Nightman Listens To – John Lennon – The Plastic Ono Band (Non-Beatles Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Last time around we had the excellent All Things Must Pass by senor Harrison. Now it’s finally over to Monsieur Lennon, and his first (non experimental guff) Post-Beatles outing. The year was 1970 – so there wasn’t really any delay in output between the time The Beatles split and when this was released. Just like each of the other lads. Now, I’ve probably heard a few of these before but there’s only one I know for sure. As it seems like a fairly short album, I’m going to also listen to the two bonus tracks which were added as part of the 2000 Reissue. Will Yoko be screeching in the background? Will the songs be typical latter day Lennon rage-fests? I’ve no idea.

‘Mother’ I have heard, now that I’ve heard the opening shriek. Where have I heard it – The Simpsons? That sounds right. It has a sparse arrangement – just the odd piano clang and a repeating simple beat. A touch of bass. I’ve always said that a good song lives or dies on the strength of its melody – and that all the other musical accompaniment can be added or stripped away without truly hurting the song as long as the melody doesn’t changing. This takes the stripped down approach, and even though I can imagine swelling of strings here the core melody and the emotion behind it is what carries the song.

Hold On‘ feels vaguely familiar – but I’ll hold off until I hear the vocals. No, I don’t think I’ve heard it. He’s singing to himself and Yoko, not surprising. Parts of this are familiar. Again, it’s sparse and somewhat laid-back. Cookie? It’s nice, positive, and at under two minutes there’s not much to it. I’d say it could go on the playlist for now, but I don’t think it’s going to grow on me any further and is more likely to slip off.

I Found Out’ begins like a demented Blues demo, just dual vocals and distorted guitars. The beat comes in later, with a loose beat and more distortion. It picks up pace with a more driving bass. I’m not a fan of the effects on the vocals. It feels a lot like Come Together. Nice instrumental in the middle. It grows on me as it progresses.

Working Class Hero‘ is the one I knew already, both in its original form and in its many copies. It’s not a song I’ve ever had any great love for, but neither is it one I dislike. It’s just an average song for me.

‘Isolation’ is one I’m listening to in Quarantine. I assume when I post this, all the Cov-ID 19 guff will be done with? The slow piano led Beatles stuff is hardly ever a favourite for me. This goes the same way – I like the come out of each verse rather than the lead in. Not that it has a very generic structure. The ‘chorus’ picks up the volume then goes off for a dander into Strangeways and the song becomes more interesting. Then it circles around to another verse. It’s fine, but that single piano note approach isn’t for me.

‘Remember’ seems to be one of the longest songs on the album at four and a half minutes. It’s another piano led one, with the same static single note approach. It’s faster this time, and the drums and bass aren’t quite aligned with the piano which makes it a little more interesting. Just as I was wondering if it was going to stay like this throughout, John pre-empts my frustration and changes it up, albeit briefly. I like the gentle boundary pushing, the experimenting without just fucking about. I don’t see it ever making my playlist because the melodies aren’t so strong and because of those single notes. And of course a joke to close it.

‘Love’ fades in with a distant, more interesting piano. This feels quite lovely, don’t mess it up now. It’s very reminiscent of Radiohead’s How I Made My Millions. I think the verse changes chords too many times and would have had greater impact on me if it had sustained some of the early minor key chords longer. Still, it’s lovely, but frustratingly not as lovely as it could have been for me. I assume others love it just the way it is.

Well Well Well‘ opens with a dirty Blues riff and drums like a zombie whacking on a boarded up window, with a shoe. The vocals have an annoying set of effects in place which doesn’t make for the most pleasant listening. I’m not sure what he was going for here, clearly going for a more gritty, underground sound. Or maybe it’s because he knew the song wasn’t that interesting and it needed something shouty to spice it up. His actual shouts are very good, sounding very Cobain at times. It does go on way too long.

Look At Me‘ starts quietly. The guitar is almost identical to, what, Julia? It’s about as interesting musically as that song – it’s one of those songs which should be sweet and mellow but feels dreary to me. Vocal melodies are drifting without striking any great affection in me. It’s fine, but forgettable.

God‘ closes the album. It feels more melodic than the last couple from its opening moments – the piano isn’t so single-note based. It’s actually playing a tune. It’s a song about the self, it seems, not following some religion or God or celebrity or politician or monarch or power or cult. It is very repetitive, but the whole ‘I don’t believe in’ section has that solid melodic foundation so it works. It’s a much stronger song than the few before it.

My Mummy’s Dead‘ is the actual album closer,but it feels like a very short bonus track. It sounds like a solo 4 track recording, off the cuff. It’s nice enough, just John and a guitar, simple. Can’t see how it could have been expanded, without adding some lush chorus.

