Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Fugazi – Side B!

Fugazi (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Welcome back to my adventures in Fishysitting. Today I talk about Side B of Fugazi. No nonsense this time because I slipped behind a little on listening and writing about the band – lets get stuck in.

She Chameleon starts the second half, a half which only features three songs and should hopefully mean we have a shorter post. Inside of about eight seconds, I knew I liked this song more than Emerald Lies. I love a bit of organ – I think this is less due to my somewhat religious upbringing, and more about the sheer physical power of the instrument. And its association with horror movies and related iconography. Fish reintroduces his higher range and when coupled with the very slow pace and dirge like quality of the opening minutes, it reminded me some Doom Metal bands I enjoy. Doom Metal (for anyone not aware) is one of the branches of Metal which takes most of its cues from Black Sabbath – riff based, loud, but a generally ponderous pace. Doom Metal bands often feature singers at the extreme edges of vocal abilities – Mt Olympus tickling highs or six feet under lows. 

The song threatens to pick up at a couple of points, but beyond a brief jaunt into double figure RPM in the middle, it rarely gets out of first gear. Which is fine – I’ve said I like a dirge if that’s the intent. It is obvious it’s a dark and gloomy approach they’re going for, and the fade-out actually suits this approach. I could have done with the fade-out being longer – it seems to come from nowhere, then fade and be gone inside of a few seconds. I’m curious to hear what Paul and Sanja think about this one – there’s no energy, but there is atmosphere. I’m not sure they enjoy She Chameleon because it is so slow, and it is repetitive thanks to the looping organ and to the drums often mimicking the vocals. I don’t mind it – I don’t think it’s going to be one I listen to again outside of publishing this post, unless I give the whole album another go, but that keyboard section in the middle is nifty. The whole ‘fuck’ section is amusing for a number of reasons – because the delivery seems so soft and sweet, and because he says it so many times – but it’s also very silly.

The title She Chameleon, before listening, already had me thinking the song is about Fish and a woman. What lyrics I picked up support this theory, although this being a Prog band you wouldn’t be surprised if it was more literal – an actual half human, half reptilian freakshow a la Species or Lair Of The White Worm. That was an odd movie. The song does reference ‘the lizard’ but I can’t hear that term without recalling The Doors and, well, cocks. ‘I touch the lizard’ is not something a rock star should say with a straight face. After reading the lyrics I wonder if the sound of the song is supposed to be seductive rather than Doom-laden. It makes sense that it’s a mixture of both – you’re being tempted to your doom by a seductress Siren – see, I have read The Odyssey! The lyrics are unusually up front and not obtuse – it’s about meaningless sex, often in a drugged haze, though there is that tinge of washed out tiredness, of guilt, and the clear suggestion that the ‘she’ half of these chameleons (with Fish being the other) are groupies and Fish is aware he’s using them and they’re using him. 

Incubus is over eight minutes long and this time it’s Animals which I must reference. An underrated Pink Floyd album, but one of their holy quadrilogy. The intro to this song has a guitar/keyboard part which is almost identical to a chunk of Dogs on that album. If you know both songs, you know what I’m talking about, right? I don’t say this in criticism, but rather in relief because before that guitar part dropped, the opening seconds of the song made it seem like it was going to be akin to something by one of those white boy reggae bands like The Police or Madness or UB40 or some such shite. It’s a decent enough song up until the piano drops and it transforms into something more tasty. The pace doesn’t increase significantly so there’s the likelihood some listeners may be put off that it’s the second slow, long song in a row.

The song is another instance of me wondering if the two distinct halves were at one time different songs. I think it was mentioned on the podcast in a previous episode that one song was culled from parts of various earlier pieces. Equally though, songs of distinct halves can be built in this way from their point of origin – I’ve written a couple of songs where the intention was always to ‘flip the switch’ at one point, or for the song to feature one major transition or flow through different sequences. Then again, I’ve had instrumental parts float around my head which never had a place and weren’t interesting enough on their own to be anything deliverable, only for another idea or fully formed song to come along which I was able to tack the instrumental piece on to, as an ending or an intro, and the two pieces transform into something special. Not to say anything I’ve ever done is special, but once the two pieces were joined it was like they were always meant to be.

In the final third of Incubus everything becomes more grand – another soaring, string-bending solo and some tasty backing vocals – I’m sure there have been other backing vocals and I’ve missed or forgotten them, and I can’t recall many harmonic sections in the Marillion songs I’ve heard so far. Fish is a powerful enough vocalist to stand on his own, but if you have the ability to write good harmonies and can find a spot for them, then they almost always elevate the song. Fish adopts a softer vocal after the piano portion begins, and if I’m being overly critical I’m not sure he pulls this off neatly in each line. There’s a few moments where his voice seems too weak, or when the vocal wavers, and I don’t think this was a conscious decision – could have been cleared up with another take. Quite a lot of echo effects on the vocals here, though there’s a moment it seems where a string section (synth in this case) is going to take over, but the string synth stays low in the mix to let the guitar solo hold centre-stage. As I’m something of a sweeping string section fan, I would have loved the strings to take over here – full orchestra rather than synth of course.

In terms of Fish and his storytelling abilities, this feels like a more mature, coherent, and complete effort. The song’s transitions are fluid and the lyrical progress matches the procession and changes within the music – it’s a good example of the band all being ‘in this together’ while previous efforts felt more like the band was playing catch up to the lyrics or the two not being in synch. As I write this particular thought, I haven’t looked at the lyrics although several lines stand out and offer potential insight – the intro hinting again at rock star disillusion – and there are references to acting, fame, the theatre, hiding your true face scattered throughout. Based on what I’ve learned from other songs on the album, that disillusionment and disconnection seems to be a key theme – the rock star having to put on a show, to always be ‘on’ and that side of his persona becoming the driving force to the eventual detriment of his other component parts, his relationships. 

Googling the lyrics unveils just how much the theatre metaphor is used, alongside other images of fantasy, invention, and sex. Several motifs recur from verse to verse – darkroom, developing the negative, exposed, lens, film reels, celluloid, but those two are enveloped in the overarching themes of performance and deceit. As to hazarding a guess as to what it’s all about – it would seem wasteful to me to write something so fully formed and not have it be about someone specific. Luckily it’s universal enough that anyone could apply it to some trauma in their own life, most obviously a break-up. Without knowing the full context of the band and the time these songs were written I can’t say for sure who or what inspired the song, but the whole ‘All the world’s a stage’ viewpoint has of course been used since Shakespeare and all of the Greek and Latin poets he liberally nicked from. I think by this point I can take a punt at ‘Fish was pissed off at/by X’ and I’ll be 80% there. Presumably he expands his ‘Things To Be Angry About’ manifesto in future albums.

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

Fugazi closes the album, though at first glance I had to make sure I hadn’t accidentally clicked on Spread Your Wings by Queen because those intro piano pieces are very similar. This is momentary and the song quickly transforms into a very cool, epic, closer. There’s a lot going on in this song – here are a few of the scattered ‘this sounds like’ thoughts I had when first listening; Spread Your Wings, Alice Cooper, Jaunty sideshow music, James Bond, The Time Warp, FLASH, Pink Floyd (again), Marillion. Yes, by the end of the song the band is starting to sound like themselves. For some clarity on such an unusual statement – this essentially (to me) means that the band has consolidated their own voice and, like an auteur, if I were to hear a Marillion song without knowing it was them I would have a pretty good idea that it was a Marillion song. Of course I still have a hell of a long way to go, but I’m beginning to recognize the hallmarks and this song ticks those off. 

With all of those related or disparate artists listed above, you may expect the song to be more jumbled than it is – the Marillion voice holds it together. Plenty of artists wear their influences on their sleeves and those can be easily identified, but the trick is to avoid being a pastiche or homage or tribute act, and Marillion are succeeding at this – they take component parts, add their own flavour (largely governed by Fish, his lyrics, and his vocals), and become their own thing. From the downbeat opening, building to the (at least musically) triumphant conclusion, the song is another journey of emotion which doesn’t shed any light on what ‘Fugazi’ is beyond a general state of confusion. Given the shifts in the song I imagine it’s a fun one to see and perform live – many of the parts lend themselves to overt theatricality and if I squint in my imaginings I can make out a bunch of laser shows and prancing shenanigans on stage. Taking it further, I imagined this song being stretched beyond it’s running time to allow for some comedy audience interaction as Fish throws dolls into the crowd… it’s that Alice Cooper feeling coming through again as I expect any act who sounds somewhat like Alice Cooper to put on similar amusing live performances.

