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

This Is the 21st Century Lyrics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking The Led Zep Songs – Led Zep IV!

While undoubtedly one of the greatest albums of all time, this has become maybe the Led Zep album which has dropped most in my own estimation. I was obsessed with it but I almost never listen to it now, and when I do I skip more songs than I listen to. I’m just too familiar with it, and possibly sick of it. Outside of the Top Two, I struggle to listen to the others, even as I still recognise their perfection.

  1. Stairway To Heaven
  2. Going To California
  3. Black Dog
  4. Rock And Roll
  5. Four Sticks
  6. Misty Mountain Hop
  7. The Battle Of Evermore
  8. When The Levee Breaks

Let us know your ranking in the comments!

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

Anoraknophobia - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking The Alice Cooper Albums!

Alice Cooper | Rhino

Greetings, Glancers! For someone as influential on my life as a music fan, as a horror fan, and as an occasional writer as Alice Cooper has been, he’s not someone who comes up frequently on my blog. I don’t have many definitive influences on my lyrical approach (at least back when I wrote lyrics), but Alice Cooper is one of them. Cooper, Edwards and Wire, Cobain… nobody comes close to them. Alice Cooper is an incredibly underrated lyricist, songwriter, singer, performer, and both as a solo act and as a band his works have left an indelible mark on music for the last 60 years or so. It’s not just the Shock Rock stuff. You can make a case for Cooper inventing Metal, Punk, Grunge, for pushing Prog into new directions, he has changed his skin as many times as those who are more recognized for it – Bowie and Madonna spring to mind – but he has retained the core of who he is as an icon; a boundary pushing, genre transcending provocateur with a wit rarely so evocatively presented in music, and with a knack for writing anthems skirting the borders of the zeitgeist to forever appeal to the outsider. In short, he’s one of the all time greats. In honour of his recent four thousandth album, I humbly present my ranking of his albums. As always if you were to ask me to do this again next week (please don’t) some of these positions would inevitably shift around. But not by much – my favourites are my favourites and those at the bottom are still crap. You get the idea? Lets get on with it.

28: Special Forces

In the 1980s, Alice had been through his greatest Commercial and Critical peak, and like every good story of Rock ‘n’ Roll success he was now in a free fall decline in every respect. His music, his creativity, his personal life, his sanity and health, everything was out the window. It’s hardly a surprise that he doesn’t remember making a bunch of these albums, and hardly a surprise that these albums are not very good. If anything stands out with these albums it’s that they are a shit shower of ideas, mostly bad, mostly influenced by 80s New Wave, and if anything distinguishes Special Forces from the others it’s that the songs are less eventful, less ridiculous. Only the biggest Cooper fans are likely to get anything out of this.

27: Dada

Of all the 80s albums, there was a time when this was my favourite – now I’m not sure why. I think it’s because it’s so otherworldy and bizarre. It’s utterly deranged, but outside of the opening and closing tracks there’s nothing here you’ll ever want to hear.

26: Flush The Fashion

Cooper’s first foray into the 80s and New Wave, he was still clinging on to consciousness and creativity, but he produced a dated upon release, underwhelming and repetitive album of forgettable songs it’s difficult to differentiate between. Sadly, the album sold well enough on the strength of its lead single, likely making Coop think this was a brave new path he should continue ploughing blindly down. 

25: Zipper Catches Skin

The third album in three years during the 80s for Cooper, this suffers from the same rushed and creatively barren issues as the others. This one has more positives than negatives and sheds the New Wave nonsense for something approximating the current wave of Post Punk which would in turn lead Cooper towards his Hair Metal reinvention. Of course, Dada would come before then, but at least this set some ground work and reminded fans that Cooper could still pen a decent rock song when he wanted to.

24. Along Came A Spider

This halfway point album joins (untidily) the Nu Metal 2000s era Cooper with his stripped back return to Garage Rock. It’s a mostly bland affair which suffers from the fact that Coop had already done the Garage Revival thing better in his two previous albums. Still, it was a more successful album than those two and stands out because it was another Concept album charting the rise and demise of a serial killer known as Spider.

23. Lace & Whiskey

For his third solo album, Cooper abandoned his Grand Guignol stylings and instead adopted the persona of a hard drinking hard boiled crime PI, who was also bumbling and inept. In retrospect it seems like the whole thing was set up just so he could allow himself the freedom to sink further into Alcoholism. I never found the album concept and sound to be coherent, instead coming across as a Greatest Hits without the Hits. There are still highlights – My God and You & Me feature in my regular shuffles – and even with a mish mash of styles it’s grounded in old fashioned Rock n Roll.

22. Pretties For You

The Cooper band debut, this zany Zappa inspired whack job is sure to confuse and infuriate fans of structure and sense. This album has no sense, the songs have no structure, and that’s why I enjoy it so much. It’s wonderful to see how the band started out and what they would become, many of the lyrical and conceptual ideas are there in their infancy, but above all the songs are somewhere between chaotic slices of brilliance and shameless nonsense.

