Nightman Listens To Marillion – Radiation – Part 1!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Strange Engine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afraid of Sunlight - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Afraid Of Sunlight (Side A)

Afraid of Sunlight - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Last time we were here, I had some sort of idea of what Brave would involve. I knew going in that it dealt with dark and difficult subject matter, I knew it was divisive, and I knew that many existing fans struggled with it. For today’s album – Afraid Of Sunlight – I know next to nothing. I believe Paul and Sanja have mentioned that it sounds unlike anything the band had done to this point (though that has been said of quite a few of the albums so far) and I think Paul might have called it his favourite Marillion album…? Or the best…?

The artwork may suggest some of the secrets within. It features a semi-nude boy clasping a two-by-four, standing in front of a flaming ring. Is he about to enter the Royal Rumble, swinging his ‘staff’ a la Hacksaw Jim Duggan? Is he about to swivel, hop on a skateboard, and land a sweet jump through the fiery void? But what’s that stapled to his shoulders? Wings, you say? So the lad is a representation of an angel, looking suitably cherubic and forlorn with his eyes cast downwards in pity/sorrow/sadness/regret/disappointment. Has he just traversed some portal between dimensions, leaving an orb of flames in his wake? Did he then check out the state of humanity and say ‘nope’ before scuttling back through? Why are Angels always effeminate boys or muscle-bound A-List types? Biblical depictions of Angels are as monstrous, insanity inducing freakshows, specimens beyond description which defy our puny logic. It’s an eye-catching image, but time will tell how relevant it is to the album content.

Peaking at the tracklist – as expected there’s nothing I recognise. There is a title track, but also a song called Afraid Of Sunrise – similar song names by Prog Bands usually suggest some connectivity between the songs or hint that the album has an overarching Concept. The first two songs have quite interesting names – I’m already invested in whatever the hell Cannibal Surf Babe is, and I’m fairly certain I’ve seen a Troma movie with the same name. Beyond that, it’s a shorter album than Brave – not even an hour long. That’s still beyond the average 45 minutes for an album, but I’m guessing it’s short by Prog standards. If anything it should mean my posts are shorter – which we kind of need at this point or I’ll be in grave danger of falling irretrievably behind. Enough!

Gazpacho kicks things off with a Pink Floyd-esque intro – soundbites and sound effects. The spoken word piece sounds like a Beatle, and there’s some crowd chanting and a literal vocal introduction. The music reminds me of some of the more sampled moments by The Gathering and there is a slight Church atmosphere, like the sort of score you hear in idealised cinematic visions of Heaven or Church. This quickly gives way to a jangling guitar intro – heavy with the bass and twinkling. It gives distinct vibes of Ska,  New Order, and The Police – not three things I have much time for.

I didn’t have a lot of fondness for this song when I first heard it – my enjoyment has improved since then, but I would still rate it quite low alongside the other songs on the album because of those early impressions and comparisons I made. I’m not a huge fan of soundbites and spoken parts in songs, but in most cases I can tolerate those if they feel integral to the story or tone. There’s quite a lot going on in the song – it rarely feels grounded in one style; like a good prog song should, it shoots off in numerous different directions with only the barest of repetition, and the seven and a half minutes fly by. It’s a lighter song overall than anything we heard from the band last time around, hinting that they got all that pesky darkness out of their souls, and each instrument is notable in the mix – with the drums and bass standing out more than I would usually notice.

From what I gathered on my first casual listens of the song, it seems to concern media and fame. Gazpacho is what… a cold soup of some sort? Does it have another meaning? Looking more closely at the lyrics. The first verse suggests some of the prices of fame – it’s lonely at the top and the quick rise can lead to sudden excess and burnout. The second verse (chorus?) is the media or audience reaction, with people on the outside assuming the person in question was untouchable and unstoppable, yet as we know, the media loves a good story about falling from fame. The third verse touches more violent aspects – even though everything is seemingly perfect on the outside, people are still people, will argue, will fight, and will occasionally kill. It’s at this point I should admit that while reading the lyrics I accidentally saw that the soundbite is from a news report concerning OJ Simpson’s infamous escape. Which makes the song somewhat more clear, and tells us more about why the song is called Gazpacho. Was that word actually used in the case? I don’t know much about the case, beyond my form teacher bringing it up every day in School.

What’s with all of the boxing references throughout the song? Was this around the same time Tyson was beating people and throwing them downstairs? So there is more than one subject behind the lyrics. Nice use of the lingo in any case. The song ends with a suggestion that the famous can get away with anything – in the case of Tyson and Simpson… nuff said?

Cannibal Surf Babe is something of a shark jumping moment and I worried that the band had lost the plot. While I enjoyed the first song, it was a clearly different approach from Brave. The second track takes this even further as it doesn’t sound like anything they had done to this point. It feels like a joke song, down to the title, down to the lyrics, down to the pastiche music. It made me think of those strange one off songs which every big rock band or artist seems to drop and which inevitably becomes divisive within their fandom – Carouselambra or Down By The Seaside by Led Zeppelin, Jagger and Bowie with that Dancing In The Street disaster? A lot about this song irritated me first time around –  the faix whispered, faux American accent vocals, the spooky theremin, the WEEEEIIIIIRRRRD, the handclaps, the silly keyboards, the spoken parts. But I assume it’s all tongue in cheek, right? Just a bit of fun, right?

On the plus side, the melodies are fun, it’s fast paced and light, there’s a Beatles influenced backwards guitar solo, and the lyrics are amusing. It’s refreshing that the band is playing around with different sounds this deep into their career, and it’s an accurate send up of a surfer rock song, complete with Mr Wilson references and Beach Boys oooh ooooh harmonies. There’s maybe even a little touch of Bowie in the vocals and lyrics?

Speaking of the lyrics, they’re a teenage fantasy, a collection of Carry On liners with a US slant. If you hadn’t worked out that the song’s a bit of a piss-take from the music, then the lyrics confirm it.  Having said that, the choice of words and the images they conjure are a cut above the likes of AC/DC, Sid James, and other horny counterparts, as well as being genuinely funny in places – ‘nothing she said could be defended’ offering up thoughts up some hot young thing with incredibly dubious opinions. I’m guessing the song can be taken at face value, or in a variety of other ways. The second verse made me think of any number of movies – the seductive killer alien in Species (or later in the experimental Under The Skin), the Tetsuo inspired Return Of The Living Dead III, or even the genetic horrors and AI morality tale of Splice and Ex Machina. As for what someone who’s just had sex with a Tyrannosaurus Rex looks like…. I’d rather not imagine such gooey, stretched pulp.

Thankfully Beautiful gets us back on track. There’s no doubt it’s saccharine, that the keyboards and overall tone seem eternally lodged in the 80s, but regular glancers will know I’m a sucker for a good power ballad. This one differs from your standard romantic or pained content by actually being about something – a return to the environmentally conscious themes the band have tackled before. It’s a return to the commercial pop sound of Holidays In Exile and as such, it’s quite lovely. I’m not sure I’d play it in front of my mates, for fear of being ridiculed and/or knee-capped but I imagine it’s another lighters up, sway sideways brother moment when performed live. For such a sweet, gentle song, I don’t have a lot to say about it. I expect that this one is both a fan favourite, and one which may get a fair bit of ribbing or dismissal for fans of the band’s heavier or more progressive efforts.

As I read the lyrics, it’s less certain that the song actually is about the environment. Certainly you could apply that read, and it’s probably the most accurate, but for a five minute song there isn’t a huge variety to the lyrics. We have the opening few lines, and the rest of the song is vague repetition. You could interpret the leaves turning brown and being trodden down as… anything you like – beautiful things, people, places. The other offering in those opening lines is the cynicism of appreciating beautiful things, and the perceived shame and embarrassment others may put upon you for enjoying them, while those cynics prioritize material objects. Like the music, the lyrics are plain, straightforward, but the whole product works.

Afraid Of Sunrise takes the band again into new territory. Like a lazy late Spring day, lying atop a bale of hay anthropomorphising the clouds and dreaming of School’s end but also dreading, I don’t know, the Saturday morning TV shows like Going Live being replaced by their shitty Summer counterparts. The song opens with bouncy videogame bass sounds. There’s a specific game that sound is making me think of, but I can’t quite put my finger which game, or level, it is. Throughout there are a lot of tinkling twinkling guitars and pastoral flute type parps which I assume are actually keyboards – each piece adds to that feeling of a laid-back care free day. Given that the song is called Afraid Of Sunrise I’m sure there’s more to the thematic content.

Around the halfway point there is a departure into a different key which pushes the song briefly into a different tonal space. The flute sounds are replaced by more tension driven strings and the vocals fill up with more echo and reverb – it breaks up the song and offers just a hint of apprehension, something more darker, something not quite right threatening to darken the day. The vocals are largely restrained – even when hitting the bigger notes there’s the sense of holding back a little which again feeds into that laid-back atmosphere. On the vocal front H reminds me, not for the first time, of the little known band Haven and their singer Gary Briggs. Here’s a link to one of their songs – Briggs doesn’t have as deep a tone as H, but it’s a comparison I’ve felt numerous times, and Afraid Of Sunrise is a song similar enough in style to Haven’s usual music. Haven were probably accused of being somewhat bland and unadventurous, especially with their second and final album, but the emotive nature of their debut ignores any lack of originality – I could argue the same for Afraid Of Sunrise. While it is newish territory for Marillion, and while they’re playing with different sounds again, it’s a safe song. It’s safe compositionally and it’s a soft rock/pop song with little or no Prog influence. There are enough little moments which spice the whole thing up – the rapid percussion in the closing minute and the unnerving increase of instruments in the final moments even as the song is fading out. It’s a song I fully enjoyed in the short term, but I’m not sure if it has the legs to always interest me in the future, and there are things I was expecting which never came such as harmonic vocals to fill in some of the space between the lines.

Out of the lyrics I picked out before Googling them, ‘fingers in desire’s crack’ certainly stood out for all the wrong reasons and the bit about a ‘day-glo Jesus’ I picked up on because I think it comes up again in a later song. I noticed enough of the other lyrics to get the impression that the song is possibly about travel… there’s a sense of movement, of driving, with references to roads. Songs which reference driving, as long as they’re not complete nonsense, tend to be about escaping something or finding something. The ‘dressed in black/no turning back’ would suggest the former, while the first verse certainly tells us that we’re on the road heading indistinctly away. The rest of the song follows suit. I had to search what an Agave flower was – tied to the name drops of Nevada, Great White Way, and possibly Phoenix, are we escaping to the border? Could the song be OJ’s escapades? I’m guessing not as it sounds far too laid back for something so dramatic as fleeing from the law, but is it about some other real life ‘escape’? There isn’t enough detail to provide me with any more informed guesses. I’m sure the podcast has more to say.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

The podcast opens with some pre-divorce insults. I struggle to get comfortable too, especially in bed. It has been a while between episodes, but probably not as long as my posts are taking. I do see that there are three episodes on this album so that usually gives me a chance to catch up (as I write these podcast thoughts after I’ve written my album thoughts). I haven’t revisited any album yet, but I’ve listened to plenty of songs again – mostly Kayleigh, Script For A Jester’s Tear, and Cover My Eyes. In my defence, I do listen to a lot of other crap, watch a lot of movies, read a lot, and of course have a family and a full time job – getting to this. takes. time. So for anyone who is reading and looking forward to my posts – thanks, sorry, and keep reading!