Having listened to this song close to double figures, I get the feeling that I’m still only scratching at the surface of its complexity – something I could say for the album as a whole. These aren’t simple 3 minute pop or rock songs, or even Metal songs with obvious riffs and big choruses which will solidify around your memory sacks after a couple of listens. These take effort and I can see why some may dismiss the music. Prog fans on the other hand, perhaps known for being receptive to challenging music and taking the time to allow complex and longer form music to sink in, should get a lot out of this. Given that my classic Prog intimate knowledge begins and ends with Pink Floyd, before shooting off to the bands with Prog elements – the Alice Coopers, The Gatherings, Devin Townsends, Nightwishes, and to a lesser extent the Iron Maidens and Led Zeppelins of the world, I’m hardly qualified to tell Prog fans that this is something they might enjoy. I’m sure they’re as snooty as the rest of us about what they like, and especially about being told what they should like. If I were to recommend a song to Prog fans as to what Marillion or Fugazi was all about (with the caveat that it’s just one song and a small piece of a larger whole) then it would probably be this title track. It isn’t my favourite song on the album, but it does feel like an Overture, taking us on the condensed thematic and musical journey of the whole album.

Looking to my own preferences…. the keyboard parts which lead into the ‘thief of Baghdad’ section are cheesy and silly but I’ll excuse this as another edition of ‘Hey, It’s The Eighties!’ where the best musical decisions were not always made. I’m iffy about synth anyway, so once again I’m not the most level-headed judge. Certain sections work more for me than others but they all contribute to the whole – the military drums which fade in as the song fades out, I half expected those to lead into one final section to close the album, but that never transpired. The drums therefore seem like an odd choice to pop in for a few seconds before leaving. At some point in the future I’ll likely revisit all of these albums to see what I remember, but until then I think only pieces of this song will stay with me.

It’s at this point I gulp a huge intake of breath before tapping ‘Fugazi Marillion lyrics’ into a search engine, and sigh as I see the ‘read more’ option after six paragraphs had already displayed on the screen. The song reverts back to disjointed one-liners, musings shoved together with loose connections. Which is fine – many of my favourite bands and writers write almost exclusively in this manner. This can be distancing for anyone reading the lyrics and I would think a fair portion would read them once then be forced to ignore the lyrics entirely in future listens. The second verse references Shakespeare again, ‘Aural contraceptive aborting pregnant conversation’ should have been Sony’s tagline for the Walkman, and I notice see the song repeatedly mentions places in London, or is it tube stations? I love the London Underground – it’s such a maze and feat of human invention. I love how old it is too, especially when I compare it with the shitty non-existent transport system of Northern Ireland. Did Fish write this song while travelling to and fro in London, concocting stories and lyrics about the people and situations he saw, crushed in the rush hour thrall? He then makes a comparison between this and Concentration Camps, at which point I realize the song is totally Fugazi.

So Fish is pissed at… everything? When he pleads at the end for the prophets and poets, is he begging to find someone like himself? I’m sure there’s a larger story here, and I’m sure Paul and Sanja will discuss, but for me it is second album complete! It is a more rock oriented album, it doesn’t seem to jump off in as many opposing directions as Script, and a lot of the songs do align to an overhaul theme. I’m not sure I’d classify it as a concept album, but I could definitely see it being argued as such. For me, Fugazi doesn’t hit enough of the trappings of the concept album – the recurring musical motifs, songs referencing other songs in music and lyric, and potentially portraying an overt and obvious plot. I’ve no idea if Marillion ever goes down this route, but they clearly have the song-writing chops and creative ability to do so.

The next episode of the Podcast opens with the realization that there was a bonus fucking song which I haven’t listened to yet. Cinderella Search did come on a few times on Youtube after Fugazi ended, but I didn’t listen to it. I’m assuming Paul’s not talking about H from steps and his purple tier? I haven’t seen old H since last Summer when he was in Menorca with his parents and kids and we’d keep bumping in to him at the family friendly bars around the resort. Celebrity friends, yay!

We learn that She Chameleon appears elsewhere in a more upbeat, possibly psychedelic version because the song had been around for a while before the album was recorded. Paul doesn’t think much of that version, while Sanja sounds like more of a fan. Having not heard it, I can’t comment. As expected, the album version is called out as a dirge, yet dripping with atmosphere. Hammer Horror seems like an apt comparison – I mentioned Doom Metal, a genre which relies heavily on atmosphere and took plenty of its atmospheric and visual cues from the horror genre, specifically British films of the Hammer and Amicus vein. Paul drops the spoiler that he prefers the final two songs on this half to She Chameleon – I think I felt roughly the same about each track – things I liked, things I liked less. Sanja doubles down on the lizard analogy and interprets the song as Fish being manipulated by groupies – I get the impression that Fish was happily receptive and knowing of the behaviour. Paul clarifies that She Chameleon was a reaction to the negative feedback of Three Boats Down From The Candy, but again drugs are a wonderful excuse for woopsy do antics. 

Paul and Sanja enjoy Incubus more, with exquisite guitar and fun ‘ooh ahhs’. The Lonely Flute also sounds like a Prog album title. I’m sure Fish could attach a few hundred words to a title like that and slap a song out of it, with the flute an obvious euphemism for his knob. Yes, the reggae… not a genre I have ever paid much attention to beyond the obvious. Sanja – if you want to target the kidz with this podcast, how about ‘exquizzle’? Paul thinks it’s one of their best from an all round perspective. I enjoy the second half more than the first, though I’m not sure it rubs my singalong organ as rigorously as it does Paul’s. Paul tells us the basis for the song – the Incubus being of course the female equivalent of the Succubus – with Fish introducing the song as the dangers of taking nudey pics of an ex and reminding her that you have it for…. reasons? I mentioned the references to film in my assessment, but I didn’t get this pervy meaning from it. The song sounds more… important (?) than that so possibly Fish doesn’t know or remember what it was about. It seems increasingly apparent that Fish just likes putting together words and phrases he enjoys with no greater meaning or connective tissue.

With Fugazi, Sanja appreciates the word artistry, but admits to it being distancing. Oy, was that a snide comment at the expense of Iron Maiden – hooks in you? Not one of my favourite Iron Maiden songs by any means, but the band had lost their way at that point in their career. Sanja sees the ending as a battle cry, which is a good way of describing it. Is this album a more rocky prog, or simply a less twatty prog? I don’t know… I have made comparisons with other bands in most of the songs above, but I can’t remember now if those were songs and artists which came before or after this album. This is what happens when you write a post over a number of days and are too lazy a writer to bother to self review (or edit). I do remember mentioning that the ending sounded jubilant musically, but I didn’t feel the lyrics matched this. Hearing the interpretation, I understand it. I’m surprised Yellow Dinner On A Lorry hasn’t made its way into a Found Footage yet. Look, drugs do amazing and bizarre things to you – and the feeling often remains long past the come down. I wrote a song called ‘Do You Want A Ham’, which may have been influenced by illegal muffins, and the lyrics consisted entirely of ‘Do you want a ham? Put it on a plate. I’ve got the heads’. To my credit, it was knowingly crap and only three minutes long. Hella catchy, yo. Sanja picks up on an entirely different set of recurring phrases than I did, which is a pro and con of Fish’s writing. There’s something for everyone… but none of us will get it.

The Podcast ends with a chat about Cinderella Search which I still haven’t listened to. I’ll go off and listen to it after writing this, but I doubt I’ll talk about it. Paul bemoans the fact that this wasn’t on the album in place of one of the crappy ones. Did Marillion ever do a bit of Lucas/Spielberg revisionism with their albums – say change out some tracks on a re-release? The Manics have done that a couple of times and while I’m not a fan of such changes, it’s fine to add on the B-Sides for a Special Edition. The next album apparently takes another musical leap and sees the band hitting the big time – exciting.

