true song on the radio or on a friend’s copy, the song didn’t sound right without my shouting.

So now I’m doubting which version of Don’t Hurt Yourself is the right one. At this point I’m more excited about this ‘new’ one, so I’ll talk about it. What a lovely intro – a touch of Country, Folky, Neil Young in the acoustic guitars before the slightly heavier central verse stuff comes in. Something about the rhythm made me think of Richard Ashcroft’s Song For The Lovers, even though there’s little other comparison to be made there. In another era this may have been an atypical power ballad, but on Marbles in 2004 it’s less on the nose, more subtle, and has more textures. Backing vocals and near choir moments, slide-guitar esque screeches reminiscent of what Slash did on Estranged, and the underbelly of funky bass and keyboards all create a much richer sound than what you would usually see in a heartfelt cry for self-forgiveness and stability.

Similar to the internal struggles of other lyrics on the album, Don’t Hurt Yourself is caught between the past and the future, between holding on and letting go, and the overall message is encapsulated in the opening line. All things must pass, from possessions to people, dreams and desires, memories and moments. It’s a hopeful message, but with it comes the inevitable bittersweet tinge of loss – not of sudden monumental loss, but of transitional everyday loss to the constant march of time. The music echoes the lyrical sentiment, never completely committing is bouncy pop, with one foot in soft maudlin melancholy. It seems to be H’s song to himself as much as a song for the audience to ponder over.

As I click on my usual Youtube version of You’re Gone, I cringe as I realise it is also a ‘promo version’. Four minutes, three seconds. Let me just see if there is an alternative album version. Great – 6 minutes, 26 seconds. I really should do more research for these things.

I didn’t find the album version as many differences from the single version as I did with Don’t Hurt Yourself. The single is more streamlined and feels like it has more pace – the album version having longer instrumental portions between verse and chorus. There’s an additional bridge section which bulks out the running time, and unsurprisingly doesn’t feel right after being so used to the promo. In all honesty, it’s somewhat of a subdued bridge and I don’t think it does enough to build up to the release of the return chorus. At this point in time I prefer the single to the album version, aside from a few nice vocal additions in the last minute or so. It’s another nice enough song no matter which version you punt for, it slots neatly within the context of the album and works equally well as a standalone, but I don’t think it’s one of my favourite singles till now.

We’re on familiar ground lyrically – more memories, more loss, more love passed by. More dichotomies – night and day, you and I, gone, here, with the space between either clashing like a thunderstorm breaking from the northern sky’, or exhausted ‘like nightfall followed dawn without a day in between’. I don’t have a lot to say about the lyrics, just as I found my opinions lacking on the music – a few poetic lilts to well worn themes, but nothing which demanded my attention.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

On to this week’s BYAMPOD, and while the guys are not in Poland to see Marillion, Sanja has an ulcer – two wrongs make a right! The guys admit they have less to say about side 2 of Marbles so we’re on the final lap before moving on to whatever the next album is. Hopefully everyone who did make it Poland had a great time. I was here, in the rain. We skip over Marbles iii and go right into The Damage, which Paul, Sanja, and the superfriends call themselves. Sort of. Apparently the song owes a debt to Karma Police – one of the most famous Radiohead songs, but not one I was ever the hugest fan of. Paul remarks on how unhinged the song sounds, which matches the theme, but Paul doesn’t think it’s the best example of H’s voice. I felt that it was a more obvious display of him putting on an act, rather than the assumed mumbling that was brought up on the last episode. Sure, he’s not a Rrrrrock vocalist, but he does the job of conveying that desperation. The polished production doesn’t necessarily fit with the punk ethos the song is aiming for. It’s the first time Paul was disappointed while listening to the album… I suppose they just wanted to throw in a silly fun rock song and maybe it works better outside of the context of the album.

Paul reads the song as the drunken, lecherous aftermath of Genie, while Sanja thinks it’s more desperate and needy than, well, horny and dirtbaggy. The loss of control is there, I suppose I read it more as desperation born out of regret and mistakes and damage, rather than the booze of the moment. Paul later retracts his statement about being a letch (H that is, not Paul…), but instead of someone being vulnerable. Then we learn about what FUAC actually means, as I assumed from Paul’s BYAMPOD tweet that it was the acronym for a Marillion album we haven’t got to yet. And who knows, maybe it is.

Don’t Hurt Yourself – Pete and Rothers switch instruments, which I didn’t notice at all. Though why would I. I wrote a lot about it, though most of that was down to the different versions. Paul doesn’t like it. Dull, tedious, uninspired rock. I preferred it to The Damaged and You’re Gone, but I like a middle of the road ballad here and there. I can see how this, being single bait, doesn’t fit with the flow and vibe of the album – maybe if it had been a standalone single released a year after Marbles and in no other way affiliated, Paul would have liked it. There’s always a pull to write something immediately enjoyable and which is going to promote the album to a wider user base, while figuring out how to make it as artistic as everything else. Sanja likes it more and they have a discussion about the lyrics – is H talking to himself or to others – which is something I remarked on. H himself says of the song that it was born out of his own pain and hearing how others are struggling too, and wrote it as a cathartic expression of finding his route out of pain.

Paul loves You’re Gone, which I felt was more bland than Don’t Hurt Yourself. I suppose there’s more of a Prog base to it, but I had little to say about the music. The context of Rothers building the song makes it more interesting, but I don’t think my opinion of it will change because of this. It’s fine – nothing bad, certainly more positive than not, but didn’t strike much of a chord with me. Then the guys do their own bit about the different versions – Sanja is as sloppy as me then, except I worked it out before it was too late. ‘Not fit to fart up his chimney’, is the phrase we expected to hear. Paul has a greater love for the lyrics than I did – again, I liked the lyrics, but didn’t find that personal attachment which raises the stakes for me. ‘Pessimistic Ghost’ sounds like an Ultra Rare Top Trumps card. Paul goes deep on the potential metaphor reading ‘early hours’ as ‘affair’. I can…seeeeee… that but I didn’t get that feeling. Could be, that’s the fun of guesswork and metaphors. I worked with a guy once who claimed metaphors didn’t exist… like, they weren’t real or something. Whenever he heard someone explaining the metaphor of a movie or song, he would get incredibly worked up and frustrated. I don’t think he was arguing that everything should be taken literally or that people were lying when using metaphors, but he would grumble and say that music and movies were nothing more than sounds and stories and contained nothing extra beneath the surface. I think he went on to work in a Bank or something.

