Nightman Listens To Marillion – Less Is More!

Less Is More (Marillion album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! It feels like an age since I’ve listened to any new Marillion material, and it looks like I’ll have to wait a little longer, because Less Is More is Marillion’s… acoustic album? Is it acoustic, or is it simply re-imagined? The ‘less’ part of the title makes me think that this is a collection of stripped back versions of existing songs – less faff, less volume, and dare I say it, less energy. I’m curious to see how the band changes these songs, and if the ‘less’ actually does turn out to be ‘more’. I understand that there is one new, previously unheard song, which presumably ties in with the approach and tone of the other songs. Or maybe it’s a two and a half minute, 110 bpm, punk sung about tits. Lets find out.

Go kicks off the album by presenting me with a challenge; will I remember the original versions of any of these songs? Glancing at the track-list before listening, I recognized and remembered most of the names. If you put me on the spot and asked me to hum a piece of each from the names alone, I’d struggle with quite a few of them. This is odd, given how much I love music and how easily I can recall advertisement jingles or Incidental music from 80s TV shows that I may have only heard a handful of times over thirty years ago. It’s especially odd given how many times I’ve listened to each of the original versions in a relatively recent time. Does this mean it’s harder for me to learn and retain new music now that I’m older, or does it mean that Marillion’s music doesn’t play magically capture my attention like other bands do? <Shrugs>

The main thing I remembered about Go was its intro. I couldn’t have hummed it for you, but I could ‘see’ it in my head. When this new version played, I convinced myself that the version in my head was wrong. Then I realised that the band wasn’t simply playing acoustic updates, but that they were in fact re-imagining the songs, more or less from the ground up. Uber-fans like Paul will debate over which versions are superior or preferred. I’ll leave such debate to those guys, but for my part, I liked this. H sounds wonderful, the vocals are front and centre, and the more laid back and intimate feel accentuates his best qualities. He doesn’t need to be some booming tour de force, but is much more impactful when he sounds like he’s leaning on your shoulder and dripping honeyed musings into your ear from inches away.

It’s a credit to the production that this approach is so potent – stripping songs down can often drain the energy and oomph of the original, and when you’re a band like Marillion who aren’t exactly known for energy or oomph you need to be careful to retain what makes their music so powerful in the first place – their intimacy, their sense of commune, their tragedy and beauty. I think they manage this with Go. While the keyboard drive of the original has been removed, we instead are treated to sneaky tickles of violins, xylophone style keyboard tinklings, and a confidence in the song’s melodic core.

Interior Lulu opens with some near Asian guitar and keyboards, feeling like one of those 80s/90s Hollywood/Hong Kong/Japan crossover movie soundtracks – Black Rain, Rising Sun, Rapid Fire, Big Trouble In Little China, Double Impact. I half expected H to have adopted the persona of a muscle-bound, one-liner spouting martial artist for his performance. Alas, he merely perks up and gives us some RAWK vocals. Maybe’s it’s the stripped back nature of the music which gives him the freedom and space to push his vocals more here, but he does give a little bit of grit throughout the song. It works very well, it’s more convincing than some of the recent attempts at harder rock songs, and his more traditional vocal approach is on point too.

What is less convincing are the transitions. Up until the three minute mark, this is a great song and a great performance. As per the original, the song has a series of twists into new territory, but many of the transitions are almost are non-existent, making this feel like a collection of near unrelated parts. I’m sceptical that they could have done anything else with these transitions beyond conceiving a more lengthy instrumental piece to guide the music more naturally from one section to the next. The second half of the song feels more chaotic than the first and while the performances remain solid, I doubt it’s a song I’ll return to much – a shame given that I did enjoy those opening three minutes so much.

I should mention here that this is likely going to be a shorter post than usual given that we don’t need to talk about the lyrics again – that is unless Paul tells us that the lyrics were given an overhaul too. What I will say is that the re-imagining does seem to help the lyrics come through more clearly and cleanly than in some of the originals, but my central focus in my listens to this album has been on how the music has been re-framed.

Out Of This World is a song which has made my Marillion Playlist for car journeys, and I remember it being one of my favourites from Afraid Of Sunlight. The studio version was all about atmosphere and tone, helped greatly by the keyboards. On Less Is More, those keyboards are gone and we have a less atmospheric, more plaintive clean keyboard approach. The guitars are kicked up to front and centre, at least in the opening moments. As such, the song takes on a different tone. It’s not as gloomy, but feels more lonely. It feels more like a cry for help.

Out Of This World has plenty of transitions and they feel more organic than those on Interior Lulu. They are sudden, but not out of left-field. That being said, the final couple of minutes didn’t have much of an impact on me this time around. I think it would have been interesting simply to end the song after the last ‘only love will turn you round’. Sometimes it’s cool when bands just remove a piece of a song when doing a re-recording or a live rendition etc.

Wrapped Up In Time has always been a gorgeous song. I talked a little about the Less Is More version when I was doing my Happiness posts. No matter what the form the song takes I’m sure I’ll love it – this version is good, but there’s something niggling at me; I don’t think the definitive version of this song has been made. If it has been, I haven’t heard it. I think the core of the song and it’s potential are so strong that someone, someday will make a better version. Or more accurately, one that will be definitive for me.

It’s strange… this version at once feels too long and too short. The song is played at too glacial a pace, but it ends too soon. The arrangement here leans more into a Gospel/Country sound when I think they should go folk or full overblown power ballad. I don’t know what I want my version to be, but I’ll know when I hear it.

The Space was one of those songs which convinced me that I was going to like H as a vocalist, writer, and presence in the band. It’s a bit of an epic, it has a great atmosphere, and it’s a song which takes full advantage of having a full band involved in its creation and execution. The Less Is More version, as the name suggests, is over a minute shorter. Not only is the time cut, but much of the original’s atmosphere is gone, removed in favour of a more displaced Jazz approach. It works in its own way, but part of why I loved the original was because it was unashamedly silly and bombastic. We lose the crazy solo section, which I don’t mind being cut, but more of a loss is the follow-up vocal section where H channels Sting. The Less Is More version just peters out from an already drained point. It does get points for perhaps having more of a haunting and subtle ending in its final seconds. Similar to Wrapped Up Time, while I think the original version of The Space is the definitive one, I feel like there is a better stripped down take than what we have here.

Hard As Love is a song which gets stripped down both in terms of time and sound. It was Brave’s near over the top Rock song at over six minutes long, while here it’s a gentle, slow song at just over five minutes. It’s one of the more obviously different versions on Less Is More with the bulk of the song being H and piano. The guitar crunch and the gruff vocals from Brave are gone, and instead we have something tame in the Coldplay sense. As such, it takes on a different potency, a tenderness free from the reins of the Rock blow-out. Hearing this, it made me think whether a darker, slower version of the song may have worked better on Brave to match the tone of that album. The original song isn’t one I’ve gone back to much since finishing with Brave and I’m not sure that this version will make my Marillion playlist. Quality wise, or preference wise I’d put them on a similar level even though the band does a good job of making the two quite different in tone and content.

Quartz was always something of an airy, spacey song which compensated for the lack of a strong core by plastering a load of studio trickery all over it. An acoustic version is certainly brave – how do you replicate the studio trickery, never mind attempting to make a decent song over something that was quite barren? It succeeds more on the first point, but on the whole it takes a song which was already on the dull side and exposes its weaknesses. The opening three to four minutes are meandering and lifeless, even if all the twinkling and riffs make solid attempts at bulking out the song, while the closing couple of minutes are quite strong. The closing solo and vocal melodies are highlights, but it’s too little too late.

If My Heart Were A Ball is another adventurous choice given the length of the original song. This rendition loses the bombast of the original and goes all jazz club – nice. Except, I don’t like Jazz, so not nice. Like Quartz, the opening minutes do very little for me and I can’t see me, or anyone else, choosing this over the original. It has a different flavour, but it’s simply not very interesting beyond its concept of stripping down a big Proggy boy. For a minute in the middle it’s a little more interesting, but it then fades away into tepid musings. I can applaud the ambition and bravado of the attempt, but it doesn’t really work.

It’s Not Your Fault is the new boy. It’s sweet enough – almost childlike in its simplicity, like an Imagine or a Let It Be. It’s the sort of thing that H does very well – exposing lyrics and emotion. I quite like it, but in opposition to the rest of the album it’s a song which feels like it needs some additional instrumentation to bring out its strengths. It feels a little unfinished and I’d like the chorus to feature a few more lyrics rather than just the title repeated over and over. Elsewhere the lyrics cover familiar ground for the band – it’s very open, it’s less cryptic than their lyrics sometimes get which aids in the overall lullaby effect. I’d be keen to hear a more fleshed out version if such a thing exists.

With Memory Of Water, there’s only so much you can do with it. The original was already very short and simple – converting it into an acoustic or stripped back version would seemingly take little effort. The Less Is More version is a little more intimate and feels less cinematic, and the slightly increased pace helps it feel less like an interlude. I prefer the H performance in the original, but he’s still very good here. There’s not a lot to it, but I would have no qualms about having it on a playlist.

This Is The 21st Century seems to be a quite highly regarded song in some Marillion circles, but in its original form I was ambivalent about it. Bits I enjoyed, bits I didn’t. I much prefer the Less Is More version and the stripped down nature allows the melodic qualities of the first half to rise to the top. We lose the bananas guitar solo but the piano climax makes up for the loss. It’s half the length of the original so almost all of the atmospheric soundscape stuff has been omitted meaning we have two very different versions of the song. An eleven minute stripped back version wouldn’t work at all. Which version you enjoy more will be down to your personal preference and your mood in the moment.

Finally, Cannibal Surf Babe is throwaway fun. I wasn’t much of a fan of the original, but I get it. This one isn’t too different – it’s very loose and the band are clearly enjoying the performance, but I don’t like the vocals, the talking, or much else. It’s not a mess, but it’s not something I’d ever need to hear again.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

Over to BYAMPOD and… are the guys covering the whole album in a single episode? It’s a long one (lovely), but it seems like they’re talking about H’s new solo EP too. Maybe they’ll just fly through Less Is More because the bulk of the songs have already been covered in previous episodes, albeit in their original form. Or maybe it’s a two-parter. Of course, I could just listen to the thing before wastefully typing this nonsense, but then I’ miss out on my million words a day quota.

We begin by talking about that new EP – I have not heard it, but I’m sure it’s as lovely as a Long One. Before releasing Less Is More, the band released a bunch of Live albums and curios. I haven’t heard those either. The band were burned out, but still wanting to do something. They decided to re-arrange a bunch of old songs in a semi-acoustic fashion, whittled down the list, and were ready to go. At the time, Paul wasn’t too impressed by the album and felt it was lacking in almost all respects, but in this re-appraisal he is more positive. The general consensus seems to be along the same lines – some people are uninspired, other people found preferred versions of songs within. I think that’s the way most of these things tend to go.

We get going with Go, a song which Paul felt was a little pointless due to its similarity to the original. It’s a song which relies on energy, especially when played live, and here the guys feel it has that energy drained. I felt this too, but that the new arrangement also increased some of the more gentle and melodic qualities of the original.

With Interior Lulu, Sanja didn’t notice many differences and that it’s lacking the funk of the original. Paul thinks that the song lacks the potency of the original’s ending. Not much more to add. Paul and Sanja both feel that Less Is More’s Out Of This World is the better version. I liked most of it, but felt the second half dragged a little. Paul says that this is the case when the song is played live, but he enjoys it here and wishes it was longer. That’s the complete opposite of what I said and that they should have cut out the ending entirely. Controversy all around, then.

Wrapped Up In Time is another song which the guys are favourable on, with both thinking this is better. It could be a bit of the ‘newness’ factor – sometimes when you hear a cover or new version of a song, that newness leads you to enjoy it more than the original, but sometimes that newness fades. Sometimes it doesn’t, and the new thing becomes the definitive thing. I felt that, while I liked this version a lot, it still left me wanting. That definitive version is still out there, somewhere.

Sanja found The Space funky and soulful, but again lacks the energy of the original. Paul agrees that it’s not an improvement and is another of those songs which feels somewhat plodding and unnecessary. Both guys enjoy this take on Hard As Love – particularly Sanja, and both may be convinced that this is the preferred version. Quartz sounds unfinished according to Sanja and that the loss of the bass is detrimental. Paul thinks the whole thing is a patchwork, but that the ending solo is sublime. Sanja prefers this version of Heart – Paul thinks it’s fine but isn’t a huge fan of the original in any case. Incidentally, I haven’t been taking notes on how many songs the guys prefer over the original. Or how many I prefer.

Sanja enjoys It’s Not Your Fault more than Paul, who says H wrote it as an adult lullaby, while Paul loves the lyrics more than the music. Paul prefers this take on Memory Of Water, Sanja prefers the original, while I’m in the middle – for anyone counting. It’s not very different. Sanja prefers the Less version of 21st Century, while Paul doesn’t think it works very well. He still likes it, but it’s not on par with the original. Naturally, I felt that this version was much better. Finally, Cannibal Surf Babe happened.

The guys think the album is more for the hardcore fans, while being a bit of a cash in. I like albums like this in theory – I have a whole series (mostly unpublished) about bands I wished had made an MTV Unplugged album, or something similar. While this isn’t quite that, it’s a similar idea – stripped down versions of songs we already know. As a music fan who gets passionate about many bands – I want more material from them, and if something like this bridges a gap between albums, then I’d rather it existed than didn’t. What I’m not a huge supported of is multiple Greatest Hits or multiple Live albums. One of each is more than enough. Even though Iron Maiden has released a couple of the best Live Albums ever, they are more than guilty of ripping the arse out of it. It seems like every new album is accompanied by a Live album – yet typically the setlist doesn’t vary much. And they never shy away from a ‘new’ Greatest Hits every few years.