Thanks to everyone or anyone who reads these things, go off and listen to the Podcast and the album yourselves if you’re a Marillion fan, or why not join us all on this very long and odd journey. Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and don’t forget to follow the Podcast on Twitter @BYAMPOD!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Fugazi (Side A)!

Fugazi (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! I have survived the first Marillion album, slopping out the other end unscathed and with greater musical awareness. I know it has only been one album and there are four hundred more to come, but I’ve enjoyed things so far after being apprehensive. I know I try to be as open-minded about music as possible, but so many sacred cows or cult swine I’ve listened to so far have turned out to be swill. That hasn’t been the case with Marillion, though I have given them much more due diligence than the aforementioned artists in my belaboured metaphor. In today’s post, which will be written over the course of at least a week, I’ll be giving Side A of Fugazi a gander. As expected, I know nothing about the thing.

A brief spoiler free look at Wikipedia tells me the album came barely a year after the debut. Can a band change their sound in one year? Can they become better musicians, hone their song writing skills, or become jaded by the never-ending cycle of writing, recording and touring in just 12 months? Are these questions which this album will answer, and did Dr Sam Beckett ever make the final leap home? Perhaps by the end of this post we’ll find out.

As Paul took such a deep dive at the artwork on Script For A Jester’s Tear, I should take a closer look at Fugazi’s offering. Mark ‘Swords’ Wilkinson has elected to delight us with an emaciated, dead-eyed waif splayed suggestively on a rather hard looking bed, a flagon of wine (blood?) slipping from one skeletal hand, and what appears to be a poppy in the other. The Jpeg I’m looking at is very small… must find a larger one. Is this supposed to be the Jester from the first album? Is it supposed to be Fish? The dude is semi-wearing colourful stockings, his loins barely covered by a near see-through sheet, and there’s a foule-bordeau over one thigh. A painting of an unhappy jester sits discarded by the bed, and a conveniently placed mirror shows the reflection of a fully kitted out harlequin meaning the guy on the bed and the guy in the mirror are two halves of the same whole! Elsewhere, Mr Nudey has a Walkman on and there’s a copy of a music publication near his feet, sort of looks like the NME, in the background a lizard is tongue-abusing a bird’s arse, and there’s a painting on the wall which I’ll guess is a hint at something to come in a future album, or hints at something within this album?

The whole thing is like a grizzled detective walking in on a closed door crime scene mystery. Who or what is Fugazi, and why is it scrawled like that? Why does it look like there is a skull in the pink throw over the sofa? I’m sure there’s a lot more to this that I’ve missed – the window open, the colours, the (magpie?) holding a ring in its beak – but my key takeaway is that it all strikes me as very metal. The detail, the font, the whole presentation is very 80s metal. Like movie posters have become something of a lost art, album covers these days are so plain or vague while the classics of the 70s and 80s – not even the classics in fact – you could lose yourself for hours looking at these things and scouring for Easter Eggs. I realise I’ve just spent three paragraphs typing nonsense and haven’t even got to the music yet, so lets go.

Assassing is a play on ‘assassin’, but as a word I can’t take it seriously. I make a verb out of the second ‘ass’, and then I personify the first meaning you have an ass assing about the place, and then I get these images of huge asses walking around and assing each other till half the song is over and I haven’t heard a single second. The song begins with some Eastern chanting and drumming – it’s all very mysterious and tribal while reminding me that so many Prog albums begin in a similar vein – a surge and build up of instruments and/or noise before a crushing riff drops. The moment the guitar started here I thought of Pink Floyd’s Run Like Hell – not one of my favourites from The Wall, but that’s hardly a slight given that album is an all time Top Five for me. The pulsating, chasing beat which drives the majority of the song is quite similar to Run Like Hell, but here we have clashing keyboard and guitar solos which scream at me to stop making unhelpful Pink Floyd comparisons. The song also spins off in a few directions while Run Like Hell mostly ploughs a single course.

I was half expecting a more metal oriented album after Paul’s comments that the first album era feel was a one album thing, and after checking out the artwork. It’s not metal, and it’s not necessarily harder edged than most of the first album’s tracks. However, it does have less of a… folk sound? That’s not the correct musical term, but the first album felt innocent somehow while this did strike me as more confident, polished, fully formed. Maybe it’s the Production, or maybe I’m an idiot. Fish’s vocals do sound more solid, bold, full. I found some of the delivery similar to Dave Mustaine of Megadeth – they sound nothing alike, but in terms of trying to shove as many words into a single breath as possible.

It is all quite 80s – the guitar sound, the drum tone, it takes me back. Of course I was only a year old when this dropped, but I did grow up emerged in 80s music and it is possible to be nostalgic for a time or a sound that you weren’t really a part of. It’s always a treat when you discover a song or a movie that you didn’t know about from an era or genre you love. They say you stop listening or caring about new music when you hit 30, and instead stick with the bands you know and love but that school of thought usually ignores the fact that it’s possible to make these retro discoveries – the music may not be new, but it’s new to me. I realise I haven’t talked about the song much – I like it; interesting opener, gets you moving, the little section after the four minute mark is nifty and atmospheric before building back up to the main riff.

Thematically, I assume it’s about an assassin -before reading them. I picked up very few of the lyrics in my first few listens and will now refer to Google to read the lyrics. I’m not going to trust the lyrics posted in the comments of Youtube – incidentally, the Marillion fans leaving comments have an amusing slant of hyperbole, which is always nice. In first reading of the lyrics, I had James Bond in my head, or possibly Mr. Scaramanga – a smooth tongued killer – but this quickly morphed into images of ladder-climbing, scrambling to get to the top of your profession and stamping out the competition by any means, without mercy. Of course the repeated ‘my friend’ hints at the person being a back-stabber and saying all the right things, making the right contacts then discarding when no longer needed. I will say that quite a few of the lines are sloppy – they’re not as precise as I was expending both in terms of phrasing along with the music and in theme. They froth with anger, but it’s more on the juvenile side of sloganeering than being insightful or repeatable. Then of course there’s a twist that the ‘assassin’ is defeated by a better ‘assassin’. Which makes me think this is more personal than it originally seemed, with presumably Fish placing himself as the winner. I don’t know. It could be about career climbing scum, it could be about some bloke.

Something I often find with Prog bands and with metal bands – artists known for songs frequently going over the five minute mark, is that their shorter songs can be throwaways; songs either built expressly under pressure to release a single or songs written around one simple idea, or songs with not as much creative intent or care behind their construction. Sometimes these songs can be fun – a diversion or a breather from the epics, sometimes they only serve as a connective tissue in a concept album and don’t fare well as a standalone, and sometimes they’re the ones I skip. Punch And Judy luckily avoids the trappings of the prog throwaway – it’s hardly a traditionally short song, just by Marillion’s standards till this point. I imagine it could have been longer but they consciously made the decision to not draw things out. The intro for example – all of those synth parps could easily have been stretched past the minute mark but only last a few seconds before the guitars and vocals join. Possibly this one was marked from the beginning as a single or the band thought it had more impact as a shorter piece.

Aside from the length, it has a more orthodox structure overall – it very much follows your standard verse chorus verse format, albeit with subtle tweaks – the longer instrumental break, the emergency stop finish, and as always the breathless delivery of copious words. Fish sounds like he’s auditioning to be the fourth Bee Gee at various points while the rhythm of the song never falters. I enjoy the lead guitar riff, it both ascends and descends in a cyclical nature then drops out for simple chords in the verse – you can almost hear the riff in those spaces when it isn’t being played. I picked up many more of the lyrics without having to Google them – witty amusing ripostes concerning aging and relationships, and presumably aging in a relationship. With the name, I have to assume a certain level of physical abuse. Anytime I think about Punch And Judy, I think about Worzel Gummidge. No idea why, but I never want to think about Worzel Gummidge as those are nightmares I can do without. Are Punch And Judy shows still a thing? They always seemed a very English thing to me – sandy beaches, kids dropping their 99s and wailing for another, Mr Bean trying to de-robe in front of a blind guy – things mostly foreign to me growing up. My town sort of had a beach – more of a muddy expanse which you could trudge across when the tide went out, though you could use it as a quick short cut to get over to the far outskirts of the town. Of course you didn’t want to do that though, as that’s where the big Council Estate was and I didn’t fancy a kicking.