Go listen to the latest BYAMPOD episode, send the team an email, follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and possibly up a chimney, and as always, leave any comments below!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 3)!

Greetings, Glancers! Since my last Marbles specific post, the world has gone a bit mad (pun intended). It hasn’t been great for the last few years, between Recessions, Pandemics, Trumps, and Neighbours being cancelled, but then Putin entered the chat. If reading this distracts you from the shit for a few minutes, then I may go down as one of history’s greatest heroes. Since my last post, Paul and Sanja have done a couple of episodes of the lead up to Marbles and have reviewed the new Marillion album. I listened to the first and last 10 minutes of that review (I didn’t want any spoilers), was intrigued by the positive feedback, and disgusted by Sanja’s toxic gas emissions. Some things we don’t forget.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Fantastic Place continues the trend of smooth and relaxed music, being another laid-pack and atmospheric song with another spirited solo. I love Rothery’s central solo here not because it’s technically difficult but because it breaks and enhances the build up of tension which grows from the song’s glacial opening. I enjoy songs which have this stacking quality anyway – starting slow or soft and gradually adding further textures to subtly shift the sound through the gears until it a bombastic climax without you even noticing that it’s happening. Fantastic Place is a prime example of how to do this well – strings and synth, light percussive elements drifting the song outwards even as the melodies remain familiar, then backing vocals, additional drums, a twisting of the volume knobs – these elements continue to grow until the solo breaks the tension and shuffles us into the final couple of minutes. It’s another very strong song, another piece of excellent production.

Lyrically, we’re firmly in escapism territory, one of H’s consistent fall-backs. Even if you took away the repeated key lyric ‘take me to the fantastic place/keep the rest of my life away’, this yearning for freedom and escape is glaring. The more interesting question is to ask why he wants this escape – I’m not sure the lyrics show the writer in the most positive light. The opening verse suggests the end of a relationship, with the honest admission of wanting to own your lover and that ownership being one of the prime reasons why letting go is so difficult. Yet the second verse feels like finger-pointing – you screwed me down, you took my money, you forced me into drinking; it isn’t the sweet song of freedom yearning which the music may suggest.

By the end of the song, we’ve pivoted somewhat to the writer asking for (presumably) the person they’re breaking with to come to this fantastic place with them, because it’s a place where they can be completely open and honest, a place where understanding is natural and where struggles can be made transparent. The fact that the fantastic place is framed as an imaginary world casts a bleak and frustrating drape over the argument, the writer almost suggesting it’s impossible to get there, but the listener (perhaps naively) shouting that all you have to do is talk!

There’s nothing like a 6 plus minute song leading into an 18 minuter! Ocean Cloud would be the centrepiece of any album – it just so happens that Marbles is a beast of an album with multiple epics. What could be an exhausting experience and only one step of the overall Odyssey, is instead a wonderful jaunt into everything which makes Prog so exciting for people who enjoy Prog. Lets be honest – as Prog fans, do we not expect songs to stride confidently beyond 10 minutes? We certainly don’t want two or three 30 minute songs in a row, or 30 two minute songs. Both have their place in music of course, but Prog fans expect their artists to be adventurous, to be technically proficient, to take risks, and to push envelopes – to be confident and not shy away from writing and performing what 20th Century popular music has trained us to be afraid of.

You could spend an entire post, or podcast episode, on this song alone; at least then you could structure a valid response to the song rather than my on the fly waffling. I’ll get the stuff I don’t like about the song out of the way first, because there isn’t much. I don’t think the songs needs to be as long as it is – the section with the sound clips of the guy talking does nothing for me, and more than anything takes me out of the song. I understand why it’s there, and after Googling the lyrics and the history of the song, it makes sense. But I’d scrap it. It’s not self-indulgent, but I think cutting it would not do much damage to the song. Most of the backing instrumental, soundscaping is suitably airy, it’s honestly only the specific soundclip pieces I would remove – less than a minute in total. Or even just edit the talking out and keep the music.

That’s the only negative comment I can muster. I do prefer the opening minutes of the song to much of the second half – but the second half is excellent too, not because we have recurring motifs and melodies from those opening minutes but because the music takes on a darker, more threatening slant with guitars and drums which reminded me of the Kid A – Hail To The Thief era Radiohead. The roughly 10 – 13 minute section is some of the best stuff on the whole album.

Which leads nicely into the good stuff, of which there is an abundance; that solitary sole voice intro, which feels simultaneously like an ending, and the cautiously comforting words of a campfire bandit inviting you to gather around the warmth to here the sorry story of his life; the eerie and forlorn mixture of guitar and gull reminding me again of Rooster by Alice In Chains; the layering of keys and synth bloops; the unexpected switching from minor to major and the fluid move back; the leisurely pace laden with confidence which proudly screams ‘we’re doing this at our own speed and you’re gonna fucking love it’; the string and cello sounds around the 13 minute mark; the little peaks which foreshadow greater peaks; the placement of tasteful and varied solos; the guitars starting at 5.12 for which there is no earthly or logical reason why they should be so devastating, but they are. The magical power of music. There’s more to it, but you get the idea. It’s, and we all know it’s an overused and essentially meaningless term in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a masterpiece.

What’s it all about (Alfie)? I know what the top layer of the song is about, having Googled the lyrics and learning of Don Allum’s escapades across the Atlantic Ocean. Real life blokes going off into the unknown for some symbolically heavy journey seems to be a recurring them for Marillion. Have they done a song about Scott heading to Antarctica or some guy climbing Everest? Or me, tackling their entire Discography for needles Blog purposes? It’s all very interesting, but it’s the subtext I’m more curious about.

