Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Misplaced Childhood – Side A!

Marillion - Misplaced Childhood (1985, Gatefold, Vinyl) | Discogs

Greetings, Glancers! Today I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Side A of Misplaced Childhood, Marillion’s third studio album, and according to what Paul has told us on previous episodes, an album which was something of a breakthrough. I always begin my exploration into these new albums by grabbing the checklist from Wikipedia, and trying to avoid reading anything which could taint my opinions – like any considerate porn star, I like going in clean. What I could not avoid reading, however, was that there was a Live album released one year before this – I’ll be skipping that for now – and that Misplaced Childhood hit Platinum. It contains the singles Kayleigh – which I have heard – and Lavender, which I have not. At least not that I’m aware of. Critics seemed to like it to, with it being named in Yearly Best Ofs, and even as one of the greatest Concept albums of all time. So this is a proper, full blown Concept album then? Cool. Can I listen to the songs easily on their own merits, or do they drift into each other and will therefore sound weird individually?

Before we begin, I take a look at the album artwork. There’s that bird again – is it like Marillion’s version of Iron Maiden’s Eddie? There’s a shoeless little drummer boy who looks like he has been dressed by Pete Doherty; he’s standing in a room with a flower growing out of the ground and a mural of skies, clouds, and rainbows behind him. Has someone gobbled part of a Cucumber and spat its scraps on the ground? Or is it just another green thing? I don’t get much from this artwork aside from the feeling that the dimensions are off. The boy’s face doesn’t give much away either. It’s fine, not particularly striking, but I’m an art pleb. While Googling previous album covers, I did see that the artwork extends beyond the front cover into a wraparound – that hasn’t happened for a few decades – but I’m not going to delve the back cover as I haven’t got all day.

Pseudo Silk Komono opens the album with an air of ominous threat, the synth, guitar, and vocals creeping along with a noticeable lack of percussion. It’s a great opener and one which presumably sets the tone for the album – bearing in mind I haven’t listened to the rest of the album while typing this. As anticipated, it does end abruptly because it transitions directly into the next track without a pause. It’s a short song and when we consider the abrupt ending, it’s not the sort of song to just have as part of a favourite tracks playlist or shuffle. That’s the thing about Concept albums – they were devised and designed to be listened to in a single sitting, and while every song may not bleed into the next, many of them do. What I look for in a Concept album, over and above what I look for in a typical album or song – melody, emotion, songwriting, technical skill – is coherence. You’re probably not going to find a Concept album which features a different genre for every song or  sees subject matter and theme flipping about; you should expect songs which are relatable to one another to the extent that lyrics, theme, melody, and tone may be repeated. If we use The Wall as a prime example, the whole album literally wraps around upon itself so that the final seconds of the last song become the first moments of the first. That’s being a little excessive with the format, but there should be enough obvious comparisons that you know each song is part of the same whole, like non-identical twins or a bowl of different flavoured Pringles.

Sometimes with songs like this – I wish they were a little more; longer, complete, and without needing to be part of something greater. This song fits the sentiment – I enjoyed the vibe and the melody quite a lot, but I know it only makes so much sense on its own – I know that I need to listen to the next song to get the full impact. Again, that’s the dual edged sword of the Concept album. Maybe if the band plays the song live they extend the outro and leave it as its own thing without needing the next song to be played, though I suspect they connect the two songs together, or possibly play the entire album from start to finish in one go. When I saw Roger Waters at Glastonbury, he was able to take songs and sequences from a variety of Pink Floyd albums and mix those somewhat with his solo material, though in most cases the sequences selected did end similarly to how they do on the original releases.

I’m in two minds as to whether I should wait until the end of the album before looking at the lyrics, as I can only assume there’s some sort of plot at play. But that would make for a boring post so I’ll go one by one. It’s maybe the first time we don’t have a thousand words to wade through – I did pick up on ‘Misplaced Childhood’ being sung – but beyond that, the lyrics themselves didn’t offer me much in the way of meaning. He’s juxtaposing images of innocence and childhood with those of washed out adulthood, and there’s the sense of dreaming of escape and retreat back to better, easier times. It’s the introduction to a concept album, so I’m sure the lyrics of the individual songs will mean more when read along side the others. Good song.

Kayleigh is pure 80s to me. It’s one of those songs which manages to fill me with nostalgia and memories of 80s movies, music, and my own childhood. It’s also just a flat out groovy rock song. Those keyboards add to and cement an atmosphere which the jangling guitars round out. Up to this point, it’s one of their most accessible songs – the lyrics flow easily and it has a straightforward traditional structure; it’s easy to see why it was a hit. I love that simple chord progression in the verse and how the vocal melody effortlessly fits. The chorus I’m not as enamoured by – I do appreciate how the chord structure is melodically slightly inverted yet follows the same pattern, and it does lead in to an exquizz guitar solo before transitioning seamlessly back to the verse.

I have not yet listened to the complete album yet, but I get the sense that by the end I’ll be typing that old cliché of the band catching lightning in a bottle. As I don’t have much to say about Kayleigh I’ll apply that well worn phrase here instead. This song feels like the work the band had done to this point, all of the effort and song writing and experimenting and musicianship and seeking for a hit, just came together at the right time. All of those bizarre unspoken and unseen attributes and alignments which can conspire for or against an artist seem to have been consolidated and captured with this song. Sometimes for a band it takes only one hit to launch their careers in a wider sense, and sometimes this only comes after years of attempts, misfires, or underheard greats. For my money, or at least for my preferences, the best and most interesting (and often longest lasting) acts don’t strike oil with their first release. It takes some years of playing, touring, struggling, dealing with dismissals from fans and critics and the media while still building a reputation, then boom – lightning – success. Lets take a few of my usual suspects; Alice Cooper – a couple of non-eventful releases under the tutelage of Frank Zappa before condensing the weirdness into a hit; I’m Eighteen kicking off a sensational run in the 70s. Iron Maiden – years of touring, two average selling albums, before switching out their singers and approach and hitting the eternal big time with The Number Of The Beast. Manic Street Preachers? Self released demos and EPs and self hype before being signed to a huge label only to sell average numbers of a host of singles and three albums before losing their lead lyricist (the as yet unsolved mystery of Richey Edwards), then completely shifting their sound while retaining their sensibilities, the result being A Design For Life, Everything Must Go, millions of sales and all of the rest.

While there are just as many, if not many many more examples of artists who do ‘get it right’ from day one, those tend to not be the bands I find myself enjoying long term. It’s always more interesting to me when you can see, even with hindsight, the steps artists were putting in place which led to their eventual breakthrough. Kayleigh and Misplaced Childhood appears to be another example of this. But is the song just another love song? It sounds like one, but Fish being Fish, there’s likely more to it. Before reading the lyrics it’s obvious there is a lot of looking back, a lot of nostalgia – the repeating ‘Do You Remember’ followed by memories, along with a list of regrets. Looking more closely at the words, each of the first lines has a progression from childhood to adolescence to eventually the hope of marriage. Unlike most of the songs till this point, the writing is universal – we can all understand the words and the sentiment and those images and feelings. He could be writing about me – I’m sure many of you have thought, while being pulled back to an old and broken relationship. I can’t say that I remember loving on the floor in Belsize park, but I do remember friends hallucinating that the safety mats in ‘the safe room’ situated near where one of those friends lived and worked, were nudey ladies. That was particularly horrific.

Obviously the song is personal to Fish – the allusions to writing ‘that’ love song and other images which, while universal, seem to be very specific. I think a previous podcast mentioned Kayleigh being a portmanteau of one of Fish’s exes? That’s the trick to releasing a successful love song – we all have to understand it, we all have to have been there, and yet the music has to be good. It needs to be catchy. This ticks all the boxes, and so we can move on.

Lavender begins as Kayleigh ends, with a solitary piano clinking a melancholy tune. Rather than the third song on an album, it sounds like a natural ending. It sounds like an album closer, and it also struck me that I may have heard it before. I don’t believe I have, but there is something familiar about it – must be all the dilly dilly nonsense which I’m certain I’ve heard in other songs. This was a single, right? I think I read that on Wikipedia, but it doesn’t fit the criteria of being a single – it lacks the simple verse chorus verse structure. It’s also very short, so possibly the single version is different from the album – expanded and turned into a more standalone whole? I mentioned earlier how shorter songs on Concept albums may not feel fully fleshed out and able to stand on their own beyond the confines of the album – to me this is exactly what Lavender feels like. That’s not a negative – I like the song but it does strike me as part of something bigger – almost like it is more accurately the ending of Kayleigh rather than its own thing.

It has that big finish feel, like the end of a Queen concert or the ending credits of a movie. Not that the song is huge – it does start out quietly, pastoral, but it builds to the big guitar solo and percussion climax. Looking at the lyrics… there seems to be a second half of the song which I’m guessing is what appears in the single version, starting from ‘blue angel, the sky was Bible black in Lyon’. Elsewhere the lyrics are mostly simple, again recalling childhood, memory, love, innocence. There’s a single verse, where a memory is triggered taking Fish back to another time and place, followed by the ‘dilly dilly’ section. This very much fits with the tropes of a concept album – the lack of hit single structure, the alignment with the grander themes of the album, and the lyrics acting more like a Scene within an Act instead of being a standalone. Three songs in, and they’re all good.