I think that if you’re going to do it, do it different. Make it somehow unique – something that you wouldn’t expect from the band, like Metallica’s S&M. Make it worth hearing. Put on a new track or two. Make the new version drastically different. Radiohead’s From The Basement series are a great example – Radiohead typically giving new life to songs that I don’t think work particularly well in their original form.

On the whole for me, it’s an album which suffers from two key issues, issues which many albums of this ilk fall foul of; the wrong songs were selected for this experiment, and the wrong approach was taken on the songs that were selected. I use ‘wrong’ subjectively. I’m a minor Marillion fan by all accounts, and while I have my own list of songs I’d like to see given the stripped down treatment, the lifer fans would have personal lists too. I like that they didn’t just pick ‘easy’ songs to play safe versions of, but by the same token many of the songs which were selected simply weren’t very strong to begin with. I’ve often said that the strength of any song (if we’re going by my own personal metrics of melody and emotion) is whether or not it retains its power when stripped down to its most simple parts – a vocal and a single instrument. Some of the songs selected didn’t have that core to begin with, instead relying on atmosphere and what the band and Producers can concoct in the studio. If choosing a song like this, you can transform the thing by pushing the core into a different genre, changing the pace, even twisting the melodies, but for some of the more dull entries on the track list, the band simply cut away the chaff and played slower.

On the other hand, some of the revisions are much more successful and come to close (or succeed in) surpassing the originals. I had a couple I would choose over the originals and a couple that were on par. It’s not an album I see myself returning to, and I don’t expect many others would. While I appreciate the idea of these albums, the only one that ever truly worked for me was The Gathering’s Sleepy Buildings. Still, at some these bands will be no more, and it’s nice that we got one more album from them, even if it may not be essential.

There we have it! I’m away to cut and paste my comments on the second half of the album here, meaning that this will turn out to be quite a long post after all. But that’s Less Is More out of the way in a single post. Up next is a bunch of other side projects. I’ll probably give them a cursory listen but likely won’t post on them unless they change my life. Go listen, go comment, do all of the stuff!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Happiness Is The Road Vol 1 (Part 4)!

Marillion – Happiness Is The Road, Volume 1: Essence (2008, CD) - Discogs

Greetings, Glancers! We’re at the end of Volume 1. Isn’t that nice? Maybe it’s the fact that the nights are getting shorter, maybe it’s the fact that I’ll soon be turning forty, or maybe it’s the fact that we don’t have too many Marillion albums left to go, but it feels like we’re coming to the end of something. Hopefully Paul and Sanja have something else up their sleeves, or down their socks, once their final word on Marillion has been spoken, but I’ll miss the routine of listening and writing and learning. Will it be a jaunt through a lesser-known Prog favourite of Paul’s? Will it be Sanja’s turn to choose an artist? Will it be the oft-rumoured Manics podcast which has only been mentioned by me? Whatever it is, I’ll be there.

Today though, we wrap up the final few crumbs of Volume 1, starting with Trap The Spark which opens like a more uplifting Radiohead. It’s a very sweet song with a trace of melancholy which may be self-imposed by my associations more than anything, what with H’s vocal ‘woo-hoos’ in the introduction reminding me of the severely underrated band The Delays. The band’s singer, Greg Gilbert was known for his gorgeous falsetto, which often convinced listeners that the vocalist was a woman. I’ve mentioned them while talking about Marillion before, because there are some slight, notable comparisons between the vocals, if not the music. Greg died last year, but was known for his ‘woo hoos’. If you listen to Valentinehopefully you’ll understand some of the similarities I’m hearing even though it’s a much bouncier song.

While Trap The Spark is a beautiful song, it’s another slow song which remains one of the sticking points I’ve had with the album. It has become much less of an issue the more time I’ve spent with the album, but it’s still in the back of my mind. Sometimes it’s hard to share those first impressions. I’m not suggesting this song should be faster, but maybe the album is missing something more up-tempo?

With that out of the way, we can talk about the good stuff. It’s another very atmospheric, very keyboard-led song which is confident in each of the turns it takes. I enjoy the little jazz-shuffle percussion in the first half, I love the tone of the guitar which sounds scratchy, distant, like shooting stars cruising through the atmosphere. As slow as the song is, I appreciate how it gets even slower after the second chorus, bringing the pace back a step and playing the final verse and chorus at that speed. That’s a little twist on what most bands do – usually if there is a shift in pace at the end of a song, things get faster or more frantic.

We get a suitably uneventful guitar solo during this slower portion which leads into a final mainly instrumental section to close the song. As always, there’s a lot of colouring and layering to the texture which really comes to life when you listen with headphones, but much of it still comes through with my trusty laptop speakers. As dreary as I still find the overall feel and tone of this album to be, even though I don’t intend ‘dreary’ to come with the negative connotations you might expect, the production is top notch throughout with Trap The Spark being no exception. The piano sounds are clear and given room to breathe among the swathe of effects and percussion, and H’s vocals are never under threat of being swallowed by the music.

My first thoughts when listening to this song were that the lyrics must be an extension of what has come bef0re; whatever it is you’re looking for in your life, whatever is special is fleeting and you need to trap it while you can. While I still assume that’s the overall intention of the lyrics, upon reading the words that assumption becomes less certain, and the words don’t exactly spark that interpretation. Would you get that intent just from the lyrics if you had never heard any other Marillion song, or knew anything about the band? Reading only the first verse and chorus without that context, the song seems to be talking about love and how it’s nigh on impossible to those most potent feelings forever, while the second verse speaks about someone yearning to be away from where they are currently, back to the places where they can recapture the spark. My only note on the final verse was in reference to ‘unhappinesses’, as I was reminded of the Simpsons episode where Selma tries to adopt a baby from China for the price of ‘10,000 happinesses’.

While I’m reaching with this one, and believe it’s just a coincidence of the song’s structure, I did enjoy how the first line of the chorus has a positive message – ‘Trap the spark and hold it there’, yet is played with minor chords (minor chords known to sound sad or negative), while the second line ‘you can’t, you can’t’ is the negative message but is accompanied by the major chords. Is that something?

A State Of Mind is as close to an up-tempo song as the album gets, even though it’s not much faster than anything else. It’s the little drumstick beats which make it feel faster than it is, it’s the radio friendly chorus which kicks off the dreary shackles. Paul has made reference to some fans not enjoying H’s falsetto – I could see some of those listeners being put by his vocals in the first chorus, but the good news is that he switches to his chest voice in the second chorus and gives it some welly.

I’m not sure what the bird sounds in the intro are supposed to convey, but in general whenever we hear birds in any song we tend to think of a new day or sunset. My best guess is simply that the lyrics mention the sky and looking down on the world… and birds live in the sky and look down? Sometimes these kinds of sound effects can be grating for me, especially if they’re pushed to the forefront of the mix, but it’s subtle enough here that it adds something to the overall vibe. I just don’t know what that something is.

On top of the second chorus kick up the arse, the song attempts to go bigger and anthemic in its final couple of minutes. It’s mostly successful – the interlude with more ‘woo hoos’, with the guitar echoing those ‘woo hoos’, the bass and drums building, all leading into the last chorus section is very cool. I don’t know if it’s a strong enough chorus melodically to get every fist pumping in the crowd, but it feels like it was a song written so that the fans could get their jumping clogs on.

Elsewhere, beyond some slight wavering in the first chorus, the vocals are excellent. H’s voice is smooth and calming in the verses and unbreaking when he hits the big notes, while remaining sumptuous in his emotive delivery throughout. I don’t have much to say about the lyrics, beyond some of the religious tones about creation, looking down from above, spreading a message etc. Who is the ‘he’ who came down from the sky? What is the song saying? What is this State Of Mind which he wants to spread, and which will help those who are ready to KNOW and GROW? As a standalone, the song doesn’t convey anything concrete to me and only holds any substantial meaning when taken alongside the other songs and messages we’ve heard till this point.

We end (kind of) on the centrepiece of the album, the title track, the epic. At ten minutes long, it’s most likely the song which came with the most expectation. If you have a song which is considerably longer than the others, that’s the one which will raise a few eyebrows. While Paul has been referring to this as ‘Her Penis Is The Road’, in all honesty I had a different understanding of the lyrics in my first listens, and it’s one of those ‘once heard/never unheard’ scenarios. In my first listens of the album, I had it on in the background while working, at just let whatever vibes and melodies connect freely with me without putting much effort in from my part. Once the chorus dropped and I heard H clearly singing ‘Auf wiedersehen, La Roache’, I admit to doing a bit of a double take and wondering why Marillion would be writing a dedication to Ken from Coronation Street. Roache. Bill Roache. Ken from Corrie. Do you see?

Seriously though, that’s what H is singing. Sort out that diction. There’s absolutely no way he’s saying ‘road’. It’s clearly Roach. Not that I, as a Manics fan, has any leg to stand on when their lyrics and diction are all but indecipherable and sound like ‘teachairstolenchildpeaseeapuaslongasdareIrightsAREUSED!’ Bonus points for any Manics fans who can guess the song from that.

In a twist on the format, I’ll talk about the lyrics first as they’re arguably more interesting than the music. What I found most interesting is how strong the lyrics are and yet I paid zero attention to them until I Googled them. In most cases when I’m listening to these albums, it’s around the third or fourth listen before I try to focus on the lyrics with any real effort, and only after then do I Google them to see what I got wrong. But with this song in particular, none of the lyrics (apart from Auf Wiedersehen) made any impact on me. Imagine my surprise when I Googled the words and recognised how personal they were, how pertinent to the overall album mindframe, how impactful they are. It makes perfect sense that these lyrics make up the title track. You have to assume that the title track of any album is the symbol, the emblem, the crown jewel of that album. Given all of the themes brokered on every other song, this song feels like a summary of it all while also being an apt thematic closure to the album’s story, while also being a standalone story in and of itself.

I don’t need to go line by line, or verse by verse, through the lyrics; it’s enough to say that it’s a lesson gently preached, not proselytized, a personal testimony which grows with urgency as the music builds. There’s an outline of the lesson in the opening, a bit of personal context, history, and anecdote in the middle where the narrator learns this lesson, with the finale being a repetition of the lesson with a pleading delivery for others to work it out.

In following along with the lyrics as the song plays, I think that some of the vocal effects and mumbling delivery are what distanced me from the lyrics in the first place. I have to careful not to out myself as a hypocrite given the absolute shambles of how The Manics attempted to convey their politics in their early days, but surely you want to be as crisp and clear as possible in your delivery? Vocal effects, odd Brando-as-Corleone-pronunciations… these things muddy the message. Or do they force the reader to go searching for the lyrics so that they can read and understand and therefore the message hits more effectively? Why am I picking on H when I have little issue with how many of my favourite singers are even more obtuse in their vocals – I’m looking at you Tori Amos and James Dean Bradfield? Maybe it’s just the singing out of the side of the mouth thing that pisses me off.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get Twin Peaks vibes from the synth opening? Once the vocals come in, it feels more like a Funeral Service. Or, more accurately, the soundtrack from a movie scene showing the hero’s spirit passing on and gliding upwards towards the light of the heavens. A little sad, a little calm, a little happy. Mostly sad though. Taken with the lyrics, which are mostly of the positive if bittersweet nature, I haven’t decided if the music feels apt or entirely out of place. Maybe it’s that the vocal melody and delivery sounds so forlorn. The vocals are like a groan of despair and goodbyes rather than the happy ‘I’ve just found the answer, guys!’ message which the lyrics promote. To bring up that word again, it’s dreary.

Yet it’s not a dirge. I do like the music, I do enjoy the melodies, the structure of each section, the building of intent, and each band member is at the top of their game. I just find it odd that music is as dreary as a wet Sunday afternoon in the Northern Ireland Winter, from start to finish. Even though the lyrics are positive throughout, even though the music climaxes, and while there is a hefty chorus – none of those feel joyous or euphoric. Much of the song flits between Eminor and Aminor – for long swathes you’re trapped between those two chords and there isn’t a sustained period of the song in which the major key takes the lead. That in itself isn’t usually enough to evoke the dreariness, but combined with the pace of the song, the length of the song, and the fact that the guitars and keyboards don’t offer a counterpoint to the underlying minor chord basis all lead to a gloomy nature.

What else is there to say? H sounds a little like Sting towards the end, while there are a lot of standalone guitar parts there isn’t a blatant solo – perhaps unusual for a lengthy rock song, and much of the guitar, bass, and percussive work feels like a jam -moments improvised in the studio. Which leads nicely into the final song – Half Full Jam. I don’t know if this is a hidden song or how it appears in the original CD, but there isn’t much to it across its six and a slice minutes. It seems to be as the title suggests – a jamming session. Revolving around a single riff, the rest of the guys add their bits and bobs, with H mostly repeating the same handful of words and melodies. There are military marching drums, lots of keyboard faffing, and it gets louder in the middle. It’s fine. Bit of a strange way to close the album if it was meant as the true last song, more understandable if it was one of those ‘fast forward for three minutes and 47 seconds after the last song to find the hidden track’ jobs.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

Over to BYAMPOD and we kick off with a bit of controversy. I must have missed all of this – was it on Facebook? It led to Paul considering if his humour was too inappropriate for some listeners. I mean… everything’s going to be inappropriate for someone. Anyone can find anything offensive. It’s a wider discussion and I’m not qualified for it. I tend to think that life is grim and short and as a species we’re able to find most things funny, for whatever reason. I find humour in most things, though I’m going to be tactful in who I’m dealing with. I have a blog and probably make offensive comments with humorous intent, and there’s probably someone out there who might be triggered or offended or made angry. BYAMPOD probably has a decent-sized audience too, so you’re not going to be able to please absolutely everyone with everything you say. Differences of opinions on songs, some jokes will land, some won’t, others might be too on the mark. It’s more difficult to be tactful when you’re not speaking 1:1, and when you don’t know who the hell might be listening on the other end. So, should we be dull and say nothing at all, should we put certain topics in the bin from the outset, should we offer some sort of warning at the start of an episode if a certain topic is raised, or should we just be ourselves and deal with whatever might happen after the fact? I think most of us who grew up with Digitiser have a fair idea of Paul’s humour, and having spend a few years with the podcast and the Youtube content, it’s more than safe to say that Paul and Sanja are wonderful, socially conscious people who will laugh at themselves before sniggering at others. Sanja then sums it all up better than I’ve written here.