We can read much of the song as being purely about Allum, but it seems clear that while H admires/envies the guy, he’s also comparing. We know at this point H dreams of escape, and what could be more freeing than sitting in a yacht in the middle of the ocean, alone for months? The first verses examine this internal struggle of being pulled back to the sea even though he knows how dangerous it is, but we can read this as temptation on H’s behalf by almost literal Sirens. But to have a mistress he’s allowed?

As detailed as the lyrics are, I don’t have much more to say about them. They read like a story, a series of memories with that ever present pull of the sea underneath. I was sure that I was mishearing ‘cream puff’ and that I would ridicule myself when I read the correct lyrics. But no, he does sing ‘cream puff’, which may be the only instance I’ve heard of that phrase being used in song. There’s a bit about getting one over on the bullies, there’s a call-back to The Invisible Man – always entertaining when an artist’s song mentions another one of their own songs, the lyrics neatly play with various water based metaphors to draw comparisons with emotions, people, sexual urges, and from start to finish there’s a tonal interplay between the lyrics and music where each changes to suit the needs of the other – it feels like an uncommon amount of effort was put into making the song feel like a coherent whole where no individual aspect was left untethered from any other. A song doesn’t get to be a masterpiece without this level of attention.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

Now that we’re all caught up, and I’ll inevitably fall behind again, lets hear what Paul and Sanja make of it all. As you may have read on the socials, Sanja unfortunately contracted Covid again, and the trip to Poland to see Marillion was cancelled. If you want to know why… well you’ll just have to Patreon it up, won’t you. I recently got a pay rise, so I’m sure I can chuck them a quid. Then again, milk now costs 14 pounds a litre or something, so everything is on the rise. I’m not poor, but it’s another thing to have to go online and register for and Paypal for, and…. look, the depths of my can’t-be-arsed-ness know no bounds. But all that extra bonus material – BYAMPOD, Digi, and other – is very tempting for someone who has been reading Digi since the early 90s.

The guys start with a bit about alternate track-listing – something which has always interested me but is sadly less important these days with Shuffling and hoverboards and whatever other futuristic nonsense the kids have these days. I must have been listening in the wrong order too. What is the right order? Who knows. In any case, Fantastic Place was the initial standout for Paul. We hear a snippet from the band about the song pushing the band out of their comfort zone and how Rothers was pushed to create a more emotional based solo – I mentioned the solo as a highlights, so it must have worked. It feels like a traditional Marillion song, but apparently it was a difficult one to get right. We hear about the different click tracks and audio engineering the band deals with when playing live – this is always interesting, but I think it’s par for the course in most established bands – and how many notes, and words, and beats, and songs the band have to remember while playing live. Some bands struggle with this the longer they exist and the more songs they write, so recalling the less frequently performed songs can be tricky. That’s what rehearsing’s for, plus it’s your job so at least try to be competent at it.

There is a bit of mumbling, which I felt was a deliberate approach similar to the lisping I mentioned in another post. People may have been pissed off because it’s not so obvious to the point that it feels like it could have been a mistake rather than a choice. Whatever the truth, it didn’t annoy me. Not like the lisping did. It’s rare for mistakes to get through to the final product without the band and the producer being aware of it – as listeners, we are not the experts no matter how technically proficient we may be. Another producer or musician will pick up on things that your average listener may miss or misunderstand, but most instances these ‘mistakes’ are aesthetic preferences or purposefully left it.

Paul and Sanja mention the theme of escape again, which is plainly obvious from the lyrics. Sanja says the song takes a stark shift from a closed off place to an Eden of freedom and confidence. Sanja wants one of the lyrics printed on a t-shirt, which reminds me of my ‘I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing’ t-shirt which I bought recently and which has already garnered some interesting looks from passers-by on a Sunday morning. Paul and Sanja both initially thought the song was about adultery, but that it later becomes a more realistic depiction of a relationship being hindered by real life. There’s the yearning for a relationship to work, but perhaps the admittance that it never will. It feels like Paul has a similar sad view of the song as I have – it never felt like a happy song, a song saying ‘we had our problems, but now we’re good’. It’s a song saying ‘We’ve had our problems, they haven’t gone away, I wish they would because look at how amazing we could be – but these problems can’t be solved’. Sanja was reading a more positive future, which may be the truth, but it struck me as a hopeless admission.

On to Ocean Cloud and Paul starts out by saying how cinematic and narratively powerful it is. The way the song feels like the ebbing and flowing of weather is something which struck me on later listens, but it’s absolutely there. It’s surprising to learn that some people didn’t like Ocean Cloud at the time – I would have thought this would have been right up your traditional Marillion fan’s alley, unless those fans were looking for something for guitar heavy? All of these future songs they mention I haven’t heard yet. It definitely feels coherent, even though there are distinct parts. I can’t say I’ve had many water-based dreams – probably for the best as I don’t want to wake up with moist garments and sheets. Being away from people is great -whether that be on a beach, in the desert, in the oceans, or like me just in the house, inside my head, or walking at night like a weirdo.

We hear about Don’s journey and H’s fondness of these stories – both the escapism and romanticism of such adventures. Wait a minute…. H… H Rider Haggard…. now it all makes sense. Paul and Sanja both love the lyrics, their poetry, their evocative nature. I was never picked last for any sport in School, mostly because I was faster than everyone, and because there were a handful of people who were entirely inept, but I was among the last picks. Unless we’re talking gymnastics, for which I was always sought out by the PE teacher as the person to demonstrate a move (which I’d never done before), yet over the course of my 7 years at this School he never bothered to learn my name. H’s quote about stronger, fitter men is interesting. I can understand that even if I’ve never felt it myself – I think I’m comfortable with my own abilities and lack thereof, and have never been competitive about anything or felt threatened in such a way. I’m great!

With that shameless crap out of the way, we can wrap up for another week. I need to get writing about Side 2 because at this point (even though I’ve listened many times) my only note is ‘The Damage is pure Muse complete with Matt Bellamy vocals’. Come back next week for more on that bombshell. As always, go listen to BYAMPOD and give the guys likes, reviews, and all the other algorithm volumetric shenanigans!