As part of Googling the lyrics, I had to Google ‘Mogadon’ – turns out it’s not a prehistoric creature. The song is about everything I expected, though almost every line is gold – good to save up for the next time you fancy an argument with the spouse, though probably not advised. It’s all very ‘I’m a bitter old bloke and I’m sick of being stuck with this old bird and what the hell happened to my life’. I’ve always called Hibernation by the Manics my favourite lyrical shredding of relationships, but that’s a much more depressing affair – equally cynical but humourless. Fish is at least having fun with the tropes.  Interesting that both songs mention mortgages. What didn’t come out in my Googling (I did just look at the first result) was the refrain which sounds like ‘Punch…. Punch The Judy’, but which may just be ‘Punch… Punch And Judy’. Punch the Judy is of course more violent, but given the song ends up in a dark place anyway I’m not sure Punch the Judy is much of a stretch. The sudden end compliments the lyrics – like I was suggesting what the music of Grendel could have done for its last line. Overall, it’s a song which convinces me the band is proficient and comfortable writing the short form as the epic.

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

Onto the third, and not final song of this post. Jigsaw takes us back up to the near seven minute mark. Within the opening seconds of this one, I had a number of musical references – Let Down by Radiohead, Someone In The Dark by Michael Jackson (from ET), and Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys. Those songs have a span of around thirty years, but to some extent they all have some sort of a lullaby ambiance to their musical content. Almost every minute of this kept throwing further references spinning through my nostalgia nub – The Who and Pink Floyd in the verse, then 80s Power Ballads for the explosion in the chorus. It’s all rather lovely, isn’t it? Sure the chorus veers close to tipping into full blown cheese, but it all certainly fits the 80s rock knife edge the album has teetered on so far. Without touching on the lyrics yet, the music is emotional enough on its own – I imagine this is one of the Marillion songs to bring full grown, bearded men to tears when it’s played live – assuming it is. It’s not the most complicated song so I assume it is, or would have been a live staple. It’s in ballad territory so already prepped for overwrought emotion and exaltations of starved and repressed feelings, but there is more nuance – the central guitar solo is played with a tone and fervour designed to eek out those tears, playing precisely the expected notes to unlock the ducts and let the tears flow. And flow. Not that it has reached that point for me of course – I can feel the emotion but currently the song means nothing to me – I don’t know the lyrical content or background and I have not attachment to it. But I can feel what it is doing and can understand that this is likely ‘one of those songs’ for Marillion fans. Credit to Rothers (can I call him that?) for his playing here – and an opportunity for me to once again recommend the almighty Buckethead for anyone looking for emotive guitar music. Yes, he wears a bucket on his head, but that’s only because he doesn’t want anyone to see his ugly cries from hearing and playing his own epic shit.

There’s quite a lot of silence in the song – often in the verses it’s just the vocals, sometimes near spoken, and the lullaby keyboard with little accompaniment. The drums are at times like a funeral march, Fish tests his range with a variety explosive yelps and tender musings, and the song is mostly successful at things I don’t normally like – whispers, spoken sections. Incidentally, I asked Alexa to play this while I was making lunch one day (leftover sausages and pineapple marzipan) and she selected a live version from 1994 I believe. There are no drums in the verses but the audience decided to clap along, before quickly going out of time and giving up. It can be a pain to have people clap along to your songs as it can knock your playing out of sync. They did get to belt out ‘Stand straight’ instead of Fish.

Going over the lyrics.. it’s another long one – almost as long as this post. The first couple of stanzas – it’s not clear who the ‘we’ are, possibly the band, possibly the band and the fans and the ‘we’ of fandom, or maybe it’s just a couple. If I’m honest, I am sometimes disappointed when powerful and emotive songs happen to be ‘just about love’, because almost every other song ever written is about love. I like something more, though to be fair to Marillion even when they tackle your typical topics they do so with a unique voice. The chorus then, smells like a breakup, complete with requisite musical anguish. The next few verses have more of a futility in the words chosen, an inevitability opposed to the otherwise hopeful coupling of the first verses. Not for the first time Fish uses violent or final imagery when talking about love – Trigger happy, Russian roulette, dream coins to cover your eyes etc – the dude doesn’t seem to cope well with breakups, of his own doing or otherwise. Which is fair enough, who is? I can see a particular type of angry young man feeling some affiliation to these words, but then again most of us have seen relationships come to an end and can be pretty pissed off, confused, and depressed about it all – sometimes it’s good to know someone out there has been through similar shit and can put put your feelings to tune.

In this instance I feel it’s the music which elevates the lyric – in most cases so far the opposite has been true. The lyrics are opaque – it could be about anything though the end of a relationship seems like the most logical assumption. They don’t feel so personal or insightful or cutting, while the music gets straight to the point – I know form the music I’m supposed to feel a certain way and that is successful, while the lyrics feel like scattered enigmatic thoughts. Nevertheless, it’s another song I see myself listening to beyond the confines of the post and podcast. Am I a Marillion fan? There hasn’t been anything I haven’t enjoyed yet and there are plenty of bands out there I consider myself a fan of having only heard or enjoyed a single one of their albums. Lets not get ahead of ourselves – this was lovely, maybe everything else is crap.

Emerald Lies closes Side A. The 80s drums and scattered intro left me with no idea where the song is going beyond wondering if it was the theme tune to a forgotten 80s action TV show which follows a grizzled American detective who has emigrated to Japan to try to leave behind his guilt over his partner’s death. While there of course, he becomes embroiled in a war with the Yakuza and is employed by a futuristic tech company and given a sentient smart-arse hoverboard named WIPE to help him cut down on crime. What would such a show be called? Answers on a postcard.

As you may have guessed, I don’t have much to say about this one. It sounds like Big Trouble In Little China or Black Rain and though the song is five minutes long, it feels short and uneventful. This is maybe the song which took me the most listens before I got anything out of it. I’m heavily driven by melody and emotion, and this song didn’t leap out ay me from either of those respects. I’ll admit to be otherwise distracted in those first listens, but once it clicked with me I paid more attention to the plundering bass, the sound effects, and the anger. Not much else.

Reading the lyrics, Fish is pissed off about something again. Are there any songs where he’s not angry? It could be about a crumbling relationship again – with a partner, or it could be about his relationship to fans or the record company? He’s not happy and is placing himself or recognizing himself as being on a pedestal or as a target. The use of ‘harlequin’ makes me think of jesters and their tears. It’s all a little too cryptic for me, and because the song left me with a sense of blah, I wasn’t overly interested in Googling Torquemada. I wrote a song once which attempted to lampoon young lovers and their misguided obsession with each other… it was called… REALationships.

Apparently one of the songs made Sanja feel physically sick – that means it’s time now for me to hear Paul and Sanja’s thoughts on Side A. We start with a bit of a farewell to Fish as he has just released a solo manner, but has also released a bit of a… faux pas? An honest admission? I don’t know enough about the man and his writing and his life to know if he is on the Autism Spectrum. Plus, I am in no way qualified to speak about Autism. Some people have suggested I have traits, and I have friends who have been diagnosed. From what I know about Autism, and the wide Spectrum, there’s much more in the ‘no you’re not’ column, than ‘hmm, could be’. I think where Autism is concerned, people with a limited exposure or understanding just assume unusual behaviour – or behaviour they would see themselves doing – to be a signifier of Autism. But I know enough to know it’s something I have no understanding of, so I’m going to stop embarrassing myself now. But yeah – Fish, get on the podcast mate, sort it out.

Mick ‘Sisters’ Pointer left the band, Andy ‘Bill’ Ward joined and… wait, is Emerald Lies about Mick. John ‘I’m not a’ Martyr (sp?) joined too because Andy couldn’t cope…. a lot of drum changes a la Spinal Tap. Yes, the US version of the Manics The Holy Bible is noticeably beefier. The band had a crappy tour… all this perhaps informing the tonal direction of the album. This is the most 70s sounding podcast episode I’ve ever heard – all these blokes sharing tours and bands from the 70s. None of them have died yet? Not even a few of the drummers? Recording processes and how the band separates those feelings from the album is always interesting. St Anger? Let It Be? The Holy Bible – one of the most dark, bleak, powerful, upsetting  albums of all time – even recorded with the backdrop of Richey’s increasing alcoholic abuse, self-harming, anorexia, and stays in The Priory, is still spoken with fondness by the band when you’d assume it was one of those instances where the studio was haunted, burned down, and everyone hated each other.