Knocking out albums rapid-fire isn’t really something which happens much anymore, is it? It wasn’t the norm in the 90s at least. If we look back to the 60s and 70s, The Beatles, The Stones, and everyone else – those guys frequently released 1-2 albums each year. Marillion did it, under a fair amount of pressure from what it sounds, although it followed the trend of not getting much marketing traction or commercial success. I was wondering if there were two different album covers, because when I googled the image both came up – but I assumed the day glo Jesus was maybe the back cover. Oh, it was the back cover. There you go. I can’t say I noticed any brown. I think there is a ‘The Brown Album’ already, by Ween or someone. A quick Google says there are several. Not by Ween though.

I didn’t get the overall sense that this was a Concept album. There is connective tissue, but not enough. Bearing in mind the Concept albums I know really lean in to a story and theme and connectivity in music and lyric. The songs and their varying sounds push against the notion of a consistent sound. Apparently the (loose) concept is fame, its dangers, being sick of it, while H’s marriage was on the rocks too. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have this weird thing about fame where there are people I’d love to meet and there are people I look up to that I have met or seen on the street, but I go out of my way to not talk to them. I’ve seen some of my most loved musicians walking around the city before a gig, and as much as I’d love to spend the next 6 hours being best mates, I cross the road and ignore them or at best give a nod as I walk by rather than bum-rushing them into a corner and begging for an autograph. I am nobody and I don’t like being disturbed when I’m doing my own thing, and especially when I’m walking by myself I’ve accidentally walked past some of my best mates and not noticed they’re there because I’m in my own head.

We talk a bit about OJ and Tyson and the others who had fallen apart in the 90s. This was post Cobain, this was post Richey Edwards (no idea if Marillion knew who he was), and was the first batch of Michael Jackson stuff coming out around this time? There was certainly a spotlight on FAME at the time as some of the greats were falling from grace or indeed losing their lives. I admit I didn’t catch the Afraid Of Sunlight as being afraid of the spotlight, but that seems very obvious now based on Sanja’s interpretation. Turns out this episode is not going to go through the songs as the guys have spent time talking about the album as a whole, with Paul saying it’s one of his favourites and Sanja still infected by Brave’s dark wonder to fully get on board with the overall lighter and accessible Afraid Of Sunrise. Hey, I could do 24 episodes on The Holy Bible. Easily. Lets go straight into the next episode. Concise is great? You’ve come to the wrong blog.

We kick off with Gazpacho, a song Sanja thinks is fine – enjoys the bass, enjoys that it’s different from Brave, not much else. Paul reveals that the spoken part is in fact an actor reciting a John Lennon quote. Sanja’s interpretation is of someone whose fame is such that they feel they can do anything, but on this one occasion they go too far. For the fame to addiction/crime ratio…I’ve always felt it’s dramatically increased when it happen when you’re not ready or expecting it. Not that you can ever really be ready for it, but look at the classic Hollywood child actor thing – they have the world at their feet at such a young age that it’s perfectly natural that they’re going to be all sorts of fucked up in adolescence and adulthood. Sanja mentions the 27 Club. Paul mentions some famous people he has met who are clearly hiding their troubles or worse. Whether that’s the privileged nature of fame and the box-checking exercise of going from meeting to promo to interview endlessly, or something which speaks to the trend that its the more sociopathic among us who get into these lofty positions – being outside of it all I can’t say I’m too experienced in dealing with my betters. I will say that in my line of work, with its archaic hierarchical structure, the same feelings apply and I’ve had plenty of chats with senior types who are not so good at hiding their true nature. My feelings can be summed up by that scene in Audition when we see the lead actress at home alone, smiling when the phone rings – we see her true state. When in front of the crowd or the camera, it’s all a show, but when you’re home alone and the lights are out and the clamour and din is gone, what’s left but you?

Sanja hits it on the head. The older I get, the more amazed I am at how young the kids are who get the fame. When I was that age I have no doubt I would have been as sucked in as anyone else, but the fact that I was already grounded and sceptical of fame in advance would hopefully have countered some of the more dubious antics. When I was younger and making music and hoping for stardom – it wasn’t the stardom I was after, I wanted to create and I was making stuff that I enjoyed hearing or reading or seeing, and I wanted the people out there who may be like me to potentially enjoy it too. Sadly that means being part of the monster. This blog is as much of a creative outlet as I have these days, not that I put any serious creative effort into it, but the most important thing is that I enjoy it – and maybe someone else out there likes to read it every so often. But I won’t equate writing a blog with a thousand followers (many of whom are bots) to being an A lister, so lets get on with it. To close, there is a history of the ‘best musicians/entertainers’ not wanting any of the fame – it’s like the old saying about people who want to be on the radio as a DJ – the worst thing you should say in an interview is how much you love music, because you’re there to sell a product, to sell the station and to do as your told – music has nothing to do with it.

Sanja doesn’t know what’s going on with Cannibal Whatsisface. We all laugh at the Steven Wilson bit. It’s a bit of fun, can’t see me ever going back to it. Paul loves it. I can see the reasoning if you’re not a fan of the straight rock songs, as this is a silly slice of silliness. On to Beautiful, which Sanja does love. Sanja was confused by the lyrics, believing that the world currently holds beautiful things on a pedestal – that’s not incorrect as the world does do this, but I definitely read it as calling out the hypocrisy and shallow nature of what is placed on the pedestal over and above the more fragile, natural things – or as Paul says, the fact that we are all beautiful. Paul sees Beautiful as a more major version of the pop oriented ballads they’d done before, having not enjoyed it upon release. No mention of the environment though.

On to Afraid Of Sunrise, which was a single set of lyrics which became two songs. I’ve never been on a Great American road-trip, though I have driven the wrong way up several roads outside Chicago on numerous occasions, and got last trying to make my way back to my hotel. Damn block system – why do you need a Dunkin Donuts and a Wendy’s on every single block? I appreciate and understand the love of space. It’s something I enjoy, and have always imagined living in a house on the edge of a fjord with no-one around for miles, like some Stringfellow Hawke weirdo. Even the simplicity of walking around the town or city at night when there isn’t anyone around – the place takes on a different atmosphere and character. Here in Northern Ireland it’s not difficult to find space – I spent my childhood Summers in an area known as the Mourne Mountains where my parents came from. As much as I ridicule my own Country, there’s no doubting some of the natural beauty of that area and it’s easy to go wandering and feel completely isolated in the most positive way. It’s nothing on the scale of what the US has of course, but as social as our species is I think there’s an innate need for exploration or some nomadic need to be out in the middle of nowhere and nothing.

Turns out there may not be a single plot or driving force(pardon the pun) behind the song. Paul does share any explanation from the writers, instead saying it’s another song which is designed to evoke a feeling and atmosphere rather than being about ‘x’. In truth, when I go to the US I always stick on the Classic Rock stations – because we simply don’t have anything like that over here. Even though I know every song inside out, they somehow feel different while driving in America. That’s where we leave things today. I’m off to cut the grass. Let us know in the comments what you think of Afraid Of Sunlight and don’t forget to go listen to BYAMPOD!

Nightman Listens To Marillion – Brave – Podcast discussion

Brave (Marillion album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! I did warn you this may happen. Feel free to completely ignore this post, unless you’re some weird diehard who is following all of my Marillion posts. This isn’t going to be exciting and may literally be a list of bullet points I made while listening to the Brave episode.