Power To The People’ opens in that lush fashion – big gospel vocals before John joins in with a manic beat and sax. There’s Beatles callbacks, shouted vocals, a catchy refrain, but like a lot of the Beatles extras it’s basically a couple of melodies and lyrics repeated in a loop. Here we get extra brass, but there isn’t a lot to it. Still, it feels celebratory if a little lazy.

Do The Oz‘ which, as Buffy fans will know, is the act of sitting stoically before delivering a well-timed and insightful quip. As a song, it’s nothing like Oz – zany sounds whizz like ghosts around a central riff while Lennon sings the title. The verses present things as if ‘the oz’ is a type of dance, with Lennon giving the instructions. Of course the instructions don’t really make sense. It’s an interesting enough bonus, but not one I’ll remember tomorrow.

Well well well, the album started out impressively but eventually began to suffer a little from the adjoining trio of experimentation which doesn’t quite work, as well as some meandering and repetition. There’s too much drifting and daydreaming for my tastes and without the melodies to back things up, and there’s too much of a focus on keeping things distorted and distant. It’s like he’s saying ‘I did all this big and popular and hug production stuff with the fellas, so now I’m going in the complete opposite direction so that people recognise this John Lennon as different from that one’. Which is fair enough, but with a few simple tweaks these songs could have been stronger. That said, there is still some great stuff – not quite on par with the best of The Beatles, but right up there with their second tier tunes.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Mother. Hold On. Love. God.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Disney Songs – Lady And The Tramp

Greetings, Glancers. We’re back today with another Disney listenathon, this time with 1955’s Lady And The Tramp. This isn’t one of my favourite Disney entries – I didn’t grow up with it or anything and probably only saw it once during my childhood. Still, like all early Disney films, they’re iconic and important enough that you feel like you know it even if you’ve never seen it. Off the top of my head, there’s only one song I can think of from the movie, and I wouldn’t class it as one of their better ones. Lets see what else there is.

Bella Notte: Oh great, I suspect we’re in for more choral voices. The dreary strings, to give them more credit than I usually do, have much more romance than the songs from previous soundtracks. Here come the vocals, and while they are still not to my tastes, they aren’t quite as dreary and whining as those older movies. The little instrumental section at the end is quite lovely.

Peace On Earth: These vocals are hilarious to me – they seem, even in the 1950s, to be about twenty years out of date, and of course make me think of South Park. The backing vocals are terrible, but the melodies – a play on Silent Night – are nice enough.

Baby’s First Morning/What Is A Baby/La La La: A soft and soothing, twinkling song which perfectly encapsulates…. how a dog must feel when a baby is born? There isn’t much to it, just sweetly sung questions in lullaby form.

The Siamese Cat Song: Is it racist? Who even knows any more. They’re definitely playing up to stereotypes. As a song I always quite enjoyed this. It does always piss me off though that cats are always evil in Disney movies. Cats are awesome. Dogs? Dogs are great too, but they’re kind of also dicks.

What A Dog/He’s A Tramp: So, I always hated the intro of this one – not the music, the ‘what a dog’ line. Just the way it’s spoken – it’s so theatrical and slurred that it makes me ill. The song itself is fine, all those old-timey insults. The soaking jazz/swing stuff is right up there with my least favourite musical style so listening to this standalone is never good for me, but in the movie it is just about bearable.

Nothing from this soundtrack would make my personal playlist of Disney songs, though as is generally the case all of the music works when watching the movie. Regardless of who’s making it, a song from a musical movie has to be something truly special for me to take it seriously outside of the scope of the film, has to be great for me to consider listening to it on its own merits. Let us know in the comments what your favourite track from Lady And The Tramp is!

Nightman Listens To – ACDC – Highway To Hell (Top 500 Metal Albums)!

Acdc Highway to Hell.JPG

Greetings, Glancers! For anyone who has stumbled upon this post via the power of Googling (or even Binging), I should explain what I’m doing here. Basically, it’s like those reaction videos on Youtube where people (usually rap fans or young’uns or idiots) listen to a rock or metal song for the first time and pretend to be shocked and amazed. I’m doing that, except without the visual, or the faking. And given that I’m a Northern Irish fella, nothing really shocks or amazes me.