Don’t us Patrons get access to the unbleeped material? Straight into Trap The Spark and Sanja gushing over H’s falsetto. I like it, but then I love high-pitched male vocals. That was, by and large, how I chose to sing back when I did, and most of my favourite male singers are not known for their deep, swinging ballix, husky vocals. Some will like it, some won’t. Paul loves the song, Sanja calls out the guitar work, and Paul highlights the Waltz-like nature of the middle section. Lyrically, Sanja says it recalls Wrapped Up In Time while Paul says there are many call-backs to other songs. It has become an ever more impactful song for the guys given what has happened in their lives recently – the fact that an individuality past, present, and future can be here one moment and gone the next, never to return. It would be the single greatest invention in the history of the world if that spark truly could be trapped. Then Sanja gets confused by a cartoon dog.

Sanja suggests that we should all try to trap whatever sparks we can, even though we might not always get the results we want, and we shouldn’t expect to hold on to those things forever. Paul lists some of the references to other songs, which I never would have picked up on, and that the song boils down to wanting to hold on to something you love. Where does that spark go? Gobbled by Langoliers, into the wind to be breathed in by a billion lungs, or uploaded into an endless universal Cloud where everyone who has ever lived can inter-mingle forever? Any time we get into detailed discussions on grief, I have to bring up The Body – an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Known as one of the finest TV episodes of all time, it’s arguably the best depiction of grief in, well, anything. Do the guys need to make a Buffy podcast? BYUFFPOD?

Paul and Sanja then turn into cats for a few minutes in their cover of State Of Mind. Sanja didn’t love the song when she first listened, but it eventually clicked, and she loves its building nature. Paul has always loved it and it ticks their pop/rock/should have been a hit box. Sanja says it’s a song about us pulling together as a species and moving forwards, while Paul doesn’t have much more to add beyond it feeling quite self-helpy. We then get into the ills of modern society, or society in general as it’s been this way for thousands of years, which takes me to one of my ex (living) girlfriends who did indeed drop off the grid and currently cycles about Europe with a tent, selling her arts and crafts and helping on farms and building houses. I’d like the travelling part. Helping people by doing stuff? I’m too lazy. NICE LITTLE PENIS. LITTLE?

At least it’s not just me who calls out H singing in a funny voice, and Sanja highlight’s Mark’s great work. She notes that there’s so much going on, lots of little bits adding to a ‘cosmos of sound’. Paul reads an H quote where he says much of the song was a jam – interesting that I called that out in my coverage of the song as it definitely sounds improvised, but I didn’t think it actually was. The song was a grower for Paul and while it’s not a favourite, he likes what it does for the whole album. As such, he doesn’t have much to say about the music or the lyrics. Sanja says the song is a summary of the album, and of H’s experience with the Power Of Now book. Looks like they’re saving Half-Full Jam for next week, along with some other bits. I doubt I’ll post about that, but who knows.

As always, do the likes and shares and listens and comments!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Happiness Is The Road Vol 1 (Part 3)!

Marillion – Happiness Is The Road, Volume 1: Essence (2008, CD) - Discogs

Greetings, Glancers! After last week’s tragic saga of woe, let’s hope today’s is all kittens, sunshine, and pina coladas. We’re still talking about the same album, so chances of that are slim. We kick off with Liquidity, which we presumably won’t have much to say about. It’s a solid, short, instrumental piece which loops and builds upon the same recurring keyboard motif. There’s a lot going on and it’s fairly intricate for what is very simple at its core; the tinkling, dripping bits of synth effects, the cymbal taps, Rothers twiddling with his (volume) knob, and lots of other cool little pieces all serve to make a cinematic whole. You could imagine this played over long, sweeping drone shots of a David Attenborough show, with desolate snowy lands unfurling from Winter darkness and melting into the first droplets of Spring, new-born mouths yawning, wings stretching, eyes searching upwards for the sun. A Koyaanisqatsi like montage of life zipping by.

It transitions very smoothly into Nothing Fills The Hole. To continue the montage metaphor, I can imagine the landscape switching from the tundra to the safari as the song progresses, shots of thrashing rivers and playful big cats as the chorus peaks. But we’d be getting too far off course because this is a very human story – as touched upon in the previous post, us humans have decided we need more than just the hunt. Mere survival, eating, procreating doesn’t sustain us. While our cousins throughout the animal kingdom seem to need only the minimum requirements for life, we are crippled by doubt, malaise, and the search for a remedy often becomes our meaning. Jeebus, here we go again.

The song is like a mantra, lyrically, musically, and in terms of vocal delivery. Just like Liquidity, the opening of the song seems to loop and build. It doesn’t quite follow the Golden Ratio, but it has that style of setting out a melody and rhythm and building upon it with each iteration. Musically, the opening feels like an extension of Liquidity, eventually eroding away to become its own thing. Very cool how the vocals begin as eerie whispers which fit the Liquidity tone, but as the vocals become more human and clearer, the music moves away from those instrumental roots.

As all this looping and repeating evolves, the lyrics are delivered as a mantra, a shopping list of needs and wants, coming across as being both willingly repeated because they’re an important part of the person’s make-up and shouldn’t be forgotten, but also as a sinister, inescapable, buzzing set of addictions constantly distracting and crying for attention. It’s cool then that when the chorus arrives, it feels like breaking free, like the head crashing through the surface after being held under water. The sudden Motown blast is almost euphoric, but then it’s almost impossible to find a Motown song that doesn’t feel happy-clappy.

While there’s a lot of truth and a lot of philosophy in the lyrics, I couldn’t help but compare Nothing Fills The Hole to Most Toys. They both grasp at the same material, with one more cultured than the other. While I couldn’t disagree with the sentiments, there’s still that nagging feeling that I’d like to at least have the chance to get, see, and have the things I want, believe, and dream of. I understand that many of my wants and dreams are material, silly even, and that once I had them, I would likely move on to the next thing. But that’s not necessarily a negative. I’d suggest that’s almost natural. Maybe life is less about being fulfilled, and more about constantly moving and progressing. There’s futility in searching, but also purpose, as much as there is in finding. To H’s credit, he doesn’t outright seem to be saying that all the silly things we want aren’t important, more that he’s documenting his own struggles and that even when he finds the freedom, the nirvana which philosophy suggests is the final, perfect state we should aspire to, he doesn’t last a week with that and still moves on. It seems to be an admission that, well, nothing fills the hole, not the wants and needs and dreams, nor even the spiritual stuff which is generally the response people give when asked ‘what is most important’. Maybe the answer is the search, the moments between the search, and what we learn along the way.

Woke Up is the album’s summer song. It’s the only song which felt warm in my early listens, perhaps because it has a touch of the Indie to it, with its Britpop riffs taking me back to the Mid 90s teenage summers of yore. It’s bright, warm, and hopeful in the same way that the ‘coming up’ songs on Screamadelica are. The only thing missing for me is a bit of pace; as it is, the song fits with the many other slow to mid-paced songs the album has to offer. It’s almost a missed opportunity to not make Woke Up a little faster and more energetic, and I don’t think it would have sacrificed much of the relaxed, summertime vibe the song is going for.

Elsewhere it isn’t the most musically diverse song on the album. It’s an old-fashioned rock band song, dropping much of the keyboard and soundscape approach which has been a trademark up to this point. The keyboards are not completely absent – starting after the first chorus the guitar backing from verse one is replaced by keyboard swirls, but these are eventually clawed back and drowned out by several layers of guitars and backing vocals. As the song enters its second half, there’s a final quieter approach to the verse orchestration where it’s drums and simple keyboards only, and then onto a faux-string laden climax. In a three-minute song with as standard a structure as you’ll ever get by a band like Marillion, they have the experience and artistry to provide something musically different in each verse, while not offering anything too challenging or variant.

Lyrically, we’re talking about movement again, and at least on the surface it seems to be referencing touring by calling out all of the different types of cities and times of years it’s possible to wake up in. The final line, along with the repetitions of ‘you woke me up’ also suggest that it’s tangentially a love song, but the overall lyric isn’t direct enough to hit the other marks you expect from a love song. While it’s fine, I’d say it’s one of the more wafting and uneventful lyrics on the album. If I’m being overly critical, I could say that the lyrics are a missed opportunity too. Aside from the expansion of ideas in the ‘City full of snow’ verse, the other verses don’t offer a lot of insight or poetry. Instead of ‘city that doesn’t sleep/full of rain’, why not play on that idea of sleeplessness? Have a word, something which relates to sleep or is ironic, instead of ‘rain’. Same with the ‘down by the sea’ – a reference to something seasidey in the following line instead, plus that would create a nice poetic throughline from one verse to the next. Am I asking for too much? Elsewhere, I don’t have much more to add so let’s hear what Paul and Sanja make of it all.

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We start with some soothing Sanja sleeping/meditation techniques which reminded me of that Simpsons episode where Homer tries to lose weight by listening to some self-help cassette in his sleep, but mistakenly receives a tape on expanding his language skills instead. Remember when The Simpsons used to be good? Wrinkle In Time was very very bad. Don’t watch it. Speaking of Disney-lite, Hallmark movies, we’re getting close to Christmas which means I’ll be watching more Lacey Chabery festive delights and reviewing them on the blog. LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE!

The guys call out Liquidity as a mostly Mark Kelly solo, emboldened by the producer. Apparently, the title was inspired by Mark and his former partner having a shared dream. A weird phenomenon, but it seems to happen every so often. The guys compliment the transitional aspects between this grouping of tracks, while Sonja seems to channel Drong when he smells a bit of football up his peripheries. Paul and Sanja are very positive about Liquidity and the band’s confidence in leaving it as it is without forcing it into a ‘song’.

Sanja is a big fan of Nothing Fills The Hole, how theatrical, or music-theatre it is, and has added it to her personal playlist. She highlights the swirling, repetitive, building nature, while Paul calls it ‘Prog Soul’. Prole? Paul mentions Funkadelic, which of course ties in with my later name dropping of Primal Scream’s classic from decades later. Paul says that Marillion does their version of Soul better than they do their version of angry rock, which seems fair enough. They’ve never, or very rarely been a band who plays fast and are happy to be languid. Any time they’re angry, it never comes across musically through the use of volume or distortion or venom or any of the other traditional hallmarks of rock. Their anger is more internalized, or like the guy who mutters about the bad situation after everyone else has left the room or moved on. But, they are very good at the slower stuff, the pain, and the self-exploration.

We’ll never find out what the song means lyrically, because Paul can’t be arsed going upstairs to find the magazine which the explanation from H. The guys give their own thoughts, which roughly aligns to everything I said – whatever H wants, and he’s tried a lot, none of it has filled that hole. We all have our needs, our holes, and our opportunities to fill them. Matron. Bonus Manics lyrical reference alert – ‘too many teenage holes to fill’ is the more adolescent version of what H is talking about here. There’s no escaping how uncomfortably sex-oriented that line is, and I’m sure it was written to be ambiguous, but the entire song (Yourself) is more accurately about the emptiness of teenage existence and the quest to find meaning in your own body and to live up to an impossible level of physical expectation. Lovely.

As I suggested, the song is an admission. Paul fills in the gaps by telling how H had come out of a relationship, had been struggling for a while, could never find happiness or contentment, but once he found the Power Of Now book and began working on this album, the steps to being content were put in place. Paul and Sanja share their own journeys towards loving each other, and loving themselves, which is very sweet, and honest, and sad in places. I’m not sure why I’ve had my own issues with this – I’ve always had low self-esteem, I’ve never particularly thought I was important, and most of my relationships till now have been unhealthy. But I wasn’t good then, and neither were the other parties. I mean, I’m still a mess, but aren’t we all?

We slide in Woke Up as Sanja compliments the musicality and the production, and the Indian-style approach. I think that’s just the keyboards pretending to be violins, but the Eastern vibe is very clear. Paul thinks the song is a shameless Who rip-off, while I called out its 90s Britpop-ness. Of course, The Who were one of the major influences on 90s Britpop. Paul highlights Wake Up as one of their best pop-rock songs and they both call out how it feels like a literal revelation.

Paul compliments the lyrics on the rhythmic side of things and Sanja mentions the call-backs to previous songs about touring and travelling. Both guys add that it’s also about love, about the impact of personal changes on how you see the world or how you see the same old places with a new light. If you’re loved, you take it with you, no matter whether that love is for another or for yourself. What it love? Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.

And that’s where we leave it, not before an assault on charity workers. Scum of the earth, they are. If you agree, make sure to listen to the pod, retweet, comment your most hated charity, and all the other things. If you’d like to tell me you love me, that’d be weird but by all means drop a comment and I’ll be sure to block you. Enjoy!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Happiness Is The Road Vol 1 (Part 2)!

Marillion – Happiness Is The Road, Volume 1: Essence (2008, CD) - Discogs

Greetings, Glancers! Apologies for that monstrosity of a title, but Marillion really should have known when recording this album that decades later there would be a Podcast doing a deep dive on each of their albums, splitting each album into multiple episodes, and that there would be a blogger writing posts about each of those episodes. In naming their albums, they have given such eventualities no consideration. They did give names to each of Volumes though, right? What’s Volume 1 – Essence? I could make that my title instead. But I won’t. We’re just going to have put up with Vol 1, parts I-IV. It’s all very Prog.

The good news is that I’d already written all of my song commentary by the time the first BYAMPOD ep on Happiness Is The Road came out, so it is just a matter of slicing up the content into multiple posts, and adding my comments on the BYAMPOD episodes themselves. My work is done until Volume 2!