21. Constrictor

Perhaps the least of the Hair Metal albums, although most of them are interchangeable in quality for me, Constrictor was the first to see Alice embracing the big hair, big guitars, glam persona, and return to his Shock Rock roots. He had been out of the limelight trying to get clean and in the years since Dada Metal had taken the world by storm. Cooper gathered together an array of talented musicians, doubled down on his notoriety by positioning himself as a hybrid Metal Horror icon in songs like He’s Back and Teenage Frankenstein, but most importantly he put himself back on the map as a performer and songwriter. 

20. Detroit Stories

Cooper’s most recent album is all about looking back and giving thanks. Thanks to the bands and city and sounds who influenced him, to the bands they came up with in the 60s and 70s, and to his old pals. There are plenty of covers and plenty of Cooper’s trademark wit which has never dampened with time, and he’s still ready to pump out bangers when he needs to. It’s a little repetitive due to the sheer number of songs, but a solid album of Garage Rock.

File:Alice Cooper band Live in London 2012-10-28 (close-up).jpg - Wikimedia  Commons

19. Paranormal

Cooper has always been prolific, but this was his first album in 6 years – the longest gap he’s had between albums since 94 and 2000. Thankfully he still came back with his usual finesse and released an album which was received highly and did quite well in this new era of sales. He brings the old gang back together for a few songs and in total it’s a classic sounding Cooper albums with influences based in the dark fringe areas where normies fear to tread, a series of nightmarish lullabies and anthems.

18. The Last Temptation 

By the time The Last Temptation was released I was a hardcore Cooper fan. I never liked lead single Lost In America or its video and was expecting something more adventurous and biting like Hey Stoopid. Still, I was 11 and anything with guitars and facepaint was cool. It’s a lighter album than its predecessor  – by this point Metal was largely dead commercially – but was still successful enough that Cooper could go off and tour and play golf for the next six years before reinventing himself once more. 

17. Dragontown

This and Brutal Planet are a pair. This is just as heavy, if less reliant on the Industrial and Nu Metal stylings of Brutal Planet but in songwriting terms there isn’t much to pick between them – plus they were released a year apart. The two albums are Alice at his heaviest.

16: Easy Action

I don’t see many people having either of the band’s first two albums so high on their ranking, but there’s something wholesome and youthful and ambitious about each – a true sense of zero fucks given. This follow-up at least nods its head to structures and conventions and loosely attempts to convey traditional songs through a psychedelic lens. As such, some of the songs have made their way onto Greatest Hits sets and later live tour setlists. It’s a heavier album too, less chaotic and more planned, allowing for both unpredictable epics and short and snappy wannabe hits.

15. Raise Your Fist And Yell

Another 80s Hair Metal album, for me this one has a better array of tunes than Constrictor. It still retains the inherent cheesy production and reverb drums of the time and it still feels like a less shitty Def Leppard album, but with a rejuvenated Alice at the helm. Alice continued his dalliance with horror – Robert Englund appears (Alice appeared in multiple horror movies around this time, including Elm Street 6 a few years later) just as Vincent Price had a decade earlier, and the songs are the teen and rebel bait outcast anthems we have come to expect from the greatest writer of such songs of his generation. Or any generation.

14. Brutal Planet

Alice has always kind of been Metal, and certainly doubled down on what passed for commercial Metal in the 80s, but it wasn’t until Brutal Planet where he actually sounded crushingly heavy. Under all the tuned down guitars and distortion is a selection of songs which could appear in any era of Alice’s work – change the production to suit the time period and Gimme could be an 80s Metal or 70s Rock anthem, while Take It Like A Woman is as good a ballad as any of his more famous works while conveying the sort of social message critics usually miss when dismissing Cooper.

13. Trash

Trash is the first album I ever bought. In a Golden Discs in Ards Shopping Centre if anyone cares. I also picked up Off The Wall. Money well spent. Alice has had any number of hits and several of those are cultural icons themselves. But Trash contains Poison, probably his most famous song. It’s the peak of his 80s work – a genuinely good song which manages to stand up against scrutiny verses 90% of everything else he released in the decade. Elsewhere on the album he invites various pals to play along – Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler – and many mainstream hitmakers helped contribute and polish things – Desmond Child, Diane Warren, Joan Jett to name a few. For every silly song, there’s a better one, and it’s the strength of those better songs which raises an average album to the multi million seller it is. 

12. Muscle Of Love

(Holy) Muscle Of Love, as the title suggests, sees Cooper and the boys going all dirty. Coop has never shied away from describing sexual antics in his lyrics but unlike overrated garbage spreaders AC/DC Cooper does it with more wit than a pre-pubescent. Muscle Of Love lacks the big hits of previous and subsequent albums, but it more than makes up for this in its lean, no frills approach. It’s to the point rock designed to upset the straight-laced moms and pops, but underneath it all are the singalong melodies, amusing lyrics and themes, and kickass riffs we’ve come to expect from a Cooper album. 