Nightman Listens To – BYAMPOD – Marbles Episode 2

Greetings, Glancers! Of all of the places I’ve never visited, Poland is one of those places. Some day, you know? Paul and Sanja are going though – maybe next week, maybe the week after. They’re going to see Marillion. Will there be time for a Digi Poland thing? I’m sure they’ve probably addressed this somewhere, but I don’t know what day it is never mind what week.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Paul explains that Marbles i-iv was originally written as a single piece, at least lyrically. As I mentioned in one of my Marbles posts, the moment someone writes a song and then splits it into several parts, you know someone’s immediately going to edit them back together. I agree with Paul’s assessment – they’re interludes, not the most interesting, but I wouldn’t feel like skipping them when listening to the album as they’re fairly short. Are they integral to the overall quality? I don’t think we’d miss them if they weren’t they, I don’t think they add much, but they don’t do any damage.

I’m trying to remember if I did any explicit damage with Marbles. Now, I just played my strange post apocalyptic zombie game with them, indoors. I didn’t even want to risk taking them outside for one of the local gingers getting their freckled hands all over them. Plus we had a pond in the back garden, and I’d already lost several prized toys in there – Micro Machines, MUSCLE men. Of course, one summer when we were cleaning the pond I did manage to dredge up one such missing MUSCLE man – the legendary (self-named) Leprosy Man. He was a little discoloured and probably disorientated, but no worse for wear for having been the play thing of goldfish and rudd for 10 years. And who cares about discoloured skin when you have leprosy?

We did of course throw plenty of stones? Look, it was Northern Ireland in the 80s, the only thing we had to do at the weekends between episodes of He-Man was throw stones at each other. There was a new house being built at the bottom of my street, and one of my pseudo mates (he was in the year above us in school and was never fully part of the gang) used to entice younger kids (don’t worry, this isn’t going into dodgy territory) over to this site, grab fistfuls of stones, gravel, and muck, and throw them up into the air to rain down onto the kids’ heads. I fell victim to this several times, and like dreaming about teeth falling out, I sometimes have dreams about pulling that loose sediment out of my locks. I did hit one of the younger kids on my street with a stone from a Black Widow catapult once. It wasn’t intentional – he was heading home and I thought it would be good sport to launch a pebble into the air in his general direction. I didn’t expect to see him fall over and squeal 8 seconds after I let fly, just as he reached his driveway. Don’t worry folks, he wasn’t harmed. Badly. The lesson seems to be – never be younger than anyone on my street.

Do I have time to mention that time I had my head split open by a boomerang? Lets leave that for another day. All of these memories had a great impact on H, and rather than sticking them into a blog no-one reads, he put them into what appears to be his best piece of work. On Genie then, and one of Sanja’s favourites which she sees as uplifting and easy-listening – pleasant, effortless. Paul speaks positively of the song’s placement, coming precisely in the running where it should. The album’s consistency and coherence is definitely one of its strong points. Paul says the Production is a little more raw – while it’s ostensibly a pop ballad, it’s emboldened in a less commercial way to accentuate the lyrics and emotion. I think it’s still very glossy and they could have gone even further to rough it up if that was the intent, but it’s perfect as it is. Sanja’s lyrical analysis feels spot on, but Paul lets us know it’s all based on a specific incident. H had a bit of an obsessive fan who had an interesting story about his past life. I’m sure she’s happy she now has a song about her – behind it all, this being a rock band, is a horny dirtbag trying to not shag everything in sight.

Moving on to The Only Unforgiveable Thing, and I think we can all agree with Paul’s ‘one of Marillion’s best songs’ sentiment. Paul’s ‘it’s so diverse but not’ thought is one I can agree with – there’s a wealth of musical talent on display but I can see plenty of listeners being bored by the repeated smooth and relaxed vibe. Not me though. The album is a step up from everything else they’ve ever done for me, as a first time listener. I don’t know which upcoming albums are those which fans think rival Marbles for title of best album.

Sanja loves the descriptive weight of the words, the persistent oppression. I found it a very Thom Yorke lyric – finding the intangible in the mundane every day objects, depression and paranoia personified by those items we use or see every day. I felt it was among their best lyrical work, and Paul says it can be interpreted in two ways but it’s most likely about guilt due to infidelity. Horny dirtbags. Paul connects this to the ‘lost the stars and sky’ line with H not willing to give up the horny dirtbag life, while Sanja saw it as a relation to Genie’s themes, as I did. Paul recalls how his first experience of these songs made him think they had taken a creative leap forwards and that everything the band was doing around that time seemed to lead to success, but with that we sign off until next time. Go listen for yourself and let us know in the comments what you think!

Nightman Listens To – BYAMPOD – Marbles Episode 1

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! With all the excitement over Marillion’s new album, Paul and Sanja have been off the beaten path for a couple of months, but recently they found their way back to the straight and/or narrow to pick up the chronology once more. Regular Glancers will know I’ve already published two posts on Marbles – the third is written too – but this post is simple a smattering of my thoughts based on what Paul and Sanja have to say about the first few songs. Feel free to skip, as this will be even more stream of consciousness than usual.

That’s a sever looking H on the thumbnail – he looks like a Victorian era Schoolmaster about to rattle some knuckles.

The band think it’s a ‘male’ album’ In that case, it’s severely lacking in biceps and miniguns.

I never want to be bitten by a spider. Or touched by a spider. I’m not Australian. I’ve never been touched by an Australian.

This was the first album Adult Paul felt a relation to what the band was talking about.

I was in my last year of University in 2004. I was in a relationship, with a woman, and with drugs. Neither were serious, though they felt with it at the time. Mostly I was still hung up on the relationship which never happened from a few years earlier. I was also trying to get a band up and running, but as is the case with most creative outlets in my life, I can’t find anyone to come with me on the journey and therefore blame everyone else for my own laziness and failures.