Wrong band. Sanja thinks Assassing is about war, about words as weapons. Paul says yes, it’s the second part. It’s about the sacking of band members – I guess some of what I assumed the song was about is kind of correct. Why ‘assassing’? You’re all wrong – it’s just him turning the thing into a verb – instead of assassinating. Plus, Temple Of Doom is my favourite Indiana Jones movie. Paul makes a comparison with The Wall too, so I’m not on my own. Run Like Hell… a lot of the songs off that album do have a similar rhythm – makes it easier to smoosh them altogether in a coherent way. Watch those spoilers Biffo, I haven’t heard the second half of the album yet, but it’s clear the sound of the album is different from Script. Oh yes, the way Fish delivers ‘parading a Hollywood conscience’ has been grating on me, half singy, half talky. Anyway, they both love the song.

Punch & Judy. A straightforward song with an obvious theme. Fish is nervous about being trapped, fair enough. In the context of the album – yeah, it’s a more rock-oriented album, though Script does have that awesome transition into fist-pumping. Seems Punch & Judy shows are still a thing, somehow. Sausages, wife-beating, Satan – that about sums up Ol’ Blighty!

Sanja seems to have similar feelings to me on Jigsaw – musically lovely, lyrically less so. I have to stop telling people my dreams – I know it annoys people, but to be fair my dreams are awesome. Paul says the song is about not fully revealing yourself in a relationship, which makes sense in the context of the song and does lend another tragic layer to it – wouldn’t it be great if we could all just like, you know, fit? Oh, don’t they like Emerald Lies. Yikes, I’m conforming perfectly to everyone’s thoughts this time. Yay? They talk about the Production and tone of the album next, so I tune out a little in case there’s spoilers for Side B.

I’m sure there are people out there who like Emerald Lies – maybe not an all time favourite. I just couldn’t get into it. Even typing this I can’t remember much about it, but it’s been a few days since I last listened to it. Yes! Sanja is on board with the 80s TV soundtrack! I used to love MacGyver and would try to MacGyver through doorways – there was a bit in the opening credits where he slipped through a closing door, and I would copy this in School. Calm down, I was probably 9 or 10. Okay, Emerald, green, jealousy – I get it. Fine. Don’t care. And within thirty seconds of my typing that, Paul says ‘Emerald, green, jealousy’. I think I can check out now and go listen to Side B. Paul says he considered it a bottom three song, which bodes well for the quality of the songs I haven’t heard yet. I don’t think I’ll make this to 20 listens, though there are examples of Manics songs I have dismissed for years and eventually come round to liking a little more.

What will Side B bring? More 80s tinged rock, or a return to the more flighty and fantastical nature of the first album? I guess I’ll find out next time. And you can find out my thoughts on it by coming back next week!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Script For A Jester’s Tear (Side B)

Cover Art By Mark Wilkinson

Greetings, Glancers! I’m just going to jump right into this one without all the usual faff, because that faff balloons the already gorged content of my posts to debaucherously gargantuan levels. What do you call a debauched gargantuan? Simian Debussey. No, I don’t get it either.

Garden Party was a single, and Wikipedia tells me it reached 16 in the charts. For a 7 minute song, that’s not bad. You wouldn’t get that nowadays.  Today it’s all about sub 3 minutes jingles which need to have a ‘.feat’ accompanying the main artist. ‘Ho’s Party by DJ Mary Elle Lynn. feat Fish.’ This is getting awfully close to faff.

Garden Party then. Maybe the only thing sweet and pastoral about the track (beyond the title) is the birdsong which sporadically flutters about. Elsewhere, it’s another bitter song as Fish seems to be taking aim at – the upper class? Posh circles he may have experienced in his own life? Possibly the other posh Prog boys he maybe felt Otherness towards? Is it Royals or hangers-on (hanger-ons?), or is it just the well born blue and bred in general? I couldn’t hone in on precisely who or what he was targeting.

Those bird sounds do give a sense of calm, while melodically and musically it’s not as dark or frantic or downbeat as some Marillion material I’ve heard. Before I checked out the lyrics, it felt like a more positive song than The Web. However, that staccato beat seems deliberately robotic as if to hint at the conforming, repetitive, perpetuating nature of the wealthy class and their behaviour. More likely I’m reading far too much into things. There’s a little blink and you’ll miss it extra pause after the first three synth/drum blasts and before the final three. There’s a little extra pause between the first three synth/drum blasts. If you don’t hear it…  it would be easier to explain if you could hear me, but instead of going ‘dum dum dum – dum dumdumdum’ like it should, it goes ‘dum dum dum – – dum dumdumdum’. Do you see?

In fact, the whole song has lots of little unusual time signature hiccups which must make the thing a bastard to play live. While it’s not the most expansive or complex song in the grand scheme of Progressive singles, this doesn’t feel like a single. Sure, there are hooks, but there is a lot of jumping around and plenty of instrumental sections – the bane of chart radio. Possibly the single was cut down for Radio purposes – a la Light My Fire. Fish is being even more theatrical than usual, rolling every ‘r’, sneering, sighing, and possibly collapsing over a Chaise Longue with a damp cloth atop his brow. I kept having visions of Morrissey while listening to this one, cycling with a pansy in his lapel on his way to a Britain’s First picnic or some such.

In the middle of the song there’s a tasty Synth solo. This is in lieu of the more traditional guitar solo which, as a guitar fan and player I am naturally more drawn to – I don’t mind the occasional synth solo but they usually need to be exceptional to make an impact on me, God knows why. I must be a guitar Neanderthal. While I didn’t find it the most exciting song musically or melodically, I still found myself humming it over the weekend and cutting cheese to the staccato rhythm. That was not a euphemism, though can you imagine?

Lyrically, well it’s all very ironic and cynical isn’t it? He peppers the song with more puns and wordplay – not as much fun as on Charting The Single, but a few of them are amusing. Reading the lyrics doesn’t truly offer me any further insight as to Fish’s prey this time around, but I imagine there’s a good ol’ story behind it all. I’ll leave it to Paul and Sanja to share.

Chelsea Monday is the song which most reminded me of Pink Floyd, or some of the more talkative moments off something like Operation Mindcrime. It has snippets of soundbites and speech and effects and English accents. It’s a song of few transitions in tone or time signature, but isn’t any less interesting than the more complicated tracks. It doesn’t become tedious over its 8 minutes, mainly due to the articulate atmosphere which tows the line between chilled and threatening. The guitar solo towards the end – I don’t want to say it’s similar to Dave Gilmour solos – but that was the first reference point I could come up with so I’m sticking with it. The dude (checking name again), Steve Rothery plays with a similar elongated tone and emotive quality as Gilmour on this song at least. The sounds in the intro remind me of Welcome To The Machine, while the speaking near the end are pure Dark Side Of The Moon. 

This one I liked a lot. I haven’t quite stopped calling it Chelsea Morning, which is a Joni Mitchell song, but it isn’t one which needed to grow on me – I clicked with it from the first listen, usually a sign that the song will become a favourite. The creeping bass riff, the searing guitar bends, and the more subtle vocals combine to create a picture of – I’m not quite sure yet. When I think of the term Chelsea Monday in terms of the atmosphere crafted by the music, I get images of exhausted, paranoid rock stars waking the morning after in some luxury room, coke crumbs dusting a glass table, half empty bottles of Jack and Champers dripping on a Persian rug, and perhaps the odd groupie dead in the tub. All images from bad movies no doubt.

I stayed in a hotel in Chelsea once – there was a bit of a mix-up with our Breakfast (and there was blood in the bed when we arrived, but that seems to be par for the course for us when we stay anywhere that isn’t our own house) and the manager chased us down the street after we checked out, visibly frothing as he apologised and offered to appease us by shoving a bottle of wine into our hands. That’s all well and good, but as you can see we are each dragging a suitcase and have no free hands – could you please uncork it and pour it into my mouth while I stand here avoiding the seagulls?