Bitter Suite takes things to full blown Prog/Concept levels – a song in four deliberate parts. When I saw the name I was triggered back to my own childhood and trying to start my first band. Of course this was when I was in P6/P7 and had no clue, but one of my favourite names at the time for the band was ‘Bitter Type’. Just sounded cool. I got the name from a Top Trumps deck about Concept Cars – Bitter Type being the name of one of the cars. There was also a car called a ‘Zender Vision’, which looked exactly like the car of my rock star dreams, but the name didn’t fit the sound we were going for. Or something.

Something amusing happened during one of my listens of the opening instrumental section of Bitter Suite– a voice began speaking over the music and I was scrambling back in my memory trying to recall if this had happened in previous listens. I knew there was a spoken part, a Scottish voice reciting some guff about spiders, but this was different. It wasn’t Scottish for a start, and it was right at the start of the track. After searching around the room I realised I had multiple tabs open on my laptop and that for some reason my Netflix tab had decided to play a trailer for some movie called His House just after I hit play on the song. Oddly enough, the voiceover on the trailer fit the rhythm and tone of the music almost perfectly. That’s one of those odd scenarios which ends up on the bonus feature of an album or movie special edition.

Is the Scottish voice Fish? Or more TTS software? I’m not sure at which point the different parts of the section being or end, but what I am sure is that the song as a whole managed to piss me off several times. Not because it’s bad – it’s not – but because it repeatedly uses several words and phrases several times, words I cannot stand. You know Trichophobia – that aversion to irregular patterns, usually holes or dots? Alternatively, have you seen the movie Pontypool – a horror movie about people trapped in a radio station due to an outbreak of WORDS? It’s about a virus which seems to spread when people say or hear certain words… this song and the next song unnerved me somewhat because they used certain words which make my skin crawl. I have no explanation for why I don’t like these words, but I honestly don’t like hearing them spoken out loud – words including ‘lager’ (which is unpronounceable in my accent) and ‘wide boys’. I despise that phrase, I’m laughing as I type this, but that genuinely sickens me.

Throw in spoken words, throw in a French part which I originally heard as ‘John Todd don’t care’ – John Todd being an old associate of my father – the whole thing was making my head wonky and I had to put it away. After listening to this once and having been suitably unnerved, I went straight to the next song only to encounter the aforementioned wide boys. I had to then go back and listen to the opening three songs again then not return to the album for a couple of days until I was ready to listen again. Knowing what was coming I was able to steal myself somewhat for hearing the distasteful stuff and then appreciate everything else. Still, I thought I would call all of that out to show what an odd person I must be and to let you know that I probably won’t listen to the two tracks more beyond this post. Which is a shame because the rest of the album has been great.

Having listened to the two tracks back to back, what I will say is that the album takes a more sinister turn – beyond my own weird brain stuff – and steps away from the comfortable forays into nostalgia and sadness. Now it sounds focused, obsessed, and paranoid – trapped in the memory and unable to move on. The synth keys are longer and feel more threatening, the lyrics angrier, the music as a whole is more disjointed, with little bass blips trickling in and out, echo samples, dissonant hits on the cymbals, and guitar bends cutting into jagged three second solos. Of course we do get a call back to dilly dilly – the missing lyrics from the Google search result I retrieved for Lavender appear here, but they are more mournful. This isn’t merely looking back with bittersweet fondness and regret momentarily, this is a genuine wish to hop in a DeLorean and go back to potentially fuck things up even more.

Musically for Bitter Suite, the standout section for me is Misplaced Rendevouz. It is suitably downbeat yet retains a fragile beauty which then transitions into the Windswept piece. It further transitions into Heart Of Lothian where it all goes a bit wrong with the chanting of ‘wide boys’ over and over again, at which point my lunch comes back up and ends up on my lap. I was quite psyched at the shift from minor to major in the music and the more buoyant tone, right up until ‘wide boys’ started and sucked all of the fun out of it for me. Putting, or trying to put that phrase to the side, it’s another track which feels like an ending credit scene. It does close this side of the album, but not before the music pulls back somewhat to become more like a lullaby or the comedown after a climax.

I didn’t find too much distinction between these last two tracks in my limited listens of them. They could have been merged into one large track of six pieces just as easily as they way they do appear and although there are various transitions between each piece, they do tick that coherent cohesive box I mentioned at the top of the post. The differing pieces are not so wildly divergent from one another and if I had been listening to the physical album rather than on Youtube (with its Ad breaks) I may not have noticed when one part or song ended and the next began.

I refer to Google for a definitive breakdown of the lyrics, section by section. Brief Encounter is the spoken spider part – it very much reads like it was designed to be spoken aloud rather than sung and thanks to the way it is delivered – right down to the accent – it reminds me of a similar section from Nightwish’s epic Song Of Myself. I can only assume Nightwish was influenced here, it seems like too much of a coincidence. The ‘your carnation will rot in a vase’ seems quite abrupt and unrelated to the lines before, unless it’s referring simply to the passing of time in a bitter manner. Is there something to do with Scotland and England here – Fish is Scottish, is he speaking about an English girlfriend? Grasping, I know.

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

Lost Weekend… lyrically there isn’t much to say – mums, dads, daughters, beer, memories. Blue Angel covers another brief encounter as the narrator apparently meets a sex worker with scars or drug and physical abuse for some ‘respite’. It’s not exactly plot, but what passes for such in a concept album, but it is written with some of the old poetic flair from the previous albums. Misplaced Rendevouz… the narrator is coming to his wits a little? He’s looking for replacements of the one he wants, but is this part of the album a memory, or what the narrator is currently going through? It’s never good to dwell on the missives of a Concept album written under the spell of hallucinogens.

Windswept Thumb is playful with its road puns while Heart Of Lothian serves only to make me cover my ears until everyone stops shouting ‘Wide Boys’. There is some snazzy wordplay, plus he fits ‘rootin tootin’ into the song which almost makes up for that crap from earlier. Not a lot to this piece, so with that I’ll move over to the Podcast where presumably neither Paul or Sanja will also mention a dislike of ‘wide boys’.

It’s a long episode (for them) at one hour, and it seems like the album has been split into three parts. Paul has eight pages of notes on what I can only assume is one of his favourite albums. He leads us in by telling us of the album’s success, but how it sowed the seeds of Fish throwing his toys out of his sporran. We hear about the band writing the album while releasing a live album, and how they originally envisaged the album as two tracks – one on each side. Now, due to my lack of a writing schedule, I’m actually listening this episode of the Podcast having already written my Post for Side B of Misplaced Childhood – so I find it interesting that Paul mentions Brothers In Arms – more on that next week I guess. That also means it’s been so long that I wrote the bulk of this post that I can’t really remember what I wrote and I can’t be arsed scrolling up to see, but I think I wrote about Concept Albums not exactly being in vogue in 1985. Paul is treating the episode a little differently due to this being a Concept album, and may not go track by track – I did consider writing my posts for this album in a different way but given that I didn’t know the album I thought this would be too much effort.

Paul shares some memories of Wogan, memories which have been muddied by time, but he does remember buying the Kayleigh single after seeing the band live on Terry’s show. I was more of an Auntie’s Bloomers guy. The single was huge, only held off Number One by a bit of a fluke – is this like A Design For Life being held off the top spot by Return Of The Mack or some shit? Ah, so it is Fish doing the speaking then. A Design For Life was the song which sucked me into the Manics, but for me that was entirely the song, not the artwork or any other faff. It wasn’t until later songs from the same album, loving the album, reading the lyrics, and then being sucked down the rabbit hole of their history and falling in love. I will say that many a Metal album and Horror movie was bought or rented by me in my childhood based on its artwork. All this talk of the album’s Production and writing process is always fascinating to me – I did ask myself some related questions which this is answering – whether songs were fully formed or slapped together or cut up. Incidentally, I was 13 or 14… 13 when I first heard A Design For Life. By that point I was already aware of Concept type albums thanks to Alice Cooper, though I didn’t get into most of the other Concept Albums I enjoy until later.

There’s more about the Production – Germany, a commercially viable Producer, two tabs of acid, and a bike ride. Many albums have grown out of similar enough situations. Paul’s description of ‘not showing off’ is that quiet maturity and confidence I allude to either in this post or my Side B post – again, I wrote both a while back and haven’t got around to actually listening to the Podcasts yet. But yes, this came across to me while listening – they knew they were good, but didn’t need to rub it in anyone’s face in this instance. Rothers was interested in making Film Scores at the time and this approach of using sound to tell a story is quite clear.

Sanja describes the album as dense – maybe it’s the switch towards music and away from lyrics, but I found it less dense. I’m sure there’s plenty to unwrap that I haven’t yet, and less dense is maybe not the best way to describe it, but it is more approachable and those classic Commercial moments act as a scythe pushing the dense moments to the side. This means plebs like me who are coming to this new and may not revisit multiple times in the future can enjoy those pop rock hits without having to wade through the epics or the dirges or the reams of prose searching for an accessible hook.

There’s a discussion of grief and the exploration of Fish using language as a mask to prop up the persona of the previous albums, and the album used as a proxy for his own journey back to inner peace and progress. One of the tricky things about Concept Albums is… if the concept is silly or doesn’t speak to you as a listener, then you’re probably not going to enjoy the album. Of course you can easily ignore the lyrics and the story, but then you’re only getting half the picture. The concept of this album, at its most base level is something many people can relate to – looking back and comparing your childhood and your innocence to your current state, and trying to get better. It’s about that good old quote rolled out by every wannabee on every talent show – it’s about being true to yourself. It’s about having the balls to hone in on your flaws, admitting to them, and trying to utterly destroy them. Lightning in a bottle strikes again – Fish’s journey is mirrored by the growth and understanding of the band as musicians and as a unit.