I’m eternally interested by the writing and recording process – lyrics first, music first, or some mixture. It’s partly why Get Back was such a joy. It looks like for Marbles the music was there to serve the words.

Marbles really are dangerous – they’re so solid. You can choke on them, break almost anything with them.

Sanja was daunted by the prospect of getting to Marbles and her journey through the album has been challenging in terms of putting her thoughts to words. She’s also concerned about how she will move on from Marbles to the next album.

Marbles has been my favourite album so far – it seems to be their best album too. Why is it their best? Because everything I say is fact, bruh. It’s as I mentioned in another Marbles post – it feels like everything the band had been trying to do since day 1 finally came out, the stars aligned and so on. All the little things they tried simply work. 

On to The Invisible Man with Paul saying it’s probably his favourite Marillion song and Sanja drawing tribal/womb/heartbeat comparisons. The bit they’re talking about – the bit they (shock horror) play a clip of is just after the bit I mention in my first Marbles post – as soon as H says ‘Amsterdam’. It’s everything I love about Prog, and I suppose about Music.

I agree that the album doesn’t feel dated. I’d still class it as fairly recent… I suppose. Other pop hits from the time you could instantly place, an experienced Sound Engineer I imagine could place the album, but there are likely quite a few albums from the era which still feel modern. Has music moved on much sense then? I’m sure it has, but I don’t listen to enough modern stuff.

‘Choir Noir’ is not so hard to say in my accent. ‘Qui-er No-Arr’. What do you call a Klingon who hates noisy pirates, but can’t pronounce the letter ‘T’? ‘Qui-er No-Arr’ (Quieter! No Arggh!) These Funny Me Dos are hard.

What’s it all about? Sanja draws comparisons and differences between this and Hollow Man, with Paul seeing similarities with Beyond You. She sees it as a cry for help, with the overall theme being powerlessness. I like the idea of parents/ancestors watching their children/descendants from beyond – I like it from a fictional perspective and it makes for interesting narrative and imaginative ideas. I believe I alluded to this in my post, comparing it to What Dreams May Come. Paul’s interpretation is more on the romantic side – the powerlessness comes from wanting to be with someone when you can’t, or watching someone move on when you’re not ready to.

H’s interview sums all of these feelings up – it’s a song which has specific references, but is more concerned with the wider picture, those wider modern feelings of alienation heightened by the amount of data we have exposure to. We get intimate pictures of pain and destruction and can be little more than passive reactors – we can help, but does our help make a difference? Maybe we can give considerable support to one person or group or thing… but do we miss out on helping others? More than anything, this (for me) points to us as being decent human beings – we’re one species and we want to help each other. No other species has evolved to the state of being aware of such worldly widespread troubles and has the technology to both bare witness and potentially help, and to feel empathy for those troubles. At least as far as we know.

Don’t worry, team – my first Marbles post was only this song and Marbles I. There’s a lot to unpack in the song, and it’s wonderful to hear fans gush over it. Plus it’s nice that I like the song too. I suppose I’ll be doing a few more of these bonus posts. Go listen to BYAMPOD.

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 2)!

Greetings, Glancers! On my first rambling Marbles post I only managed to cover the first two songs – that’s the problem when you have free reign to waffle on about nothing with nobody to smack you around the chops and tell you to stop. We’ll get through more today, don’t you worry. More songs that is, less waffle.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

We get back on track with Genie, a smooth song which sets and cements some of the childlike themes and sounds of the album. It was around this point that I began drawing thematic parallels between Marbles and Misplaced Childhood – were those intentional or am I seeing connections that aren’t there? Genies is a lovely pop ballad with a sweet vibe and sentiment. Outside of all that ‘boxsh’ nonsense, of course, which I won’t mention again. Look, plenty of my favourite singers do weird shit I can’t stand. I’ll get over it.

After a brief swirly intro, we get a novel off-kilter lead riff which sounds like it begins on the off beat, like the halfway through the riff if that makes sense. Tubular Bells does this, for example. It lends an unusual atmosphere to the song’s opening, but perhaps the most unusual aspect is how it differs from the rest of the song. The song is less than five minutes, but it goes through more transitions and moods than plenty of songs with a much longer run time. The first transition sets the tone for the rest of the song, coming before the first minute closes as the finger-picked riff ends on a transitional chord smoothly leading into a softer, ethereal interlude. The keyboards, guitar, and vocals in this section are particularly lovely – evoking childhood images of peace, calmness, and love. There are some backing vocals here, which I think are from a mystery woman – in any case, they had another layer of sweetness and warmth. This portion of the song reminded me a lot of Radiohead’s Let Down in terms of soundscapes and how much is packed into a short timeframe without compromising on quality or feeling messy.

We then enter what is the traditional chorus – the traditional big moment of any song – and it does what a chorus should, peaking and releasing the emotions while begging you to chant along. It’s not a traditional structure for a pop song by any means – that chorus only coming at the three minute mark and isn’t followed by the previous verse breaks – yet it feels like it could have been a hit. The chorus is anthemic and euphoric, and all of the build up to it both heightens the impact and is strong enough to stand on its own. Even without the chorus it would be a good song. Although it does have warmth and innocence, there’s a subtle hint of sadness mixed in, possibly the sadness of looking back to childhood, and that sadness continues into the church organ intro of the next song.

Before moving onto The Only Unforgivable Thing, we should cover Genie’s lyrics to assess if the nostalgic feeling comes only from the music. It feels like the key to unlocking the lyric is understanding what the ‘genie’ is, and why letting it out of the box has caused so much trouble. It feels like there could be hundreds of interpretations of what the genie is and what the song means – genies are magical creatures typically known for granting wishes, sometimes coming with the caveat of being careful of what you wish for because you might get it. So, by letting the genie out is that a metaphor for hope turning sour? Hoping for a positive outcome but the reality being worse? Are genies known for being kept in boxes – the use of box made me think more of Pandora. The ‘scared of everything I am’ line feels more like it’s saying that you’re opening yourself up to someone, unveiling who you are but being terrified of what this could do to your relationship. By the end of the song, the recurring yells of ‘I let the genie out of the box’ feel more regretful and emotional and pained when compared with the resigned opening line. It certainly doesn’t correlate to my ideas of sweetness and light.