11. School’s Out

I mentioned earlier that Poison was probably the most famous Cooper song. If you don’t agree, then you probably think School’s Out is the one. I’m good with that too; it probably had the bigger impact. The song, and the album, were huge hits and brought the band into the mainstream after a few smaller prior hits. This was one of the first Cooper albums I bought once I had enough money of my own to go spend on such things – by that time I already knew the title track and the hype around the album. I wasn’t impressed by the whole album first time around, not being aware if was more of a Rock Opera or a less campy version of West Side Story. It was a nine track album with two throwaway instrumentals. It took me a good few years to come back to it and gain appreciation for it. It is a concept album, it does follow a loose theme and plot, and the songs are designed to follow both. The title track is the only hit, but every other song has its charm with the greaser rock being subverted by both American Musicals and bizarro psychedelia; I simply wasn’t ready for it and was expecting a straightforward collection of Rock anthems. The raw, in your face production where you can feel the vibration from every bass note, the strange nods to jazz and appreciation of US culture given the skewed Alice twist all raise this to something different. Go in expecting weirdness and you’ll get more out of it. 

Alice Cooper talks new album, quarantine hobbies and family time in Phoenix  - cleveland.com

10: The Eyes Of Alice Cooper 

In the new Millennium, Cooper had been courting the biggest Metal movements of the time – Nu Metal and Industrial Metal. The results were heavier than anything he’d done in the past but thankfully he decided to return to his more Garage based roots in 2003. The Eyes Of Alice Cooper is a retro themed album taking in the changes which emerged in the decades since they last played in this style. It’s what a lot of old school fans were looking for and it was refreshing after two darker albums to rediscover a sense of fun. While no single song has the power of School’s Out, the whole collection is consistent – mini anthems for the disaffected, riffs, humour, choruses, fun.

9. Dirty Diamonds

Dirty Diamonds came hot on the heels of Eyes and was essentially more of the same, but better. Better tunes, better lyrics, better ideas – more fun, more humour. From the outright laughs of The Saga Of Jessie Jane, complete with Cooper’s vocal antics to the opening pop punk bombast of Woman Of Mass Distraction to the laidback groove of closer Zombie Dance, it’s another example of Alice doing it better than anyone else. The only thing missing are the big hits.

8. Love It To Death 

This album gave the band their first hit after two experimental freak out albums. If they hadn’t scored a hit single with this one, the band probably would have ceased to exist. The band moved to Detroit and absorbed the burgeoning Garage rock sounds, recruited Bob Ezrin as Producer, and whacked out I’m Eighteen as the first in a long line of rebellious anthems. Not that it’s a one hit album – opener Caught In A Dream is just as much fun while The Ballad Of Dwight Fry showed the band were not willing to drop their experimental roots but instead had honed those to create something more palatable while seeding the ideas for extravagant live shows, future characters, and outlandish concepts.

7. Welcome To My Nightmare

If School’s Out isn’t the band’s most famous album, then it has to be Welcome To My Nightmare. This was the peak of his theatrics, the peak of the Cooper character emerging as a separate demonic oddity, and the first album as a solo performer. Alice was not the solo creative driving force before this album, even though he was the draw, so this was in no way a guaranteed success. Perhaps over-compensating, Cooper tripled down on the blood, guts, and storytelling but more importantly he retained the ability to write a cracking tune – the title track, the peerless ballad Only Women Blood, and the anthems Cold Ethyl and Department Of Youth – these are all live mainstays. If you only recommend 3-5 Cooper albums to anyone, this has to be one of them due to its quality and importance. 

6. Welcome II My Nightmare

I may be the only person in the world to say this, but I prefer the sequel. Coming almost 40 years after the original, it’s another literal nightmare, kicking off with one of my all time favourite Coop songs I Am Made Of You where he employs auto-tuning and somehow makes it a plus. Elsewhere he courts pop, with the Kesha led What Baby Wants, the ridiculously silly Caffeine, and obvious live favourite I’ll Bite Your Face Off. Cooper has battled a lot of demons over the years – here he wraps up the real and fictional in an entertaining tale and a solid batch of great tunes.

5. Goes To Hell

This is the point that Cooper jumped the shark for many. For me, he’s more nuzzling up to the shark, making it sniff some coke from a Giant Squid’s eye socket, and taking it down to Studio 54 to dance with a bunch of flare-wearing pagans. There’s a lot of disco and funk, there are a few ballads, show tunes, all mangled together with Cooper’s unique voice and mind, but at the heart of it all are great singalong songs. You can laugh at the musical choices – I do, you can laugh at the silly artwork (front and back) – I have, but this is Cooper at his most obtuse, singular, annoying best.