Essence was a bit of a puzzle during my early listens, that dreary tone clouding what turned out to be a very fine mini-Prog epic. There’s the confidence of the Marbles era shining through, it feels very The Bends era Radiohead inspired in places, Kid A in others, and it covers a mish mash of styles from Space Rock to Gospel. It’s one of those songs which, if you skip about randomly to different points in the song, you’ll encounter a different sound or mood. Once I got a feel for it, I questioned whether this is one of songs which fans have accused of being a cut and paste of different parts the band came up with in various jam sessions. I could certainly see that being the case and I wouldn’t argue against anyone who says it feels disjointed. I think it flows quite well between these different sections. To make it feel less disjointed they could have spent longer on a few of the individual sections, or could have done some sort of musical call-backs or a wraparound piece at the end to connect the close of the song to an earlier section. Hell, even breaking the song’s name out into different parts may have countered some of these feelings – Essence Parts I-IV. In any case, it’s not something I had any issue with, and I didn’t feel like any of the transitions were forced or jarring.

It’s not a guitar heavy song, at least not obviously. This is closer to the experimental soundscapes of Radiohead and some of Devin Townsend’s early solo work. It’s more noticeable for the work Mark Kelly brings, working in clear tinkling piano and foreboding synth to shift the mood from one place to the next. It’s dense on the percussive side, with the traditional drums bulked out with different cymbal sounds and clangs. Rothery isn’t left out in the cold, adding some venom and edge to some of the harsher sections.

Lyrically, taken with the songs we’ve already covered, Essence confirms a bit of a running theme in the album. One which aligns with the album’s name. It seems to be about connections. Authenticity. Finding your way to happiness, to something real. Negotiating the distractions we encounter, drowning out the noise, and allowing the essence of our needs and meaning to come into focus. ‘Essence’ becomes a mantra.

I couldn’t avoid lyrical comparisons to Trainspotting and Choose Life. Very different songs of course, and very different meanings. I was half expecting Fish as Ewen McGregor or Ewen McGregor as Fish to creep in at some point just to say ‘choose life’ in a thick Scottish accent. The lyrics and music flow together nicely, the climax and celebratory ending coinciding with the lyrical Nirvana. It’s sadly all too rare that lyrics and music intertwine like this, but when it happens it can be glorious.

Wrapped Up In Time is the highlight of the album for me. It’s the one which nails the combination of melody and emotion that I crave. That’s not to say I don’t have a few nit-picking issues with it – the unnecessarily sudden ending, and the early noughties digital drum loop in the ‘there’s an echo of them’ section which was prevalent in 90% of boy/girl band music of the era, for example. But on the whole, it’s what I’ve come to want in a Marillion song; potent melodies sung heartfelt over ethereal soundscapes.

It’s another Mark Kelly showcase, trading in atmospheric beats with Ian Mosely. The intro is almost like a call and response between the two, and between the different layers of keyboards and what I assume to be various bells and Glockenspiel type instruments. This gives a suitably chilling mood, evoking vistas of the frozen tundra, icicles giving way to the warmth of the vocals and the passing of time from Winter to Spring.

For my money, the melodies are among the most tender and heartfelt the band has ever done. So much so that I’d love to hear an acoustic take with the intro and outro stripped away or replaced – just the vocals with a guitar or piano. That’s not to dismiss the start and end which do a great job of setting the tone for what’s to come, but when I find a new song that I love (particularly a dense one), I want to hear a few different versions of it and see how it changes based on the approach. A live version, an acoustic version, a demo etc. I get the impression that an acoustic take of Wrapped Up In Time could be special, slightly slowed down and leaving the emotion to run free without distraction. Fuck it, I’m googling it now. Ha! I see a Less Is More option… that’s one of the live albums Paul has mentioned a few times. Listening to the Less Is More version now… not the approach I was hoping for, too slowed down and seems to be bringing out the Gospel and Blues side rather than the… well, the purity of the original. I see a few live versions out there too, some stripped back, but these seem to follow the Less Is More style. Luckily when you can’t find what you’re looking for you can just do it yourself – my daughter’s pink, half-size acoustic guitar happens to be sitting behind me here and if I grab it I can… boom! Yes, it works well even if I do compliment myself for an impromptu rendition no-one will ever hear.

Back to it. It’s the lyrical version of The Langoliers, without the furry monsters. The past is gone. This is a bit of a theme with H and it’s clearly something he’s struggled with. That theme ties in with the whole album – the importance of living in the moment and not being trapped by what did or didn’t happen, or plagued by what ifs. Which is cool, because it’s something I’ve always struggled with. The past is most definitely a prison. I find myself trapped there all the time. I often dream of the past and don’t want to wake up. It’s horrible. It’s addictive. It ensures that regret becomes an insidious part of your being. While regret is ultimately worthless, I rank it highly in how trustworthy I find someone. If you claim to have no regrets, I probably won’t waste my time with you. All of this may explain why I enjoyed the song so much, as I feel and understand what he’s saying and what’s behind it.

To read the lyrics straight from the page, with no context and no music, they’re a bit of a mishmash of insight and mumbling repetition. ‘Like the past in a present’ is excellent, ‘the time for them has gone and their time has gone with them’ is less so. The repetitions of ‘echo’ is particularly affecting, especially for those of us who have a person in the past whose echoes reverberate in the present. The closing line works well, even in context of the abrupt end to the song. If it had been me, I’d have removed a lot of the space at the end of the song and made sure that Liquidity flowed immediately after. Or just had Liquidity be a part of Wrapped Up In Time rather than its own thing.

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We start the latest episode of BYAMPOD with some of the carnage we’ve come to expect, with Paul and Sanja sharing some insight into their Supermarket activities, namely, talking to themselves and getting lost. I’ve been there. Then lots about Meat Loaf. Then we get into Essence, which Paul holds in very high esteem. He thinks it’s magical. It wasn’t… super immediate for me, but it was always one which stood out to me in my first listens of Vol 1 and 2. As mentioned above, it took a while to unravel for me, which is a little strange because it’s often the more complex songs which do speak to me with immediacy. I enjoy Wrapped Up In Time more, but Essence isn’t far behind. Paul is positive when he says it’s their best bit of Beatles referencing – we know the band has call-backs to The Beatles, but this is the best example of them doing that through the Marillion lens.

Sanja says it isn’t the most convoluted lyrically – it does what it says on the tin, if the tine was a book called The Power Of Now. Having not read that book (or tin), I’ll take the guys’ words for it, but the lyrics do come across as very Self-Help-Spiritual. Sanja reads an excerpt. I can’t say it’s my sort of thing, but I’m sure it helps people. When I focus on the inside of my body, I hear gurgles. Then fart. A six-minute song of fart noises is probably ill-advised, even if it were accompanied by a Rothers solo.

The guys then have a bit of a philosophical discussion inspired by the lyrics, and by their pasts. It’s an album which feels very personal and has only become more prescient over time. We are strange creatures, social, needy, yet essentially here for personal survival and perpetuation of the species. We find ourselves (many of us at least) in the safest point in time for our species, we’re aware of our own mortality, we’re creative, thinking, feeling beings and yet we often do things which actively harms ourselves and those around us because it’s easier, because we’re broken, or because we’re we can’t see any other choices available. I’ve never done any counselling whatsoever, but I spend a lot of time in my own head, and I’ve read plenty of philosophy over the years. And I observe human behaviour, including my own, often from a passive place. I’ve no idea what people would class me as when it comes to these conversations, and I likely change from day to day. I think… we’re here, and then we’re not. We’re born in a specific ecosystem with no say in the matter, we grow, we learn, we love, we hurt… and then we’re nothing.

I’d love there to be something more, something akin to The Good Place, something like our own personal version of Heaven where we just continue. Not the Christian version of Heaven, or any other from any religion I’m aware of, because those all sound fucking horrific; but an existence where we see who we want to see, we do what we want to do, and we can choose to opt out if we want to. I think the only honest answer is ‘I don’t know’. It’s the pain and injustice of the world which often spurs these thoughts – how can it be fair that we only get this one shot? How can it be that we spend this time learning and loving and experiencing, only for it to all be snatched away. How can we intimately know someone, only for them to be utterly gone? Without doxing myself, without meaning any disrespect by writing about it, and hopefully without upsetting people but, a child was killed in my town last week. Ostensibly on the road I live on. An accident. An utterly horrific, unthinkable accident. I have a son who is the same age. How can such a thing be allowed to happen? It’s a small town, so if you don’t know someone directly, you’ll at least have met or seen them in passing. Everyone inevitably will turn something so tragic inwards. I’m not sure how I could go on. I don’t want to even consider it, but here we are. My best guess is that I would just be done with it all. There would be nothing left. I’d spend what little would be left of my existence in complete rage and devastation. None of this should ever happen. But it does. It’s the world we’re in.

I’ve always been morbid, cynical, some strange hybrid between realist, pessimist, and goblin-esque laughing optimist. But I have a family now, something I never expected to happen. I am loved. So I’ll do what I can, in the now and in the future. I’ll follow my own tenets; Don’t be a dick, don’t hurt anyone, try to minimize the harm you may do to others and yourself over the years while maximizing the good. Try to improve yourself, try to understand everyone else. I respect everyone else’s beliefs as long as they are not demonstrably harmful, and I have zero interest in converting others to what I belief because, again, nobody who’s being honest can say they have the answers. I’m not defined by any of this and it’s not something I choose to consider or spend much time thinking about anymore. I look for no rewards and I accept that in a very short time the world will move on, and I’ll no longer be a part of it. If you are in the future and are reading this and my blog has inexplicably gone viral and is making shitloads of Euro-Credits or whatever the currency is, please make sure most of that makes its way into the pockets of my descendants, assuming they still wear clothes and are not assholes.

We move into discussion on Wrapped Up In Time by continuing these threads – the tangibility of thoughts, memories, even people. Echoing my Langoliers joke, the guys question whether the past exists in any real sense. Technology has helped with that conundrum somewhat – we have physical records of our collective and personal pasts, and any denial of that leads into fruitless Matrix type discussions and Solipsism. I can understand Sanja’s comment on stressing over failing to remember something as simple as a room you once spent a lot of time in. If you were to ask me to describe my current bedroom, I couldn’t tell you anything beyond the fact that there’s a bed and a pile of books beside it. But that’s only because I rarely notice or retain that sort of information. I absolutely stress myself over the loss of memories when it comes to conversations I’ve had or people I’ve known, to the extent that I’m genuinely not sure if certain things happened or not. I have a semi-recurring, semi-lucid dream about a girl who I have convinced myself that I once knew, but upon waking I can’t place her in my timeline. It’s always the same girl, and the dreams are not fanciful. They’re just plain conversations, involving other people I absolutely do know in places I’ve been, and she’s there and is somehow important to me. But I’ve no idea who she is. I can only assume I’ve invented her, and my brain is confusing itself through some weird sleep nonsense. And yet, everything about it all feels just like a memory. The other guy who sometimes shows up dressed in suit and Top Hat and who screams at me with an unnaturally large mouth – no idea who he is, but he can fuck all the way off.

Speaking of lost memories, I get the impression that I’ve posted the following quote from Angel on my Marillion posts before. It’s a quote which I’m conflicted by, because it sounds too on the nose, too pseudo-philosophical-without-really-saying-anything, too much like it’s playing with the conventions of language to sound smarter than it actually is. But it still applies when we’re talking about finding our own meaning. If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. It’s an encapsulation of the show’s ethos – to fight when there’s something worth fighting for, even when loss is a certainty – but you can apply it to life too. As you’ve likely understood from the waffling above, I don’t think there’s any grand meaning for us all as a species. We’ve just evolved to an apparent higher level of understanding than other species, to the extent that we fight over oil, and argue over which scent of air freshener would go best in the car, and do Tik Toks while the rest of the animal kingdom thinks of shelter, food, surviving, and mating. The time is short, to quote another book. Find your own meaning, what gives you purpose, find others who willingly share in it. Start a podcast!

We get into the discussion on the music, with both guys saying that while the song takes a while to get started, the introduction is suitably atmospheric and fitting. Paul calls out the strength of the drums here, which I felt was one of the only downsides of the song, with Sanja saying the beat was like a heartbeat and the guitar was urgent. Paul says he rediscovered this song during the Podcast run, and that it’s a bit of a forgotten gem so far from where the band started. There’s definitely a lot of heart and soul in the song and in H’s performance. I’m surprised it’s underrated as it very quickly stood out to me. But this is my sort of thing.

Sanja and Paul both complement the lyrics and relate it to their recent experiences. That’s the power of good music and good writing. While a song can be personal, we can feel it. We can make it personal for ourselves. We all process music and lyrics in our own way. We all grieve in our own way. It’s always the same and it’s always different, whatever that means. We hear H’s description of the song, which is quite poetic but reminded me of those old cartoons about dead animals being sucked up to heaven in a certain slant of light. Because I always have to ruin something poignant with a silly joke. Bums!

Well, that episode and this post took many unexpected turns. Apologies if it comes across as crap on the screen – I’m much better having a drunken chat about this stuff rather than writing about it. Well, I wouldn’t say ‘better’. More that my spur of the moment ramblings are easily excused and absorbed vocally instead of written. If anyone wants to buy me a pint and hear me ramble, that would be nice. At the very least, drop a comment, go listen to the album and Podcast yerselves, and wait for Paul and Sanja’s Meat Loaf (sadly not Manics) Podcast which will be called Hot Pod Tootie. There’s a deep cut for ya.

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Happiness Is The Road Vol 1!

Marillion – Happiness Is The Road, Volume 1: Essence (2008, CD) - Discogs

Greetings, Glancers! It feels like an age since I last typed a single word about Marillion. An age in which we’ve seen one Monarch replaced by another, several PMs chewed up and spat out, and probably some other important world events I’ve failed to pay attention to. Paul and Sanja have crept up, leaped on, and sprinted away from their hundredth episode and are currently careening onwards towards… well, let’s just say that their Manic Street Preachers podcast is inevitable at this point.