I don’t think Biffo would like Nightwish’s sound (more on that in the next post) but his description of Marillion perfectly encapsulates what Nightwish is – grand, cinematic, yet with the melodic accessibility of pop. Except much heavier. I can’t say I got any sense of Seasons from the music – more likely because here in Northern Ireland all of our Seasons are relatively similar – our Summers rarely get higher than 22 degrees, our Winter rarely lower than 3 degrees, and rain and cloud and wind regardless of the month. Paul tells us that Fish’s story is far from over, and even though Fish seems to be coming out of a mire, the real mire may be to come. Fish became Marillion, and to be fair in reading my posts most of the focus has been on Fish. He’s a frontman – it’s rare for the frontman/vocalist to not be the focal point. Just to drop in the Manics again – in the early days it would have been Nicky and Richey doing the interviews and being the focal point, with James (their frontman) only popping in here and there. Then again, James wasn’t the one cutting himself live on stage or telling American audiences on their first tour in the US that they only good thing America ever did was kill John Lennon.

Who gets bored of watching Star Wars? I may or may not have acquired a fully restored original-Lucas-vision HD version of the original trilogy, and man does it look tasty. It’s strange how we can have that kick up the arse moment when watching a movie or hearing an album, and find that one gateway thing which opens up the world for you. I don’t really remember what that was for me in music – I’ve always loved music. I do remember the first time I heard G’n’R and that opened up the world of Rock and Metal for me, hearing Nirvana for the first time, hearing the Manics for the first time. You never forget your first.

And with that, I’m heading straight over to listen to Part 2 of the Podcast. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the album here, and as always follow the Between You And Me podcast on Twitter and the other places and be sure to give it a listen!

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 A)

Cover Art By Mark Wilkinson

Greetings, Glancers! I hope whoever reads this nonsense has been enjoying it so far, because there is plenty more to come. In this post, I find myself finally delving into the first Marillion album, the ludicrously titled Script For A Jester’s Tear. Why is it a single tear? Or is it tear, as in ‘hark! The jester has a tear in his codpiece, and I can see his fiddle’?

As I mentioned last time around, that title conjures up a hundred images and songs that I’ve already seen and heard – everything from Blind Guardian’s Script For My Requiem to CITV’s Knightmare. I don’t think Paul and Sanja have suggested in their previous episodes that this album is an extension of the sound of the four songs we’ve covered so far, but that seems like an educated guess. Paul has mentioned that the Pre-album songs and the first album form some sort of mini phase for the band, a phase which doesn’t continue beyond this album, so I can only assume it’s more of the same. Not that the four songs I’ve heard have had too many blatant common threads running through them. Beyond a couple of their biggest hits I don’t know what other sounds and styles to expect from the band, but I’ll gamble that this isn’t their Viking Metal Deathcore album.

The podcast is split into two episodes, one for each side of the album – meaning either (or both) that there is much to talk about or that the album is very long. Wikipedia tells me that… it’s only 46 minutes long, which is about bang average. It also tells me that the album went Platinum, charted at seven in the UK, and features two Top 40 Singles, neither of which I believe I’ve heard. In today’s post, I’ll cover Side A, which is the title track, He Knows You Know, and The Web. Maybe it will be a shorter post…

If you’re new to all this, my process is that I listen to the songs a few times before checking out the lyrics and writing my thoughts. Then I listen to the related episode of Between You And Me to hear what Paul and Sanja think of it all, before returning with final thoughts. Maybe what they say will make me re-evaluate whatever my initial opinions are. Or maybe I’m too stubborn to be changed. First up, is the almost nine minute title track.

Spoiler alert – my first thought halfway through my first listen of the opening number was ‘I think this is my favourite Marillion song yet’, quickly followed by ‘I hope the rest of the album is as good as this’. It really is a wonderful little mini-epic. It has as many tonal and melodic shifts as Grendel but it pinched me on a greater emotional level. Some of the slower sections didn’t do as much for me, but they didn’t bring down my enjoyment of the song as much as the slower equivalent pieces did on Grendel (which wasn’t a great deal to be fair). I’ll call it out now – I have absolutely nothing against slow sections of songs, I’m not some sort of jacked up speed freak, just in these two songs in particular those pieces weren’t as delicious as the rest. Like the chocolate on a Toffee Pop is the least delicious part – if that was Lindt, I’d be a five pack a day guy.

I’ll touch more on lyrics once I read those later, but the first time I listened to the song through my Echo Dot, the vocals were clearer – except for the one line I picked up in my initial listens ‘I’m losing on the swings/I’m losing on the roundabouts’ instead sounded like ‘I’m losing all my swings/I’m losing all my underpants’. Which is clearly the better line.

The song’s subdued, yearning opening is reminiscent of quite a few Prog album opening tracks – a quiet opening which expands to something greater. Fish’s vocals in the opening have a touch of Dave Gilmour, but without the rasp. It’s mainly Fish accompanied by piano, and he seems to be singing of the past, and maybe by extent, regret? Some sort of flute type instrument (which is probably keyboard) comes through to accompany a more forceful vocal before the underpants section begins. I had a minor shock at the initial transition to a louder dynamic when I first listened, because I thought the song was heading towards some faux-reggae/Madness sound. Instead though, the fingerless leather gloves come out and we dive headlong into a full blown 80s anthemic, fist pumping section. A younger me would have been throwing the cushions from the sofas to the ground and leaping across them playing a rock star version of The Floor Is Lava if I’d heard this when I was a kid. Before Mummy came with the wooden spoon. That’s the sort of nonsense I got up to.

The quiet section already mentioned is fine – I enjoy the tingling guitar and the woo-eee-woo-ee sounds which intersect these moments, but the transition out of this part is a little odd, with an off-kilter change of note in the vocal. I can live with that, as it moves into a mournful yet inspirational final minute or so where I feel like the truth of the lyric comes out, the repeated refrain of ‘Do you love me’ shedding light on the song and album title.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the opening track, or the album – was it going to be similar to the songs I’d heard so far, was it going to be a concept album of mood and music, or more socially investigative like Queensryche. From the opener at least, it’s very much its own thing. Fish’s vocals feel stronger, more mature, more controlled here and musically the band seems brimming with ideas and confidence. Lyrically, it’s another tome. By my third or fourth listen I felt like I had a fair understanding of the song from what lyrics I could discern – a loss of innocence, of childhood, a tirade of missed opportunities, the fear of aging and forgetting and letting go, the anguish of growth all sticky taped to colourful medieval imagery.

I didn’t notice that the lyrics repeat, not until I checked them on Google, so clearly I wasn’t paying that much attention. I like when bands do this sort of thing – repeat not only a single line or word, but an entire verse or two, but with an entirely different musical and vocal approach. That has always been an experiment I’ve wanted to conduct – giving different groups or individuals the same set of lyrics and ask them each to write a song – then see how wildly different the songs and genres are.

Most of the lyrics follow the poetic leanings I’ve come to expect, although not every line hits – ‘to bleed the lyric’ is the sort of 6th form goth nonsense everyone used to write, but that’s a tiny handful of a great big flurry of fists which mostly land and produce a knockout. Towards the end, the character, taking on the literal or metaphorical image of a jester seems to be accepting the loss of his love, but if anything it’s the delivery of the vocal which elevates the words – feeling pours through to the extent that I don’t always care what is being said and I get the gist of it via the emotion produced. It’s a less theatrical, or more restrained, approach, which generates a more raw result.

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

Listen, I’m trying to be succinct with this, but I have a tendency to allow my fingers to ramble. Lets move onto the second song, which has been teasing me for a number of days because I kept hearing the opening few seconds after the opening track would end. My first impressions of this song were that it was a night driving song. I’ve mentioned it before on the blog, but the cassettes I used to listen to while my parents were driving use home after visiting relatives hours away from my house – there must have been some instrumental or tonal quality to those songs as I continue to equate songs with a similar quality to those night driving sessions. He Knows You Know fits the bill.

It’s not as impactful as the opener and certainly not as complex – it’s a solid atmospheric rock song. The opening guitar riff and vocals reminded me of Somewhere In Time era Maiden, that feeling heightened once the synth pounces. The verses further the moody vibe, though I was disappointed when the drums kicked in with a slower pace than I was expecting. The synth shifts close to the halfway point, this time sparking thoughts of 80s horror movies, and then the groovy instrumental middle pours tumbling, looping guitar and synth riffs which dance off each other. At various points the drum and bass punctuate more harmoniously and create an interesting time signature.

From my various listens, the main lyric which stands out is, of course, ‘problems. Problems problems. This word pops up again and again, and even recurs in the spoken outro. I’m not the biggest fan of spoken word pieces in songs – the few times I’ve felt like it improved the song or the album are in The Wall and various Alice Cooper efforts. I cringed somewhat when I first heard the ending, less so on further listens, but I still got the feeling that it wasn’t necessary. I don’t know if this plays a larger role in linking the song to the next, or if it’s part of a wider recurring motif, but as a standalone I could live without it.