4. Billion Dollar Babies 

This is the album I always thought School’s Out was going to be – a success, a lot of hype and critical praise, and a collection of classic hits and anthems rather than a single standout. Released less than a year after School’s Out, there’s a through line of quality and tone with the best songs appearing on this album rather than the predecessor. It was their first number 1 album in the US and UK and sold a bucket load. I Love The Dead, the title track, No More Mr Nice Guy, Elected, Generation Landslide – all classics, and every other track (while less known) are gold too. Another one of those must listens.

3. From The Inside

For my money, this is Cooper’s most consistent, best concept album. Having spent a little time in rehab/in an asylum due to his addiction, he was fairly well positioned to write an album about the characters one might meet on the inside. It’s more One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest than American Horror Story but equal weight is given to horror and heart. Each of the characters portrayed is more than life like and the lyrics leap off the page and through the headphones as he spits out memorable one-liners about murder, insanity, love, pain, sex, religion, addiction – ably helped by Bernie Taupin. Even above next two albums, this one doesn’t contain a single bum note or average track – everything is superb from the LOLZ of Nurse Rosetta, the musical theatre of Inmates, the sick ballad of Millie And Billie, and the rock thrills of Serious, not to mention album highlight How You Gonna See Me Now. My final two choices simply have higher highs.

2. Killer

Let there be no mistake; Killer is Cooper’s best album. It’s everything you want, expect, and need from a Cooper album, or from a Rock album, as well as being massively influential yet confusingly underrated. The title track may be the album’s only weaker moment, but it’s a B grade song at worst. Halo Of Flies… lets just say, no Halo Of Flies no Bohemian Rhapsody. The band out Zeppelins Zepplin with a collection of dirty blues rock shreds, with that filthy punk edge the boys from England didn’t have. I’m hard pushed to think of a stronger opening four tracks to any album than Under My Wheels, Be My Lover, Halo, and Desperado, and that quality continues into the second half. It’s simply one of the greatest Rock n Roll albums of all time, yet it’s somehow still a bit of a secret.

1: Hey Stoopid

It’s not the best Alice Cooper album, but it’s my favourite. A list of some of my favourite Cooper songs, some of my favourite all time songs – Wind Up Toy, Burning Our Bed, Dangerous Tonight, Die For You, throw in Snakebite, Might As Well Be On Mars, the title track, and the album’s most famous song Feeding My Frankenstein, and you really can’t go wrong. While it’s still in the vein of Hair Metal, it dispenses with much of the inherent garbage of that genre for a harsher edge which would inspire his heavier exploits a decade later, a more biting social commentary, and a host of talented guest musicians from Steve Vai to Joe Satriani to Slash to Ozzy to Vinnie Moore – even Elvira gets a spot. Huge choruses demanded to be chanted in the biggest stadium you can find, ominous agitated riffs, musicians on top form, and at the centre of it all a rejuvenated iconic Alice snarling his way through some of his most darkly commercial tales yet.

What a journey. What are your favourite Cooper albums and song? Let us know in the comments!

Ranking The Led Zeppelin Songs – Led Zep III

As with the first two albums, this is as close to perfection as a Rock album can get. Generally this is the more critically overlooked album, but it’s the first true indicator of them doubling down on experimentation and expanding their intake of influences. There’s only one song I don’t really listen to here. My top three songs are a step above everything else and 4-9 are interchangeable in any listing I could give.

  1. Tangerine
  2. Since I’ve Been Loving You
  3. That’s The Way
  4. Gallow’s Pole
  5. Immigrant Song
  6. Bron Y Aur Stomp
  7. Friends
  8. Celebration Day
  9. Out On The Tiles
  10. Hats Off To Harper

Let us know your ranking in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Rebel Heart!

Rebel Heart - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Wellity well, we’ve almost caught up with Madonna’s output. I know I’m slow at getting these things out (for anyone who even still reads them) but there’s only a couple of albums to go. And give me a break, I’m also doing Jovi, Adams, Roxette, The Stones, The Beach Boys, and of course my Top 1000, Non-Beatles, and 1966 series. A more diligent blogger would of course just pick one artist and pump out posts about their work over a few week period before moving on to the next thing. But I can’t focus on one thing for too long. And as I say, no-one even reads these things anyway and they’re not exactly the most exciting reading given that they’re unimaginative reactions as I listen for the first time. A smart blogger would of course switch to YouTube and make gargantuan gasps and wide-eyed stares at the camera in faux shock as if I’ve just stumbled upon a kitten in a waistcoat shaving a cow with a cigar. My hope is that people simply Google Madonna (or whoever) one day and stumble upon my posts, and read through them all in a single sitting, tutting at how I’ve misunderstood their favourite song. In any case, you’re stuck with me.