It has been quite the journey; entertaining and enlightening in equal measure. I’ve learned about a band I had heard of but knew next to nothing about and beyond the music, it has been just as enjoyable sharing in someone’s passion. It feels like there’s not enough of that in the world.

I have been busy. Real life busy. I made a post a while back about being burnt out with music – writing about it, listening to it, and wanting to get back into my movie posts. I don’t know if this malaise has passed into my feelings on Happiness Is The Road or if I would have felt this way regardless, but one word kept cropping up again when I was doing my early listens of the album – dreary.

Calm down. Let me try to explain. When I first blasted the album, it was through Youtube. I was unaware, but it played both Vol 1 and Vol 2 as if it were a single album; songs were played out of order and the length and breadth of the thing was as exhausting as it was exhaustive. Too many songs followed a similar pace and tone, and too many lacked the honey dripping banshee call of Marbles. It felt like a big, big album with not a lot to say. The album made me not want to talk about it. I was also in a place where I wasn’t ready for a sprawling brute. I wanted music which would slap me about, kick me to the ground, steal my wallet, then do a Rumpelstiltskin dance beside my bleeding body, but instead I got over an hour of music akin to roaming through a barren, hungover town on a Sunday after being stood up for a date. An oddly specific reference.

So I took a step back. I listened to other music. I knew I was almost certainly wrong in my initial assessments. I listened to BYAMPOD and learned that Happiness is actually two distinct albums rather than a double. That made things more palatable. I updated my USB for car journeys with my favourite Marillion songs. I asked the neighbour’s son when he was going to fix my fence after he left the handbrake off and reversed into my garden. I discovered that my Amazon Prime subscription has a lot of Marillion music so started using it instead of Youtube, and in doing so I was able to split Vol 1 and 2 as intended and found out the true running order of the songs. I also found out that the album is like 60 quid on CD – what’s that about? I finally was in the place where I could listen to the album without being a dick. Or, less like a dick than usual.

Dreamy Street is, not for the first time, a brief and atmospheric toe-dip opener. Like much of the album to come, it’s a keyboard and synth showcase. It feels sullen and downbeat, light on lyrics and percussion. If you listen closely, some of the background synth underneath the central keyboard line seems to be playing a drifting A/E/D/C# descent, which is very similar to the G/D/C/B vocal melody later in Wrapped Up In Time (I thought it was the same until I played both on the kids’ keyboard and noticed the difference, so I’m leaving in the rest of this paragraph to show what I’d originally written). It’s very faint and played in a different rhythm which makes me think it may not even be intentional. But these are smart musicians and producers so I can only assume was purposeful – on its own it doesn’t add anything to Dreamy Street itself and those four chords don’t relate to the bulk of Dreamy Street’s chord structure in any way so it feels like it was added as a level of texture and foretelling.

I suppose that’s interesting, which is great because I don’t have a lot else to say about the song. It is dreary and makes me think of empty, wet streets rather than dreams. The keyboards do one thing, the vocals do another, and the bass bumps along underneath at various points. It sets a tone but one of unease. That’s something I’m likely projecting on to the song with rather than anything that was intended by the band, but this sort of loose playing always leaves me with a sense of unease – three instruments doing their own thing without really complementing each other, and making that be how they complement each other.

As is frequently the case, I made up my own incorrect lyrics; ‘I had to strain this monkey inside of me’, for example. Like the music, the lyrics form a mood piece. A dude in a half-conscious state, chilling in the sunshine. If there’s one word which this song and this album does not evoke for me, it’s ‘sunshine’. Music that I equate to sunshine either has to sound laid-back and relaxed, or light, summery, and bouncy like The Beach Boys. We can rule out the latter immediately, but I can’t say that Dreamy Street fits the former either – it feels too forlorn, introspective, mundane while to me a relaxed chill song should evoke very little beyond sitting, smiling, and tanning. No idea why I suddenly got so stuck on this completely irrelevant point, but there you go. As you can see, I made zero notes on the lyrics beyond them creating a mood.

This Train Is My Life wouldn’t be a song I’d accuse of being dreary if I heard it in isolation. It builds and it shifts and it peaks, working well as a standalone. I think the dreary tag still somewhat applies because it’s another mid-paced song in a mid-paced album. But it’s a good, mid-paced song which recalls similar songs from Marbles. It’s Marillion’s vibe, happy to sit in third gear. That isn’t meant as the insult it sounds like, but while I like the song there is a touch of cruise control to it.

For overt positives, the production is stellar with a lot of clarity and a lot of little quirky pieces flitting around under the hood. Even the vocal mix is playful, with H harmonizing randomly in a line here, a moment there. H sounds at his best once he steps it up in the second half, and I appreciate how the guitar solo comes at the tail end rather than the middle, in which we instead get a quiet section with much of the lush instrumentation driven out. Even though the song doesn’t pick up the pace, the peaks it reaches towards the end make it feel celebratory if not quite anthemic.

Before I talk about how much I enjoyed the lyrics for This Train Is My Life, I do have to call out one line. Or one word, specifically, and I’ll be curious if Paul or Sanja mention it too. Stroby. Stroby. Even typing it makes me a little uncomfortable. Stroby stations… we couldn’t have come up with some different? I know this is just me and how certain words give me the icky, but it feels clunky and out of place (he says after writing many un-edited and ill-planned paragraphs). Yes, that one caught my eyes and ears.

Elsewhere, lyrically, very good. Evocative, brings to mind a sense of movement, of fleeting experience and chaos. You can clearly read it as the life of a touring rock star and as a metaphor for the sickening, ungraspable pace of time we all feel slipping by senselessly. In many ways it’s a perfect lyric for explaining that shadow mood I’ve talked about in previous posts. The music doesn’t fully capture that mood, but the lyrics do. When I try to explain that mood, that vibe, that tone to someone, the best way I’ve been able to articulate it is by saying that it comes from all of the late night car trips I would go on as a child – I would be half-sleeping, half watching the world and its shadowy roads drift by, the air heater blowing in my face, some song teasing me to dream in the background. Far from being the unique mood I thought it was when I was young, it’s something most of us feel at some point and H puts it into words beautifully here, while also touching on companionship and the other themes I’ve mentioned. ‘Parallel lines/parallel lives’ was the standout line when I first listened – even more so once I put the other lyrics together – a concise, snappy comparison which says a great deal in a few words.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

On to BYAMPOD then. I notice as I listen to their hilarious intro (introad?) that I didn’t really talk about the artwork. It’s jagged. Like warring aerials. Like satellites trapped in barbed wire. That’s about it. Her penis is the road? I had my own mistranslation.. but we’ll get to it when we get to it. Apparently, the album is and isn’t about the destination and/or/but not the journey. With that confirmed, we talk about dead mice. My cat keeps them outside, thankfully. I fully expect to see an animated man with a man-sized thumb coming up in an upcoming Digi.

Between the previous episode and this, we learn that the album was a mixture of jams and songs recorded for previous albums. The band gave blog updates as they were recording. I like that approach for some bands, it feels like you’re invited to peer through the curtain. For other bands, I prefer the mystique is maintained. It was during these blog posts that the band confirmed that Vol 1 was a concept album – not something which was apparent to me in my early listens. Paul has mentioned Rother’s guitar sound a few times in previous episodes – I’ve early Asylum Satellite a few times now and I don’t have any issue with the sound, if it’s what I’m thinking of. It just like it has a lot of a chorus effect on it. The band also fully embraced the digital creation process, chopping and changing and experimenting as needed.

Paul comments on the relative simplicity of the lyrics, and how it fits with the theme of the album, and further how it fits with The Power Of Now. There’s a lot of grief in the album, something I picked up on more than there being an overall theme – sometimes we bring our own lives to an album, picking up on stuff that may not even be there, or heightening what is there.

Dreamy Street apparently sounds like the Eastenders theme. I didn’t catch that at all, so I’ll have to listen. I did pick up on the Wintery feel. That’d be the bells. Sanja connects the lyrics to Buddhist symbolism – tea ceremonies and monkey minds. They are more positive on the song that I am and also feel like the mood it conveys is more positive – why then did I find it so grim? Maybe it’s because I don’t drink tea?

On to This Train Is My Life, which goes back to Marbles. The end section dates back to Holidays or Brave. So it is a cut up song of different pieces, like I called out above. No, wait. That was Essence where I mentioned that. That’s in the next post. But I can see it for this one too. The guys like how the sound captures the feel of a train journey, and how much of an improvement…how different the production sounds here, contrasted with Somewhere Else. Sanja likes the propulsion of the song – there’s a tension which builds and is never static. Paul ties it back to the themes of the album and the book which inspired it. Nobody’s mentioned stroby stations yet. Sad face. The life of a touring professional must be bizarre. It’s something I’ve always craved though, to some extent. I’d wager most of us have an inherent wanderlust. When I was younger, I loved the idea of being a long-distance truck driver. I think I wrote an easy about it in Primary School – one of those ‘What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up’ assignments. I loved the idea of not being attached to anyone or anywhere. Always on the road. Staying up late. Seeing the world pass by. Listening to music and following no rules but my own and the road, man. I was too young to be concerned with bills and delivery deadlines to meet. Now, I’m content to never leave the house. Still, there’s always that pull.

While I was writing all that, the guys were pouring their own hearts out. Go listen. There’s an H quote about the origin of the song. Stroby stations! I don’t have much else to say, so I’ll just add how cool I think it would be if all railway lines were accompanied by foot and cycle paths. Think about how easy it would be to travel from place to place! Ignore the practicalities (and safety concerns) of that becoming reality, but I like the idea of cycling down to my local train station and then following the train tracks in to the city or wherever. Yo Elon, get on it!

We close with the guys saying how much they love the album. I don’t think I’m at that level. I haven’t given it the headphone treatment yet, and I’m almost always doing something else when I’m listening to music these days, but I’ve given it plenty of loops and it’s good. I like it. I don’t love it. Maybe I’ll get there one day. Until then, share your thoughts on the album below and go listen to BYAMPOD and let Paul and Sanja know how you feel!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Somewhere Else (Part 3)!

Somewhere Else by Marillion: CDs & Vinyl

Greetings, Glancers! This should wrap up my Somewhere Else coverage before we move on to… actually I’m not sure what the next album is. Lets get straight to it.

The Wound brings a sense of urgency after the more pedantic pacing of the last couple of songs, and its opening is brimming with drama. At over seven minutes long though, it’s difficult to sustain both drama and urgency. As this the case with many of the songs on Somewhere Else, it’s overwritten and unfocused. There’s no need to add the slower section, it cuts out the immediacy and energy of the opening and feels like an outtake from one of the previous couple of songs which was cut and pasted here instead. If The Wound had ended around the 3 minute mark and may have made for the less abrasive partner to Most Toys. 

The final four minutes are not strong enough to be their own thing either. There’s little in there to get my juices going as it slumps along like a sullen teenager. Defend the lyrics in this half – they’re fine and they complete the story of the song, but the music is too meandering and displaced to make any impact.

The song is about trauma – perhaps that’s even too strong a word for it – but it’s about a wound which never heals no matter the attempts to make it go away. It’s an emotional wound, but the lyrics treat it like a raw, physical entity with a life of its own. H has anthropomorphized pain like this before, but it gives a detailed sense of the long-lasting hurt. What is the wound? The wound is your life. H’s own life, or is he being reminded of someone else when he hears a song on the radio? I can see an argument for both, given how H has written about himself and his partners before. Hell, I could even see an argument being made for this being about Fish. It’s not about Fish, is it? The lyrics deserved a better musical accompaniment.

The Last Century For Man is H going back to the Radiohead reserves for a few more ideas. I don’t have many issues with this, with crimping from other artists you enjoy, trying to emulate them, or subconsciously allowing their sounds to be infused into your own. All bands do this. But it feels more blatant on The Last Century For Man – there are at least a couple of OK Computer songs which are very similar to this – the guitar tones used, the melodies, atmosphere, pace, and overall style make me think that the band said ‘we want a song with sounds like The Tourist, so lets do that’. Again, I’m not going to say that’s necessarily a bad thing as any artist wants to celebrate their influences and take parts of what they love while putting their own twist on it. The issue comes when there isn’t a lot else to say about the song outside of its influences.

The Last Century For Man feels like an album closer. It becomes more classically grandiose than anything on OK Computer – the string sections feeling more like a traditional swelling than the jagged Bernard Hermann or Krzysztof Penderecki influenced nightmares which Radiohead employed. It covers a lot of ground in its near six minute running time and feels less repetitive and meandering than the last few songs. It still follows a similar lethargic pace, but there is more interesting stuff going on and the hooks are more notable. It’s one of the few instances in the album where the departure from the central idea is successful – rather than hurting the song, the last few minutes which depart from the first half’s ideas, are complimentary.

Are the lyrics prophetic? Is this the last century for man? It’s easy to say it doesn’t look good, between hard fought freedoms being eroded, pandemics bringing society to a standstill, the climate doing summersaults, and Neighbours being cancelled (yes, I’m still pissed about it). Not to mention the cost of living rises. But this isn’t the last song on the album. It ends with Faith. Is that a bit of hope at the end of the tunnel or a vain, clawing guess akin to offering thoughts and prayers in lieu of any decisive action? As a species we’ve rarely been more safe, more healthy, more knowledgeable, more free. Every previous century has had its own share of catastrophes and every society has its doomsday purveyors – it’s only natural to fear the unknown, and the greatest unknown is the future. Keep fighting, vote, do what you can, screw what you can.

Faith is the song I mentioned near the start of my first post. It’s the only song which grabbed me in its first seconds on my first listen. It’s lovely, tender, great vocal, simple, earnest. And yet… and yet. It too falls into the trap of doing too much. What should have been a neat little coda for the album, a song which does what it needs to inside two minutes, instead goes off into another unnecessary middle section. I like the middle section, but it’s not as good as the opening minute or so and I think the song would be perfect without it. Even the return to that melody and style for the final minute isn’t as potent.