Scanning the lyrics, there’s a lot of obvious drug allusions employed – from paraphernalia to feelings – it all appears to revolve around guilt and self-disgust and the futile trust/distrust of the authority figures who are supposed to help but are fallible humans too, possibly with their own motives. Songs about addiction are a dime a dozen in rock music but at least there’s a unique artistic flourish to the words and images poured out in this one.

Onto the final song for today. The Web is another nine minute beast, so be prepared for another twelve paragraphs. My opinions on music are largely governed by feeling – how a song makes me feel is more important to me than how original or innovative it is, how popular it is, how influential etc. Everything comes after the way it makes me feel and how successful the song is at making me feel the way it is designed to. The Web didn’t make me feel much of anything. I can’t say the song bored me, but a good example of how I felt is, after my third listen Grendel came on and I wanted to listen to it rather than refresh and start The Web over again. Another example – I’ve already listened to a cover version of Script For A Jester’s Tear and a Fish live version – The Web I can’t see me listening to much again, never mind going down the Fishhole. Incidentally, that Fish live version needed a second guitarist.

The Web does begin in a way which suggests it will be a similar trip to the first songs – a lot of synth blasts and then a time and tone shift inside the opening 30 seconds. The whispered and near-spoken vocals are characteristic of what I’ve heard thus far – unsurprisingly it appears to be another verbose tale. There is a beast of a guitar solo somewhere in the middle which scratches and hastens and steadies, bypassing a drum section which seems like a call back to Achilles Last Stand. Elsewhere, I enjoy some of the bippy boppy synth laser sounds and at times I sense moments from the Rocky score dipping in and out.

As I was left a little isolated by the music I didn’t heed the lyrics on most of my listens, so I’ve no clue what the song is about. As I read the lyrics – which again elevate the song thanks to their off-beat poetic musings – the song could be about loneliness and depression. ‘The Web’ seems like a metaphor both for being trapped, and for the cyclical nature of things, particularly the feelings of being unable to progress, and that these feelings only grow the longer you remain trapped. The narrator does come to a realisation and seems able or prepared finally move on by the end of the song. Self-explanatory, but done with a more sublime touch. It’s always better to write ‘interesting’ (something I have always ignored – Ed).

Onto the podcast. I see in the blurb for the episode he mentions Homer’s Odyssey – which just happens to be one of my favourite books of all time. Long time Glancers to the blog will now that I was obsessed with myths and legends as a child, and I’d read The Odyssey by the time I was ten. I studied Latin for seven years in school because of this (yes, I’m aware The Odyssey was Greek but it, and The Trojan War as a whole overlapped with much of the Roman Literature which I studied – namely The Illiad), and in my first year at University I added Classical Studies to my Major as a bonus – just so that I could spend more time arsing about in Toga Town. Whether or not I mapped out a massive plan for a screenplay aimed at bringing the Trojan Trilogy to the big screen, with hundreds of characters and their intertwining backstories, I’ll leave up to you to decide.

I didn’t pick up many references to The Odyssey in these three songs, but then I wasn’t looking out for those. There was something about a Cyclops in The Web, but I’m sure there’s a lot more I skimmed over. Let’s have a listen. March 1983, eh? One month before I was ‘released’. Paul says the band was the big boy of British Prog in the 80s. I always (prematurely) called The Wall the logical closing point for Prog. Sanja likes the first song and gets sucked in by some of the earworms – which I can attest to having listened to the song about 20 times now. The song was ‘inspired’ by Fish’s breakup with Kayleigh, who I didn’t know was a real person – that’s maybe the only Marillion song I defo knew before starting this journey. Fish writes the song, admitting the breakup was his fault – cool. The lyrics are ‘up themselves’, but yeah it’s difficult to do that when you’re emotional and dealing with such a personal issue. I assume kids still write poetry – I certainly did at that age, but I wasn’t cool enough to have had a girlfriend to have broken up with.

Have you been on a roundabout these days? They’re so safe. They’re locked to only go a certain speed – when I was young it wasn’t a roundabout unless you were hitting G-forces and could feel your tongue slithering back down your throat as you hit 500 rotations a minute. Plus there’s all that spongy stuff on the ground now, rather than gravel and broken bottles of Buckfast of my youth. Fish does seem like an emotional chap, so I can understand the difficulty of singing certain songs. I can’t make it through singing Shock To My System by Gemma Hayes without my voice breaking – no idea why. Sia breaking down in her live performances of Titanium is wonderful – not a dry eye in the house. It’s cool that the band still play the song live today – I know Fish isn’t still with the band, but presumably other original writers and players are. A lot of bands who have been around the block for multiple decades don’t touch their early material in the live setting.

He Knows You Know may or may not be autobiographical, but I didn’t know it referred to not telling the person that they have a problem – he knows. That may be the worst sentence ever written. They don’t talk much about the song and Paul then tells us that he’s not a huge fan. I prefer it to the third song. I certainly haven’t listened to it as much as the first. This transforms into a chat about Prog and Marillion’s relationship to the genre – I get the sense I have similar feelings to Prog as Biffo – albeit he sounds like he has listened to a lot more than I have – I want to like Prog but I prefer bands with progressive elements, bands known for pushing themselves because that’s what they want to do rather than fit a particular convention. If diehard music fans have any rights (we don’t) it’s that we can hate or give zero fucks about whichever songs by our favourite bands that we please.

Final track comments – I was going to write that The Web didn’t need to be so long, but Sanja got there first. I agree. The song morphed from an older track – as I haven’t plugged The Manics in today’s post – they would frequently write a lot of crap songs, discard them, but then take the best parts and jumble those together into a new form to make a good song. I imagine many prog bands do that, with epics coming from extended jam sessions. They mention the song being better live – yeah, I’ve seen that happen but I tend to prefer live songs when I’m actually there and elsewhere stick to the studio versions. Yes, I can hear some ice cream tones there – mine still comes on Thursday nights – right up to Christmas week, Lockdown or no. Okay, I see a loose Penelope reference from what Paul is saying, but I never would have picked that up from the lyrics. Don’t worry, Penelope and Odysseus did get back together in the end, having watched every single one of his men massacred, drowned, and/or eaten by a Cyclops/turned into swine. Of course Odysseus goes on to have an ironic and tragic end when killed by his son (not Telemachus), conceived during an infidelity with Circe. Of course Telemachus would go on to marry Circe, so everybody’s brother turns out to be their dad, or possibly son…. Greek mythology families get complicated. Anyway, Paul likes this better than I do. Nah, He Knows You Know is better – I think I’ve proven I’m the bigger fan now.

I used to like Oasis, but that wore thin fairly quickly – I gave them a good four years. Paul proceeds to have some sort of stroke. I’m away to Google Taylor Parkes, then maybe listen to Side Two.

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

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Market Square Heroes!

cover art for Grendel!

Greetings, Glancers! In my introductory post, I neglected to mention that Wikipedia states there have been, what, 19 Marillion Studio Albums. Maaan, this is going to take a while. And Market Square Heroes is merely a non studio single. For those wondering – I’m taking Mr Biffo/Paul Roses’ lead on this and listening to whatever his episodes suggest. Episode 1 of his Podcast covers only this single – maybe the B-sides – I haven’t listened to the episode or the song as of writing this intro, but those are what I will be listening to before returning to this post and giving my thoughts.

But before any of that, I wanted to learn a little more about the band, their history, members, success etc. Is that cheating? Should I go in cold? Perhaps, but I like a little early context before doing these things. Given that I’m not an uber-nerd about the band, I’m not going to go hunting down books and interviews and forums, or do any sort of real research beyond the ever reliable Wikipedia – so if any of the following information is incorrect – forgiveness, please.

Marillion is a British Rock band. They were formed in Aylesbury in 1979, emerging from the Post Punk scene of the era. I’m never sure precisely what that ’emerged from’ phrase means – it can mean anything from ‘it was a reaction against’ to ‘it was an evolution of’ to ‘the members used to be in punk and post punk bands but decided to form something else’. I don’t know which, if any, of those statements are accurate. There seems to be two distinct phases of the band, following their frontmen, with the Fish era from beginning to 1988 and the Steve Hogarth (Hogwarts?) continuing to today from 1989. That seems like a good time to to check on the members of the band. Fish was the lead singer and lyricist, has been said to sound like Roger Daltry and Peter Gabriel, has been called one of the great frontmen, he was inspired by the more experimental artists of the 60s and 70s, and he joined Marillion in 1981. He has since gone on to make spoken word albums, which sounds terrible.

There are a bunch of ex-members with little info and I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole – Brian ‘Hartley’s Jelly’ Jelliman, Doug ‘Eddie’ Irvine, Diz ‘Innit’ Minnitt, John ‘I already have one of these funny names “Martyr”‘ Marter. There was also Jonathan ‘Sofa’ Mover who was a drummer who went on to form a Prog Supergroup and also worked with my mate Alice Cooper, there was Michael ‘No Sisters’ Pointer who was described as ‘awful’ by Fish. The current lineup features Hogwarts – he has worked with lots of people and been in other bands I’ve never heard of, Steve ‘Can’t think of one’ Rothary on guitar, Mark ‘Matthew’ Kelly on keyboards, Pete ‘Goldeneye’ Trewavas on bass and guitar and keyboards, and Ian ‘Bill’ Mosley on the sticks.