The middle portion of the song, the dream section, is all about escapism and being away from the current reality – something we know H is fond of writing about. This vain hope fades as he gets older, but then the tone shifts with the appearance of ‘she’. The ‘she’ you could take as a literal person – in an ordinary pop song it’s the appearance of a ‘she’ who tends to turn the man away from a life of misery and onto the path of love, but that isn’t what happens here. Is ‘she’ the dream of escape, personified? Is ‘she’ the genie? Is ‘she’ the black dog on H’s shoulder, holding him back and feeding on his fear? Is she a force for good or bad? I don’t think the song answers this, because H, or whoever the character here is supposed to be, genuinely doesn’t know. They’re as confused as we are. She seems to be encouraging him towards the end, almost saying ‘you have all this goodness locked up inside you, you can make a difference, you can give a lot of happiness to a lot of people if you’ll let them share in that attic of treasure’. But H can’t let it out? Or he has let it out already and it’s the genie? I’ll let Paul tell us what it’s actually all about.

I’m happy to go on the record and say that the organ intro to The Only Unforgiveable Thing is one of the best things the band has done. It strikes that blend of melancholy and beauty I’m always on the hunt for. Thankfully when it fades it is replaced by another lovely, solemn song rather than losing any momentum or becoming something unrelated and less interesting. By this point in the album I was already considering it the band’s masterpiece. These few songs in, it felt like all of the ideas which worked and didn’t work, all of the effort and planning and years of writing and touring, had finally managed to coalesce into that lightning in a jar moment which all bands crave. Every note seems perfectly placed, every melody feeding the emotion and creating a precise connection between the band and the listener. As much as I griped about the little things, there wasn’t any true misstep.

However, am I the only one reminded by Pink Floyd’s Learning To Fly? Only the opening verse – something about the interplay between rhythm, mood, and the bass. I’m not a huge fan of Learning To Fly – I think this is the better song, but I did hear comparisons however momentary. If I have any notable negative to mention, it’s that I don’t think the song will have as long-term an appeal for me as Genie will, and that may be down to it being both airy and fairly long. I have no issues with longer songs, no issues with airy, soothing songs – but gluing both aspects together accentuates the negative aspects of length and the airy atmosphere. I’m good with it for now, but maybe in the future I’ll feel the song is too stretched – too many additional lines which don’t add much, too many repetitions of the song name. The tonal shift in the middle perhaps comes too late and doesn’t last long enough. The guitar work in this section is great though, functional, overlaying the jangling celebratory riff with some simple but effective high squeaking solo work, before relaxing into a more traditional yet equally simple and effective solo.

I think the song features some of H’s best lyrical work, assuming it wasn’t written by that other fella. They strike the balance between being vague but open for interpretation, matter of fact yet poetic, and cryptic while talking about everyday observable things. It’s quite similar to Genie in that it’s taking the idea of some thing which always seems be lurking, either close to or as a part of the narrator, and presenting that thing to be harmful. Do we know what that thing is? A secret which can’t be shared? Typically in music, the thing is a proxy for addiction or depression or anger. Here, it’s an ever present, an omniscient haranguer of weighty proportions, one which notices the small things which are prone to bring a person down (bloody English weather) while mocking one’s attempts at getting on with the basics (clean my teeth). It certainly feels like the terms people suffering from depression use.

I don’t have a decent answer for ‘Will no one help the boys/who exist only as voices’. Is this talking about people with depression – I can’t say they’re depicted as helpless and voiceless because it says they are only voices. So I can’t adequately make that fit my narrative. The ‘lost the stars and skies’ piece seems simple enough and would align with Genie – settling for what you have rather than trying to achieve your dreams. There are threads running through the album, tying ideas and themes together, with the Marbles interludes acting as the musical connective tissue – it’s a very neat transition from the end of The Only Unforgivable Thing into Marbles li.

Marbles Ii is… better than part 1. I can’t be too down on it because it is connective tissue acting like a complete song. It’s the handshake between two people kicking off a discussion, not the discussion itself. While it’s not the powerful Presbyterian handshake squeezing the power of the Lord into your palm, it’s not the limp, clammy clutch with the coughing new boyfriend of your ex. I’ve only experienced one of those, I’ll let you guess which. The biggest difference between Part 2 and Part 1 is that I can see Part 2 being expanded into a full blown standalone, good song. This has moments I would like to see extended beyond what seems like an idea or a moment, with some of the rougher edges ironed out or omitted.

The jingle jangle instrumentation and rhythm is all crafted to be childlike and similar to a lullaby, even the vocals seem to be performed in a childlike fashion, giving away to the more interesting and traditional middle section. The lyrics follow part 1 and the flashbacks to childhood – playing marbles was the favourite game, the marbles more valuable than diamonds. I had my own version of marbles when I was young – it involved marbles and my toy cars with the marbles being aliens/zombies/monsters/bad guys, and the cars being survivors in some post apocalyptic wasteland. You would give the cars a push, then flick the marbles to try to hit the cars – the winner being whoever got the most cars to the finish line. I played it by myself, so I always won. And lost.

Next time, we’ll tackle another of the epic songs on Marbles and by that point Paul and Sanja will have started their discussion on the album. It’s currently 2nd February and they’ve finished their last Fish episode, so I’ll probably do an additional summary post covering their thoughts on the first few tracks of Marbles. Till then, give the album a go if you haven’t already, and make sure to check out BYAMPOD too!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 1)!

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! I’m writing this post on 1st October 2021. It has been a while since the last ‘mainline’ BYAMPOD episode – the guys have been busy with Digi Live, a Kickstarter for the 2nd Season of Digitiser The Show, and various other Youtube antics. In addition, there has been a lot of Marillion news recently and a tonne of Marillion.com based letters to Paul and Sanja. As such, we’ve had several interim BYAMPOD episodes including the bumper 50th Episode in which the first 50 listeners each received 50 pies of their own choosing (I went for Lemon Meringue).