Reading the lyrics, it becomes obvious quickly that the song isn’t about the band, or rock stars, but instead seems to be a certain type of lady – maybe one woman specifically. A few years ago you may have called them WAGs. It’s about a woman who is dealing in, or forced to deal in deceit and ass-kissing and social climbing to get to where she wants to be – presumably a position of wealth, fame, and power. Although it seems cynical in the beginning there is a tenderness to the lyrics and many of the metaphors used suggest fragility, innocence, and desperation – the song becomes less about a fame hungry woman but more about the tragedy of the lengths people may have to go to while chasing an honest dream. It becomes more apparent, and more tragic within the concluding spoken section as we learn in tabloid whispers that the woman drowned. She’s famous now. I’m curious to learn if this one was based on any true life figure or if it’s another imagining based on a collage of people. I just realised Chelsea Monday could be a person’s name. In any case, great song.

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

Forgotten Sons closes the album – it’s another eight minute track, and one of the heaviest on the album. There’s quite a lot of funky chord carnage, squealing solos, and flickers to lend a chaotic twist, there’s what seems to be Text To Speech and later there is militaristic shouting – all of which contributes to this feeling heavy, if not Metal. I particularly enjoyed the drums throughout this one – a lot of the tonal shifts are naturally driven by the percussion but the drum work stood out for me over most of the other songs. During the militaristic shouting section, there’s a nice surge of backing orchestration but rather than building to some explosive finish the song goes off in a more soothing direction for the finish. Soothing isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s accentuated by another one of those smooth Gilmour-esque solos and a more relaxed, toned down rhythm and percussion section than anything else in the song. From the very jaunty opening which sees Fish going all in with his theatrical tics alongside a bouncing, giddy synth, to the snazzy guitar and Text To Speech middle piece, this song was much more of a grower on me. On first listen it didn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion to the record, but I’ve come around on it in subsequent listens.

Being a lad from Northern Ireland, my first instinct on hearing ‘Armalite’ and ‘sniper’ in the opening verse was to make for under the table and phone the filth. Those were some of the small handful of lyrics I caught on first spin and given the album was released at the height of ‘The Troubles’ it seemed reasonable to assume the song was in part alluding to what was going on with the IRA et al. By the end of the song though, the lyrics seemed to cover over topics such as disillusionment, shitty parenting, the media, and organized religion. All of those can be connected quite easily to the topic of our silly little civil war, but just as easily it could be about some other riot or dispute or uprising I’m unaware of.

Having then gone back and read the lyrics, I’m guessing my original assumption was more accurate than I expected – ‘Emerald Aisle/isle’ is mentioned, kids being drafted into the Army (or alternatively a terrorist group) is a blatantly called out topic, and the whole song is punctured by violent allusions and language. A problem I’ve always had with songs which mention this conflict is that inevitably writers tend to pick sides – even from well-meaning pap released by the likes of Lennon and McCartney – which simplifies a battlefield history so strewn with misdirects, overlaps, and bullshit that any single truth is nigh-on impossible to grasp for long. If this is what Forgotten Sons is about, then it takes the seemingly more mature, even respectful approach by admitting there are no sides – only grief and pointless death. Hell, even saying that could get you kneecapped here. Yay!

It’s at this point in my post that I take a pause from the music and head off to listen to what Paul and Sanja make of it all. As always, any comments I make on the Podcast episode will likely be jumbled and less coherent than the mess I’ve already scribbled above. Paul used to invite his friends round to listen to Marillion. In my day it was Nirvana and Guns ‘n’ Roses. Then later it would simply be 6 hour sessions of Goldeneye and Diddy Kong Racing. Paul does admit he thinks the first song is a very strange song to have hit so high in the charts – something I mentioned somewhere miles above, but he then says the song was more about one of Fish’s girlfriends changing into a bit of a posho after going to Cambridge. To be fair, any of my friends (acquaintances) who went to Cambridge were already poshos. Sanja loves this one, and it seems like it’s still a live fan favourite. There’s some single Artwork, so I’d better check it out. It’s another shifty, psychotic jester holding a blade and a cucumber. Why he’s scalped a dinosaur and is doing a Davey Crockett with it is anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t have known that was a cucumber from the artwork – it’s more accurately just a big green… thing.

I have never named a car… or anything really. I named my cats and children, that’s about as far as I would go. Interesting that they changed up the drummer – I mentioned this song (and much of Side 2) has a lot of tricky drum parts which would be a pain in the arse performing live. I was wondering if I would ‘need’ to watch the videos. Sometimes videos let me down, especially when they’re from a band known for being artistic. Like my beloved Manic Street Preachers – as intelligent and well-read and well versed in art and literature and ideas as they are… their videos are balls. Parkes with an ‘e’ – I forgot to Google him. Paul raises an interesting one – there are plenty of songs and bands I love because they struck at the right time in my life, and upon re-evaluation they’re not as interesting or impactful or ‘good’. However, I tend towards still enjoying songs I once loved even as I recognise them as not being very good, but in general the bands I loved in my early days are bands I still adore now.

Sanja doesn’t sound like she enjoys Chelsea Monday much, but does enjoy the intro. She mentions the song feeling overly wordy – I think I’d be more shocked if the song wasn’t wordy. Paul doesn’t like this one – interesting – and that seems to be opposite from most Marillion fans. Given that I have no idea what Marillion fans like this is all interesting for me. Looks like I’m on the majority side here as the song was probably my second favourite. I should probably remind readers that I do look the old dirge – I wouldn’t call this a dirge in the negative sense – and I did find it one of the more emotive songs. Maybe the association to Genesis has added to Paul’s dislike of the song, while I’ve just heard it for the first time with no such association. Or maybe he just doesn’t like it. We can agree to disagree here, definitely one of my favourites. I never liked V For Vendetta like all the naughty little rebel boys did.

Onto the final track, and as anticipated the song is about ‘The Troubles’ but more concerned with the kids being sent off to die because they had no other prospects and the politicians convinced them that it was a glorious, heroic thing to do. A bit of the old Dulce et decorum est about it all then, and sadly fuck all has changed since WWI. Go and watch the movie ‘71, which is set in Belfast and follows a young soldier abandoned by his regiment in the midst of a riot – it’s great, and just about the most tonally accurate movie about the whole nonsense that I’ve seen. Hell, I grew up in the 80s and 90s in the middle of it all, and I still felt removed from it. I was never shot. My town was only (completely) destroyed by a bomb once. You get used to whatever your environment is. I missed the bit about the brick while typing, need to go back and listen. Hey, growing up here – even now, having a brick or indeed a shoe or a bottle thrown at you is not unusual, if you hang around certain areas. I quite enjoyed the anger in the lyrics and it did feel convincingly personal. I haven’t had many issues with any of the lyrics so far – possibly because the bar is set so low lyrically by most bands that anything with a sprinkle of artistry seems close to genius. Incidentally, I don’t have an issue per se with artists writing about a conflict or an issue that they have no first hand experience with… but if you’re going to do it, be prepared for the backlash. By all means do it, but most conflicts are such a clusterfuck that you’re never going to please everyone. Look at the stuff with Roger Waters and the Middle East. Nah, I’d rather not. Still, like I say, I feel that Fish took the right approach with the song – anyone can agree, or most can agree, that going to war isn’t the nicest thing.

There we go. My thoughts on the album? I mean, read everything above if you really want to again. I’ll probably listen to it again, but I see only Chelsea Monday and the title track staying with me – maybe one or two of the others will continue to grow on me. It’s a fine first album – Paul has said the band changes a little after this release. Plenty of bands get much better, plenty get worse or stop. Using the two artists I’ve mentioned most in these posts – Iron Maiden’s first album isn’t that great, while Generation Terrorists by the Manics has plenty of classics but in some ways doesn’t sound like anything else they would do afterwards. The cover art is cool, better now that some of the details I missed were pointed out – without having a big vinyl in front of me it’s hard to get the full impact. Next time is… Fugazi? That’s a band.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Script For A Jester’s Tear!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Grendel!

cover art for Grendel!