In spite of some early success, the band has never been fashionable or popular with the media, yet fans are loyal and they have managed to sell around 15 million albums. I’m seeing quite a few parallels with some of my favourite bands. If I take the Manic Street Preachers – their timeline can generally be split into two phases – Richey and Post-Richey, and while they have consistently courted the media to their own ends, beyond a specific era of success they haven’t been popular in the mainstream. They’ve sold around the same number of albums too.

Righteo, that’s about all I need to know about the band for now, but what about this song I’m about to listen to. It was their debut single, released in 1982, and it doesn’t appear in any subsequent album. Again – the Manics did this with Suicide Alley, Suicide Is Painless, and Motown Junk. Actually, let me just listen to the thing, then I’ll come back at some point in the future and give some more details and my thoughts.

INTERMISSION Stock Photo - Alamy

Alamy! Okay, I’m back. I’ve listened to the song a few times now, over a period of a few hours. Obviously that’s better than my usual one and done approach, but nowhere near on the level of association that a fan would have. The song is roughly four minutes long, and it reached 60 on the UK charts – not the best performance, but enough presumably to get them some recognition. The title ‘Market Square Heroes’ evoked a series of images in my scattered brain before I listened to the song – images of folks like Mark from Eastenders forking over pennies for change from a blue pouched straddling his navel; of bearded, red-cheeked men screaming what sounds at once like ‘five pears for a pipe’ and ‘comb your hair around’ but was actually ‘three lighters for a pound’, and Preachers handing out ‘Ye Must Be Born Again’ tracts to folks trying to get their Saturday shopping done before Football Focus started. I grew up in a Northern Ireland town which had a town square and which would have a Saturday market with all of your usual stores, but also those additional Northern Ireland Only variants where paramilitary regalia was freely bought and sold, alongside posters of King Billy. Unfortunately, those particular stalls had all the best stuff – so my friends and I would buy fireworks and rude and obscene material while the seller probably eyed us up as potential recruits into whatever shady jingoistic business he was involved in.

According to Wikipedia, Aylesbury town square was a little different. The song was inspired by a bloke named Brick, because in Aylesbury around this time nobody had a normal name, who must have been some… Manic Street Preacher type. I’m sure this drawn out analogy will end at some point. In any case, the song is about an outspoken, charismatic leader, a revolutionary but someone without any clear direction or purpose to their vociferations and anger. It is also quoted as the band trying to write a commercial song without losing the entire sense of their more progressive, expansive leanings. I have nothing else to compare it to yet, and I don’t know what other songs they had written or performed until this point. I will say this; I quite like it.

What do I like? I giggled a little at the fake out intro; it begins with a series of slow, fat chords, and descending bass lines. Then the vocals join and the song goes off in a completely different direction. I laughed because it made me think like Slade or some other 70s glam rock band, prancing about in flares with general disregard for facial hair grooming. There’s a synth/guitar piece running through the verses which is quite jolly, and the repeated calls of ‘the day’ match the sudden shift of the drum beat. This is all amusing to me. The vocals… my first thoughts were that it reminded me of some of the more deliberately theatrical moments on The Wall, and also a cross between Bowie and Johnny Rotten and that dude from Talking Heads. With each listen, those comparisons fell away. I can’t get away from the fact that musically it reminds me of Slade, but as the song progresses a definite streak of NWOBHM emerges. It sounds like early Iron Maiden – maybe it’s the general production, maybe it’s the guitar tone, but it has a very similar vibe.

It’s all very theatrical too – apologies (not really) for the constant mirroring to Metal or other artists, but it’s not quite in line with the vocal shenanigans of a Dio or Dickinson or Kursch, where it can often feel like a Play is being recited rather than a song being sung. But certain words do have additional inflections or are sung with a whispered lilt or a subtle shriek – it’s those little dramatic flourishes which you tend not to hear in mainstream music. There’s a middle section which didn’t do a lot for me, apart from remind me about Johnny Rotten (I am your Antichrist), but some of the guitar is both nifty and groovy – grifty? It does end in a fade out, which I’m rarely a fan of.

Lyrically, I can see what Fish was describing when we spoke of the charismatic leader. It’s difficult to get such notions over in a single four minute song. I like the opening line – ‘finding smog at the end of a rainbow’ suggests that you’ve been following a lie, or that your purpose was meaningless, which then makes the rest of the song somewhat ironic as the narrator asks others to follow him, given we know his track record of failure. There’s religious stuff in their – suffer the little children to come onto me – as a whole it is a poetic approach, if a little scattered and unfocused. At least to me. The song moves from images of industrialism to rebellion and protest, though there are plenty of notable juxtapositions if you’re into that – golden handshake/rust upon my hands, peace signs/war in the disco etc.

Now, I wonder what Paul and Sanja have to say about it. At this point, I’m going to go off and listen to Episode 1, then I’ll be back to finish off this long-winded post ABOUT A SINGLE SONG.

That was a fun opening episode – mostly what I was expecting given that I’ve watched Paul and Sanja’s Lockdown Youtube content. They spar well off one another, and the whole Knight/Padawan thing is always interesting. Does it need a third party to intercede and make jokes about Marillion being crap, or someone who actively dislikes the band, like a certain Ghostbusters fan? Nah, I think we’re good.

I only took some scattershot, very basic notes as I listened. Well, I say ‘took notes’, but it was more accurately me telling my brain ‘ooh, that’s worth bringing up when I go back to the blog post’.  So here is what my brain thought was worth bringing up – blame it, not me. Paul calls the song ‘A proper pop rock song’. So it’s obviously one he enjoys. I liked it too, and I did find myself humming parts over the weekend, but I don’t think it’s amazing. It’s their first song so I can only assume they’ll get better. Paul resorts to looking at Wikipedia at one point- what sort of fan are you? Grewcock. We all know that Paul loves his artwork, and I didn’t pay attention at all to the cover when I was listening to the song. After checking out the single artwork – it’s fine, I guess. It makes me think of Twin Peaks The Return, when various characters begin peeling their faces open like a swinging door. It doesn’t spring out and seize my attention, and I’m sure by the time I post this I’ll have forgotten most of the detail. They talk about Brick. There’s a nice explanation of the lyrics and ‘plot’. Apparently the style, the overwrought lyrics, combined with Fish and his stage antics meant the band had plenty of detractors yet gained a cult following.

That’s about it then. God help us when we get to covering an entire album. Do you like Marillion? Why not go listen to the Podcast and follow Paul and Sanja on the Twitbox and Insta-thing, @BYAMPOD? Next time round, I’ll be listening to three songs so you can expect even more rambling from me and by the time we get to the first album I’ll have given up. See ya there and then!

Nightman Listens To – Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (Top 1000 Albums Series)!

What's Going On (Marvin Gaye album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! If you’ve been following this series you’ll know I’ve had a torrid time of it. The quest to find an album I genuinely enjoy has been difficult and any fans of the albums I have dismissed likely think I’m a complete tool bag. I’m hoping the tide will change today, because it’s Marvin Gaye. Without really loving anything I’ve heard by Gaye, I’ve liked it all and his smooth vocals, Motown melodies, and political sensibilities all point towards me liking this album. I imagine this will be a straight down the line collection of hits with no bullshit – many of the albums I’ve listened to recently seem to have so much acclaim because of cultural relevance or influence rather than how good the music actually is and while I already understand the relevance of this I just want to hear some decent tunes.

What Do I Know About Marvin Gaye: I soul/r’n’b/rock vocalist who also dabbled in some session music and writing jobs for other artists before finally finding solo success. I think he was murdered, like a few other notable contemporaries. I know quite a few of his bigger hits.

What Do I Know About What’s Going On: I know that it is frequently listed among the best albums ever by pretty much any critic or publication you can find. I assumed that it contained most of his well known hits, but looking at the tracklist there are only two I know. Also, I see it’s another 9 track non-metal album. Interesting.

What’s Going On: We open with some spoken voices before a brief and sultry brass flits over some soothing beats. Then that glorious voice takes over, allowing room to feel the plaintive lyrics. The song takes a loose approach to standard verse chorus structure and the violins quietly compliment the vocal melody. The song obviously has an important message for what was going on at the time but it’s a prescient one for today’s chaotic world too and I find it interesting that the song isn’t played more often.

What’s Happening Brother: This leads in directly from the previous song and feels very Motown in its approach – a lot of string and brass, backing female vocals, a bit of a groove. Lyrically it treads the same paths as the opener, with more questioning and pleading, and even references the first song by name leading me to think that this song was originally an outtake of the first, eventually expanded into its own thing. Musically similar too, it is brief enough that any repetition doesn’t get the time to take hold.

Flyin High: I like the ‘prog’ approach so far – each song bleeding into the next without a pause. This is slower and more free-form. Interesting bass doing its own thing in the background while the strings set an airy tone. The voice is smooth and angelic as you would expect, and melodically it reminds me of someone like Jeff Buckley – just jazzy enough without being needlessly complex or off-putting, but never reaching a peak and I assume staying quite uniform on purpose.

Save The Children: This blends in from the last one too, nice layered vocals between the spoken part, the backing ahhs, and the accompanying sung call and repeat. I assumed that format was going to just be an intro but it seems the entire song is going this way which is pretty cool. Unusual at least. It’s still political, this time questioning how future generations are going to cope with the fallout of current actions. Each line comes with a new instrument or slight twist on what came before – keeping that interesting tone where it’s uniform but free-form at the same time. At least until the final minute or so where the music reaches an instrumental crescendo before a more funky commercial climax.