  • Nice intro explaining the backstory of the album, with creepy bonus music
  • Good discussion of the musical landscape of 1994 and what Paul and Sanja were up to (I was just leaving Primary School and moving to BIG School).
  • Paul didn’t know much about the album in advance, but was hoping it was a return to Prog rather than another commercial effort. And WTF… I promise that when I mentioned Mike And The Mechanics in one of my Brave posts I had not listened to this episode. I don’t know why I chose that band to make my comparison, given I only know about three of their songs, but they were the first band to pop into my head. Weird weird weird.
  • It is a long album – I probably didn’t appreciate this because I rarely had the luxury of listening to the whole thing in a single sitting.
  • Paul says it took years for the album to click. I can see that, but is that because the songs are improved by a single sitting or because Paul isn’t as drawn to the dark side as I am? It didn’t take long to click with me, but I don’t have the years of baggage of being a long term Marillion fan.
  • It sounds like a lot of fans did not ‘get’ the album when it came out, Paul included, and many quit the fandom. I can understand that, but I always find it strange when this sort of thing happens. Any band I truly become invested in, I’m always going to be invested in them regardless of how crap or how far they move away from what I want them to be.
  • I haven’t heard it loud with the lights off yet, not the whole thing anyway. Bed time is reserved for other things (Netflix and reading, you dirty bugger).
  • Oh cool, I didn’t know Mr Porcupine Tree did a remix.
  • The US mix of The Holy Bible is vastly different from the original UK release – again it’s a warmer production, dispenses with a lot of the coldness and claustrophobia, yet does a great job of somehow making The Intense Humming Of Evil even more creepy.
  • Ah, now they’re getting into the background of the album – I expect drugs and murder.
  • I would have thought Holidays In Eden was a cheap and cheerful thing. The response was the complete opposite. 
  • Tying this all back in to The Holy Bible – Manics’ lyricist Richey Edwards supposedly killed himself at the Severn Bridge – it’s where they found his car, and he hasn’t been seen since 1995.
  • The plot is essentially what I expected, aside from the nuances. I’m glad Paul mentions that some songs – musically or lyrically – don’t really fit the narrative. Does this suggest the narrator’s mind was confused, or is that a stretch? It’s an interesting thought I didn’t consider.
  • I cannot abide that song (D:Ream)
  • Dugong
  • What the hell is Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury doing as a single?
  • I’m choosing to imagine this Chateau as a giant pea (Marrowfat).
  • ‘Knock out a quick one’
  • Nobody wanted Prog in 1995 – Britpop, boy bands, Spice Girls, Grunge. Prog was basically dead as a viable commercial force.
  • OK Computer is one of my favourite albums but I’ve never considered it Prog. I don’t think it’s as good as The Bends and I don’t think Brave should have been slated unfairly. BE wary of Radiohead fandom, it can get very defensive and toxic. I love the band, but they’re up their own arse and they’ve ripped off a load of bands, including Pink Floyd. At its simplest… Radiohead just made songs which more people got on board with. Like I mentioned with The Gathering’s How To Measure A Planet?, or even Portishead’s Dummy there are plenty of bands out there with very similar sounds and vibes.
  • There’s definitely some sort of through line and progression between Radiohead’s first 6 or so albums – punky British faux U2 rock, The Bends was a departure with enough of the edge of Pablo Honey, OK Computer is a clear logical step, Kid A was a bizarre leap at the time but in retrospect makes perfect sense. While Marillion’s albums are different – they’re not wildly switching genres. 
  • Would the album have been better with a couple of songs cut? Paper Lies is the one I called out in my post… basically the simple rock songs don’t fit musically, but Paper Lies doesn’t fit at all. Alone Again I basically missed anyway. It’s like us Manic Street Preachers fans argue with respect to Generation Terrorists – 80 minutes and a bunch of ridiculous songs. Part of that album’s strength though is how overblown and ridiculous it is, so I’d really only cut two or three of the short (crap) songs and cut it to around 70… but then they had so many B-Sides at that era which were much better than what made it on to the album, so Generation Terrorists could easily be 90 mins. Ridiculous.
  • Paul and Sanja – I keenly await your Manic Street Preachers Podcast.
  • I’m still here! Yes, I’m waiting to hear the song commentary, but this is all good too.
  • Part two and we enter the thickening web. The Radiohead connection grows. I have those On A Friday Demos. Thom can pose ironically in front of Iron Maiden as much as he wants, but look at the state of Radiohead’s last few albums. Thom should be ironically standing in front of a poster of himself. 
  • Maiden are huge, but absolutely not cool. EVERYONE makes fun of Metal fans. I look forward to Sanja’s Iron Maiden podcast. Maiden fans always stay young – maybe not in the UK but worldwide – but their music always finds new (young) fans. It’s the Indie way – Kurt Cobain would have also done the same thing (except he probably liked Maiden to a certain degree). Maiden’s fashion hasn’t changed since 1978. It honestly does sound like Sanja would like them, and they become more Prog over the decades. 
  • I like everything (everything good).
  • Okay… being in bands when I was younger I was surrounded by cool kids and Indie fans. Metal fans are proud to be outcasts. Metal is a very easy genre to ridicule – it’s like Paul mentioned with Journalists in the previous episode. If you’re not a Metal Journo, why would you spend your time giving a serious review to something shouty with a picture of a devil on the front cover and some high pitched squealer or growler spouting lyrics about death and war over twiddly 8 minute guitar solos? Metal is just prone to ridicule, and much of the criticism in that vein is apt. Whatever is cool or new or suddenly popular in music often gets a pass from ridicule, even if it’s obviously shit. Genuine questions from genuine music fans who don’t listen to or actively hate Metal usually come down to lyrical content (they don’t write good lyrics) and the speed of the music (it’s all just self-absorbed playing fast for the sake of playing fast and anyone can do it). Lyrically – there’s as much crap and as much good as probably any genre. Musically – the argument falls apart because while yes, many people can play quickly, it’s quite simply a fact that playing an instrument more quickly is more technically difficult than not playing quickly. Does that mean it’s better? Does that mean you’ll like it? Well that’s down to you.
  • I skip making any notes until they get to discussing Bridge because I was doing the dishes for ten minutes. Sanja thinks it is creepy at atmospheric, but sets the scene. Paul highlights it as a song you probably won’t listen to as a standalone.
  • It’s certainly cinematic, and I probably mentioned something about it being designed to create a mood rather than being a traditional song. 
  • With Living With The Big Lie, Sanja enjoys the plucking sounds and interpreted the song as a resurrection or return to consciousness, but struggled with piecing the rest of it together. Sounds like most of the pieces she mentions are bang on. She doesn’t love the song, but sees its artistic merits. Paul loves it and says there’s a great live version out there.
  • Onto Runaway Girl and a shared lyric. Paul loves the message of never knowing or misunderstanding what’s being hidden or not being said. Sanja found it boring at first, but the nuances grew on her, but neither say it’s a favourite.
  • Onto the big boy now, a song in four parts. They both love the depth of the music and the slightly demented vocal approach. They work out the narrative and the discussion of drugs, sex, abuse and break down some of the language, spelling out some pieces I didn’t notice. Sanja wasn’t really moved emotionally but thinks she should have been – it was meant to elicit certain emotions but didn’t, nor did the song stay with her. That can happen with longer songs. Paul struggles a little with the fact that the narrative is fictional.. even though these things do happen and parts of the story were based in truth. That sounds similar to what I mentioned in my first post about ‘dark music’ – if it’s try-hard it doesn’t work for me, but if it’s authentic I’ll probably love it.
  • Hard As Love – one of the trad rock songs. Paul says it doesn’t really fit narratively or specifically with the rest of the album, more of the circumstantial or thematic aspect. It seems H does a bit of dressing up on stage to play each character. Paul says they don’t get much heavier than this – I was semi-expecting a heavier album further down the line. 
  • Sanja found The Hollow Man as a turning point, this is where the album clicked. Both love the song, calling out its emotion. I think I mentioned being confused about the narrator on this one. There’s a Brave movie? Is it the Paul Verhoeven one? The Disney one about haggis?
  • The guys discuss H’s approach to lyrics and detaching parts of his character and personifying those as different versions of himself. Don’t we all do that?
  • You watch Gardener’s World?
  • Sanja doesn’t like Alone Again (and Paul says that the second part of the song was written many years before the album as its own thing). I’m surprised Sanja doesn’t like it as it is one of the songs which has clear cut melodies which could be ear worms. The bit about cleaning hands, I think I took it as more that the mother has found certain actual stains in clothes and rather than doing anything about (the abuse which led to) those stains, she just washes her hands and ignores the problem. 
  • Paul likes the song now – it took him some years to get there – but feels the album would work better without it, partly due to the overall length. I know little Talk Talk other than my beloved The Gathering covered one of their songs – Life’s What You Make – but it’s not very good. I imagine maybe Marillion in the 90s were not so Brave because they had the Record Company heat, and still wanted the commercial success. Now they’re older I (assume) they need or want that less.
  • Paper Lies…. yeah, we don’t need it. Paul hated it in the past, now hates it less that he thinks it sounds like The Who. Take it off the album. Paul doesn’t like the keyboard – that’s the only part I found memorable, as silly as it is. Speaking of cakes and dead birds, I am sitting here typing while eating the wall of a Gingerbread House that I purchased from Lidl before Christmas. I was planning to build it, but 4 months later that never happened. So I’m eating without building. Yum.
  • Brave is one they guys love. Sounds like they love the last three, as we all do. It’s Paul favourite on the album – I could have done with a minute being shaved off the running time, but whatever.
  • Apparently there were two versions of The Great Escape if you got the vinyl. I did not. The guys love the lyrics, the music… I can see this being a popular funeral song. I still find it odd that the album lost a lot of fans – yes it’s different, but the band was different and weird. The people I (stereotyping) see being drawn to Marillion in the first place, in the early days I would think this music would still appeal to them unless it was simply too dark for them – it’s not about drunk jesters. 
  • Made Again is Sanja’s favourite. I think this would have been the best choice as single – first single – but what do I know. That man Helmer strikes again. Whenever I ask Alexa to play this, she plays the 2020 version. Lovely.
  • PS – this is now the next day and I’ve listened to the How Prog episode. If Paul and Sanja both like Anathema, that’s another reason to listen to The Gathering as their former singer (Anneke Van Giersbergen) has done a few collaborations with Danny Cavanagh himself, and Anathema. I wasn’t a huge fan of their live album and never really got into Anathema. Anneke has worked with a lot of Prog artists over the years, more classical oriented and Metal oriented, most notably Ayreon, Devin Townsend, and John Wetton. The heavier, European side of Prog which emerged in the 90s and is still ongoing today, sounds like a wonderful rabbit hole for Paul to fall down if he hasn’t already.
  • PPS – it’s now another day and I’ve listened to the post bag episodes. On the forbidden subject of Fish singing H era songs… yes, why would he do this, unless the band had some all in one reunion. Didn’t someone say there was such a reunion at one point? In any case, I suppose anyone can cover anyone else’s work, so if Fish happened to hear an H song, by all means he might want to cover it if he enjoyed it. There is a bit of a precedent for the reunion aspect – Bruce Dickinson (more of a one off reunion) has performed songs by Blaze Bayley since returning to Iron Maiden (Bayley being the front man for two albums after Bruce left the band), although that’s more a case of those songs still being in their live rotation. For The Gathering’s 25th Anniversary live show, all of their former vocalists returned for a couple of one-off gigs, with previous singers contributing lead or backing vocals to songs written after they had left. So it does happen, though I can’t see it being a regular thang.

There we go, we’re finally done with Brave. There’s a mailbag episode to come, but I’m not going to post about that. There’s a bunch of other episodes before getting to the next album, and I have not yet listened to either those episodes or that album. I’d better get started on those. I’ve eaten too much Gingerbread. Bye everyone!

Nightman Listens To Brave – Marillion – Part 2

Brave (Marillion album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! As my post for Part 1 of Brave was long enough, I’m just going to get stuck straight in to Hollow Man. Paul Verhoeven directs this…. no, you’ve heard that one? Gotcha. Hollow Man is not the ballad you were expecting. Sure it’s a piano led soft song with a lonesome vocal and sparse arrangement, but at no point is it a ballad – even a cursory listen to the yearning, appealing chorus would make the most casual listener a little uncomfortable. It’s a painfully lonely, rain down the windowpane song. Around halfway through the arrangement does liven up – a drum beat like a pencil on teeth, a series of strings like the ending credits of a movie where the hero dies in the final scene, and a single guitar playing drunken spacey tingles. I enjoyed the distinction of the central two parts of the song – the sorrowful and empty first half followed by how questioning and desperate the second half is with its endless series of lyrics. 

Speaking of the lyrics, I found myself reminded of Nirvana’s In Utero. That album has a particular perversion for body horror, comparing some of life’s supposed precious moments to parasitic diseases. While Cobain became fixated on these troubling metaphors, H is content to spell things out more plainly in lines such as ‘I can feel the outside feeding on my inside’. I’m not positive as to why the song is Hollow Man instead of Hollow Woman – maybe that extra syllable didn’t work with the music and rhythm or maybe the narrator (assuming it’s the same woman from the beginning) has gone as far as comparing herself with the empty male tooth and grin type who use her. Rather than the depths of depression you feel obliged to sink to in appreciation of Cobain’s lyrics, the sense of abuse and loss of self here is more universal. That sentiment in ‘I think I have become one of the lonely/now that everybody talks to me/I feel I have become one of the empty’ is not only a feeling reserved for the popular or successful, but one I would imagine most of us normies have felt at some point. Not to beat the Buffy drum again (especially now all of that awful Joss ‘turns out I am a dick’ Whedon stuff is coming out) but I was reminded of Cordelia’s ‘I can be surrounded by people and be completely alone’ bit. Buffy asks ‘if you feel so alone, why do you work so hard at being popular’. Cordelia’s response – ‘well it beats being alone all by yourself’. It’s a line that cuts very close to overwrought and silly teen drama, but it works well in the context of the episode and in revealing a new side to a character who had been essentially one-note until that point. Similarly here, the line isn’t eye-catching in and of itself, but works so well in the context of the song and the wider album.

Elsewhere, the feeling of disconnection from self pervades; splitting from your body in a pseudo out of body experience, echoed by the lovely line ‘a blind eye sees the fragile vandalised’. I’m not 100% sure what that means, but it rolls sweetly off the tongue. The talk of commodities continues (‘stand us in our silly clothes/put our batteries in’) as the narrator sees herself as one of many, the latest in a production line, a thing plucked off a shelf for today’s amusement, and (I’ll quit it with the comparisons one day) reminding me of both Little Baby Nothing and Yes by Manic Street Preachers. From the anthemic ‘hopelessly passive and compatible… hold me in your arms, I wanna be your only possession’ and ‘you are pure, you are snow/we are the useless sluts that they mould’ of the former, to the infamous ‘he’s a boy/you want a girl so tear off his cock/tie his hair in bunches, fuck him, call him Rita if you want’ of the latter, there’s a clear through line of the replaceable, faceless nature of women in these three songs, whether they are implied as sex workers or just happen to be female. This song might be my favourite Marillion lyric of the era, even if I did mishear ‘sit quietly and listen to the breeze’ as ‘so quietly listen to the graves’ and see my version as canon.

Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury was a surprise. Not for the reasons you might expect. For you see, the first twenty or so times I listened to the album I had no idea this song existed. I’m (stupidly) listening on Youtube, and when I tried the official Marillion channel there were so many ‘Video Blocked In Your Country’ tracks that I went for a different upload. For whatever reason, that upload did not include this song whatsoever. It wasn’t until I was glancing at Wikipedia before publishing this post that I saw this song’s name. At first I thought it was just the name of a section of The Hollow Man, only to realise that I’m an idiot and it’s an entirely different song I missed. This may explain some of the confusion I have with parts of the narrative? Everything outside of my commentary of this song I’d already written and was about to publish – this paragraph and the next are being tacked on after writing everything else, meaning I’ve listened to this song only a handful of times compared with the others. 