So, Rebel Heart. I know two of these songs – one I’ve only heard once and don’t really remember, while the other was an instant hit for me and has become one of my favourite Madonna songs. Beyond those, I don’t know much about the album. It’s another which seems packed to the gills with collaborations, something I generally don’t approve of and something which tends to show an artist is creatively flailing around, hoping someone else will save them from mediocrity or pull them back up from their mire. I’m hoping that’s not the case here, but given the (lack of) talent Madonna has aligned herself with on this record, I’m not holding out for greatness.

Living For Love: A blippy bloppy warbling beat emerges. Then deep Madonna vocals. Melody – fair enough. Then a beat. Then piano and a different melody. Am I getting some sort of Gospel feel from the melody? Then the beat returns. Then the song does that horrible chorus fake out thing that every was doing a couple of years ago. Maybe they’re still doing now, I don’t know. It’s well produced and it doesn’t follow a simple set pattern. At least the chorus drop isn’t as bad as most. There are a few other voices in the chorus, it does seem to be going for a Gospel approach. There’s too much space between the different vocals, space which could have been packed with additional voices for ore impact. Then it ends abruptly. It’s a decent opener, not horrible, not overly memorable.

Devil Pray: An acoustic guitar opener, with an almost Latin tone. Then weak ass hand clap beats screw up a perfectly good vocal. I will never understand why artists choose that sound for their beat. The lyrics aren’t great from what I’m picking up on the surface. Decent pre-chorus, but again the chorus drops instead of peaks. It’s frustrating as the song is fine – it’s not extraordinary – it’s a B grade song which falls to C because of those stylistic choices which are clearly made for modern sensibilities and not me. Her vocals are patchy in places too. It stretches out for another minute, presumably for dancefloor purposes, adding lots of beeps and sounds which don’t do anything.

Ghosttown: Is the one I mentioned at the top that I loved. It’s A Tier Madonna. It’s a great song all round, even if I’m not in favour of all the musical and production choices. However, you could record this a hundred different ways as long as you keep the central melody, and you’d have a great song each time. It’s a perfect pop song, something Madonna knows a little something about, plus it has plenty of emotion ensuring it makes it up to the next level up the ladder.

Unapologetic Bitch: Although the sound isn’t my go to, this starts well but then drops into a slower Reggae style thwomp. I would have preferred keeping the pace and intent of the intro. It reminds me too somewhat of The Delays. The lyrics are quite sweary which is unusual for her – it’s your standard woman scorned stuff and that sort of lyric only works for me if it goes deeply personal, like Alanis. Credit for the little rap portions (getting Chas and Dave vibes from those – rabbit rabbit rabbit) and for how the rhythm of ‘unapologetic bitch’ works. The chorus gets nuzzled into your brain.

Illuminati: It’s not the first time Madonna has done some rapid fire name-checking. Not names I give a shit about, but she’s gonna do what she’s gonna do. This is quite experimental for her – the verse doesn’t have anything obvious to grab hold of, then the chorus becomes quite sweet. At least it’s interesting, which is more than can be said for most pop stars of her, or any generation at the moment. There’s a John Carpenter synth vibe here and there. Once again, credit for trying something different, but I can’t say it all works for me. I don’t dislike it by any means.

Bitch I’m Madonna: This is the other one I’d heard. Some of the melodies are fine but the lyrics are abhorrent and the production is all over the place hitting all the black boxes of modern pop I can’t abide – silly sounds? Check. Dropping the momentum at the chorus? Check. Random newb warbling in the background? Check. Wafer beats? Check. Self interest? Check. Emotionless? Check. Catchy? Kind of, I guess. Bland and repetitive? For the most part, yeah.

Hold Tight: This seems much better. A more classic sound and vocal while still adhering to modern norms. It’s a simple approach this time, and a simple melody to go with it. The beats and production isn’t what I would choose again, pandering too much to today’s sound and quirks which will likely date the thing in a few more years. I would have gone all in on the backing vocals on this one to give a booming transcendent feel. It’s almost one of her better songs, but still good.

Joan Of Arc: A pondering guitar intro gives way to a lovely vocal and melody. It’s instantly more touching and honest. I feel like this is already going on the playlist. The drum beats could have been toughened up and rounded out, but that’s a minor issue. I think this will grow on me over time and it’s another example of a Madonna song which would work in any generation, with any production as long as the melody and purity is kept intact.

Iconic: With a name like that, this could go well or very badly. We’ll see. Oh balls, this is another .feat thing. This time it .feats a rapist, so that’s something. Verse is right up the middle, the little hey-yays are bordering on annoying. Decent pre-chorus. Of course the chorus loses the momentum and does that thing I won’t shut up about. At least there’s some sort of Halloween tone to that chorus. Some day in the future, someone’s going to re-do all the songs from the 2010s, but fix the chorus so that it doesn’t do the beat drop thing, and on that day every single one of those songs will take 10 large steps upwards in quality. Some bloke I’ve never heard of raps in the middle of everything else going on. It’s not very bad, but it’s a long way from good.