God Is Love: That little commercial piece becomes the intro of this one. I had/have no idea of Gaye’s religion but this seems pretty straight forward and a liberal take on what should be the most important tenet of Christianity, or any religius or moral group – love one another. Musically it isn’t much of a stretch from anything else we’ve heard.

Mercy Mercy Me: This comes straight in from the last one and its power and quality are as clear today as they ever were. It’s the most obvious hit on the album with its infectious hook and swaying swagger groove. No matter how many times I hear it, that ending is still unexpected and seems to take the song off in a new and bizarre and downbeat direction.

Right On: Now, this is funny to me because the intro instantly makes me think of Anything Goes by Guns N Roses – a song about all sorts of kinky sex. I’ve no way if that was intentional but it wouldn’t surprise me. There’s quite a bit of piano and some sort of flute going on and it feels like a smooth backing track for a chilled gathering. There’s still a cultural message if not quite a sermon and again it has the loose melodic quality where Gaye puts down vocal riffs over the rhythm section instead of following a set pattern. Just when it seems like the piano is going to really come in and go off on one the song shifts to an even more quiet and smooth section. The sax tears off a couple of face melters but doesn’t hit a full stride. Just as it looks like the song will fade it, a thumping beat kicks in and the instruments jam on. I don’t know if this really needs to be over seven minutes long – I would have cut it somewhat but it mostly avoids needless repetition and stretching.

Wholy Holy: Continuing the no pause between tracks of the first half, this one blends in but quickly establishes a hymnal quality. There are more strings and sparkling and twinkling sounds, more religious lyrics, more hope, and more free-form vocal riffs. The message of love stands, if we love then violence and bullshit drops.

Inner City Blues: We’re at the closer already and it has flown in. Piano and hand drums, then more drums. It’s a little more funky than what has come already, but very much in the same format musically and lyrically. I like the double vocals and it’s a nice approach to old school blues. Some nice breaks and screams and recalls to previous songs.

What Did I Learn: That this didn’t contain the load of hits I assumed it would and that it was more in line with jazz that the Motown hit-making machine. It’s a very consistent album with not much variety from one song to the next. Normally I don’t like that sort of thing and rely on heavy melodic variance to differentiate songs. The album builds upon this by removing the standard silence between tracks so that the whole thing feels like one long piece.

Does It Deserve Its Place In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: On sheer cultural power alone it’s a yes but I would have preferred a couple more hits. I realize coming from me – I am fairly anti-commercial and listen to all manner of noise – that this statement is contradictory, but certain genres lend themselves to commercialism more than others. The songs I knew are bonafide classics but I’d need a few more listens for any of the other songs to take hold – on the surface quite a few blend too much into the other for me to identify each one specifically. Taking on board the sales and the acclaim and the fact that the two big ones at the very least are still loved today, it deserves its spot.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 39/1000

Let us know in the comments what you think of What’s Going On – is it one of your favourites, were you around when it was released?

Nightman Listens To Madonna – Hard Candy!

Hard Candy (Madonna album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Album 11, eh? We’ve almost caught up to present day. As this is one of her more recent releases I can’t confirm that I have heard any of the songs included. I probably have heard snippets, and I have vague memories of seeing some of the videos, because its hard to erase the image of her unsettling gyrations from your mind once witnessed. In truth she does that sort of thing in most of her videos so it could have been from any of her albums of the last fifteen years. In 2008 I was no longer subjected to the radio choices of others while going to, from, or in work, so my knowledge of what crap was on the radio gratefully plummeted. Apparently the album is pop/dance-pop based, with an R&B vibe. In other words, the sort of music no-one should be subjected to. See what I put myself through for you guys? And where’s my damn parade? The injustice sickens me…

Candy Shop: Beats. Beats and breaths. Vocals. What is Candy Store a metaphor for? Her music? Her thighs? Verse melodies fine, not annoying, not anything special. The chorus places a low pitch/high pitch dynamic on the vocals – it’s about as (un)memorable as the verse. There’s a silly middle section with lots of bleeps and talky vocals which ensures the song reaches four minutes. Just as I think it’s going to end some guy comes in to say various city names for some reason. It’s always the same list. Why is it never ‘Yo. Portavogie. Ormskirk. Schaumburg, I see you. Uh. Humpybong. West Side’. Etc. An unremarkable opening album track, but not bad.

4 Minutes: Loud rappy horns. Some guy doing ‘wicky wick wah’ stuff. This goes on and one. I think this would sound pretty good on the dancefloor, those horns and parps are groovy. Decent verse melodies again, the male stuff is less engaging. Good chorus melodies too, but let down by all the stupid spoken stuff. When will people learn, spoken stuff is rarely better than cringey and almost always dated within 2 months. If it wasn’t for that bollocks this would be good. It’s still good, but that talking crap is distracting and really does make it sound incredibly silly. Like someone standing in front of you making really good arguments, but you keep looking down because his knob is hanging out. And it’s weird looking.

Give It 2 Me: That beat and sound sounds like it has been lifted from a very specific D12 song. Good melodies though, no talking yet. Lots of rave stuff going on too, but it all works. The middle goes off on one with more silly talking stuff – lots of repetitive layering which doesn’t quite work but isn’t as stupid as in the previous song. You get the feeling that someone with half a brain should have been in the studio and saying ‘look, the song is good as it is, you don’t need to add all of the superfluous garbage’.

Heartbeat: Good intro, good melodies, this time it actually feels like something. She’s tapped into something more real and vital here. Again there is a sour taste because some twat is breathing or grunting or shouting nonsense in the background. A perfectly good song on the verge of sabotage. Will she do another tuneless repetitive middle – and before I’ve even finished typing that she went and did it. Sigh. She does follow it with a better second middle before going back to the banging chorus. I have a feeling sabotage is going to be the key word in this album. A pity too that the lyrics are bullshit too – not the words themselves, but the subject matter.

Miles Away: Some acoustic guitars makes this feel familiar to me. More good melodies. One thing which seems to recur is the robotic rhythm of the melodic delivery in the verses – each-verse-seems-to be sung-in-this-static-way like this. It’s another song I quite like though – aside from the plain opening song each one has been good, outside of the middles and the male hollering. I listen to a Madonna album – she’s who I want to hear, not all these other hanger-ons.

She’s Not Me: Clappy beats. Retro funk. More catchy melodies. More dancing. According to the comments this is some veiled attack/rebuttal of Lady Gaga. It’s true, she doesn’t have what you have but unfortunately this smacks more of fear – fear of aging, fear of no longer being relevant, fear of being replaced. I mean, Madonna brazenly copied from Cyndi Lauper. She did ride that bandwagon and then go on to become her own thing – which of course Gaga has done herself. I don’t see why she’s bitter about it, but then I don’t follow celeb feuds. What the hell is this awful screeching singing? Another random just popped in to give his unwarranted two cents. The song fades out for a while, then builds up in good old cliched dance style for a hectic ending.

Incredible: What appears to have been a sweet ballad has been blown up and blown apart. There’s an awful lot of crap going on in here to make the song bombastic. That’s actually not a bad idea sometimes – taking a simple song and making it grandiose – I mean Roman writers did that shit two thousand years ago. It doesn’t quite work for me here, mostly because the little blasts of sound and the fabricated drums sound so dated and juvenile (ha). It’s not the first time I’ve said this about a Madonna song, but I’d like to hear a stripped back version of this without the bullshit to see if it works.

Beat Goes On: The start of this sounds like one of those awful 5 second Youtube ads – they all have some tinkling jingle which is just short and long enough to piss you off every time it plays. Good verse melody here but the chorus and other moments feel uninspired. An oddly average mid album track which covers ground she’d done better two decades earlier. And again more stupid crap from Pharrell or whatever other binlid is yelping in the background. We do get a full rap section, at least it’s an actual rap not the momentary shouts we’ve had before. The lyrics are nonsense and may as well be ‘uh, hey girl, I got a Wispa and a Twirl; lets watch some shit unfurl, from the sphincter of a rat, or a cat, hey I got my money back, from a fish in a hedge who I found up on a ledge of a house owned by some dude called Brian who I know cos I know that he knows I’m lyin’ that the Earth ain’t round it’s flat like a cat whose shat, unfurled, from a sphincter just like that’. And behold, that is the single greatest rap lyric ever written.

Dance 2Night: So it comes to this – most of the songs have been about dancing, or going out to the club at night and dancing – you know, the most meaningless subject possible, but just to drive the point home we have a song called Dance 2Night. And of course it panders to the masses with its ‘you don’t have to be rich or pretty to do it’ message, which is another way of saying ‘ we know most people are ugly/fat/average/stupid/desperate/poor but if we make a song they think is about them they’ll give us their money. Success! It’s funky enough – sub Thriller stuff with that obvious 80s vibe, the lyrics are insipid, the melodies are too shrouded in over-produced gloss that any feeling is ripped from it. There’s a C+ grade song somewhere here.

Spanish Lesson: Ah yes, the requisite Spanish song. For 12 seconds it’s not bad, but then the idiots get their mitts on it. Lyrically, it’s literally a Spanish lesson. Musically, it’s literally a lesson on how to write a shit song. Is this also a song about fucking your teacher? Like statutory rape? There’s another dancefloor reference. Why doesn’t she just make an album where the lyrics are entirely ‘dancefloor, get up, can’t stop, don’t stop, dance, dancing, yeah, baby, dance, enough, dance, heartbeat, tonight, club, dance’? Oh right, she’s already done that. On every single album.