Has it been roughly a year since I started this Marillion journey? That feels about right. It has been a year of listening to ‘new’ music in the form of Marillion, but also in the form of a bunch of other artists and albums I either missed first time around, missed because I wasn’t alive yet, or missed because it’s relatively new and I ignored. It has been a strange year nostalgia wise too, with many of my favourite artists releasing new music. The Manics recently released their 14th album which earned them only their 2nd Number 1. Anneke Van Giersbergen released The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest earlier in the year and Alice Cooper released his retro styled Detroit Stories. Iron Maiden dropped another mammoth tome a month ago, and Radiohead have been unveiling some cutting room floor treats from the Kid A/Amnesiac era. Tori has a new one coming, though I don’t think I’ve listened to her last one yet. Hell, it even looks like Guns ‘n’ Roses are about to release a new album (even if it will likely be made up of unreleased bits and bobs from Chinese Democracy). Finally, as if there was any doubt remaining, Natalie Imbruglia confirmed that she’s unquestionably the greatest pop star of her generation with her recently released Firebird. Sure I come into this with a little bias given her White Lillies Island is one of my all time favourites, but Firebird is lovely, varied, emotive pop with the wisdom she brings to a genre almost sapped of it.

Sadly, it’s not all good news. The news emerged that Greg Glibert, lead singer of The Delays, tragically lost his long battle with Cancer. Greg was a unique talent, creating some of the most summery, shimmering indie pop/rock/whatever you want to call it, this side of The Beach Boys. The first two albums by The Delays are beautiful, joyous slices of life which never failed to put a smile on my face, and their subsequent two albums are pretty great too. The Delays are my soundtrack to Summer drives with the family. I don’t see how anyone who may be reading this and enjoys music wouldn’t love them. Greg had one of the finest voices in music and by all accounts was a wonderful human – poet, artist, brother, son, father, husband. He was also beloved as ‘one of the good guys’ by hundreds in the music business and the wider world of the famous, and it’s fair to say that as a mere fan I’m devastated by the loss. Those who actually knew him must be beyond heartbroken. Knowing it was coming doesn’t make it easier, but Greg had known for the last couple of years that… well, lets just leave it with one of the last poems he wrote –

Death makes a crown of love,

A mantle to take across the threshold

as a sign of accomplished living:

You are loved,

You have loved,

You have lived.

None of this has anything to do with Marillion, so let us return to the subject at hand. I still need to go back and update my Anoraknophobia posts with my BYAMPOD comments once those episodes are ready, but if I’m honest, I’m done with Anoraknophobia and I’m keen to get stuck in to Marbles. Beyond Misplaced Childhood, I’ve been led to believe this is the Notorious B.I.G.G.I.E. A double album, maybe the best of the H era, maybe the best album they’ve done so far. That’s all I know about it – hype. I don’t know if there’s a change in musical approach, tone, genre, or if it’s simply the band hitting their stride or perfecting the formula they’ve been tinkering with. Does the title mean anything? A concept album about the old timey game of flicking each others’ balls? A collection of songs about (in)sanity? An affectionate term for H’s favourite Spanish coastal town? Lets see if the artwork can shed some light.

It’s another close up of a face. It’s another picture of a boy. Is one half of his body tanned or darker hued than the other? He’s holding a couple of marbles up in front of his eyes. I used to do that trick of sticking a 10p into my eye and sort of squinting to hold it in place, becoming a sort of more pervy-looking Popeye. Then I remembered how germ ridden 10ps are and that looking pervy isn’t generally a turn on for most people, or socially acceptable in polite circles. It’s fine? It doesn’t tell me much, and I think I’d have preferred some striking artwork instead of another photograph. Like a drawing of Popeye, marbles in eyes and a maw filled with spinach, staggering out of a pub atop a pier with a speech bubble drooling from his lips howling ‘Yuk yuk yuk, I can’t stands no more’. Or an actually funny quote. Look, I don’t plan this shite, just go with it.

I don’t know how many episodes the guys are going to do on Marbles based on its length. They’re talking about cutting down both the length and numbers of the letters and emails – I’ve done my bit by refusing to send any – but the thing is over 90 minutes long so I’m guessing they might top two eps. As such, I don’t know how many songs to include in my posts. The clever thing would be to simply edit my posts once their episodes are available, but I’m not that clever. Looking at the track list I’m going to go with the first two songs for now. If they cover more in their first episode, maybe I’ll edit my posts to match. In which case this paragraph is entirely redundant. Keeping it in though. Lets go.

It’s now 23rd of November and I haven’t posted about Marillion for a while so it’s time to get this Part One out into the world. First off – carving 4Real into a tree? I get it. 

The Invisible Man is my kind of Prog. Long, experimental, thought-provoking, but with heart and melody underpinning everything. Where Prog can lose me is when I feel detached from the music and the meaning; Songs can be long for the sake of being long, but lose coherence or purpose. Songs can be experimental within the traditional scope of the genre and within the traditional scope of the artist, but if the experimentation is too sharp a departure from what made you love the band, then you can lose that personal connection. If it’s your first time hearing the band, then the experimentation can often feel like, well, an experiment, rather than a song. It’s a fine balance and there’s a place for both approaches and outcomes – I enjoy both, but I am drawn more to those experiments which feel like an extension of what the band already offers. Songs being thought-provoking… Prog has a reputation for beating listeners over the head with words, sounds, emotions, ideas, and can seem like a closed boys club from the outside, but sometimes songs which claim to be thought-provoking are nothing more than a collection of thoughts which mean something to the writer but nothing to the listener. Finally, if there’s no emotion and only plain or boring melodies, then you’ll lose me from from the outset.