On top of that, and not to make any unfounded accusations, but that guitar riff… it’s Falling Away With You by Muse, isn’t it? It’s slower, and they change it up for the second bar, but come on. Here, I’ll even link again. I don’t mind – that’s one of my favourite Muse songs, but as much as Muse were influenced by Radiohead, this feels like Marillion being influenced by Muse. That particular song, as is the Muse way, becomes more bombastic and ridiculous, but the gorgeous opening is similarly gorgeous to Faith. The comparison to Blackbird may be more obvious, but for me it’s closer to Muse. Look, I don’t care, it’s worth calling out, they’re all good songs which each do a thing I like, so why wouldn’t I want more?

The lyrics I’m not too sure about. I could say they ramble on and attempt to make some vague disguised point without really saying anything, but again it feels honest and earnest so lets give the boys some credit. Is it about having faith, but not in the Evangelical sense? Having some belief that there is more to life beyond what we see and feel? I don’t think there is and that those feelings are a mere response to the thoughts which biology and circumstance have given us, but it’s a feeling which has spurred us all on for thousands of years, leading to some of the finest art and greatest minds we’ll ever know. As long as Faith leads to questioning, I’m good. As long as it’s honest, as long as all options are considered rather than the easiest or the one which suits your existing pre-conceived ideas.

What am I harping on about? What is H saying? Knowledge without proof, belief without reason… to me those are not good things, but being romantic about it… sure, the unspoken sensation which I lack the ability to put into words if I try to describe it – that’s what I feel about you. That’s what H is saying. Love isn’t a real concrete thing, but it exists, we feel it, it’s here in my hand. If it’s just about love, then sure, lovely. I suppose it makes for a better lyric than ‘my feelings for you are due to an emergent process of shared evolutionary traits passed on through successive generations in order to promote the survival of the species and protect us from things which might eat us’. I see that standing as much a chance of wooing a partner as my dad’s oft-repeated piece of Robert Burns thievery – presented here with copious apologies – ‘long and thin goes too far in, and doesn’t suit the ladies/short and thick, does the trick and manufactures babies’.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

With that slice of Highland lewdness out of the way, lets hear what Paul and Sanja make of the last few songs. They begin by wondering why this album has had more BYAMPOD than something like Clutching At Straws. It’s a combination of things – perhaps this album had more personal context or wider context than Clutching At Straws, perhaps there was more banter, maybe it was the heat, or maybe it is because the guys are more confident now with the format of their show. Not to say they weren’t confident before, but maybe now that we’re so many more albums in, they are comfortable with saying everything they want to and not rushing to get to the next thing.

Sanja’s not a fan of The Wound beyond its atmosphere and the rhythm. Sanja then compares a moment when H sings to Tim & Eric. I’ve heard Paul and others (including real world friends) praising Tim & Eric but to my knowledge I have never watched a single second of them – even though their humour is probably right up by hole (street). It seems like one of their characters sings and sounds just like H. The comparison’s there, but only as much as both do a bit of a faint, warbling falsetto.

Paul sees the first part of the song is just trad rock which Marillion have never been the best at, and like me he sees the second half as a slog. It’s interesting that the song was designed by Marillion as being flipped from their usual ‘slow part first, fast part second’, but lets be honest – every band in the world has followed both approaches. Like me, the guys don’t have a lot else to say. I could see the first part of the song working in a live setting, if it were to segue into a different song – cutting out the second half.

Paul and Sanja both love the lyrics, with Sanja saying that the focus has been on the wound rather than the cause and that the imagery as a creeping thing reminding her of Stranger Things. Paul makes some personal comparisons with his own life and is open with how the lyrics were deeply relatable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all relate to happy, sunshine, lambs and sugar lyrics instead of the darker stuff? Personally speaking… it’s always the dark stuff. Stuff like ‘Pete cumming at you with a creampie’.

Sanja likes The Last Century For Man, even if it does have a creepy opening. Matron? She appreciates how the music complimenting the lyrics and enjoys the transition from climax to quiet. Also matron. Jesus. Paul hates it, saying it’s dull and a prime example of Marillion trying to sound like other bands. I think Wicksey mentioned that it was like Subterranean Homesick Alien (which it does) while I mentioned it sounds like The Tourist (which it does) and after those comparisons Paul can’t unhear them. Sorry for that. Lets hope he doesn’t listen to Falling Away With You. ‘Every song I sing’s like Someone Else’? What would Marillion ripping up the rule book sound like? Do they do that later? Few bands have made such a departure as Radiohead between OK Computer and Kid A. You can reinvent yourself and morph gradually over time – most bands who last beyond a few albums do that, often by necessity, but few simply go ‘fuck it, now we’re a different genre, now we’re a thing that may not have even existed before’.

Paul’s biggest issue though is that the song is simply dull. I didn’t find it as dull as some others on the album, or at least I thought it tried to be a bit more interesting. The lyrics are interesting too, mainly because of the discussion we can have about them. Yes, it’s obviously about people doing stuff to kill the planet, but there’s a definite cynicism – but is it H or is it a character? As a writer, you write yourself into your product – even if you don’t mean to. But you usually mean to. This all adds up to the song feeling uncertain of itself. Does H feel the weight of expectation that he has to write about these topics? To chuck in another Manic Street Preachers comparison – they started out as a very openly political band at a time when music was all about getting loaded and having fun. In the last twenty years where we’ve seen freedoms eroded, the wars in the middle East, rampant consumerism increasing beyond recognition, the rise of the Right Wing across the globe, Brexit, Bush, Boris, Trump, seismic shifts in the political landscape – Manics fans have been waiting with baited breath to see what the lads have to say about it all in the music and lyrics. The band’s response? Absolutely nothing. Songs about Artists, songs about aging, the past, and confusion. The closest we get are the odd one-liner about not giving up the fight, tempered by admissions that they don’t even know what to fight for anymore. Their response to the weight of expectation has been to do what they always have done – whatever the fuck they want. I could throw in some hollow sentiment like ‘you’re a writer, so write what you want’, but I’m in no position to comment from my holy position as lofty observer.

On to Faith, which I imagine they’ll love (until they listen to Falling Away With You). Sanja does indeed love it – sweet, heartfelt a folk vibe, and she joined the Marillion Facebook group just so she can vote for it to be played live. Certainly it’s the one that jumped out to me in my first listen. Paul says it’s one which had been around for a few years in a more stripped back fashion, and people were therefore a little disappointed by this, I don’t want to say overproduced, but new version. Now, I haven’t heard the earlier version, but I can definitely get behind this sentiment. Staying on topic with Radiohead – this is something they have been known to do throughout their career – they’ll write songs, play them live frequently, and then they show up maybe three or four albums later, generally in a vastly different format. The most obvious version is True Love Waits – a song they released live in the early 2000s but which only made it do a studio release in 2016. The song is completely different. Radiohead puritans will not accept any degree of criticism and say that the Moon Shaped Pool 2016 version is the pinnacle – but it’s muck. It’s a dull, hollow, garbled dirge and not a patch on the heart-breaking original. On a lesser known note – JJ72’s City was an extraordinarily fun and energetic live song, but when it appeared on their second album all of that fun and vibrancy had been completely sucked dry and replaced by torrid verses and an anti-climactic chorus. It happens.

Paul simply states that the lyric is comparing love with magic, which is as succinct a way of saying all that needs to be said. And we don’t say much more about it. We move on to an overall discussion on the album’s place in the Marillion canon and plan for next week’s wrap up. Sanja’s task for next week is to go listen to Paranoid, The Tourist, Subterranean Homesick Alien, and Falling Away With You. In general, following up Marbles and too many slow and dull songs has led to an overall average effort. It’s not bad, but perhaps some more editing and maybe a few replacement songs would have helped things. There’s a letters page coming and I realise I may have sent mine to the wrong address, so I’m away to forward it to the correct one. Bonus points for laughing at my email pic because I look like a murderer.

As always, go listen to the podcast, sign up on Patreon, comment, like, share your thoughts below and with the guys on Twitter!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Somewhere Else (Part 2)!

Somewhere Else by Marillion: CDs & Vinyl

Greetings, Glancers! Today, we return to Marillion’s Somewhere Else, the album with the unenviable task of following Marbles. In my Part 1 post, I concluded that the album was something of a mixed bag and very much scrawled a tick in the ‘does this song have good parts and bad parts in equal measure’ checkbox you see when Downing Street sends out their yearly Music Census. Will Part 2 follow suit or slide off a smelly cliff into Crap Creek?

Somewhere Else gets us back to what Marillion does best – chilled, atmospheric music with a melancholic edge. The first time I heard it, the opening gloomy but gripping mood had me lapping it up like a puppy at a pool of vomit. I was ready for it to be one of my favourite Marillion songs… but it loses its way. It goes on too long and perhaps has one section too many. Around the 3 minute mark the song seques into a Britpop, Beatles-esque section which tootles along for over a minute before morphing into an instrumental sequence which eventually leads into the booming ending. I think that the majority of that middle couple of minutes breaks up the momentum, tension, and sonic quality of the song and drags the whole thing down. There’s an excellent 4-5 minute song in here which hits all of my personal beats.  While I think it’s a B Grade song, even the easily missed moments such as the guitar complimenting the vocal melody on one of the final ‘somewhere elses’ are in themselves A Star material.

The intro and opening verse is some of my favourite Marillion work. If I were more technically proficient and savvy with Music Theory, I’d love to do a deeper breakdown of even the opening thirty seconds, because it’s so rich in detail and emotion, and made my body react in ways that are typically only reserved for my most favourite bands and songs. Hopefully it’s enough to say that the combination of the keyboard dancing between Minor and Major and the ghostly, wafting guitars creates that shadowy tone I’m always harping on about. It’s a tone which almost forces introspection. The verses are gorgeous, the chorus is too but could have been trimmed, the Britpop piece from 3 minute loses much of the minor chord impact and I the song doesn’t find its way back to A Grade quality until the the ‘Everyone I love’ section takes us into the crushing finale. While the middle section certainly doesn’t feel like it belongs in another song, I don’t think it needs to be here. I’m sure there are plenty who will enjoy that section and see it as a necessary bridge or maybe even prefer it to the start and finish, but for me it just slapped a roadblock between the two strong pieces.

The lyrics of Somewhere Else are what I wanted from Most Toys. This is the personal, incisive, insightful stuff I live for, this is what makes someone a fan and not some passive listener. It’s not new ground, but it feels like a summation of all of H’s previous attempts at examining the Rock lifestyle, its worth, and his relationship with it. They also lose their way in the middle, arguably becoming vague to the point of nonsense, but as with any truly great lyric its power doesn’t lie solely within the words themselves but how the words correlate to and collaborate with the music; this is where the opening and closing of Somewhere Else excel. I can feel the pain in the music, I can read the pain in the lyrics, smashing together to create a sense of grief even if it isn’t clear what has actually been lost. It’s like hopping channels and catching a snippet of someone crying, screaming, emotionally shattered on the News – you don’t know who this person is, you don’t know any of the details, but you know this person’s life has been ripped from them and in that moment you feel a fraction of that emotion yourself – not just a brief wave of empathy, but a shuddering ripple deeper in your core.

H’s delivery of the opening lines help things – the song has some of his best work. Some of his most unusual work too as he goes full falsetto to the extent that he doesn’t sound like himself. I love a falsetto. This is how I sing, or did when I used to. But I get that it’s painful for some listeners and I’m curious what others think of it. I’m not convinced it entirely works – maybe there are a few too many ‘look at myselfs’ when keeping that falsetto as a more brief surprise would have enhanced its potency.

A Voice From The Past has a haunting piano intro which does a good job of piquing my interest from the outset, but rarely expands beyond that to go anywhere interesting. I could see people calling it a dirge because it’s slow, its melodies are vague and bland, and it neither changes pace nor introduces any dramatic shifts in tone. There’s an increase in volume, a growth in instrumentation and chaos in the middle and this leads to a brief break in the lead piano motif, but for all intents and purposes the overall tone and feeling doesn’t vary. I’m not convinced that cutting any time from the song would improve it – some songs are beyond help. I don’t mean that to sound as harsh as it will come across on screen, it simply means that speeding things up or cutting out sections would either not improve my opinion towards the song or would change the song so much that it becomes something entirely new in which case I would be evaluating this new thing on its own merits.

I do like that piano melody – it’s a great way to start a song and could have led to something more interesting. It does a good job of setting up the introspective mood which allows H to tell the story of the lyrics. That introspective mood also forces the vocal melodies to be dull and derivative – it’s very close to being spoken word in places – but even in the space between the vocals, the music meanders along in loops.

The lyrics are more engaging than the music and the interplay between the words and sounds is very close, with the peaks in volume equating to the eruptions of written anger. I don’t know if the song is about a specific person, or if its a generalisation or characterisation of an imagined or potential individual or group – there are enough references to death, disease, germs to suggest that we’re talking about some unlucky soul who just happened to live in a place and time which wasn’t safe for them and is asking for help to ensure that the people who come after him will have more safety and better opportunities. Fate, circumstance, and futility come up – issues often ignored or not considered by those of privilege – and I can see an argument being made for the music deliberately being made to suit the mood of the lyrics and vice versa. As a call to arms, a rallying cry for change, it gets lost under the collective shrug of the music – protest songs and anthems tend to work best when the music is anthemic.

No Such Thing has much in common with A Voice From The Past – slow, introspective, gloomy in its outlook, and built around a recurring motif. Here, it’s a haunting guitar in place of the piano. The song’s placement in the album could be a major plus or a significant minus depending on the listener – the two are so clearly a pair that it makes sense to have them together, but the fact that both could be considered dirges means that having two such songs in a row risks creating a skippable section in the album.