Devil Wouldn’t Recognise You: A little more maturity in this one. But it’s too plain and melodically boring. This sort of song is fine for covering in production smoke and mirrors because the core is so mundane. Even with all the excess, it’s tepid. She finally brings her brains to the table but misses out with the heart and soul.

Voices: The closing song, can it bring things up again? Good verse melodies – at least that has been consistent. This is much closer to the merging of heart, soul, and brain. The static-laden beat works, the lyrics are better, and there isn’t a trace of any male interference. Yet. Nice orchestral ending. See what you can do when you don’t have a man trying to piggyback on your success. Forget about Gaga and worry about the real problem.

It’s a frustrating album. One one hand it’s much better than I was expecting – then again it’s Madonna so I’m not sure why I keep expecting failure. On the other hand, it’s not as good as it should have been. Many of the songs are top grade tiers brought down by stupid decisions and interventions. To continue the dubious educational metaphor, it’s like someone has completed an exam paper to the best of their abilities and is heading for a good overall score, but with 15 minutes remaining on the clock they glance around and see that others have written different answers so they panic and begin scribbling additional answers which take away from the good groundwork they already had and thus they end up with a lower overall score. The groundwork for many of the songs on Hard Candy is sound – melody, beat, vocals, all the basics, but then some plank comes in a craps all over it because that’s what the suits have said is selling at the moment. At this point in her career, I had more than aged and matured out of her target audience, so all of the sickly garnishing I’m referring to probably satisfied the people it was meant for. The more discerning fan should be shaking their head and saying ‘Madonna, it was good, but you ruined it’. The second half doesn’t have the punch of the first and while she’s experimenting with new people, if not new sounds, there’s nothing really new or exciting here – a by-product of working with today’s idea-less superstars. There are plenty of songs I’ll gladly give a second listen but plenty I’ll avoid.

Let us know what you think of Hard Candy in the comments!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Heartbeat. Give It 2 Me.

Nightman Listens To Tin Machine/David Bowie!

Tin Machine (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Don’t worry, this isn’t a new series, it’s merely a continuation of the Bowie marathon. I didn’t realise or fully appreciate that Tin Machine was a separate entity from Bowie – I thought it was just another persona like Ziggy or The Thin White Duke or Mathilda Twinklegrunt or whatever. So Tin Machine was more like a side-project – they only made two albums, in between Bowie’s last solo 80s release and first 90s solo release. I may as well cover them. I’ve no idea what sound they have – did he give in and go 80s metal? The name sounds industrial so maybe it’s a mixture of guitars and electronica. It’s Bowie, so who the hell knows. Well, you probably know – I’m about to find out.

Heaven’s In Here: Okay, an actual phat riff. It’s a little bluesy, it actual has a tin sound, the vocals feel like a 50s vocal group, then it goes a little Caribbean. That’s all before the verse starts. That driving riff and bass strives to keep it grounded as Blues rock. Bowie’s vocals are mostly toned down, not going overboard with highs or operatics. The riff’s good, but maybe not good enough to sustain the song for six minutes. There’s other stuff going on so it doesn’t get overly repetitive. Some shouts come towards the end, some funky distorted guitar play and a fantastic closing solo, some great smacking drums as the whole thing collapses, not much in the way of melody.

Tin Machine: Very metal, a crashing intro. This gives way to a fast paced song which reminds me of the original Thinking About You by Radiohead. The vocals are very Ian Curtis. I know I’ll get heat for this, but Bowie’s vocals just don’t lend themselves to heavy music – rock, metal. Too smooth and overwrought. This is quite fun, but I’d have preferred a bit of a growl in the vocals.

Prisoner Of Love: A more traditional chord intro with a nice vibe. Good guitar line, much more melodic. The vocals suit this sound more closely. The extended chorus is half good, half okay, but the verses are great. I like the underlying guitar work with repeats and wavers and loops under the surface.

Crack City: I am Iron Man? I was only joking, and then the chord sequence comes in and I’m not so sure. There’s surely some ripping off here, right? That and Wild Thing. Assholes with buttholes for their brains? Is he making fun of metal here? Or just the drugs involved. A more aggressive edge to the vocals, again it doesn’t quite work, but he’s really going for it here.

I Can’t Read: More tin drums and distortion and a simple yet potent riff. The riff breaks out and gets better. Cool dark atmosphere, and another much more suited to Bowie’s voice. I think the anti-melodic approach works well here – it’s purposefully robotic. Then the chorus is like an anti-anthem with pop sweetness. Very good. Nice screams and another collapse at the end, though we don’t need the sex noises.

Under The God: Feels like a straightforwards rock song. Then the riff comes in and it’s a little samey to ones which have come already, but it doesn’t last. Great lyrics from what I can pick up, good chorus, good backing vocals, good everything. It there’s any complaint, it probably could have been condensed to a punchier 3 minutes.

Amazing: A little bit of Led Zep now? It as a full sound, light staccato guitar bursts and surging solo lines. It’s very sweet, and another good one.

Working Class Hero: We know this one of course, but it’s a bombastic and different intro. Most covers of this I’ve heard stay close to the original. This is a little more funky. The original is far from a favourite of mine so most covers don’t do it for me.

Bus Stop: Another fast rocking intro. Feels quite punk, though softer. Not a fan of the accent. I would have guessed this was another cover of a punk song I haven’t heard – I don’t think it is.

Pretty Thing: A strange voice floats in, quickly joined by fast biting chords in the vein of more punk bands. It’s fast, not quite chaotic, the pauses keep it fresh. It changes pace and tone midway through, become more of a loose, freestyle instrumental.

Video Crime: It’s cool how modern this sounds for something made in 89. If anything, it’s Bowie’s vocals which date it purely because when I think of Bowie, I think 70s/80s. The guitars could be from any decade since the 80s. This song is a little too slow and start/stop, but the refrains are catchy. Great drums throughout.

Run: A moderately more pop sound for the intro, but yet again one with an atmospheric tone. I love that dual riff and Bowie’s vocals suit the verse melodies to a T. The chorus pays off too. The second half doesn’t have the same immediate impact but it does get more rocking towards the end.

Sacrifice Yourself: Stretching guitars, thumping drums, and an old-fashioned rock beat brought up to date with the surrounding chaos. This one is fun, more shouted vocals, but maybe a little too streamlined and simple. Short too.

Baby Can Dance: A long intro with plenty of guitar distortion and howls and assorted beats. A catchy refrain holds it together. The lyrics seem silly. A long middle section with lots of clashing noise. An okay song to close the album, not the best.

It turns out this one wasn’t well received upon release. I can only assume critics and fanboys were more used to the fawning intellect and electro and glam rather than the harsher, more punk-based songs, more in your face display here. That’s their loss. This has been one of my favourite Bowie listens thus far, the heavier songs and more metal approach suiting my traditional tastes. Plus there was hardly a piano or horn in sight, something which usually brings Bowie’s songs down for me. The album as a whole I can see myself listening to again given that I thoroughly enjoyed many of the songs – that usually means the ones I didn’t like as much will increase in my estimation.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Tin Machine!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Prisoner Of Love. Crack City. I Can’t Read. Under The God. Amazing. Run.

Nightman Listens To – Van Halen – Van Halen (Top 500 Metal Albums Series)!

Van Halen (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! You can probably guess, but I’m not a fan of Van Halen. They were one of the biggest hair metal bands and hair metal has always represented everything that metal shouldn’t be – fun times, happy go lucky pop songs, box-checking business led metal, technical skill for the sake of technical skill, poser artists only in it for money and women and drugs, lyrics about tedious bullshit like women, going fast, and fast women. Hair metal is basically the mainstream RnB of the 80s – seriously, compare any major RnB song and hit hair metal song of the day’s lyrics, and they’re basically the same thing.

And yet, I’m talking in generalizations and I haven’t given most of the major bands a fair chance. I’ve heard the big songs, I probably have heard some of the albums but I don’t remember, and my preconceptions and criticism of the genre have possibly blinded me to some good stuff. This album was a huge success, Eddie Van Halen is one of the great guitar Gods, and maybe as this was their first album there is a more raw feel before hair metal became drained down to the faux-pop it undoubtedly is. I’m here to learn, that’s part of the point of me going through these posts and albums – I don’t expect to be converted and I’m fully prepared to hate it even more than I already do, but I hope to at least find some new songs I’ll enjoy.

So, before Grunge and European Metal came and thankfully cleansed us of all of this masturbatory, self-worshipping, reality TV-precursing, pouting, watered down stain, Hair Metal was King – silly, shouty choruses were being sung by bankers, soccer moms, children, and chavs alike. The album cover is about as respectable as it gets for Hair Metal – it presents the four members of the band in a live setting, so at least we assume they can actually play. I’m not sure why two of them appear to be on fire, one seems to have a steam of stench emanating from his shoulder, and Roth is doing the Robert Plant thing. Urgh, here we go.

Runnin’ With The Devil: If you’re going to have a metal album, and a debut, you’ve got to give your first song a great title. It’s better if it’s a great song of course, but a cool title helps. No complaints on that front. Of course I already know this song, and it looks like the first half of the album is stacked with the hits. I’ll admit it takes balls to have an instrumental and a cover in your first three songs. It begins with a siren/alien spacecraft/car screeching by sound before a single repeating bass note sets the pace. The drums are 80s a few years early, very steady and plain, and Roth’s vocals have a deeper tone than you may recall. The verses are mostly uneventful, while the chorus has that Desmond Child/Def Leppard shouting thing I can’t stand – one of the key factors which hurts hair metal for me. It’s a very plain opener – even the guitars don’t offer anything out of the ordinary, and for me isn’t a great representation of what the band could do.