A little about me then – I’ve always been into rock music, from as far as I can remember. I was a kid in the 80s, but hit my musical peak in the 90s, living through the death of hair metal, grunge, brit pop, and rock music as a popular form. When I was a kid, ACDC was one of those holy bands that everyone talked about and was supposed to love. Not knowing any better, and only knowing a handful of their songs, I assumed I loved them too. It’s only when I got older and heard more of their stuff that I realised… they’re not very good. Limited musically, screechy vocals the likes of which tend to be heard during a beheading, and silly teenage boy lyrics about boobies. In essence, it’s a hair metal band but without the make-up and stupid clothes. But beyond Back In Black I’ve never listened to one of their albums in full. So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ll love this. Maybe I’ll eat my own words like an anti-politician. I doubt it, but we’ll see. Before we begin, lets have a laugh at the album cover, which sees fake Mick Jagger wearing a hair-band of thorns, and swishing his tail around all la-di-da like. The rest of the boys seem to have forgotten they’re taking part in a photo-shoot which will see them appear in shops in front of millions, and instead seems to be either laughing at something happening in the background, waiting anxiously for the cameraman to ask them to ‘say cheese’, or simply look bewildered because they have never seen a camera before. In any case, the whole thing is a shambles. There are two songs here I know already. Lets see what the others have in store.

Highway To Hell‘ opens the album. You know it, I know it. It’s actually one I don’t mind. I sure don’t love it, but you can’t escape you catchy it is.

Girls Got Rhythm‘ is the sort of title and song which makes you wonder if the band ever got any. It’s as simple a rock song as you’ll find – couple of chords followed by a riff. It’s straight blues with added crunch and white boy swagger. I admit there is a charm in hearing a Classic Rock song for the first time – I have nostalgia for the whole genre which covers up any cracks. It’s not bad – it has a solid beat and repetitive nature which ensures its place as a party song (I imagine). There’s not a lot to it of course, and none of the melodies or instrumentals are particularly strong.

Walk All Over You‘ opens with a touch more imagination. Drums and guitars taking turns and playing – playing the same thing over and over yes – then the main riff drops and the pace picks up. It’s more Blues Classic rock stylings. Again, I can see drunks dancing to it. It falls apart when the chorus and the backing vocals drop. It’s distinctly average – I imagine it was popular because it dropped at the exactly right time in the US when they were crying out for this sort of party music. It has no business being longer than 5 minutes.

Touch Too Much‘ is the other song I know. Like any number of AC-DC songs it is a mid-pace stomper – you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for Highway To Hell, so similar is the pace, structure, and beat. Naturally the melodies and guitar work are different enough to keep such comparisons at bay. It’s as good as the title track and if you like that there’s absolutely no reason why you won’t enjoy this.

Beating Around The Bush‘ is another song title which might have made me snigger when I was 10. To its credit it starts out with a more interesting riff and launches with a furious pace. It somehow almost feels Country. The pace relents briefly for the chorus before getting straight back to the verse. This one is quite fun.

Shot Down In Flames‘ starts out in traditional fashion – I’ve a feeling a large part of why I don’t get the band like others do is the the drums. So often there is zero variance with the drumming. It feels very much like a session drummer who has been brought in for a pay cheque to simply lay down the bare minimum – there’s no life or attempt at style or colour. The song itself is fine – it’s not any better or worse than most of the other stuff that I’ve heard them do.

Get It Hot‘ is further proof of my drumming statement. It’s like they got the session drummer for 20 minutes to record one song, then they just copied and pasted the same parts over every other song. I’m adding my own fills with my mouth as I listen – it’s really not that difficult to make a song standout by adding an extra couple of beats and blasts here and there. This is more of the same, musically, lyrically. AC-DC are just like Status Quo, except they look more like farmers than Quo do.

If You Want Blood‘ is a song I think I’ve hard before, I just can’t place it. The song builds a little differently from the others, but then the verse starts and it’s identical to the previous song, even the riffs. It’s amazing to me how such an unimaginative band became so successful, in a genre which frequently demands innovation – or did around the time this was recorded. It’s lowest common denominator rock.

Love Hungry Man‘ opens with big chords but once the cymbals come in I know what’s coming. Wait for it. Wait for it. There it is. Same beat. At least the guitar approach in the verse is slightly different. The chorus is almost the same as Alright Now. Straightforward easy rock with no strings attached. And that’s just not enough for me – where’s the skill? Where’s the feeling? What sets them apart from any wedding band? The farmer look?

Night Prowler‘ is the longest song on the album, to close things out. It opens fairly slowly, and I can just about imagine the slow walking pace of some weirdo going to the beat. Also, the drummer actually does something different here! Unfortunately the band just can’t get it right and the slow pace only heightens their deficiencies. They’re just…. not very interesting. There’s a slow and loose solo in there somewhere. It’s a three minute song stretched to 6.30 by halving the pace.