Greetings, Glancers! Last time I belly-flopped for the first time into the music and mind of the painted loon known as Fish, and his band Marillion and their first single. Did you know, I went to University with a young woman called Marillion (Mary Ellen Lynn)?

In Episode 2 of Paul Rose’s (AKA Mr Biffo) Podcast Between You And Me, he and wife Sanja listen to a few of the B-Sides which were released around the time of Mary Ellen Lynn’s first album – Script For A Jester’s Tear. That album title immediately makes me think of the sometimes great Blind Guardian – Power Metal pioneers – and any number of more embarrassing acts. Power Metal was ostensibly born out of Prog, and many of the European bands not only took the musical cues of Prog to the next logical (extreme) conclusion, but much of the imagery and literary/historical references too.

One observation I’ve made as a life-long Metal fan is that many of the more territorial Metal fans view Prog as ridiculous, weak, watered down, and would be ashamed to admit to liking it, while many of the more territorial Prog fans view metal as ridiculous, uncultured, over the top, and juvenile. I prefer to squat down betwixt the twain, like a goblin gathering and hording precious arcane items, and drag as much as I can from both sides to store beneath my thighs for future fingering. I can appreciate the arguments both sides make even if they come from a closed off and silly perspective, but both genres are more similar than some fans would like to admit.

Before we get to that first album, the B-Sides I need to listen to are Three Boats Down From The Candy, Charting The Single, and Grendel – the last of which is apparently some sort of big deal. Knowing now that the band took their name from one classic of fantasy literature (The Silmarillion) and that they have a song named after a character from another (Beowulf), I have a better idea of what to expect thematically from the band. Lots of epic tales of heroism and quests, elves and dragons, and other annoying pubescent rites of passage. Hey, I love all that stuff too! Also, I’m almost certainly going to be proven entirely wrong on this assumption. I haven’t read either of those particular tomes, but I have read LOTR and am aware Beowulf exists, so that’s something.

Did you know, when I was at University with Marillion, we had a Professor in Old English Studies who was obsessed with Beowulf and was some sort of authority on the subject. He was quite an odd, bespoke character – he conversed in an indescribable lilt which in no way fit his gargantuan physical frame – it was like he had swallowed a Childe, and said Childe subsisted on a meal of helium and jelly tots. I’m fairly certain he wrote ‘child’ as ‘Childe’ and I am convinced the whole thing was an act that he tried on for a laugh at one point, but has been forced to keep up the charade for 30 years because nobody has pulled him on it. He looked exactly like what you think an Olde English Professor would look like, but crossed with Ed Kemper.

Back to the point. I’m going to listen to these three songs over the next few days, slap a few thoughts together here, then go off and listen to Between You And Me, then return and summarize. How does that suit you? Good? Good.

Photo Courtesy of... unknown?

Starting with Three Boats Down From The Candy; I’m listening to this on Youtube so I’ve no idea if the one I’ve picked is the definitive version. There’s a bunch of 90s Remasters of this song, but the one I’ve gone for is from a B-Sides Album called Themselves. I chose this because it has a cool, terrifying, album cover – the artist or the band seems to have a thing for mouths based on the artwork I’ve seen so far.

It’s another song with a bombastic intro, synth driven, which then wriggles and remoulds into a totally different aura for the verse. The verse is ominous, smooth. Whispered vocals, still theatrical. I do get a distinct Dickinson/Maiden impression from these verses – that combination of the eerie arpeggio and theatrical, high pitched vocals. I like the quiet/loud dynamic, noticeable when the tumbling synth returns for the ‘chorus’. The whole song sees each instrument playing that sinister tumbling piece – the synth in the intro, the guitar in the verse, the piano in the middle – other guitar parts too. Much of the second portion of the track consists of a cool instrumental coda where the tumbling riffs change subtly and feel more purposeful and epic – this is probably my favourite part of the song, but it doesn’t last long (enough) and fades out. This seems like a cop out, a bit of an anti-climax, ending as if they either ran out of ideas, didn’t know how else to close it out, or originally intended for the song to run into the next piece of a larger whole.

In my first listens to these songs I don’t pay attention to the lyrics; For Three Boats, none of them stood out initially aside from the title, which is repeated throughout the song but doesn’t give me any insight into what it’s all about. As a music fan, I tend to delve into lyrics after a first listen, especially the artists who are known to put genuine effort into their words. When there is lyrical artistry, most times the depth doesn’t become apparent until you sit down and read the thing. Simplistic songs, typically of the radio Pop variation, tend to have lyrics which are designed to be easy to discern and understand immediately, consequently they have little to say and are based around limited topics. This is clearly not the case with Marillion.

On subsequent listens, I follow with the lyrics. The progression of the song and the lyrics suggests to me a journey, lets say of a boat sloping down a river, and what is seen along the way. The three images in the opening verse seem unrelated besides being images you may see on a journey. I’m sure there’s more to it according to Fish, but it’s not clear to me. I don’t think it needs to be. Proceeding through the next verses, the lyrics take on a more personal hue – ‘you ask for my love on the strength of a kiss’ is a neat line, but the follow-up lyric makes the narrator sound like a bit of an exploitative dick. That notion follows through in later lines with the narrator seemingly looking for nothing more than a fleeting fling and not wanting to be tied down into the machinations of a relationship or hindered by feelings. I do love the rhythm of the ‘You’re a memory… flotsam in a silent void’ couplet – it runs off the tongue nicely. Wait a minute… is ‘the candy’ slang for some sexy naughty word? I’ll wait until I listen to the podcast and not bother reading any online interpretations.

It’s a good song – I like it more than Market Square Heroes – which I keep mistakenly calling Market Stall Heroes. It feels shorter than it is – it’s only four minutes, but it feels like there is a lot more packed in than those four minutes suggest. I’m still not entirely sold on the vocals, but the theatrical approach matches the poetry and mystery of the lyrics and music.

Next up, we have Charting The Single. Is it another travelogue song, or is it about the band watching their songs soar up (down?) the charts? It starts with 80s stilted drums, and potentially stadium rock guitar chords. For me though, the song doesn’t live up to the potential of this intro. The major key hints at a more positive and optimistic feel than the previous songs. I strongly feel the Johnny Rotten and David Bowie approach from the vocals here – I’m getting PIL in fact. The robotic, simplistic drum beat is symptomatic of a lot of 80s New Wave type music – not something I’m a fan of because it tends to reek of repetition and lack of invention. I wouldn’t say that this song lacks invention, more that’s what the drum beat generically makes me feel. A huge organ (matron) comes in towards the end, increasing that epic vibe. This is the weakest, or my least favourite of the three songs I’ve heard so far – maybe because it’s slower, maybe because it feels artificially drawn out without adding enough musical variance. It has another fade out ending, but here it feels more natural. The song does build as it progresses, but the beat never changes and the vocal melodies remain roughly the same throughout.

There’s a lot of ‘ay-eeeee!’ in the lyrics so I didn’t pick up much more beyond that. Reading the lyrics alongside the song, it does have an element of travel to it. ‘Plastered in Paris I’ve had an Eiffel (eye-full)’ is the sort of amusing wordplay I’d usually expect from a Rapper. There’s a lot of similar wordplay throughout, and absolutely none of that was apparent to me until I read the lyrics online. As a Manics fan, I’m more than familiar with indecipherable lyrics only becoming clear once you read the album notes. Not that these are indecipherable per se, 50% of this was due to my own lack of attention. The whole storytelling, Burroughs-esque narrative flow of the lyrics is reminiscent of Bowie. The lyrics clearly make the song more interesting, I’d say they are the best component, but I doubt I’d return to this song purely because of the lyrics – the music is too drab to engage me entirely. I get the impression that the lyrics are quips and observations Fish had been building up during his life, and it feels like the band struggled to build a song around them. There was a Pizza Takeaway on the street I used to live on in Belfast called ‘A Pizza The Action’, which was enough to make me always choose it over any other after a night out. What’s it all about though? Lets just say ‘love’ because I’m aware I haven’t even got to Grendel yet.