And that’s a pain, because this is a cool song. I love the sweet little melodies… they remind me of a song I can’t quite grasp (is it Iron Maiden’s Infinite Dreams?). I enjoy how much it feels like an 80s one hit wonder ballad. There’s enough of Marillion sound and the Brave sound that it fits on the album, but (and maybe it’s because of how I missed this so many times that it feels like a bonus track than an actual album track) there’s something different about it which makes stand apart from much of the album. It sounds more positive and light, so much so that there’s a touch of Holidays In Exile to it. The songs closes with a Baba O’Reilly feel, some increasingly eerie sounds, and a final darker toned vocal. As I was already committed to posting this thing, I haven’t looked much into the lyrics of this one – is the ‘he’ the person who had been abusing the main character earlier? Is he the ‘he’ I say I’m confused about later in Brave’?  Is he genuinely sorry, or sorry because the main character is now rich and he wants a slice? There’s a lot to unpack here…. I have my ideas and they all point to some sick abuse type stuff, so I’ll just leave it there and see what Paul and Sanja have to say about it when I eventually get to the podcast.

Paper Lies startled me in my original listen in the same way that Hard As Love did – sounding like a bouncy fun rock song of the Mike And The Mechanics ilk. There’s something fairgroundy about it – the off kilter guitar harmonics and descending organ keys as H sings ‘paper lies’. While it doesn’t feature the tonal shifts of Hard As Love and is a more straightforward rocker, it’s clearly an acerbic attack on the media rather than whatever silly topic the music conjures. I’m probably reading way too much into things, but I did draw a comparison between the sound effect which opens the song and one of the closing lines of The Hollow Man – it sounds like something rattling when shaken. Sadly, that’s maybe the most interesting thing I can say about the song. Given the bands I regularly listen to, attacks on the media are a dime a dozen and while plenty of the lyrics hit the mark I didn’t feel any new ground had been broken. I didn’t pick up on the ‘Sun…Express… Mail’ until I saw the lyrics spread out in front of me, so that’s fairly amusing, but my struggle came with trying to relate this attack to the main narrative, my best guess that our narrator has made the big time and now has to deal with the tabloid mud-slinging and lies. Part of my issue throughout the album has been that this narrative isn’t explicitly called out so without listening to the podcast or doing my own reading I’m making assumptions based on what other bands have done and, well, what I would do if this were my idea. Girl from a broken home has dreams, runs away, does things she regrets, becomes famous, hounded by the press, contemplates killing herself. If that’s the story, then it makes sense that this is the ‘newspapers and paparazzi are scumbags’ song.

The music never reaches any peak of interest outside of those fairground sounds – assuming those are deliberate, I suppose they highlight the zany silliness and ridiculous nature of the tabloids? It’s a perfectly ordinary rock song which lacks a huge chorus or hook or even a guitar solo to help me pick it out from the crowd and it’s brazen enough to stretch to almost six minutes long. A large chunk of that final minute does set us up nicely for the title track, and its drawn out, waking with the sunrise organ and bagpipe intro. Bagpipes? Scotland? Fish? Is there a thing here? Brave passes the seven minute mark, but justifies its length with greater conviction than Paper Lies. It embraces its slovenly pace with a deliberate atmosphere of peace and solemnity. There’s a large, mostly instrumental section which makes up the bulk of the song – if I’m being completely honest I think this section could have been a minute shorter and still had the same impact. H pulls a Thom Yorke for the higher vocal moments and successfully avoids sounding like current day Thom Yorke, while the rest of the band seemingly take a step back. I’m sure they were all involved, but I didn’t notice. That’s the thing with these soundscape type pieces of music – pieces intertwine and mingle and it’s not so easy to do the traditional dissection of ‘there’s the guitar, there’s the drums, there’s the bass’ etc. It’s a song which is an improvement over Paper Lies but one where I enjoy individual aspects more than the final product. 

I’m sure I’ve missed something in the overall narrative, as I’m not sure who the ‘he’ is supposed to be in this song. My first guess when hearing the song was that this was the fickle media coming out in post-mortem support of the main character. After all their attacks, they waited until she was dead to pen a pseudo respectful obituary. We’ve seen it time and again with ‘troubled celebs’, with the media getting their licks in, only to half-heartedly retract and give back-handed praise after the person dies. I don’t think that’s actually what the song is about – something about the lyrics doesn’t feel genuine, there’s a touch of sarcasm… there’s…. something.

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

The Great Escape is a song in three parts, but even those three parts can be split up into smaller pieces. This is what I expect from Prog – larger songs which move more or less seamlessly through seemingly disparate parts to somehow create a coherent whole. That title is a term used quite a lot as a metaphor for taking your own life. I get it. The first verse of the song is mournful, with music gradually building, and the lyrics are a list of similar metaphors – permanent holiday, dignified walk away, the bright light – those are the metaphors which give the positive outlook on such a decision. With each of those metaphors called out in apparent defiance, the music builds sequentially peaking as the second phase begins. That second phase takes us to an angrier, or at least a louder place. It’s a last gasp cry, a final scream at the people or person who has caused all of this pain, or at least that the narrator is blaming for the pain. That anger fades for the final sequence, which happens to be possibly my favourite part of the whole album In truth, from around the 3.30 mark of this song until the end of the album, it’s perfection. It’s… hard to write about. It’s undoubtedly beautiful and it’s respectful, but it’s also incredibly sad with such precise instrumentation selected to tug on the heartstrings and a fiery guitar solo easily missed, blasting off in the background. 

Made Again is a heart-breaking song which eventually turns into something sweeter. It’s just as difficult to write about as The Great Escape if you’ve been through certain things or even if you’ve been on the periphery, or even if you’re a decent human being capable of empathy. These things can keep me up at night, mostly because I’m terrified of them happening in the future, and in a less peripheral way. That’s the power of good music! In lieu of writing about how I felt, I’ll take the half-technical route; the first note I made about the song was premature. I wrote that I wished there had been a slight melodic variation in the vocals. When H sings ‘but I never saw these streets…’ it sounds something like a B/A/G#/A/B/C#/C#/B/B, but I was hoping for a B/A/G#/A/B/F#/F#/E/D#. If you have a keyboard, play those notes to the rhythm of the song and you’ll see what I mean – it just gives that extra tug on the heart. That’s the premature part, because in the very next verse, H does sing something which sounds like the second set of notes above. It’s a testament to the song if that’s my only negative comment. I have gone back and forth on whether I would have preferred the song to end at the two minute mark, just before it transitions into something else. That second part is much more hopeful than the melancholic first section and would have closed the album with a very different vibe. In the end, I think I’d be ‘happy’ regardless of how it ended – either way is equally strong, and at least by having the second part we get both pieces. If it had ended without the second half… well, we wouldn’t have known.

To close out my inane comparisons… In Utero ends with All Apologies which is a similarly toned song – it’s both sad and hopeful in equal doses but without being a song of two distinct parts. It leaves you with a vague feeling of conflict and that good old ‘well I’d better listen again to see if it makes more sense’ twist. If the album had ended on the previous track Tourettes… well that would have been bizarre. Of course there is a hidden track, but the less said about it the better. The Holy Bible takes you through a twisted journey of the worst recesses of the human mind, body, and spirit, ending on the seemingly triumphant anti-everything PCP, a buoyant final punk fuck off to everything – musically speaking at least. It’s a massive leap from the sheer horror of its penultimate track The Intense Humming Of Evil – which, had that been the closer, would have closed the album with an entirely different and more distasteful vibe. With Brave, maybe it is better to offer a certain slant of light at the end. 

As seems to be the case with the album, I’m not sure if the hopeful ending is claiming that the narrator has stepped away from the bridge rather than off it, and has taken a positive step back towards living, towards a brand new day. Alternatively, is the positive slant that they have stepped off the bridge and they are now free from the pain of living? The lyrics seem to err on the former, with the words having a resurrection or waking up vibe rather than one of closure or passing on to whatever comes next. Regardless, it’s a strong finish to a strong album.

That seems as good a place as any to summarize my thoughts on the album. Is it dark? Sure, but the music doesn’t always reflect that darkness. There are enough lighter melodies and, for lack of a better term, traditionally commercial pieces that the whole never feels like it’s wallowing or off-putting, aggressive or ugly. Those two albums I keep comparing it to – In Utero and The Holy Bible (and to a certain extant The Wall) – as two of my favourite dark albums… those do often wallow, and they do feature deliberately harsh music, vitriolic lyrics, off-putting sounds and samples, all designed to craft an experience and a mood which won’t leave you in a sunny land of unicorns and rainbows. And yet they are rich with melody, huge choruses, and the occasional lighter moment. Brave lies somewhere in between – I could see a listener enjoying most of the music without knowing any of the context of the album (me) and without paying any attention to the lyrics and be mostly unaware that many of the songs deal with difficult subject matter. The further you delve into the lyrics and the subject matter, the darker the experience becomes, but eventually you reach a point where that experience is enriched by the knowledge and you accept the album, its content, and its nuances.

That leaves us with the never-ending question – is stuff like this ‘enjoyable’? Why do we make, and consume, and enjoy material which is difficult and angry, dark, upsetting, and often not designed to be aurally pleasing? As stated in post one…. I do enjoy this stuff, but I can’t quantify the reasons. There’s a little crumb of truth in whatever reasons you may think, and all of those crumbs add up. Some of us are naturally drawn to this, out of morbid enjoyment, out of a need or desire to understand, out of pure artistic and technical appreciation. Brave is an album I have both enjoyed and appreciated. I’ll take the songs I’ve enjoyed most and add those to my playlists, but I’m sure I’ll listen to the whole thing again. I’m going to close this post now and go listen to the podcast, finally. If I have any more thoughts based off the podcast, I’ll post those separately – this is long enough and nobody reads those anyway. As always, let me know in the comments what you think of the album and make sure to go support the BYAMPOD by giving it a listen yourself!

Nightman Listens To Marillion – Brave!

Brave (Marillion album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! We’re deep into Marillion’s second phase now, and from what little I’ve been told about this album – it’s dark, difficult, and different. Continuing with the way I typically start these posts, I check out the album art, the track list, and accidentally side-eye some of the peripheral album info on Wikipedia. I see the album was released in 1994, three years after their previous effort and right at the peak of Grunge. Kurt Cobain would die two months later, but the spectrum of Rock music had definitely tilted towards the more introspective side of things and away from the overblown and fun-loving years of yore. The Holy Bible was released in 1994. In Utero came out in 1993. There was something insidious in the water which led to a host of infamously dark releases.

The album artwork hints at something cold and intense – the extreme close up of what seems to be a woman’s face, with scribbled handwriting watermarked over the top – it’s a very Grunge adjacent image. The woman looks like a Gothic Winona Ryder or an Elfin Diamanda Galas (if it sounds anything like Galas, we may be in trouble). The band name and album title are etched in miniscule font at the top, almost out of sight, leaving you no opportunity to avoid the stare or the face in front.