Eruption: This is one of those tracks which budding guitarists have on their wishlist shortly after picking up the instrument. We make the list of songs we want to be able to play from our favourite artists, but then there’s the holy grail list, usually starting with Johnny Be Goode and running up to this. This showcases what Eddie brought to the band and how he almost single-handedly revitalized the instrument. Plenty of other guitarists had played with speed and intensity and brought the tapping style, but here the showmanship and ferocity and focus on doing it fast opened the door for the next gen. It begins simply enough, with a cascade of drums and a bit of guitar wankery, but once that first dive-bomb hits it picks up. It’s brief and it has since been surpassed, but at the time this must have been a revelation and sounded almost unearthly.

You Really Got Me: Although it’s louder and chugs more, it’s somehow less metal and sexy than the original. It’s something about the cheesy harmonies in the chorus and the cleaner sound. Naturally the solo is crazy and short, but all the vocal grunting and squeaking is very silly.

Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love: Another famous one and I’ve always quite enjoyed the lead in riff – there’s a touch of that shadowy atmosphere I’m always going on about. The vocals are much too plain and anti-melodic for my liking. It’s almost a punk or old blues approach to the vocals, while the chorus is still shouty without being annoying. In essence I don’t think the rest of the song lives up to the promise of the riff – I don’t think they knew what to do with it.

I’m The One: A furious guitar attack intro is joined by some really shitty sounding drums. It’s a shame because the actually drum technique is satisfactory. The pace is maintained throughout but again the vocals and melodies are the link which bring the whole chain dangling down. The song feels like a jam – Eddie just says ‘fuck it’ and busts one out, Alex is clearly off his face and tries to keep up, and the other two randomly shout and play the first thing that comes into their heads. I’m not sure what sort of melody they actually could have slapped around the guitar and drums so it’s probably as good as you could hope for.

Jamie’s Cryin’: A down and dirty sluggish riff is accompanied by a higher pitched squealing guitar. The mocking vocals come in and it feels like the band is taking the piss. The chorus is the same as all the others – sing the title while harmonies repeat it at the same time. Some cool drums before the second chorus. It’s inoffensive easy listening stuff and to its credit the chorus hook is more memorable – it does get annoying after the twentieth time though.

Atomic Punk: You can tell where G’n’R got their intro idea for Mr Brownstone from – this begins with a similar phaser style. Then the verse starts and feels like Di’Anno era Iron Maiden with a US twist. The punk of the title isn’t just in name only, there is a punk influence here but it’s taken in a more metal direction thanks to the guitar ability. It’s not the most exciting song, the riff again is good and it does pack a punch.

Feel Your Love Tonight: A more traditional hard rock, blues infused riff and feel. Again the harmonies just don’t work, because they’re not really harmonies – it’s just singing the same lyrics in the same way in a slightly higher register. That stands out to me and I can’t shake how futile it feels – if you’re going to add harmonies, do it right. The vocals aren’t the best – very anonymous – and there isn’t a single hook to hang your bandanna on. I get why people probably think it’s fun.

Little Dreamer: Another plodder. I wasn’t expecting the nods to the blues so much, but they take what they don’t like from that genre – samey vocals. Luckily the backing vocals are better this time, the ‘oohs’ doing what the harmonies of the previous song failed to do. The guitar solo almost feels out of place – there’s this little blues ramble and a lead guitar firing off at a billion miles per hour. This one is catchy, more than I can say for most of the others.

Ice Cream Man: I know I mentioned the Blues before and I expected people to vent in the comments about how there’s no way any of this is blues. Then this disaster drops and it’s completely taking the piss. Beyond the funny lyrics this is complete nonsense – I’ve said before that Blues is the easiest music to copy and one of the most limited genres. Listen to any three or four blues songs, hand someone a guitar, and they’ll come up with the same thing. That’s what this is, but of course they bring the metal half way through. It doesn’t add anything beyond volume and some more furious guitar.

On Fire: A punk influenced closer – lots of yelling, pretty chaotic, and lots of wacky guitar. A few riffs charge about, lots of running up and down the fret, lots of shrieks, and buckets of energy. No melodies though.

On the whole I was pretty much spot on with my introduction – this doesn’t feel like a true hair metal album as it came a few years before that genre truly started. It’s something like mashing together Aerosmith, a batch of US punk bands, a touch of NWOBHM, a sprinkling of what Hair Metal would become, and capped off with Eddie’s guitar. It’s the guitar which makes this noticeable – without it this would have been a long forgotten average rock album, but because every riff is at worst solid, at best iconic, and the playing what you remember. Which is good because most of the actual songs are very ordinary, throwaway straight rock with barely a tune between them to whistle while you work. Roth was a better stage presence than he was a singer, making up for a lack of character in his voice with a series of leaps and twerks, and the other pair aren’t really noticeable for the most part. So, it’s not horrible but it lacks any real stand out tracks.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Eruption: Jamie’s Crying.

Let us know what you think of Van Halen in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Urchin – High Roller (Non-Maiden Series)!

Urchin - High Roller (2010, Vinyl) | Discogs

Greetings, Glacers! It’s time for another history lesson for any of you budding metallers out there. In fact, I’ve probably already mentioned this before, so the brief version is that Urchin were formed before Iron Maiden by Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Murray only played on a song or two, while Smith became one of the main driving forces. They were essentially a live only band and Smith went on to form a series of other bands. Every so often he would get Urchin together for the odd show. Their limited album releases are collections of singles and live stuff. So they say, I haven’t heard them yet. UNTIL NOW!

Keeping It Mellow: A loose and mellow opening which is much smoother and softer than I was expecting. If anything, it sounds reminiscent of Free’s All Right Now. Just good cruising music for nice weather. It’s far from amazing, the vocals are a little scratchy and the production isn’t great but much better than what I was expecting. A simple, easy listening rock song which says everything it has to say well within three minutes, yet keeps going for another two. There’s a tasty solo in those two minutes, but still could have done with some shaving.

Life In The City: Another good intro, some guitars with a flange or phaser effect, the vocals are a little too shouty and plain for my liking. There’s an ever so faint touch of Maiden in there, but it more accurately sounds like a tonne of American MOR rock bands. Parts of the solo go full Maiden at times.

Watch Me Walk Away: A subtle melding of cymbals and bass gives way to some synthesized guitars for something with sounds like an up tempo ballad. I don’t think that’s what the lyrics are going for. There’s that 70’s rock beat again. It’s another good song – not anything that’s going to change anyone’s world and if I heard it on the radio I wouldn’t go searching to see who it was by – but I wouldn’t change the station.

Countdown: Well, this is a collection of oddities – a very nice and atmospheric opening which reminds me of the slower, mysterious stuff from the first two Maiden albums gives way to chugging chords clearly borrowed from Phantom Of The Opera – the opera, not the Maiden song. Then it feels like 22 Acacia Avenue. The vocals suit the song better this time around, and the solo is great too – very Maiden.

Lifetime: This is verging on cheesy. There’s a slow, stomping beat and all this twinkling keyboard stuff, and the lyrics are all lovey dovey. Still, the extended intro has a certain level of intrigue. It’s not bad. One thing missing from the songs for me is any real sort of emotion, beyond the fact that the band seem to enjoy playing, and that there are no standout hooks, no big chorus, no major melody. The solo here goes pure futuristic, or at least what they thought the future would sound like in the 70s.

The Late Show: Another distinctly Iron Maiden sounding song. Once the verse starts it turns pure Pink Floyd – Time to be precise. It’s a softer Maiden with a more bluesy, jazzy texture. We even get an organ solo. It’s still just missing the hook.

My Lady: Oh, this one tops 8 minutes. Are they gonna go for it? That’s a pretty great intro, again quite Maiden in tone, especially with that swirling guitar. The vocals are too flat in the verses and the chorus is far too plain. It’s the same issue I had with most of Di’Anno’s vocals – just boring to me, ignoring any Dickinson comparison. We get a solo, instrumental section just before the 4th minute, assuming it’s going to change gears for final half. Well over a minute of guitars, no gear change yet. Back to the verse, that’s a shame. A song this long, you gots to change it up. This is meant to be emotional or something, but it doesn’t work. Decent song, but no need in being so long.

Animals: Well, this takes a different approach. It’s not disco, but it’s certainly funky. Still rock of course. Topical lyrics. It almost, dare I say it, has a ska feeling. We head into a groovy instrumental section, the lead jangling chords linking with the constant drum beat while Smith lets loose on the six string. This doesn’t feel like Maiden in any way. An interesting end.

That was a lot better than what I was fearing. It’s a pity then that none of the songs really standout as a crusher. For picking my playlist tracks I could really pick any of them for the same reasons – none are bad, none are great – they’re all equally good. They’re all equally B- grade. You can tell their influences quite easily, and you can also tell how the sound went on to determine that Maiden sound. Taken as a whole they feel like any number of 70s rock bands who haven’t quite nailed down their own sound and direction and hit that niche where they can express creatively and deliver what they are capable of.

Let us know in the comments what you think of High Roller!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Keeping It Mellow. Countdown.