Because Grendel is so long, I’m going to type my random-first-impression-jotted-down-notes first, and work from there. Here’s what I came up with on my first listen:

‘Grendel begins. House Of The Rising Sun guitar. Paint It Black guitar. Images of a jester frolicking around a grand Court while a disinterested King ponders a coming attack on his borders. Nice falsetto. Slow and gentle opening. I assumed before listening that this would move through various phases and tones and styles. Of course it does. Dragonforce synth. I wonder what my old Professor would think of this. The second verse (if that’s what I can refer to them as) sees the vocals a little more unstable at the falsetto moments – the notes aren’t quite hit cleanly, not sure if that’s on purpose. Then it all goes buck nuts into a light-speed disco section with a rocket up its arse, while retaining the main chord progression. Great twiddly solo. I’m only vaguely aware of Beowulf, so I’ve no idea what a ‘shaper’ or a ‘rim walker’ is. This is the most Floyd song so far – I mean, there’s not a lot actually comparable to Pink Floyd here beyond the length and the ambition. Musically it’s more relatable to me with some of Alice Cooper or Iron Maiden’s more rambling, epic moments. The bass from around the 7 or 8 minute mark is almost identical to Cooper’s legendary Halo Of Flies. Look Mummy, another big organ. Look Around You synth. I’m only going to be able to listen to this a limited amount of times before I post this, so I’m only scratching the surface of what it’s all about and my feelings about it. But I’ll certainly listen to it in the future. It’s the sort of song I wish I knew in and out, every detail and lyric and inflection, but that would take a lifetime of listening, and there’s only so many epics I can keep in my skull.’

I’ve since listened to the song a few more times, and most of my original impressions remain. I’m more aware now of the twists and turns which the song takes but I still feel, like with most epics, there’s a lot more to uncover, and I haven’t mentioned the lyrics yet. Tonally, I don’t mind whether songs longer than six or seven minutes retain the same vibe throughout, or if they completely shift. As long as there is some meaning behind those shifts that’s more than purely artificial, and as long as there is some sort of progression in terms of additional production or instruments in the mix for those songs which don’t shift as much. If there’s an overall tone I get from the song as a whole, it’s one of manic melancholia, like a sadness in the midst of panic.

I think the slower, calm section which runs until just after the nine minute mark drags the whole down somewhat, it’s too much of a dirge and too uneventful, and rather than acting as a build-up for the faster or (what I feel are) the more emotional moments, it just has me skipping forwards to get to the good stuff. ‘Dirge’ feels like too much of an insult, it’s simply not as interesting to me as everything before and after it. The slower phase from after nine minutes to around 11 minutes is much more potent, especially when we factor in the way Fish belts out some of the lyrics. I can’t get past the synth making me think of Wish You Were Here and Look Around You. I’d be curious to know how this was all put together – that’s something I enjoy hearing about in songs in general, but particularly epics. It’s like Making Of Documentaries on DVDs and Blu Rays. I’m curious to know if this was always planned as a single song, how much of it came together in jam sessions, was it originally a series of other songs and ideas consolidated over time into a single piece. Maybe Biffo will go into this in his Podcast.

Onto Grendel’s lyrics. The first thing I should say is, like any great epic, the song has SECTIONS. Lyrics are partitioned in some sort of over-arching plot in that great pretentious way much of Prog and Progressively tinted Metal follows. Grendel is divided into Hereot’s Plea And Grendel’s Awakening, Grendel’s Journey, and Lurker At The Threshold. Having not read much of Beowulf, I’m not qualified to talk about what any of this means. The opening verse scans nicely and reads like a poem if spoken aloud. It’s a scene-setting introduction with an overt hint of threat. The second verse, or do I dare use ‘stanza’, is more simple, yet tells me less – the terminology being foreign to me. Musically, it’s the second and fourth simple stanzas which are the loud half of the quiet/loud dynamic, with the first and third verses filling the quiet quota, though whether or not that was intentional or has any greater creative meaning, I’ll leave to the experts. I’m assuming with all of the fear in the 3rd Stanza that Grendel is one of the monsters in the tale – was it a Dragon, or a Witch or something? It’s interesting that the funky disco part of the song comes in this first section of the song – reading the lyrics I would have expected this to come in Grendel’s Journey. 

Grendel’s Journey is mostly the dirge-like part I mentioned earlier. Lyrically, it’s still littered with image driven choices which would likely mean more to me if I knew the story in detail. Lurker At The Threshold sees the song building up again – the build up is drawn out and the many stanzas here mirror this increase in potency – the words coming and coming and coming while the music reaches a crescendo. The lyrics are at their most violent in this section, which (I’m assuming) makes sense as Grendel has arrived and started to eat legs and wear the skins of tavern wenches – again, I don’t know the story. Grendel does seem like more than a mere murderous creature from the lyrics, it questions and condescends and mocks those it attacks, and the final lyric of ‘Receive your punishment, expose your throats to my righteous claws, and let the blood flow, and let the blood flow’ is particularly evocative and gruesome. I don’t think the actual delivery of the line is as powerful as seeing it written – I read the lyrics and thought ‘is that what he really sings, I’d better pay more attention to that last line this time, because that’s a great ending’ but that delivery is an anti-climax, plus it’s followed by another minute or so of music rather being the dead stop such a line perhaps deserves.

If I’m ranking these songs, and I don’t think I’m going to continue to in the future, but it’s Three Boats, then Grendel, then Charting The Single. Market Square Heroes would be between Grendel and Charting The Single. So far, there isn’t anything I would switch off if it popped up on my, what do people listen to these days, my radio/Alexa/Shuffle, but I’m not yet feeling a tug to listening to any again. Three Boats is the one I’ve found myself singing most since I’ve started this, so possibly I’ll return to it. All that’s left is to hear what Paul and Sanja make of it all, so I’ll be back once I’ve listened to the podcast.

Aaand, I’m back. Paul tells me that the B-Sides were live staples pre the first album’s release. That’s fairly standard as bands go – sometimes bands get sick of their early stuff, or don’t feel it fits on their first official release, or feel… embarrassed? Other bands just translate their live sets on to record and then struggle with their sophomore effort. Sanja’s approach to the podcast is the same as mine – listen, then lyrics. Her impressions are of the first song being elegant, but then being befuddled by the lyrics, which is fair enough – musically it sounds sweeter than the lyrics suggest.

Don’t worry, Biffo, Geddy Lee’s voice annoys everyone. His timbre is more grating. I love falsetto in general but if it goes too nasal or screechy, then it’s like claws down your back. Fish doesn’t call a spade a spade – or himself by a human name. Fish says the song is about a one night stand, under a boat, which was three boats down from a boat called ‘The Candy’. That sort of makes sense, though my reading of the lyrics was more cynical. Everything Paul says fits with what I read. It sounds like Paul and Sanja cringe a little at the lyrics and how they fit with the band’s early persona – I don’t mind them, but I’m new.

Interesting that Paul says this phase of the band only lasts for the first album, so I’m already curious to hear what that new phase is – and I haven’t heard the first album yet. Sanja feels Charting The Single is likeable filler – that about sums it up, though given that it’s not my preferred style I’d say it’s more on the dislikeable side. The subject of the song is expanded from my ‘love’ to being a parody of rock stars shagging their way around the world. Good. Paul loves this one more that Three Boats. 

Paul’s Perverted Pranks should be an episodic bit. It sounds, I’m getting a slight sense, that they like Grendel. It was played at their wedding. They love the rolling rrrrs, as do I. I love when people are enthusiastic about songs, even more so when it’s a song I love too so we can all galivant around in our echo chamber. I don’t love Grendel, but I agree that it’s a good song. There are many more epics I enjoy more, and more epics I think are better, but then I’m much more familiar with those. And we’re not here to talk about those. It’s great that it has inspired Sanja to go back and read Beowulf. Double Hot Chocolate references!

Another good episode, I got more information about the band, but the best part is hearing the childlike glee as our hosts talk about something they love. Can’t say we don’t need more of that in the world these days. That’s about it from me, it’s a sunny day at the time of writing, and I want to go outside and play. And let the blood flow.

Let us know in the comments what you think of these early Marillion B-Sides!