Is it a double album? The track-list only features 11 songs, but a few of these are longer than the five minute mark. The total running time is over 70 minutes, so this could take a while. I don’t recognise any of the song titles and if anything can be gleamed from their names – lies, alone, hollow, hard, mad, escape, runaway… I probably wouldn’t have picked up anything from those names if I hadn’t already heard that this was ‘a dark album’, but obviously those words conjure some images and feelings. While we’re on the topic of feelings, I should probably highlight some personal bias – I’m a fan of so called ‘darker material’. All my life I’ve been instinctively drawn to more fringe or extreme forms of media – Horror movies, Heavy Metal,  my childhood enjoyment of gory myths and legends. Not that I’m deliberately trying to be an edge-lord, not that I’m unhinged or some dough-faced cynical pessimist, I simply enjoy music and fiction which touches or embraces those hushed emotions we’re not traditionally supposed to talk about. I generally find fans of similar material to be as well adjusted as anyone else – it’s the Country fans you have to watch out for.

I mention this not because I think I’m automatically going to love Brave due to personal preferences – quite the opposite. I have a history of being less than impressed by recommended dark offerings in Film and Music – everything from Nine Inch Nails to The Cure’s Pornography to all manner of nonsensical Metal albums which claim to be dark or bleak – they don’t do it for me. I tend to not be as invested in darker albums which deal with love or break-ups or subjects of that nature, as much as those which attempt to uncover the uncomfortable and the unspeakable – murder, mental illness, war, real world tragedies, personal destruction. I should add that I’m not looking to revel in these subjects, more that I want to understand those who have been impacted by them on a personal level to the extent that they needed to express those feelings publicly and artistically; many of the greatest artistic statements have come from places of pain and authenticity, or have attempted to push moral or cultural boundaries. If there’s any general rule I apply to these considerations, it’s that albums designed to try to sound dark tend to fail (for me), while albums recorded from a genuine place of pain tend to succeed.

I unfairly compare these works to The Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible, which is such a unique and uncompromising artistic statement of despair that nothing comes close to its power. I’ll have to separate myself from this bias, and while I go in knowing Brave is not meant to be an easy listen, I have a feeling that in the back of mind I’ll be thinking ‘yeah, but it’s hardly 4st 7lbs, The Intense Humming Of Evil, or Archives Of Pain. I’ll try as much as possible to take Brave for what it is and only compare it to Marillion’s existing work. I don’t know any of the context surrounding the recording of the album, or if any of that information helps to envelop the music in a haze of darkness, pain, or despair. There’s no point guessing any longer, lets just dive in.

See the source image

Bridge as an opener, does what an opener should do; it introduces us to the overall tone of the album, giving an idea of the theme and the sound which we’ll be with for the album’s running time. It’s clear that we’re moving in a direction of soundscapes and textures – the opening melodies are created via a mixture of traditional keyboards and more modern studio trickery. You can’t put your finger on what these sounds are or what is creating them, but it sets a mood. There is a somewhat harsher production, although this comes more to the fore in subsequent tracks. The recurring HRRRRNNNMMMM sound which opens the album, it sounds at once like an aircraft crashing overhead on its way to deliver some apocalyptic payload, and a guitar bending a volume knob twiddling. What it most reminded me of was… the videogame Siren Head (I believe there is a movie now too) which depicts these giant robotic sentinels trampling through forest wastelands, and giant speakers/sirens for a head. This is the sort of sound I would expect such creatures to make. 

The song is definitely a mood piece, stepping definitively away from the commercial pop sound of the previous album. What mood it is meant to convey, I’m still unsure. It is forlorn, it moves into a more quiet second half for a brief vocal melody which fades off the end of a cliff as if giving up a thought mid-sentence, allowing the final moments of the song to form the intro of Living With The Big Lie. As the bulk of the song is a texture of sounds and not my usual forte, I don’t have much else to add. The lyrics give little doubt as to what the mood of the song should be, as they depict a woman on a bridge, peering over the edge, while cameras go off and police ask questions… it’s obvious what we’re talking about and upon reading them for the first time I wondered if the rest of the album’s narrative was going to be of a suicidal woman recounting her life before stepping forwards or not. Incidentally, there is a highly divisive and shocking documentary called The Bridge which details those who have lost their lives at the Golden Gate bridge’s ‘popular suicide spot’. Hearing a song like this draws clear parallels. Having listened to the album multiple times before reading a single lyric or understanding the subject matter, it certainly made me re-evaluate some of my first time thoughts. 

The gloomy, almost claustrophobic tone continues into Living With The Big Lie. It’s a ghostly, light intro with a soft vocal, a song which eventually finds some edge and volume. I tend to hunt for melody as my first magnet in a song – these opening tracks don’t have a lot in the way of melody, or vocal melodies at least, but this goes roughly unnoticed because of the atmosphere grabbing attention and enticing production overdubs and tonal shifts. This song pulls itself in different directions with chaotic overdubs, anguished echoed vocals, scratchy guitars, and sudden moments of introspective calm – conflicting sounds imitating a tortured mind. It’s a grittier sound from what we’ve been used to, although it does recall some of the darker moments on previous albums. I like what is done with the guitars in the first half of the song – it sounds like harmonics with added reverb and other effects, making the notes sound like a keyboard. One of guitar tones near the end (there’s a lot of overlapping parts) reminded me of the famous filtered sound from Nirvana’s Come As You Are. There’s a deceptive amount of musical content going on as the song progresses, and it’s easy to miss much of it on a cursory listen. 

The song, assuming it is following the narrative I suspected from the opening track, covers the birth and first days of (presumably) the woman on the bridge. It reads like one third prose, one third poetry, and one third diary entry – ‘it all began’ sounds like the opening narration for Jim Henson’s Storyteller or Jackanory, then dipping into the assorted imagery and near haiku stylings of ’empty winter trees/How space feels/Love of the soft flowers and the sky’. 

It’s quite a long lyric – long in the sense of the number of individual verses rather than being some rambling soliloquy. It starts out as a largely pleasant series of images and feelings, confusion is stirred in, then those images take on a darker turn as maturity and experience come into play. ‘The beauty of your mother’s eyes’ is simplicity, warmth, innocence, and your world view honed in on a protective force of good, but then we get the ‘thunder of jets’, ‘drugs in the food’, ‘attitude of authority’ – a succession of inescapable lessons which dampen our early experiences and show us the first snarls of an outside world ready and willing to bite. There’s no single issue or big bad acting as the target for our ire, rather it’s a cynical and realistic perspective of the world – perspective being the key word. 

If there is a key refrain or word within the lyric, it’s ‘I got used to it’. All of the confusion, all of the stuff we deal with, all of the expectations, all of the things we’re not good at – you get used to it. It’s a sink or swim attitude – you cope or you drown. If all you know is being knocked about, then that becomes the natural state. It’s a psychological state of acceptance I see a lot in myself – I can’t do anything about any of this stuff, so fuck it. But not ‘fuck it’ in a dismissive way ‘well I’m just going to ignore or avoid these things’, but more of a sad state of realisation that this is how things are and this is how things will always be, so keep your head down and let it happen. I’m in no way qualified to talk about these issues in an intelligent coherent way beyond my own feelings and experiences – sadly few people are – but I have empathy. Not necessarily to recognize it in others, but to try to understand. 

Into young adulthood and things are progressively worse – ‘I was made to feel worthless’. This could conjure up any number of interpretations, from the well trodden idea of the big city swallowing all hopes and dreams, to the more recently topical issues of the #Metoo movement. The narrator continues to look outwards – from Mum’s face, to School, to the big city, to war-mongering politicians, religion, the media – but it’s okay, because that’s just how it is, and you get used to it. I very much read the lyric as this person, through circumstance, through hardship, through loss of innocence, taking on a jaded view of the world and that this view will go on to inform her opinions and decisions, and ultimately be one piece of the puzzle leading her to a bridge. As mentioned, it’s something I recognize in myself and I have to be careful to ground myself in other perspectives and not pass it on to my kids. 

There’s a little segue between Living With The Big Lie and Runaway Girl –  a series of voice clips and effects which you can kind of make out. I make out multiple voices, one distressed woman saying what sounds like ‘hate everybody’ and ‘all my friends’ before trailing off. I’m sure a decent set of headphones would uncover more. That sound clip, while potent, it feels a little excessive at this point in the album. It sounds like someone in the immediate midst of anguish – could be the middle of an argument, could be the aftermath of a breakup, could be a total breakdown. Two songs in and based on the way the previous song did a good job of building and exploring, that clip felt like a sudden tip over the edge. Maybe its purpose is just as an example of the person’s mindset at any given moment of depression, but it felt a little out of the blue or extra, as the kids say.

Rothery offers a little more of a jangle to his guitar tone, but than shadowy atmosphere is still clear. I enjoy organs in songs – it’s such a powerful and versatile instrument which can increase a song’s grandeur or give it a funereal vibe. Certainly the opening tone of the song is one of sadness and monotony, hinting at the need to run away. I enjoyed the fake build up around the minute and a half mark – building as if to a chorus which would release tension, building to a chorus which I was unsure would be driven in a positive or more angry way – was it going to a chorus showing the joy of a Runaway Girl escaping monotony and sadness, or the anger of needing this escape. The fake out instead forces us to relive and continue the monotony, with the music building, building, then dropping with a shrug back to the verse. The repeat this trick a second time, then decide to avoid a chorus altogether and replace it with an instrumental led by a flickering, screeching solo, closing out with a fiery, pissed off vocal. 

Lyrically, Runaway Girl reads at first like a thousand teenage cliches – the isolation, adolescent angst, and confusion. It’s another expansion of the lead character’s story (or how it is imagined to be by the narrator) as she struggles for identity, freedom, place. Many of the lyrics are questions, often what we are left with after someone goes missing or takes their own life, with the chorus being a deliberate blanket assumptive statement – Runaway Girl/A real wild child/too bad. The last lines hint that all of the running away, homelessness, starvation, mistreatment, loveless hook-ups are all due in part (or at least favourable to) the treatment she has received at home – treatment which is suggested to be violent or sexual. 

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

Three songs in and it’s a good place to pause and mention the comparison which has been nipping at me – it’s not one which will mean much to many reading this due to the band in question not being widely known – but this album has a hell of a lot in common with The Gathering’s output, particularly the more ethereal moments of their seminal How To Measure A Planet? album. For Paul’s benefit – think mellow Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree with female vocals. For everyone else, think OK Computer with female vocals. Or Portishead’s Dummy with a little edge. Very similar production, similar in mood, and even the guitar tones have more in common than not. It’s an album to slip away to in the dark, headphones on – I’m not sure if that’s advisable with Brave yet. The main difference between Brave and How To Measure A Planet? (which I highly recommend everyone to go purchase and/or listen to after reading this) is that The Gathering’s album doesn’t deal with such dark material and instead revels in isolation and the idea of floating away, entirely alone, in space and doesn’t treat this as something terrible, rather a beautiful, inevitable part of life. It’s a masterpiece, and a tragedy more people don’t know it – when you search for it on Youtube, results for ‘How To Measure A Plant Pot’ are suggested first. I see no reason prog fans wouldn’t like it, unless they only like bands with big manly men up front.

Returning to Brave, and possibly it’s centrepiece, Goodbye To All That shatters much of the niceties we’ve been presented with so far. It’s a bit of a beast, a chanting, industrial monster offering a tempestuous odyssey from relative piano calm to percussive dissonant booming, and a breathless array of emotion and texture in between. That transition around the second minute into an echoing sequence sounds like a literal descent into a dark place (struggling to avoid hackneyed Greek Myth analogies), with the backing instruments stripping away their natural musicality and instead performing screeching downstrokes like fingernails clawing down a tombstone, leaving the drums to keep any semblance of form. It probably won’t interest anyone else, but I found this very similar to a section of Gold Against The Soul and Nostalgic Pushead (Manics again) right down to the sound effects and the adopted American accent for the vocals. That moment is followed up by a spine-tingling swell of vocals/vocal sounds which gives a echoing, epic pained sentiment. Anyone who follows my music posts regularly knows I love a sudden layered vocal swell to give the impression of a choir.