Heartbreakcity: Thankfully this one feels more streamlined – a lone piano line without tweaking. A neat military parade beat drops and the chorus builds and feels similar to Ghosttown. It’s another spiffing melody at times, but it doesn’t quite sustain that quality over the whole running time.

Body Shop: This is, what? Eastern folk inspired, with a child-like nursery rhyme quality? There’s some sort of tribal trance rhythm. In other words, she’s playing with conventions again. I can’t quite pick up many of the lyrics or what it’s all about during first listen. I don’t like the little ‘yeah’ shouts in the background, but then I never do. Without those I’d be willing to listen to this more. It’s a curio which is almost ruined by those repeated ‘yeah’s as they increase in frequency towards the end to the point that I had to stop the song early.

Holy Water: A more dance influenced, near rap from Madonna. It has some sex noises in the chorus. I could do with some more bass in the verse – something really dirty would have made it grind in a more sweaty, sexy way. At least the chorus doesn’t collapse like so many of the others. It’s nice that she’s still singing about her vagina. And that she’s referencing and sampling herself. An interesting one for sure, but I’m not sure there’s enough melodic quality for me to listen to it again.

Inside Out: There’s a dirtier fuzzier bass which should have been in the previous song. This is a stronger second half than the first. The verse is solid enough, then the chorus goes all Sia. That’s always a good thing. It’s not top tier Sia, or top tier Madonna, but definitely good enough that I’ll happily hear it again.

Wash All Over Me: Sole piano keys open and traverse the verse and a fair melody spreads itself out. The chorus is better, but it’s lacking something – a key change, another push? I don’t know, I just feel a tiny sense of frustration that it doesn’t go the way I wanted it to. It’s a good song to end the album with – a B song which doesn’t unleash the sadness or hope or whatever extra emotional push it is I was hoping for to shunt it into A.

So… it’s another good album. Solid. There aren’t as many true stand out tracks which I see making my long term playlist, but there is a long list of songs which just miss out and a short list consisting of average or crap. It once again confirms that when Madonna keeps things simple and builds a song around a melody rather than an idea or trend, that’s when she’s at her best; that’s when she still makes great pop songs. The worst moments are when she goes too experimental to the point that the song stops being a song, or when she copies what others are doing (chorus drop). There are some annoying quirks – backing shouts and vocals being the main offender, but when the song is good I can mostly overlook those. We’re almost caught up with Madonna now and I must admit that I didn’t expect to enjoy her post Ray Of Light stuff as much as I have. Sure there has been some crap, but there have been plenty of songs added to my playlist – and a few of those are from this album.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Ghosttown. Hold Tight. Joan Of Arc. Inside Out.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Rebel Heart!

Ranking The Led Zeppelin Songs – Led Zep II!

Coming mere months after the debut, this is more than simply mroe of the same. The band cut down on the grungy blues sound and became more like what we think of today as a Rock band, packed with riffs and originals. It’s a stronger set of songs than the debut, but it also showcases the band’s burgeoning ego/don’tgiveafuckery with the always skippable Moby Dick. It’s a classic from top to bottom and contains several of my all time favourite songs. 1-5 I can’t pick between, 6 is great, 7 and 8 are the ones everyone knows, and then there’s Moby Dick. 

  1. Thank You
  2. Heartbreaker
  3. Living Loving Maid
  4. The Lemon Song
  5. What Is And What Should Never Be
  6. Bring It On Home
  7. Whole Lotta Love
  8. Ramble On
  9. Moby Dick

Let us know your ranking in the comments!

Anneke: Live In Europe

*Originally written in 2011

Live In Europe | Anneke van Giersbergen

Although Anneke had released a live album the previous year with Danny Cavanagh, this is her first solo live release. An accomplished live performer whose energy, passion, and voice is as strong on stage as in the studio, this was undoubtedly an album to look forward to for fans when it was announced. The main issues to overcome with these sorts of albums are whether the songs selected will please as many fans as possible, whether the songs selected transfer well to a live performance, and whether it feels like a cheap cash-in or a genuine, love-filled release.

‘Intro’ is a mixture of applause and guitar noise from The World alongside other assorted backing sounds, building up the crowd nicely.

‘The World’ opens the gig, an opener that I’m not 100% convinced by – it has a nice build up, but isn’t an immediate crowd pleaser or one which will whip the audience into a frenzy. There are a number of other tracks in the Anneke canon, even on In Your Room which I feel would work better as an opening track to a live show, but regardless it is performed well, has an edge, and gets things going.

‘My Girl’ comes in straight after the first track with no time for catching you breath in between. The focus seems to be on the heavier side of Anneke’s tracks so far, with the distorted guitars giving this one a bit more bite than the studio release. Anneke enjoys herself here, in particular belting out the ending ‘ooh-ahhs’.