So yes, The Invisible Man is my kind of Prog – the good kind. It’s a fantastic opener and ticks all of my boxes, but as with any Prog it does still take some time to bed in. I was engaged and curious from the opening moments of The Invisible Man but by the end of its bubbling crescendo I was sold. There’s a moment around the four minute mark (which the previous minutes have been building too in a chilled but other-worldly instrumental) right after H sings ‘Amsterdam’, that everything coalesces and makes sense. It’s a goosebumps moment, the coming together of the underlying guitars and the – I’m not sure if it’s keyboards or Rothers using one of those little ring finger tools which can increase your guitar’s sustain and make it sound like a synth or Theremin. The confidence which I touted on the previous album is front and centre in The Invisible Man, but it’s not the sort of yelping bravado of an attention seeker. This confidence is comfortable and natural. It’s the confidence of simply, unquestionably knowing you’re good, perhaps without even realizing it. It’s the confidence of ‘if you build it, they will come’.

The opening couple of minutes have plenty of twists, feeling like a trip in the physical and metaphysical sense. In the numerous times I’ve listened to the song I couldn’t find a musical anchor – a recurring riff or melody, a standout lead instrument, and for a song to be this good without that anchor is all the more impressive. Without that anchor songs can fly off in any direction and become nothing. Moments do flit in and out – ‘I have become the invisible man’ is repeated at various points but as more of a passing face in the crowd you might recognise than a solid anchor. I went off to check out the written score for some of the instruments because I’m curious about how all of this works. It’s less complex than it sounds when you follow the chords but where the transitions land and where the additional instrumentation and production expand the soundscape beyond the core structure is where the interesting magic seems to happen. In essence, you could play this song without much effort solo with a guitar or piano but it wouldn’t have anywhere near the same effect of awe and mystery. It’s cool how the song leads with predominantly G – F type chords, then the little transitions add in subtle D and E shapes before transforming to a lead D and A form and finally into E and B. Then it clatters it all together for the final moments. I’m not sure what that actually means, but I like the little clues in each lead which seem to set the listener up for where the song is going next.

There are different levels of intensity in the song, seemingly moving from an airy tone to one of disembodiment and on to anguish and anger. I love the introduction of the backing vocals (are those synth too?) as the song becomes more pained through the ‘Autumn light’ section, eventually exploding into a more quiet phase, answering the various ‘what can I do’ questions. It’s one of the better, maybe the best, examples of Marillion melding plot and music. The lyrics by and large echo the changes the music takes, or vice versa. It seems like a song which would have been written with a great deal of partnership in getting the story across via the words and the music. Lyrically I was imagining a literal ghost (or soul, if you like) wafting through the streets in search of its hosts former haunting places and familiars. We begin with the concise and beautifully put explanation of how this out of body state has happened – the world slipped away while I was distracted and now my body is gone but my eyes remain. This being H, it does feel a little stalker-ish in places. I get this is likely another break-up song with the feelings of displacement coming from falling out of the routine and fixture of being in love and being in a relationship. It’s a different metaphor from the same themes of House. It’s another example of the language, the words themselves, not needing to be poetic while forming poetry from the images conveyed and the form used. Anyone can read the lyrics and feel moved without reaching for the dictionary or misinterpreting a connection personal to H or some subtle cultural reference. I also appreciate the little nuances between the tense delivery, constantly jumping from ‘I shout’ to ‘I will hear’ to ‘I am’ to ‘I’ll feel’ and eventually onto ‘If I close my eyes I can see’.

I could waffle on about this for ages but I don’t want to bore anyone further. I’ll leave it with me noticing some slight parallels with this and What Dreams May Come – the book and the movie, although those deal less with a break up and watching or imagining someone moving on to a new relationship as The Invisible Man does. The Invisible Man goes straight into my playlist. Marbles I doesn’t. At least not immediately, at least not on its own. It starts with this relaxed Jazz Club (nnnnice) vibe which isn’t really my thing, but it’s short and leads neatly into Genie. I’ll ask the obvious question, assume the obvious answer, but not do the obvious thing of actually checking for myself – has someone edited all the Marbles 1, 2, 3, 4 into a single track? People do that all the time when bands split up a song into different tracks, or even when the songs were always meant to be separate but were given the same name for whatever reason. I assume someone has done that and it’s probably out there on Youtube. Maybe I’ll check it out some day. Part 1 is nice enough, but too much of a come down from the opener – maybe it would work better coming after Genie? It does remind me of something I meant to talk about earlier – H’s singing on the album. It’s a little different. He seems to be curling his tongue more when he sings to give that faux Grunge warble, but even worse he’s doing one of the things which irrationally pisses me off – singing with an affected lisp. If he had been doing this on other albums I’ve either forgotten about it or not noticed it, but it’s plastered all over Marbles (or should I say Marblesh?) from start to finish. I’m sure this won’t annoy anyone but me but it’s one of those things which has always got on my nuts. I don’t mind if it’s in one or two places, but it’s there in the first track and it’s all over Genie (out of the boxzssh). Unless you can’t prevent yourself from doing it, it seems like such a bizarre choice for a singer to make. Itsh a shame, becaush Genie izh ssuch a lovely shong elshewhere. See?

But more on Genie in the next post. I made the guess that the name Marbles was likely related to losing one’s mind – or marbles. It’s a word ripe for metaphor, and the idea of sanity has been covered a million times in music. Some of my personal favourites being Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Dark Side Of The Moon, and Alice Cooper’ From The Inside in which Alice doubles and triples down on the number of metaphors and ways to refer to someone as ‘mad’. Great album though, and one of the best examples of gatefold artwork you’ll find. Part 1 of Marbles is childlike enough in its music and lyric that someone could take it literally as someone is sad that they’ve lost their favourite/last marble, but it’s obviously showing how someone’s sanity has been steadily shedding and now some incident or trigger has caused the final break, the last marble and ounce of sanity and inspiration to disappear. In any case, I like the metaphor and the song is short enough to not really do any damage.

That’s about it for now. I’m going to post this, probably before the guys do their first Marbles episode so I’ll have to circle back and leave my episode comments in a later post. For now, let us know your thoughts on Marbles as a whole, on the two songs I’ve covered, on my stupid hatred for lisp singing, and anything else you want to get off your chest!

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 Mosley 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!