This sequence peaks with a suitably blistering guitar solo, petering out to an exhausted repose. It’s another section which gave me distinct The Gathering vibes, and it shows the balls of the band to comfortably remain in this space for several minutes and let the song puzzle its own way back to a recognizable place – this would typically be seen as dead air, but for more adventures artists and prog bands it’s an integral part of cementing mood and texture. When we eventually do return to a regular vocal and melody, those closing moments have greater impact thanks to the maelstrom of relative silence we’ve passed through. It’s one of the more harsh songs in the Marillion discography, and the three songs preceding this one… as different as they have sounded they are all unmistakingly Marillion. More and more it’s Rothery’s guitar tone and style which is the most recognizable component for me, followed by the keyboards.

Goodbye To All That transitions seamlessly into the first obvious Single of album (turns out it’s not even a Single). Hard As Love is as close to a traditional old fashioned rock song as Marillion have come – right down to a name which conjures images of cock-rock superstars.  The album so far has not had songs you would consider as Single material, but that hasn’t made it any less appealing. Perhaps it’s not as immediate as some, especially after the previous album, but I imagine Marillion fans aren’t looking for a quick fix but a long term drip-feed of goodness. The vocals blast out like Springsteen in the opening seconds, begging to be heard from the most obscenely sized stereo you can sling over your denim-clad shoulder. Musically and vocally it sounds out of place on a first listen, but a deeper delve into the lyrics unveils its truer nature, and subsequent listens shine a light on the song’s softer moments as the highlight. The indulgent string bends and transition into a twinkling piano section around the three minute mark may be one of my favourite parts of any Marillion song so far.

The song is almost seven minutes long – not exactly single fodder with that length – but it could have been edited down somewhat, even to only include the harder edged sections. I’m not generally a fan of heavily edited singles, especially when they turn the song into something entirely different from the album version, so that probably would have been a horrible idea. With a title like Hard As Love, coupled with the trad rock stylings of the verses, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was some ill-advised AC/DC knock-off. On my first listen of the album that’s exactly what I took the first half of the song as – confusing me as to why there was such a stark left turn in the content. Multiple listens soon clarified any such misgivings, and the lyrics further shot down notions of misogyny or trad rock nonsense. I’m not positive from which perspective the lyrics are coming from. It’s a tad vague – I get the sense that H’s lyrics are more about creating a mood or feeling than explicitly barfing details on a plate for us to lap up – but it does leave the song open for empty interpretation. It’s a guessing game where every answer could be as right or wrong as the next. The gist seems to be that… love is hard… and maybe each verse deals with anticipation or entitlement or some sort of struggle. Verse one; somebody wants someone, but shucks – love is hard. Verse two; more of the same, with extra maths. Verse three; a little more creative detail – are you sure you still want me, you’ve heard about the pictures, right? My assumption for the middle verses was that love is being equated to addiction, then we suddenly shift to religion for the final verse. Is it the main narrator speaking throughout – a series of people wanting something from her, wanting to save her, with an air of prostitution throughout, the person dehumanized to a commodity.

I don’t know how Paul and Sanja are dividing up their podcast episodes for Brave, but I think I’ll slap a moratorium on this post for now. I think Hollow Man is supposed to be considered under the first half of the album, but look at how much I’ve written already. I have a feeling I will split my Brave thoughts into three posts – the second post will either close out the album with the third left entirely for podcast musings, or the second and third will both include some song thoughts and podcast stuff. My thoughts on the album to this point – it has mostly avoided the apprehensions I outlined concerning dark albums – the lyrical and thematic content is certainly not sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, but the music isn’t as caustic or off-putting as I was anticipating. It’s still Marillion, it’s still eminently listenable, and it shows a progressive step of (I don’t want to say maturity) songwriting  beyond what was apparent on Holidays In Eden. The hits are missing, and while that’s not a bad thing, the ability to write those hits is something any self-respecting band should have in their pocket. Otherwise you’re probably not going to get very far. Maybe the second half is more hit-heavy. 

Feel free to skip over  or ignore the next couple of paragraphs as they don’t pertain to the album directly or my thoughts on it, but it’s the elephant in the room and possibly it’s going to be brought up in the Podcast. Trigger Warnings for Suicide. Suicide is something that, when I was young, was seen as something only the ultra famous or viciously unstable would consider. Naturally, part of that misunderstanding is due to the wonderful innocence of youth and inexperience, but as you grow and learn and experience, and as you go through shit yourself, you see that it’s not some random or rare event. I knew peripherally of several people who, before I turned 18, had killed themselves. By the time I was in my twenties, I personally knew a few who had lost there lives in this way, and many more who had considered it. I went to a fairly large school by Northern Ireland standards (maybe a hundred in my year) but as segregated as we allowed ourselves to be, pretty much everybody knew everybody else by name or face. I was on friendly speaking terms with three people in my school year who have killed themselves. Once you see the statistics, once you feel the loss yourself, it’s easy to get angry about the state of Mental Health services in this country and all of the other various preventable issues which contribute to this spiral. It’s easy to get angry when people and politicians are fighting over a history or a divide which simply does not matter anymore – at least not when weighed against the lives lost each year in this actual, ongoing battle. It’s easy to get angry when the word ‘suicide’ is continually used – a word which has a criminality attached to it. Every country has a too-high rate of people losing their lives in this way, and while Northern Ireland is by no means the highest, it’s still shocking for a place with a limited population. Everybody knows somebody, right?

I made a point earlier about melody being the immediate and obvious hook for listeners – it is often the more challenging albums which do not feature obvious melodies. That doesn’t mean they are not present, it may simply mean you need to spend more time with each song before they’re uncovered. Not to make an over-simplified comparison, but isn’t that a bit like people? Maybe it takes spending time with someone to see their strengths and to understand and appreciate their flaws, the pain they have undoubtedly suffered. Maybe we need to spend this time with each other, to communicate, and find a way to help bring us out into a bright new morning and bright new day. Sometimes when we do, the results are that much greater. I’m as guilty of treating music (and people) in this passive, distracted way. We’re not necessarily inherently selfish, but we all have our own shit to deal with and a limited time to play with. It’s important that we allow ourselves to breath, then maybe we can listen and absorb, understand and help. I’m wildly out of my depth in this topic and I don’t want to make any ridiculous generalizations or simplifications, and I hate writing or talking like this because it comes off as sappy or self-serving or misguided, and given that I write in a spur of the moment way… well, it’s the sort of topic demands more respect than my half-assed blogging can provide.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Brave, and as always give the BYAMPOD a listen!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Holidays In Eden (Side B)!

Image result for holidays in eden

Greetings, Glancers! When I was finalizing my thoughts on Side A or Side B, I found a random snippet of text in the middle of a couple of paragraphs which didn’t seem to relate to anything within those paragraphs, so rather than lose it I’m going to use it as my non-sequitor intro to this post – ‘I think the album may have been a greater success if it had been released in the 80s. It’s an alarming change when viewed alongside their debut, and is very much an MOR pop rock record with singalong melodies dripping out of each song’

Holidays In Eden has a touch of The Who and The Police. Not for the first time in the band’s career. If there was any song on this album which felt familiar it was this one – I don’t see how I possibly would have heard this before, unless it was on a movie soundtrack, but since hearing it I have been scratching my head to try and place where I know it from, if I know it at all. Having said that, it’s a bit of a shark-jump moment. I’m not sure what the intent was for this one – there are spots of nice music – the quiet guitar parts in the verses, maybe the lyrics, but the bouncier moments are bizarre. It turns into this weird clownish thing with H sounding like Sting, the keyboard sounding like a moped struggling to start, and a rhythm which just irked me from the off. All I could think of when hearing the bouncy moments in this was Bob Mortimer dancing – in fact, here’s a clip of the exact moment I’m thinking of. That’s the same song, right? I struggled to find enough to say about this one because I had to skip through those bouncy bits. There’s a non-eventful guitar solo… the riffs are uppy downy but in a nauseating manner, and the ending is a ludicrous dead stop. 

Dry Land restores some sanity and normality to proceedings. The guitar in the intro and verses reminded me of Somebody’s Baby from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It’s a particularly earwormly chorus. Earwormly? I don’t know. I think this album, more than any other so far, has the best selection of singles. The right songs were picked as singles, and the most melodic of these have been my most played songs around the house up this point. To the extent that I’ve caught my daughters shouting ‘Alexa, play Cover My Eyes’. 

H gives a laissez-faire, sultry vocal for the verses – almost like he’s being coy or playing hard to get – and he saves the bigger notes and expression for the chorus. It’s a very strong performance for a melody which dips and peaks suddenly and wouldn’t be the easiest to perform in such a smooth and relaxed manner. I found myself not paying attention to the rest of the band for this one – there rhythm and percussion side of things is consistent and happy to underpin the vocal, while there’s a lot of layers to what the guitars are doing. 

The lyrics range from curious, defensive, pleading, afraid – the mental state of someone in love from afar, desperate to make the next move, but terrified of doing so. The object of these affections is somewhere between being placed on a pedestal and being seen as a natural solitary soul. I think this sentiment should be fairly universal for those of us who have fallen for a certain type of person, and allow ourselves to be wrapped up in a torment of indecision, adulation, and self-doubt. The language is easily understood and the words allow the difficult melody to navigate freely.

The first comment I jotted down for Waiting To Happen was ‘a wedding first dance song. Possibly even more so than Grendel’. That was before I heard the first Holidays In Eden Part 1 Podcast episode where Sanja referred to a track on Side A as a Wedding song – to be honest her pick was probably the better choice. At the very least, this a lighters up song. Does the, presumably older, audience who attends Marillion shows still use lighters or do they use phone like everyone else? 

It’s a pure power ballad – if I think of early 90s power ballads which were going out of style by this point – stuff like Wind Of Change, Always, Mr Big’s To Be With You – a few of the ingredients which made those so successful can be found in this one, though there’s a higher percentage of emotional desperation and yearning in Waiting To Happen and reduced levels of cheese. It was apparent on my early listens that the lyrics felt more poetic, though my mind and ears could have been dazed by the spell the music put me under. It’s quite lovely – the ‘nicest’ song on the album but probably out of the four most commercial songs on the album it’s my fourth favourite currently. Which means it’s my fourth favourite song on the album. 

There’s quite a tonal difference between the verse and the chorus, and even within the pre-chorus, and it’s here that the twist on the power ballad formula becomes apparent; Most power ballads are unashamedly about being in love, or falling out of love. This musically bounces back and forth between those in a musical sense – if we think of being in love, that is a positive thing which we would attach a major key or major chords to, while a break-up or some related anguish would normally be played to the tune of minor chords. We have both, and the lyrics further blur the lines to the extent that it’s never really clear which side of the debate we should be on. I’ve tried to write my thoughts on this with some degree of clarity but have given up numerous times – the summary of my thoughts going somewhere along the lines of ‘the verses point to positives and negatives, the chorus points to positives and negatives’. Assuming this is an H lyric, we’ve come to learn that he does write in this vague catch-all way, but at times I questioned whether the song was even about another person or rather another version of himself. I’m sure the truth is far more simple. No matter what it’s about, it’s another lovely song, part of a quartet of lovely songs.

I’m not sure what the thought what process was for This Town – ‘you know all those terrible Country one hit wonders you hear on US Rock Radio stations which think they’re heavy an bluesy but they’re really not? Lets do one of those!’