That being said, this is a much more musically interesting and astute song. I like the riff, but it does wear thin around the hundredth rotation. The song is considerably shorter than A Voice From The Past and never reaches the point where I’m waiting for it to end, but I’m not sure there’s enough good stuff in there to make me deliberately seek it out or choose to put it on repeat. Interesting drum timbre, the bass is doing subtle funky stuff underneath, and the various twinkles and swells of the keyboards create a warmth that was lacking in the previous song.

The vocals are a little more than the one note slog of the previous song – the rotation of the song’s title a shade different each time, a slightly different note, inflection, or emphasis on a particular word and the reverb airy effect to add a somewhat robotic quality. I’m not sure what the intent was behind that effect – is it making a satirical point that the people who would make such statements are ‘there’s no such thing as an answered prayer’, are hopeless robots? I don’t think that’s the case because previous songs suggest H does feel some of these statements are true when it comes to women, religion, etc. Then again, some of these statements go against what H has said previously, so who knows? Is saying ‘there’s no such thing as the ozone layer’ him mocking climate change deniers, or him saying the atmosphere is now beyond repair?

I’m sure someone could or has spent more time going through the lyrics line by line to look for patterns or opposites than I’ll be arsed to, but one thing which immediately leapt out was the seeming opposition between the first two statements – ‘an unanswered prayer’ typically an argument made by people grounded in the reality which they see, atheists and scientists for example, and the ‘no such thing as an ozone layer’ typically made by those who deny science and typically accept things on faith. Unless, as mentioned, it actually means that there used to be, but we’ve destroyed it. Continuing the reality versus faith line of thought, there seems to be little connection to ‘no such thing as an action hero’, unless you want to define God in such terms. This opening verse more than anything creates an aura of helplessness – nobody is going to help you, and our environment is fucked. This continues into the second verse – everything is hard, every day is a pain, and you can’t escape.

The third verse is more of the same – you can’t hope for something more than this life, although the ‘easy girl’ seems out of place and fits more in the fourth verse and its overarching paranoia and cynicism. The whole song does a great job at conveying this gloomy, hopeless outlook, and feels like it could have fit on Brave as much as it fits here.

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The Heatwave hits its peak as the guys recorded their next Somewhere Else episode, while here in Northern Ireland our one day heatwave has long since passed. We begin with a little more history covering some of the songs which were written before Somewhere Else but which would instead end up on later albums or B Sides.

The guys enjoy the title track, not least because it wipes the memory of the preceding track. They find it the most Marillion song on the album. The ending is some of Paul’s favourite Marillion work while he thinks the many minutes before could have been cut. Same with me – I would certainly cut some of the middle section and I don’t think it would lessen the impact of the ending. Sanja gives her perspective on the lyrics – how H’s rock star lifestyle has been manipulative and of less value than a regular career. She does a much more detailed read than I did, making sense of some of the more vague lyrics which I glossed over. My high level overview hits on the obvious central point of H examining himself and his lifestyle with a critical eye. Paul adds the interesting point that, perhaps, Marillion’s greater success since H joined over the solo career of Fish is down to H’s ability and willingness to put his emotions on the line and be vulnerability and therefore being more relatable to the rest of us.

H being H, the song is more influenced by love, relationships, and feelings, than fame. H attributed the end of his relationships to his rock star lifestyle – everyone I love is somewhere else. The more vague elements of the lyrics are simply what H was looking at when he was writing. That ‘Mr Taurus’ rhyme never sat well with me either but I let it go because it feels as nursery rhymey as the music which surrounds it. I was convinced that the opening line says ‘shit’ and that the ‘ship’ I read on Google was a typo. ‘Ship’ is now irritatingly used as a short form for ‘relationship’ by youtubers and idiots these days, but now back then. Maybe he was trying to make it tie in to all the spacey stuff later. ‘Shit’ is better.

Oh, Paul then goes on to answer one of the questions I sent in last week for a future postbag episode. I promise, I had not heard this episode before I sent those three questions. My question was ‘what’s your favourite run or sequence of songs without a dud on any Marillion album’. Maybe this isn’t his absolute favourite. Lets see what he thinks of the next couple of songs as I found them both mostly dull and potentially skippable.

A Voice From The Past he loves the drifting sound and the lyric. For me it was mainly the piano and lyric which worked, but the piano was just so repetitive. It was the Make Poverty End song. Makes sense. There are plenty of songs and pieces of fiction which hinge on those warnings from the past. I briefly commented on the lyrics and didn’t pick up that this was the poverty song, but taking it out of that context it does seem to be asking people to think about others for a change, a thought which has somehow become political because politics is such nowadays that the opinions of the other side must be attacked without question, almost without exception. The Left is no longer seen as the working class party for all, but The Loony Left, synonymous with whatever religious, financial, or biological strawman The Right can cook up. Enough!

Back when I was genuinely writing lyrics, I would painstakingly write and rewrite till they were what they were supposed to be. Still shite, of course, but shite I was proud of – difficult to flush and hard to forget. With these posts and the vast majority of my blog, I just type and go with my only edit being a quick check for typos. A writer by trade should of course take a hell of a lot more due diligence with what they publish, even running it by your editor and colleagues, and anyone else who may have a perspective. This paragraph is a good example – should I just delete it because Sanja is now talking about Almond milk (I’m an Oatley boy) and whatever they were talking about with respect to writing has now passed. Ah well. Go with my charity idea from the previous post – not saving the world, but making incremental, achievable fixes to reduce the amount of nonsense we face. Number 9. Number 9. Number 9.

Paul does a nice transition between Planet Caravan and No Such Thing – I can’t say I noticed this even as a Black Sabbath fan (ish). I will say that this trippy, now called Stoner/Doom Metal style, has been aped many many many times over the years, with plenty of bands taking their complete inspirational from that single song. Sanja takes a shot at the lyric after Paul saying he doesn’t really know what it’s about, while I went off on one about religion. As the guys suggest, it seems to just be a song of hopelessness, while Sanja says it could be a call to arms for us to make the world better for ourselves, before dampening the mood by saying she’s been cheating on Paul. /S.

Not to harp on again The Manics again, but there’s quite a lot of the defeatism of The Holy Bible in H’s lyric here, and quite a few closer similarities in the metaphors. ‘Just an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff’. ‘Beauty she poisons unfaithful all, stifled, her touch is leprous and pale’. ‘The only way to gain approval is by exploiting the very thing that cheapens me’. It has been a while since my last Manics mention, so humour me. It has been a cynically charged episode, so it fits. Incidentally, new Manics reissue of Know Your Enemy coming, with a couple of ‘new’ songs. Man, that album was slaughtered upon release. It is a bit of a mess, but it’s a Manics mess. It’s raining again.


Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Somewhere Else (Part 1)!

Somewhere Else by Marillion: CDs & Vinyl

Greetings, Glancers! We find ourselves in a post Marbles landscape and I fear there will be some sort of downturn in quality. Marbles was such a strong album, such a statement, that it would be impressive to follow it up with an album of similar high quality. The only thing I know about this album is that it features ‘the steamer’. I think. Most Toys is meant to be the big bad, right? I’ll be looking forward to hearing that, and it inevitably becoming my bestest Marillion song.

Making presumptuous gleamings from the artwork and the album title, it seems reasonable to assume we’re in for another batch of songs about escape, running away, being anywhere than here. I like the creamy blue hue of the album artwork, and the… I actually don’t know what those things are called. Are they telescopes? Standy-up binoculars? I’m sure there’s a proper name, but whatever they are I associate them with movies set in New York or some other metropolis, usually making up a brief moment in some first date montage scene. I’ve only ever seen a few of these around Northern Ireland – the only certainty in using one being your immediate infection with various diseases. There’s one high on the hills in Belfast Zoo, but I can’t think the view would be improved by using it rather than your own eyes. I love Belfast Zoo, certainly one of the most gorgeous spots in the country, and great for a hike. If I could be somewhere else right now, that’s where I’d want to be. Lets do this.

Somewhere Else is a downturn in quality from Marbles. We’ll get into the details, but if I can begin with something of a conclusion, it feels like little more than a collection of songs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – most albums are – but this is Marillion we’re talking about, a band we’ve come to expect more from even when they’re not doing an overt Concept album. There are tonal, thematic, and musical threads which make it feel coherent rather than disparate, but that sense of it being a collection of songs instead of something more is one I kept returning to. Admittedly that could be a consequence of spending so much time with Marbles and a deliberate act by the band – I have no issues with an artist wanting to distance themselves creatively from their immediately previous work by doing something different, and this is something which Marillion has done repeatedly. It would be unfair to equate this to Marbles or expect it to be Marbles 2.0, but an upside of not being another Marbles is the cut to the running time – it’s a less exhaustive and perhaps easier listen.

The songs vary in quality and few grabbed me with the immediacy of either a commercial hit or one of the atmospheric epics the band is known for. One did immediately grab me, but more on that later. Immediacy isn’t something I expect with Marillion, and the songs eventually found a sweaty nook in my brain to lurk in, but a few past albums felt like they had songs which could more easily and readily access that sweaty nook.

There’s a cynicism throughout and rather than being an album about escape, it feels like an album which accepts being trapped. Both inward and outward looking, the search for answers and hope more often than not draws a blank. The ‘Somewhere Else’ isn’t necessarily the wish for escape and freedom which I anticipated – it’s more like an anguished cry of loss – everyone I’ve loved is somewhere else, somewhere far from me. It’s not the darkness of Brave or the drunken despair of Clutching At Straws, but it’s not all smiles. Lets have a look at the first few songs.

The Other Half quickly showcases one of the most notable aspects of the album – H’s vocals. He tries a few new techniques in the album, leaning more heavily on his higher pitches than before. The Other Half is not an easy song to sing, with the intensity it deserves. The vocals just about stay above breaking point, but I’d hazard a guess that this one either doesn’t get a regular live outing or has been significantly changed over the years to suit the vocal needs. It begins in a standard enough fashion, mid-paced rock riffs with a touch of The Stone Roses as unusual as that sounds. Once we reach the mid-point, the vocals take off and we hear an effectively tingling amount of grit in the highest moments. As tricky as those vocals are, they’re far from the most difficult on the album.

Elsewhere, it isn’t the most challenging song musically, nor the most memorable. With repeated listens its power grows on me, but outside of the mid-point vocals and a few neat guitar moments its something of a lacklustre opener. Not a bad song, a perfectly pleasant mid album song, but not the moody or bombastic opener I look for. Lyrically it is more interesting based on what I’ve learned about H from listening to the podcast, his relationship woes and fears. It’s another revealing lyric, the way I’m interpreting it anyway, with H sort of admitting his faults (without naming them), calling out that he has learned and is learning, and concluding that he can’t be parted from his other half. So… basically… he acted like a dick, lost his wife, and now wants her back?

I’ve often wondered what it must be like to be the other half in a relationship where one party is in the public eye, specifically an artist or songwriter; someone who dedicates a piece to their other half which then enters the zeitgeist. Think of The Beatles penning songs for various loves over the years – songs which are part of our cultural whole but which were written for one individual. It must be bizarre and alluring knowing this thing everyone knows and loves was for you. How would you feel having this song written for you, would it be enough for you to give it another shot, would it further distance you? The song has some nice imagery, but putting myself in the shoes of the other half, I don’t know if I would want something more apologetic, something with actual details or if I would be mortified by that.

See It Like A Baby opens with a jazz-lite shuffle, a brief eerie interplay between the drums and guitars which continues into the verses where additional Rothery flourishes attempt to raise our interest levels. It’s a dull verse vocally and melodically, and the chorus follows suit merely repeating the name of the song in a derivative way. If it weren’t for the guitar noodling this would rank amongst the most boring songs Marillion has done to this point, and even then the guitars don’t offer excessive amounts of flair – it’s like the most boring mid-week dinner you can think of, and improving it with lo-salt. It comes and goes with little fanfare.

The lyrics don’t offer anything to improve my opinion – a short series of lines which you’ve heard variants of in a hundred other songs, the point seemingly that innocence is good, or experiencing something for the first time is good… I’m sure H will have a bigger explanation for what it really means but any interpretation I tried to force upon it didn’t make it any better or worse.

Thank You Whoever You Are fares better, but that may be because it constantly reminded me of songs I like more. It feels like several previous Marillion songs, tonally and melodically, and even with a soaring chorus (albeit another one which simply repeats the title) it feels like a retread or a band repeating former glories. Mostly, it reminds of the Bishop’s Robes by Radiohead in a very specific way. I’ve linked the song for anyone unfamiliar. The little wavering musical interlude between the first chorus and second verse (which I think is guitar with some sort of heavy flange – like Led Zep’s Down By The Seaside) around the 1.42 mark represents a maudlin tonal shift opposing the joy of the chorus. Getting a little technical, it goes B C# B to B B A and down to F#. It’s cool. But listening to the final 30 seconds or so of Bishop’s Robes, that song fades into a similarly downbeat departure and has a guitar (in B4 rather than Marillion’s B3) repeats B B A, then down to A A G. It’s not the same, but the similar pattern combined with the gloomy tone, combined with the tonal shift each represents, combined with the rhythm, made me draw comparisons. It’s a distraction which pulled both pulls me out of the song a little, but also improves it because it’s a cool way to bridge the distinct verse and chorus.

Speaking of bridges, the middle instrumental of the song raises the song beyond what may have otherwise been an okay, somewhat ordinary song to something more interesting, something with more life and substance. The verses are fine – a little bare with an unusual emphasis on the drums – while the chorus soars without reaching the heights of some personal favourite singles. The bridge (which I hope wasn’t cut from the running time for the single version) descends into a minor key led, dramatic clanging of pained pianos and guitars and bursts with the emotion I feel is lacking from the rest of the song. It also features an excellent understated guitar solo where we’re reminded that being tasteful and fitting a solo to the needs of the song is always better than flying off at a million miles an hour. The emotion from that bridge then carries through to the final chorus and end. One other nifty bit is H changing his pronouncing of ‘You’ in the chorus from something in a traditional song pronunciation to the more direct ‘yooo’. I love when singers take this into consideration in their performances, a slight shift in pronunciation of a single word or vowel, a slightly different note or timing on a note on a repeated piece. Rather than just repeating the same few words in the same voice in the same way, just that little shift can add so many more dimensions.