‘Who I Am’ is, as Anneke explains, a song written with Mr. Devin Townsend – a figure Anneke continues to partner with fruitfully. This is a fun song, with bouncing rhythms, catchy verses, and eventually a fantastic chorus which lets the vocals soar. A highly enjoyable song which I’d love to see get a studio release.

‘Day After Yesterday’ is one of my least favourite Anneke songs, and even though it is played and performed well here, I don’t think it translates well to the live setting, at least not how it is arranged here. Perhaps an even slower, colder, ghostly version, with a backing choir would convince me otherwise.

‘Hey Okay’ on the other hand is one of my favourite Anneke tracks, although it sounds a little flat here, not really picking up until the guitar solo comes in. Anneke sounds a little breathless singing here, and I’ve heard better live versions on YouTube.

‘Fury’ is my highlight of the album, an awesome, up tempo rock song with nice guitar work and excellent vocals. It’s another that I’d love to see a studio release for, thanks to its brilliant chorus and impactful verses.

‘Beautiful One’ is another strong track (and a better opener in my opinion) which is given new life in the new setting. The song lends itself to a variety of potential arrangements, here going for a much more bombastic chorus with crashing guitar work and angelic vocals.

‘Adore’ again is one of my favourites, and it’s great to see it here as live shows and special re-recorded albums never feature my favourite tracks. This one I imagine isn’t the easiest to sing with its diving and rising melodies, but Anneke does a stellar job on it. It isn’t too different from the studio version, a few less instruments and less complex, but a few added vocal flourishes.

‘I Want’ also translates well to the live arena, with bouncing rhythms which threaten the crowd into jumping along. Another fun song, there isn’t anything complicated here, or much I can say to criticize it.

‘Laugh It Out’ is an interesting one in that it never stays in my memory long, but I always enjoy it thoroughly when I hear it, having forgotten all about its existence. More great verse and chorus work, another one with a fast pace, this one sees Anneke shouting goodnight to the crowd towards the end – another one which it would be nice to see a studio version of.

‘Witnesses’ seems on paper live a totally bizarre choice for a live release, but it surprisingly works well. It’s a raucous recording, I enjoy her pronunciation of ‘universe’ and it has an extended, bruising ending.

‘Shrink’, while obviously being the closer to Nighttime Birds seems like an odd choice of song to close this album with, given that the rest of the songs were on the heavier, louder, more distorted side. It’s a little jarring for this to be thrown in at the end, being such a soft, slow song. And although the rest of the band come in and try to do something a little different with it, those changes don’t always work, and within the context of the album, they don’t save it from being a strange closing track. I’ve never heard a legitimate heavy version of the track, maybe they should have went all out and done a full on rawk version, although that could have been a failure.

An essential release for Anneke fans, albeit let down by a short running time, the absence of some great songs (subjective of course), and a fairly average recording quality – there is a lot of  hissing and extra distortion in the background, the vocal mic seems much too loud and at times the volume isn’t consistent. That being said though, these are mostly minor complaints – what we do have is a great bunch of songs performed with relish, a few nice exclusives, and another worthy purchase. There isn’t a lot of audience interaction, and I don’t hear much noise coming from the crowd between tracks, though again that would be subjective and something I enjoy hearing on Live records that others may hate. Hopefully we’ll get a much fuller live release in the future, one with a stronger production, and hopefully an accompanying DVD!

Ranking The Led Zeppelin Songs – Led Zep 1!

The argument for what is the greatest Rock debut album is one which has always, and will continue to rage on. No matter what, Led Zep’s debut has to be in to mix. As much as the band borrowed from Blues standards, they did more to enhance those than the likes of The Rolling Stones ever did. To borrow one of modernity’s most annoying phrases ‘they made it their own’. There’s not a duff song in the bunch, though I do skip many of the songs if they appear in my shuffle just because of over familiarity. Several songs are cultural touchstones, and the whole package introduced us to probably the best Rock and Roll band ever.

  1. Communication Breakdown
  2. How Many More Times
  3. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
  4. Good Times Bad Times
  5. Dazed And Confused
  6. Your Time Is Gonna Come
  7. I Can’t Quit You Baby
  8. Black Mountain Side
  9. You Shook Me

Let us know your ranking in the comments!

Anneke Van Giersbergen – Everything Is Changing

* Originally written in 2012

ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN - Everything Is Changing - Tour 2012

Anneke’s 4th studio album is all about change; the album title suggests as much at first glance. Not long before the release Anneke abandoned the Agua De Annique moniker after admitting that it wasn’t the easiest or most recognizable name. Musically there are more changes, though fans should not be apprehensive as there is nothing drastically different- longtime fans will know what to expect. This is largely another melody driven, guitar laden rock album which moves from outrageously catchy commercial moments to tear-jerking quiet moments and with plenty of pace and power in between.