It’s not great – it’s tame and it’s silly, but to their credit they do sound like they’re having fun. It’s jolly and bouncy and there’s a couple of more interesting moments towards the end. It sounds like a car chase caper movie soundtrack. This is probably the song I dismissed most quickly on this album – a distinctly average rock song which ends with a tasty solo, but it’s too little too late to allow my thoughts on the overall song to change.

The Rake’s Progress was a pain to find on Youtube as a standalone track, with various ‘video blocked in your region’ messages and the only alternative being to play the track as part of a trio including the previous and next track. Then I remember Paul mentioning there being a longer three part piece on Side B, of which this must be the middle piece. I say this all because it meant I listened to this song less than most others. It’s a rambling piece – it makes sense that it’s part of a larger arc of music and if I’m honest it doesn’t really work on its own, whereas This Town and 100 Nights do. I’m not sure why they didn’t just make this the intro of 100 Nights. It’s fine but I don’t think there’s much here to make me seek it out. 

100 Nights is the requisite epic to close the album. It feels like the proggiest song on the album, which is unusual because there aren’t too many changes in time signatures or tone or anything else. While previous songs have been labelled as dirges, this one felt more like a dirge to me primarily because it was all a little one note and felt like a slog to get through. It isn’t musically a dirge (as those are traditionally in the minor key or slower) but it isn’t very exciting. There is a particularly screechy solo in the middle which I was hoping would lead into a more interesting second half, but that second half is instead a louder shoutier version of the first half. The last couple of minutes are more promising and feel like a tacked on idea for a song they couldn’t quite work out how to transform into its own thing. There is a lyrical call-back to This Town. An anti-climactic ending to the album.

If anything, the lyrics highlight the boredom and indifference I felt towards the music, with the narrator bemoaning the repetition and monotony of his existence. There seems to be a bit about how fame changes you, but we’ve already been more than well-versed in this concept over the previous few albums, and many of the lyrics just seem like random nothings added to fill space – ‘you don’t know that I come here, but if you did, you would know why’ – I’m sure that means something that isn’t pervy, but vague, meaningless. There’s enough in the final couple of verses to suggest that the song genuinely is about… something… but I’m sure a hundred people could give a hundred different interpretations and they’d each be as tedious as the next. 

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

On to the podcast and talk of steamers, which is one of the many terms for a type of poo my friends would have used in school days gone by, along with ‘the flock of sparrows’, ‘plopper’, ‘pebble dash’, ‘grunties’, ‘brown disgrace’ and the always controversial ‘depth charge’. Dry Land was apparently a song from H’s previous band repurposed for Marillion. Is popped out another poo thing? Or a boob thing? Everything’s a thing now. I’m glad Sanja picked up on how tricky the song is to sing – it is made to look easier than it actually is. Sanja loves it, Paul isn’t much of a fan but still better than average. Out of the four commercial poppy songs on the album, it’s my third favourite. 

With Waiting To Happen, Paul and Sanja both agree it is a lovely pure love song, while I wasn’t so sure and sensed some negativity or cynicism. Maybe it was fear and apprehension coming through, translating to negativity? They both love it – it’s their favourite on the album. They don’t spend much time discussing this song, because there is worse to come… such as This Town which Paul was looking forward to before the album release due to some prior version being high in his estimation. He was therefore disappointed by what it became. The most similar example I have of this phenomenon in my own musical memory would be JJ72’s City. The band played this song live a few times after the release of their stellar debut, and had me excited to hear it on their second (above and beyond the singles they subsequently released). Imagine my disappointment when the album version of City stripped away all of the venom and force and emotion of the earlier version. The same could be said of much of JJ72’s second album. Radiohead did something similar when they finally released a studio version of the once glorious True Love Waits – and turned it into an empty collection of robotic noises.

The guys aren’t overly impressed or effusive about the final three songs – neither enjoy This Town, they’re fine, they both appreciate the lyrics of the final two parts, but Paul says the whole thing is a slog live. Is 100 Nights about The Invisible Man? In which case – pervy. I was half-expecting Paul to love this one because it’s a bit more prog-oriented, but no, that’s one of the reasons he doesn’t like it. I don’t hate it – I don’t care enough to hate it – and I have the luxury of being a Marillion pleb so I can say it’s a bit rubbish. Incidentally, I can’t hear the name Chris Neil without thinking about The Exorcist (Mac). They some up their thoughts on the album – some highish highs, some steamers. 

We move into some talk of the other B-Sides which I haven’t bothered listening to, then the spoiler that the next album is both scary, dark, and a bit of a departure. They also made a film of the album. Paul’s making a big deal of it now, so I’m a bit concerned I’m going to think it’s shit. I’ve seen various posts on BYAMPOD on Twitter regarding the next album, but I’ve purposely avoided them. They give a little more info on where The Rake’s Progress name came from – fair enough. We’re (well, you’re) fans – the product is out there and we can’t be expected to lie to ourselves about our feelings. There are plenty of Manics songs where I will gladly kick Nicky in the nuts for giving them birth. Man… I hate when my wife crunches crisps with her mouth open. IT’S ALWAYS THE THIRD CRUNCH! <munch munch CRUNCH STOP!> I wouldn’t say I have this feeling about any song by a band I love, as I’ll just go out of my way to ignore it and not listen to it. And as die-hard fans, I think you’ve somehow earned the right to have strong personal feelings about this band you adore. Someone who blindly loves everything… that’s a more disturbing level of adoration that’s bordering on unhealthy obsession. I tend to trust the opinions of people I already know and can gauge our aligned musical tastes before choosing to listen to something they recommend. And as they’re my friends I can tell them their taste is terrible without getting slapped. I knew nothing of Paul’s musical tastes before starting out on this nonsense but the general area of Prog is something I wanted to expand into and I was happy to give Marillion a shot. 

The rest of the episode is a a listeners’ letters thing, so maybe my email will be answered. Beerman doesn’t like Cover My Eyes. Go have another beer, man! The next bloke loved the band already but has seen his love revitalized thanks to the podcast – that’s great. I have to admit, I don’t know if I would have been a fan if I had heard the band when I was the same age as when Paul first heard them. Back then it was all grunge and metal and angry men shouting stuff angrily… and sounding angry when they did it. Whether or not this was a maturity thing, their general sound I doubt would have pulled me in. If they had been a band with a little more mysticism surrounding them or more cult credibility then I would have given them a chance in my teens. 

The next email is from ‘Pee Twitcher’. It looks like a lot of those contacting the Podcast are those who ‘lost their way’ around the release of Holidays In Eden. Charlie likes walking his dog and was in University in 1991. I was 8 in 1991, but that should not matter to any of you. My email does pop up and yes, I am also disappointed I’m not really called Carlos and lack the balls to genuinely change my name. Hey, I am also a shy man, but thanks for the kind words and to anyone who keeps showing up to read these posts. Also, apologies for that really badly written email – hearing it read word for word was yuck. It’s tricky finding more than one band that you can honestly say you truly love and want to spend time talking about and sharing that love for, and that you have a personal story with, while also being knowledgeable about their history and inner workings. Maybe just go completely leftfield and both plod through the works of Scatman John? I’m not a music merch fan either… one of my earliest G’n’R t-shirts is a really rare one that is the envy of new fans. It’s not signed or anything, and there’s probably thousands in existence, but you never see it on anyone. Thanks for the answers and another shout out!

Some more emails from fans from Sweden, fans who only joined after the Fish era, and people looking forward to Paul and Sanja’s thoughts on Brave. Before we get there the guys have a bonus episode on Marillion’s 10th Anniversary which I will be listening to but probably not commenting on. Roll on Brave. Thanks to those reading who have come here from the Podcast, and for any of my existing readers, why not hop over to Twitter and Podcast places and give BYAMPOD and Marillion a listen!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Holidays In Eden (Side A)!

Image result for holidays in eden

Greetings, Glancers! Last time I was introduced to the H era, and an album which saw the band aiming to, and succeeding in moving on from their time with Fish in a confident, almost jubilant manner. That transitory step now complete, the band could continue without their past hanging over them and cement their new sound and approach. As always, I know nothing about this album – I don’t know if it is merely another collection of songs, if there are recurring themes, if it takes the band deeper into commercial territory or further into prog. I don’t know if it is a Concept Album, I don’t know if it is heavy, light, dark, if the songs are short, long, or a mixture of all of these. Mayhap the album art will offer some spoilers (or sneakers as I have come to call them with my kids).

At first glance, it’s rather a bland cover. The dark blue and black colouring catches the eye and I’m momentarily drawn to the various creatures which seem to be darting towards the moon. It reminds me of those pictures hand made by blowing or pushing sand around. There’s a tree in the centre, and a bland circular logo/album title spinning around the moon. Animals… Eden… is there something there? It’s a neatly presented cover, but I don’t have much to say about it. Is there any wider context? I’m sure the podcast will shed more light.

I see the album garnered three singles – none of which I recognise. There are ten songs and a running time of under 50 minutes – so a roughly average 4-5 minute running time per song. I’m assuming there aren’t as many epics on this one. The only other thing I would mention is that it was released in 1991. Probably too early to be influenced by Grunge – I don’t know if Marillion got caught up by the popularity of Grunge and consciously or otherwise changed their sound to accommodate for the Seattle bands and scene, but that is certainly something which did happen to a lot of existing Metal and Rock bands. They either tried to change their sound and style, or stayed entrenched in the 80s and subsequently found themselves relics. Prog tends to be on the periphery or complete outside of these things, yet it doesn’t exist within a vacuum. Maybe this will be answered on the next album, but I suspect Holidays In Eden is ‘simply’ Marillion continuing along and doing their own thing.

Splintering Heart continues the band’s trend of setting up their stalls with a longer, atmospheric opener. The plodding intro made me think of an army of frogs hippidy hopping out a swamp and down some dusk road towards the city’s bright lights. What an odd thing to think of but it’s there every time I play the song – going away once the singing begins. While it relies heavily on atmosphere, there is a heavy use of dynamics and it doesn’t scrimp on the melody. Songs which set themselves up to textures or soundscapes rather than traditional often (or purposefully) lose melody and can leave me feeling detached. Splintering Heart does the quiet part/loud part thing well, but doesn’t place it around the confines of the verse chorus verse structure – it more accurately builds its atmosphere and explodes when the tension and story calls for it – the first loud break only coming after the build up of lyrics about heartbreak and the agonized shout of ‘and it tears her apart, but not as much as this’. this first explosion of sound begins with a note combination I have a particular fondness – the little Bb-A-F lick – extending out into a wider reminder that the band can shred and kick with the best of them. H gets to show off his pipes once more, smoothly reaching highs and adding a little bit of gristle when called for.

As I mentioned in the previous album, many of the lyrics seemed to be written about a ‘she’ or a ‘her’ and Splintering Heart seems to follow in this respect in places. With the few lyrics I picked up on, and with the title in mind, it seems like a reasonable guess that this is a love song, or more closely the pain of love. That build up of lyrics in the beginning covers the unending circular nature of pain, yearning, and potentially grief – stabbing and twisting and familiar to most of us. There is the potential that the yearning is actually for a drug, with the reference to ‘the cost of the high’, but there isn’t anything else specific in the song so this feels more like a rhyme to suit the following line. The later talk of fragments and ‘glass hard’ made me think of the old Ice Queen story where the kid’s heart is frozen by a shard of ice, turning him cold to his friend. It’s another matter of fact lyric which doesn’t is hardly the height of poetry, but it is lent potency by the often hissing and earnest delivery of the vocal.