Whenever we have a ‘you’ in a song, we inevitably question who that ‘you’ is. 9 times out of 10 in your average pop or rock song, it’s the object of the writer’s affections, or hate as the case may be. If the other lyrics don’t make it obvious, we look to the context of the song and the writer’s life, and then make wild guesses and assumptions. Thank You Whoever You Are doesn’t give any obvious clues, and even the title suggests that the ‘you’ could be plural or that the writer doesn’t even know. Is H singing of his muse? Is he singing of his fans? I took it to be a prophetic ‘you’, this potential person who might step into his life in the future and provide some joy. I assumed there was confidence on H’s part that this person would come because there have been others before. I also took it to be more concerned with temporary fun and wading into groupie territory again – ‘I won’t ask you to sign on some dotted line’ – suggests no commitment beyond the immediate, a bit of fun, maybe a trip, maybe I won’t even remember your name but I’ll remember that I was happy with you for a while. So while I can see that most people may view this as a happy song, I found it uncovered more of that lonely Rock Star life and fits with the more hopeless aspects of the album.

‘Hopeless’ might be an appropriate segue into Most Toys. For some. If I’m correct in thinking this is the song people say is Marillion’s worst, then I’m a little surprised. It’s not that bad. It’s not great, but it certainly didn’t leap out as some blatant outlier or the ugly mistake we must not bring up in polite conversation. Every artist has one, and as fans we either come to terms with them, avoid them, or treat them as some humorous curio not to be taken seriously. Led Zep’s The Crunge. Manic Street Preachers’ Repeat Stars And Stripes. Guns n Roses’ My World. Everything REM did outside of Automatic For The People. I didn’t find Most Toys to be as bad as any of those and if anything, it was an energetic distraction from the opening run of mid-paced, soft songs. It’s not going to be anyone’s favourite, but it’s short, abrasive, and offers something different from everything else on the album.

The greatest accusation I can lob at the song is that it doesn’t seem to know what it want’s to be. What sound was the band trying to create? The drums are oddly flat, there’s not enough ring or sustain on the kick, the harshness of the production is like they’re going for a raw Steve Albini approach, yet the guitars and vocals lack any anger or substance . There’s an attempt at that faux Britpop bravado (one of the things which most pissed me off about that movement even while I was a fan), the sneering confidence and self-righteousness, and the whole song is very monotone. It’s not vicious enough for punk, not fun enough for irony and instead seems like something a band might write very early in their career rather than this late and off the backs of many more mature works.

But there’s a charm in how chaotic it is, in the fact that they tried to do something like this. Most will say that the band are again trying to distance themselves from Prog, trying to chase a sound that they’re not known for, trying to prove that they can still rock with the young’uns, but I would offer the counterpoint that maybe they were just trying to have fun, to let down their hair (literally) and just do something silly that didn’t exert them too much or require much thought. The lyrics kind of mirror that – a dismissal of expectation – if you’re in position X, then you must do Y. The band is saying ‘fuck that, we’ll do what we want’. Of course, whether or not the end result is enjoyable is down to you.

The lyrics are an overt dismissal of wealth, status, and all that material stuff, with a little bit of  Trademark Marillion Snark concerning popularity within the music industry. But you know what? I like my stuff. I lean Left as much as anyone, but having famous millionaire Ewan McGregor smugly asking us if we’re going to regret the stuff we didn’t buy, or the places we didn’t go (also a thing which is exchanged for money) while being paid to advertise whatever cash-obese Holiday or Flight Company or whatever it is, comes off as such bullshit. Having famous globe-trotting rock star H, who just completed a double sided Concept album about A TOY, telling us that toys are shit and there are more important things in life, also feels like bullshit. I get it, I agree, other things are more important. But lets not tell each other how to live our lives. He who dies with the most toys may still be dead, but while he was alive he had the most toys, right? He who dies with the least toys, is also still dead.

The music industry has always been shit, always been a business, always supported or pushed what is popular and cool, but Marillion is a band which has survived for decades, played to (probably) millions, and I assume has made more money than most people will see. Are they millionaires themselves? Based on the podcast it sounds like they are not. We’ve covered it before, but do they deserve to have sold more albums and singles and had more radio air-time and media support? The quality of their output suggests that they should have – but that’s not how the business, or any business works. It’s rarely about quality over necessity – what sells is what the people want, skewed and skewered by a massive media machine which can manipulate the desires of the populace. It’s not fair – bands come and go and have a massive impact on people’s lives, but fade into obscurity or never make enough money to see their potential be met. Same with many walks of live, particularly in the entertainment industry. There are writers, actors, artists who I have been immeasurably influenced and moved by, who have given me exactly what I needed when I needed it, yet remain relatively unknown. Hell, look at Paul. As a Digi Original Reader, or thereabouts, I’ve been laughing for decades at what he has created and still am today. It seems to me that people should be kicking down his door with requests for scripts, art, jokes, vids, ideas, whatever. Many of my favourite bands split after one or two albums, yet those who seem to have considerably less musical talent top the charts. It is what is is, and fair it ain’t, but in the end maybe all that matters is the artist’s happiness – did they achieve what they wanted to? Was fame and fortune their aim, or simply getting their thoughts out of their bodies and seeing a creative process come to its conclusion regardless of views, audience, response, or likes?

Regardless, Marillion still benefited from the industry while nameless, countless thousands have not. This song? It’s fine. I understand the message, part of me applauds parts of it even while it doesn’t say anything new, it’s not as dull as a few other songs on the album, and it ends when it should rather than dragging on another couple of minutes. It sounds like Paul (maybe more so Sanja) actively dislikes this song based on the comments from previous episodes, but in the context of the album I don’t have many issues with it. It’s the obvious scapegoat for what may be seen as a generally bland, unadventurous album.

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It has been a while since our last album focused podcast, what with the Marbles postbags, live show chats, and interesting rundown of the band’s most played songs. If anything, these reiterated how many songs I still have to hear and reminded me that Setlist FM – a site I’ve loved for years – is only as accurate as its contributors allow it to be. It’s not conclusive, especially not when it comes to lesser known artists and gigs from the pre 2000 era, and gaps are inevitable but it still gives you an educated guess close to the correct figures.

We begin with a discussion of weather – apparently the South of the UK has been in an unseasonal heatwave for a number of weeks. That heatwave has only today, on the 18th of July, reached Northern Ireland. For us poor lapsed Brits/Celts/unknowns, it has been one of the most dull, cold, grim and wet summers that I can remember. The few days of warmth we’ve had since April have been decimated by either cloudy skies or intermittent showers leaving it pointless to try to go outside. Even my lovely week off to the coast was interrupted by such shitty perplexing weather – didn’t stop me walking around outside in shorts and eating Ice Cream every day though, to the bemusement and horror of the handful of European and American tourists we met.

The guys are not beginning their track by track today – but fortuitously due to me being a week behind, I’ll cover two podcasts in post today! Paul wants to spend some of the episode talking about the potential myth that the album was universally dismissed by fans and critics. By his metrics, most reviews were average to positive, but after some time the fan forum backlash exploded and led to a more general sense that the album isn’t very good. And Paul may have had something to do with that backlash. It’s time for a reckoning.

BYAMPOD was mentioned on the recent H podcast, as a potential historical aid to what H wants to talk about on his own show. I can see why someone might get riled up about this, but lets calm down – in the absolutely certain event that someone makes a podcast or blog about me, I’ll take it as a compliment.

Between Marbles and Somewhere Else there was a three year gap – fairly standard for bands after their first few releases. Paul says the band had planned to release interim EPs – great, I love a good EP while waiting for a new album. The idea was eventually dismissed and the band took their time getting Somewhere Else out due to other projects and commitments outside of the main band such as H getting involved in Make Poverty History. If I were a rich boy, and assuming I wouldn’t just bugger off and visit every theme park in the world before retiring to my grotesque mansion and eat semolina all day, I wanted to create my own charity – a charity for rich boys. Long story short – the purpose of the charity is not to make poverty history, end war, cure cancer etc, but smaller, perfectly achievable things which would make life easier and remove those shitty little pointless annoyances that don’t need to be there, but which never seem to be fixed. A way to smash through red tape or council bureaucracy. Essentially, in order to be contribute to the charity, you have to be a rich boy. You need to show proof that you earn a minimum of 100 grand a year to sign up, and in signing up you agree to contributing X number of money per month. In exchange for your donation, you get to nominate and vote for a thing to fix – potholes on the road, a new kids park in your childhood town, fund for a new teacher in the local primary school, pay for some expensive piece of medical equipment in a particular hospital, build some new houses in a war torn/impoverished/run down town or country. Perhaps like Patreon, there would be tiers of donations equating to number of votes you get – if you pay 500 quid a month you get 1 vote, versus 10 votes if you pay 5ooo a month. Count the votes, pick the thing, go make it happen. I’m not sure such a thing is possible, but it would be a practical way of making life that little bit less annoying. Also; E-penis.

Paul gives his thoughts on why Somewhere Else was seen as a bit of a disappointment. The first reason is interesting because it has fuck all to do with the music – people may have been annoyed that there was no pre-order. Fine… does this make the fans sound entitled? I don’t know, I don’t have much to say about it. There was no physical single, certainly nothing to capitalize on their recent success. It wasn’t a double album, so less content for what you’re paying for. This is an easy one to agree with, however as a fan of a band I’d be happy with whatever they put out after three years as long as the music isn’t shite (see Radiohead and their 8 year gaps between lacklustre re-treads of better songs). The production is different, the focus is different, the tone is different, it’s more direct and simple than Marbles. It very clearly seems to be wearing its influences on its sleeves – Radiohead and Beatles most obviously, Black Sabbath not something I think I picked up on, but it makes sense. Even the critics of the period called out the similarities to other bands.

Three out of five reviews are not bad. Look at any music magazine – how many albums do they review each month? 10? 50? That’s every month. The problem with a three out of five is that it’s forgettable, both in itself and in the context of all the other stuff the critics are reviewing that month. After six months I’d wager most critics have forgotten most of the songs on the four star albums, so those three stars don’t stand a chance. Seemingly Most Toys being on it didn’t help.

Paul then relays his story of writing a Press Release for Somewhere Else, filled with humour and possibly multiple moc moc a mocs. With certain pieces removed, the final result ended up sounding desperate and the fans didn’t like the sound of what was coming. Having not read many Press Releases, it seems okay. Is it supposed to be so long? I thought a Press Release was a few brief snippets, but I don’t know what I’m talking about. Over on the forum, like any online meeting place where humans can get together in relative anonymity, people starting dicking about and spreading slurry, and a vocal minority spoiled what was once perhaps an engaging place and soured an otherwise okay album. People are the worst people.

Look at the length of this thing (that’s what she said, ‘she’ being yer ma, etc). We plough seamlessly into the next BYAMPOD and straight into the opening track. Also: Shiny Pink Heads. Also also; E-penis.

Sanja gives a quick bullet-point of her thoughts on The Other Half – which just happen to extend to her thoughts on the album as a whole – nice, accessible, good guitar bits, singy songy melodies. Paul agrees on the whole, but counters that the song and the album sounds like Marillion, but Marillion playing within themselves but lacking the skyscraping reach and soundscapes of their best work. Paul says the songs sound similar – I’ve called this out already, with many very mid-tempo, inoffensive songs in a row which don’t peak. Sanja goes into greater detail in her summary of the lyrics – the writer hitting rock bottom and flying through some Stranger Things portal where the falling because rising. Sanja takes a much more positive stance than I do, and I can see it. She puts it more beautifully than I gave the song credit for. Paul highlights the sadness of the lyrics, I had a little more cynicism.

See It Like A Baby is one of the songs I’ve written least about – Paul starts by saying he has nothing to talk about on the lyrics. It was the album’s first single, but download only and reached roughly 45. It’s a dull song. I haven’t listened to the album in a few weeks, but I’ve already forgotten mostly what it sounds like. Paul says it sounds like an Ian Brown song… I can see that, but I’m not a fan of Ian Brown and try to avoid him as much as I can, even though he always seems to be supporting whatever band I go to see or is lurking at whatever festival I’m attending. It’s not a song worth discussing – that’s something Most Toys has over this.

Thank You Whoever You Are was the second single and didn’t do too badly, reaching 15. Paul thinks it’s underrated – I think it’s a good song and don’t know enough to say if it’s underrated or not. It’s the clanging in the middle which makes the song for me – Paul and Sanja feel less interested in that portion but both agree that it’s a decent track. Paul isn’t a fan of the verses, likes the chorus, and thinks it’s Rothery’s best work ln the album so far. I have no idea what I was rambling on about when I was discussing the lyrics, but Sanja calls out that the vagueness of ‘whoever you are’ is interesting. H attributes the ‘you’ to both his son and his fans. So it’s a sweet little lyric.

Most Toys makes Sanja want to leave her skin. I’m still surprised the guys hate it this much – maybe it’s because I listen to music which can sound like this – heavier? Harsher? Or is it because it doesn’t sound like Marillion? Sanja mentions what I did – she doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be, and that it doesn’t do H any favours. A length of a song absolutely plays a part in your enjoyment of a song – what’s better, Most Toys or Most Toys on repeat? I’ll say this for it – it’s one of the few melodies I can remember instantly from the album. Paul has grown to hate it less, and thinks the lyric is trite. Sanja, if you’re reading, what if there is a slow, piano version of this out there? Like one of those Christmas TV Adverts featuring some twee solo artist covering an 80s Power Ballad. Do you think there’s a version of this song you could love? Hell, even with Most Pies. Or most Pie-ness. Penis?

Let us know what you think of Most Toys, of the album, and as always please go support the guys as they’re providing hours of banter and fun for me, for you, and for everyone else. I’m off to sign up to Patreon now.

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

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

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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