‘Feel Alive’ is the lead single from the album, one with another buoyant video and excited delivery. With this third release, and with the band name changing from Agua De Annique to simply Anneke’s name, we see a confident performer now blazing her own trail and free to explore whatever ideas and sounds she desires. This excitement and freedom is clear in every note and lyric in the song, an upbeat song with a nice build-up so a soaring payoff chorus; A jubilant declaration of love.

‘You Want To Be Free’ is another upbeat track, this time more of a rock song than the lighter first track. Another love song of sorts, it speaks of the indecision in relationships and sounds like the advice of a friend. There are a couple of standout moments here, the bridges, the main riff, and the ‘yeah yeah’ middle section, though the chorus and verses are not the most memorable.

‘Everything Is Changing’ is a softer, slower, piano driven song with stuttering, yet ethereal verse vocals. As the title track it isn’t as epic as you would expect, with a decent chorus but doesn’t catch the ear. It’s an ok song, well sung of course, just a little bland.

‘Take Me Home’ quickens the pace again, another decent rock/pop crossover with piano and guitar riffs merging as well as some studio magic to give the impression of a wide-ranging wall of sound style production. This one is catchy enough, with another good chorus, but may lack the all-important killer ingredient.

‘I Wake Up’ opens with an unusual drum loop and synth section which pulls in and out in a tidal fashion. This one always gives me the impression of a lost Pet Shop Boys song, but with all the camp removed. Anneke sounds like she is very close to the listener’s ear for the verses on this one, and the chorus is another good one – a slightly eerie feel to it.

‘Circles’ may be Anneke’s strongest song yet, a teary piano led ballad with emotive lyrics about loneliness, hope, and of course the circles of our lives. Again, there is an eerie nature here, but that is overcome by the gorgeous, emotional vocal performance. With a massive chorus, exquisite middle section, and glorious close as the violins join in, this is the true centerpiece of the album.

‘My Boy’ has a tough act to follow, but it’s arguably the best straight rock song Anneke has written so far. With a classic snare intro and simple, but awesomely effective riff, this is a mid-paced guitar, drum, bass driven song with beautiful verse melodies. There is also some studio trickery as the song progresses, but the best moments are the build up to the wonderful chorus – bridge and chorus are both perfection, blending together and building to a climactic eruption (more like the build-up and scoring of a winning goal than what you’re thinking about). My favourite bit though is the ‘even though I’m crazy about my boy’ section, beautifully belted out and adding an extra level to an already euphoric chorus.

‘Stay’ is a fairly heavy song as Anneke goes, with loud, bouncing Led Zep style riff, and delightfully vicious lyrics. It’s another one where the verse, bridge, chorus all meld together wonderfully, building and bleeding into each other. We even get that killer ingredient, after a short instrumental interlude, as Anneke adds a final, different bridge right at the end.

‘Hope, Pray, Dance, Play’ has the appeal of another single with its big intro and sing-along chorus. It’s another decent track, but it doesn’t have that touch which makes it click with me personally, especially coming after a killer trio of songs.

‘Slow Me Down’ is a fast paced rocker, fueled by muted chords in the verses and lifted by a fist-pumping chorus. Nice, quick shooter lyrics, another effective middle section, and a few moments of vocal brilliance (aside from the usual expected brilliance of course) ensure this is another one to put on repeat.

‘Too Late’ opens with another crushing riff, a lighter Pantera, allowing Anneke to spit out some further angry lyrics. Vocals and guitars work particularly well here, with the sudden stuttered guitar blasts punctuating and mirroring Anneke’s words.

‘1000 Miles Away From You’ closes the album, a choice which I’ve always seen as an odd one. I’ve always felt that the closing track of an album should be instantly memorable, a slam of a door that you will want to open again. For an album that has mostly been on the heavy side, this one has an epic feel, again calls back that eerie, angry tone, but doesn’t stick in my mind as much as others for some reason. Listening again with a pseudo-critical ear, it is slow, without being plodding, veering between quiet and loud pieces, but the middle interlude doesn’t work, sounding an awful lot like a similar section in The Gathering’s song ‘Home’. Rather than going out with a bang though, it drags its heels for the final minute.

The heaviest album Anneke has made since leaving The Gathering, this is a great rock record with a superb production. There is a wide scope in the theme of the songs, allowing Anneke to sing with a greater range of emotion than she usually does, from a lyrical perspective. There are introspective moments, and there are moments of rage; there are dedications and warnings, apologies and consternation. While there are less standout commercial tracks here, there is still a handful of songs which deserved to shoot up the charts in any country, while the rest are weighed heavily in the cult or fan favourite character, rather than the album filler one. Ultimately, it’s another vital release for fans, and contains a number of songs which would certainly win over new fans if they had the opportunity to hear them.