The first things I noted for Cover My Eyes were a couple of comparisons I’ve brought up before – it sounds like Run Like Hell and it sounds like U2. Both comparisons are due to the guitar style and beat of the intro, but that’s as far as the comparison goes. It’s a lovely, sweet song, and it pulls off a new trick – a melodic trick that I can’t recall the band pulling off or attempting before – replacing lyrics in a chorus by ‘oohs and aahs’. That’s something I frequently did in my own songs – mainly because I couldn’t be arsed trying to fit lyrics to a vocal melody I already loved, but at a wanky level I felt that the melody was more pure without shoving semantics on top of it and attempting to mouth harsher syllables. Enough!

I can only assume this song was a single – a quick look back to Wikipedia confirms this was the lead single and only reached 34 in the UK. In some ways that surprises me, but not in others. It’s an incredibly catchy song and normally I would see no reason why it shouldn’t have been a hit. Sure Smells Like Teen Spirit wasn’t released for another few months after this, but you knew music was already splitting off from this sort of sound early in the year, with the increase in popularity of UK dance acts, American Rap and R’n’B, and boy bands popping up everywhere. I’m curious to see what the Top 40 was in May 1991… Cher, Blur, Chesney Hawkes, Sit Down by James, Madonna, Roxette… yeah. I was expecting this song to be more of an antithesis to what was in the charts, but this song seems like it would have slotted neatly alongside most of those, at least more the casual listener. I don’t remember it at all but I think it’s one I would have enjoyed had I heard it back then. It’s their most obvious pop rock song since Kayleigh, and if I’m pushed I may prefer it to their prior hit. Maybe it’s just the newness of it, but I’m going to side more with the sheer goodness, lightness, and loveliness of it. It goes on the Marillion playlist regardless.

Reading the lyrics I realise I got the whole non-lyric in the chorus thing completely wrong – it looks like he is actually singing ‘pain and heaven’, but even knowing this it’s quite difficult to pick it up with my ears. It becomes more obvious when I sing it myself – the softness of the word sounds mean it’s quite easy to cloak the lyrics. It’s another love song about being blinded by beauty. It’s mostly done in a positive way – blinded as in wowed rather than blinded as in not seeing the bad, negative, or dangerous attributes. The word ‘dangerous’ is repeated throughout, so maybe there is a hint of caution which, along with the comparisons of ‘she’s like the girl’, suggest that there’s a reason this person is unobtainable or a wish fulfilling fantasy instead of a reality. Maybe it’s not so positive. 

The Party is a nasty cautionary tale of awakening. I can’t admit to ever been a teenage girl, but I was once a teenage boy with plenty of teenage girl friends. I get that the song is supposed to evoke memories of those first house party experiences, the wonder and excitement and nerves but there’s something about the delivery of the vocals, the music, and the fragments of lyrics I’ve picked up which lend it a darker tone of warning. Once I read the lyrics it should become clear if I’m feeling this all wrong. Looking back at my own experiences, I don’t recall much excitement or apprehension. I suppose because I already knew most of the people going to these parties or because we’d hung out at houses and outside of school in smaller groups beforehand. And because I’m a bloke. Honestly, house parties weren’t much of a thing in my teenage years. There were a few 17th or 18th birthdays which we had in houses, but in most cases these were just where we met before heading out for the usual pub/club crawl. My 18th was a complete write-off – afternoon pub antics to watch the Grand National, back to house for prep and beers, then food, then out to another few pubs where one of my pints was helpfully spiked with a shot of Absinthe. By the time we got to the actual club (the infamous, awfully named ‘Boom Boom Room’), I had to propped up by friends to gain entry, only to vomit all over the VIP section’s leather sofas. But that was fine because we just pulled a table over to hide the vomit on the floor and moved to another sofa. Good times. By the time I got to University I was well-versed in the ways of house parties.

The song’s main character is positioned as being more excited, more naive, less experienced. If you notice I haven’t said much about the music. That’s because I found it quite bleh. Outside of some great drumming towards the end, the music didn’t land for me. There’s something off-putting about it, it’s slow and not the sort of dirge I tend to enjoy. The vocals were a little on the yelping side too, which didn’t help pull me in. The lyrics don’t shed too much more light on whether there is a sinister nature to proceedings, though there is the hint that girl loses her virginity at this party and this isn’t necessarily treated like a good thing. Or a bad thing. It’s the mood of the music which makes it all feel so nasty and finger-wagging. 

Luckily No One Can is utterly gorgeous. It took me several attempts to type anything about this because I tend to listen and write at the same time but with this song I just end up listening to and enjoying it instead. Not because the music is particularly special but because it’s so sweet and evocative. I think about my wife. I thought about some of the people I unreservedly loved when I was younger and I hurt and I smile. Make no mistake, it’s pure cheese, but it’s so sincere and relatable. Maybe it’s because it’s the first time I’m hearing this, or maybe it’s because it gives me nostalgia for a lot of the pop power ballads I enjoyed as a child, but there’s something sweet and comfortable which puts me in a warm and snuggly introspective mood.

Like I mentioned on Cover My Eyes, this is such an obvious single – the only thing missing is the success it deserved. It looks like it did crack the Top 40, but the fact that I don’t remember it when I watched TOTP every week back then tells me that its success wasn’t lasting or wide-spread. Which is a shame given a lot of the other wank which was selling by the womb-full. I do have a soft spot for cheese – good cheese – and I do have a soft spot for nostalgia and finding these hidden hits, so possibly the song will fall in my estimation in the future and I’ll end up enjoying it on a purely pop level, but for now it’s a clear playlist maker. As you would imagine, it’s another love song – this time as pure and streamlined as you would wish for, with H presumably speaking from a place of truth when he found someone who made him realise that the freedom and nights out with the boys and crowds and success and guardedness was just a grey dark shadow.

Overall, that was another nice departure – two longer songs, one of which worked for me, one of which didn’t – and two rather lovely wonderful singles. Lets see what the podcast has to say about Side A. Paul begins by revealing that it was a controversial album. I can see long term fans who wanted their idea of Marillion to continue, and that’s fair enough. To bring my own comparisons in – because many bands have been accused of selling out or changing their sound too far beyond what made them successful in the first place – you have your obvious pop culture picks like Bob Dylan going electric or Metallica simply making a music video, but in my own case if a band I like keeps making music even while they change their sound, I’ll keep buying it. The Manics went from punk to hair metal cock rock to stadium US anthems to whatever the hell The Holy Bible is and then into A Design For Life where I first became a fan. Joni Mitchell went from folk acoustic ballads and pop rock hits into jazz fusion and concepts – though to be fair I tend to very rarely if ever listen to much of her work after Blue. Radiohead went from U2 clone to their own thing (becoming bigger), then fucked off into Thom Yorke’s bemused brain. If there’s any fact related to Marillion it should be that fans should have known the band changes their sound between each album and that maybe they had been trending in this direction. Easy to say for me as someone blasting through the albums in a matter of weeks than the fans who had been listening for years by the point Holidays In Eden came out. 

But yes, so far it is a pop oriented album with not a touch of the wider concept or lofty levels of prog. There’s a 15 minute long three song suite on the second half? At this point I’ve only listened to the first two tracks on Side B. It’s interesting that the band had some turmoil over whether or not to go the commercial route, but when you have one hit the money man want another and another. That’s why the Manics’ Know Your Enemy is so funny because they made that off the back of million selling singles and albums, stadium tours, then decided to say fuck it and make a bunch of spiky, verbose punk songs and the random slice of Disco and experimental nonsense. Enough!

cover art for Script For A Jester's Tear - Side 1

I assume Marillion as they are today, are mostly free from record company pressure. Plus with the freedom of making a song in a vacuum and slapping it on to Youtube yourself, you can cut out as many middle men as you want. It’s a two edge sword – you need a fanbase for anyone to listen to your stuff (and give you the all important moneys) but the bigger you are the greater the red tape. If you’re a nobody there’s no hype or red tape, but nobody knows you. The guys talk about the artwork – it’s very blue. Paul doesn’t like it. Sanja thinks it’s okay. Paul gives some more info on how the band and fans felt about the album – there was an awareness that they were chasing a pop sound (and answers my earlier question about having to bow to pressure now) and that this in itself was a wider experiment for the band to undertake. Paul liked the album when it was released, that’s where I am with it now.

Sanja isn’t sure about Splintering Heart – bits she likes, bit she doesn’t. It is another longer one, it is slowish… maybe it’s a little close to those earlier dirges she didn’t enjoy. Paul rates it higher and doesn’t love it, then states there is a song later he despises. Is it The Party? I always hear these stories about songwriters hitting an epiphany and grabbing a piece of paper to write down this ground-breaking poetry – then you read the lyrics and it’s generic shite rhyming love with dove. That’s not the case here, but again it’s hardly the Word of God or some mystical Muse or even a Biffo. Lyrics take time. Sure you can pull some one-liners from thin air and find a place for them later, but a whole song from nothing always seems like a stretch. I don’t recall Norman Wisdom doing a Brucie.

Cover My Eyes apparently spurted forth from an earlier song. Fair enough, it happens. They acknowledge it as a fun song. I thought they’d be a little more keen on it, but then again it is just a fun pop song. I love it, but as I’ve said I’m new to it so let me have it. Sanja doesn’t like The Party at all. Well yes, same. Paul liked it at release as it sounded more like the Marillion of old – a story, and atmosphere, aiming for something bigger or more complex. His opinion has waned over time – mainly thanks to much better subsequent songs – that it’s just a lower tier Marillion prog song. Mushrooms… I saw Al Pacino in the trees once, though I couldn’t quite turn that into a song. This sneaky buying booze business when you’re sixteen – always a bit of a strange one for me. Maybe it’s a Northern Ireland thing but getting your hands on booze – especially cider which was 50p for a litre or two – was not a problem at all for me. Being an odd sort, I preferred West Coast Cooler and Malibu which was admittedly more pricey. And I still looked 12 when I was 20. So there is a song worse than this on the album.. great. Is it the title track? I’ve heard it and I’m so far not a fan.

They both love No One Can – of course! In fact, I’m away to listen to it again. Ah ha! Grunge talk! I really only mentioned that in my intro paragraph because I was a huge grunge kid, and if I’m honest never really grew out of it. Of course I was a child then and my musical horizons have greatly expanded (Kurt died on my 11th Birthday, lest we forget), but Grunge cemented everything I loved about music then, and those formative times are never lost. At least for a romantic like me. Enough!

Not a lot more to say about the song, though Sanja does highlight the lyrics. It’s all lovely. What is it about writing while standing in fields? Hey hey, don’t be lumping Iron Maiden in with Def Leppard. I’m a massive Iron Maiden fan! And look at the cheese I’ve just foamed all over. They’re covering the title track now, which messed up my post sequencing so you’ll have to wait until my post about Side B to hear my thoughts on it (basically another Who/Police inspired song which is this album’s Incommunicado, and all seems like a weird bouncy piece of nonsense). They discuss the meaning behind the song – again wait until Side B for my thoughts – but this all makes sense. Ha ha, this is the song Paul despises. I’ll give some extra insight from my side – this is the song I found myself skipping through in my listens. That’s the first time I’ve done this with a Marillion song so far. I listen to each song many times, pause and rewind when writing. This one I made through fully about four times, then couldn’t finish the whole thing. I wouldn’t say I despise it, but I have zero desire to hear it again.

And with that, it’s time to go. Four songs and I still managed to spill out a fuckillion words. Listen to the thing yourself, and the other thing, and slap any comments below!