It’s far from a bad album, let me be clear. Most of my criticism for the band is just down to personal taste. At a stretch I could say my personal test touches upon some genuine critical insight – they are a repetitive band, they are formulaic, they’re not the most engaging or technical musicians. But then I listen to and love plenty of other artists I could make the same argument for. So personal taste then – I understand why others enjoy these songs, and given the right time, place, and frame of mind I can enjoy them too. But the majority of the time they feel like overly simple, average rock songs. As mentioned, the classic rock sound has a special place in my heart, so hearing songs from that genre that I haven’t heard before does give me some kind of fuzzies, but that quickly fades as each song progresses through the same beats. Like a lot of bands, I think nostalgia is what keeps them selling, but people are coming around to the realization that many of these acts of the 60s, 70s, 80s, had a handful of decent tracks and the rest were empty re-treads.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Highway To Hell. Beating Around The Bush.

Nightman Listens To – Bruce Dickinson – Balls To Picasso (Non Maiden Series)!

Bruce Dickinson – Balls To Picasso (2005, CD) - Discogs

Greetings, Glancers – it’s Brucey time! It’s a long time since my last Bruce solo outing, and in truth that was pretty crap. This was his first album after fully leaving Maiden. Unlike his debut, this one I haven’t heard of at all, and I don’t remember anything about it from around the time of its release. I don’t recognise any of the ten tracks below, though at least they sound metal. CLICHES!

Cyclops‘ this opens with a bit of an Iron Man vibe, albeit with some pseudo-industrial 90s beats and sounds. I’m not sure how to feel about it, then a crunching riff drops and I suddenly feel a lot better. It spends its time getting to the first verse, then Bruce begins singing, theatrical as always, sounding revitalized. He’s sneering and yelping. The chorus reminds me of Brutal Planet. It’s a while since I heard Tattooed Millionaire, but this feels heavier than anything off his debut. It doesn’t sound like anything Maiden would write, which I suppose is the point. The guitar attack and tone is completely different from your Maiden style, but I can see most Maiden fans getting behind this, even if it is a harsher sound. A great extended instrumental to close out.

Hell No‘ opens interestingly enough. A tribal, looping beat. I can only imagine this sounded quite modern in 94. It’s a type of metal I’m not overly familiar with so it feels fresh to me. It carries on with ominous verse and booming chorus. Nicely layered vocals in the chorus – these always sound great when you have as powerful a singer as Bruce. There’s a whispering, then shouting middle 8 just for fun. It’s a good follow up to the first track.

Gods Of War‘ has another different type of drum intro. I’m going to level with yoy, let you see behind the curtain. I’m writing this sentence, listening to the song for the first time on 24th March 2020. Earlier today I listened to AC-DC’s Highway To Hell album for the first time and was pissed off by how similar each song was and by how samey the drums were. Basically every song followed the same rhythm, format, and beat. Here we are, three songs into this album and each one has been different in form, rhythm, and beat. But enough of that. I like the more tender nature of the verse and how the pre-chorus veers between effervescent, epic, and vicious. The chorus itself isn’t the best, but there’s a great solo and rhythm section in there. I hope this continues, but so far this is a vast improvement over the first album.

1000 Points Of Light‘ opens with a repetitive series of crunching chorus before the venomous drums and vocals join. The verses are somewhat monotone yet there is an underlying layer of funk. The chorus offers more in terms of melody, the instrumental breaks up the funk quota, and the second verse mostly dispenses with guitar. It’s the little changes and choices which prevent this mostly average song from being boring. We even get a little soft jazz ballad breakdown in between solos somewhere in the middle. If the verses were less monotone this would be better.

Laughing In The Hiding Bush‘ has a more disjointed feel in its opening moments before the verse finds coherence thanks to another near tribal beat and a great snarling vocal. This time its the verses which offer the more interesting melody over the chorus. Not a lot too this one, just a simple hard rock song.

Change Of Heart‘ begins with, is that a slight Latino feel? The beat and the guitar tone certainly suggest as much. The verse vocal is despondent and mournful. Melodically it reminds me of Audioslave’s Like A Stone. I’m waiting for the metal to come. A crunch of sorts comes for the chorus, it’s a brief chorus – I would have liked a little more to it, but it’s good while it lasts. It’s a song which feels like it could have been, in the right ot wrong hands, a power ballad in another life. Dickinson keeps things grounded, even when he’s tackling subject matter he usually doesn’t, such as here.

Shoot All The Clowns‘ has a beat which a lot of rock bands adopted in the mid 90s, or which a lot of pop artists did when they wanted a little more oomph. It does feel a little, not dated, but it does scream mid 90s. Dickinson is enjoying the vocals here, giving it the snarl from his previous two Maiden albums. It’s all quite funky too and was that a Welcome To The Jungle in joke? It all continues in this vein until Bruce decides to give rap a crack, and a fair crack it is because we know the man can do anything. A strange entry in his canon, but it’s quite fun.

Fire‘ has a good old fashioned dinosaur stomping riff and drum intro which treads onward through the verse. Now this one reminds me of Slash’s Snakepit and several other rock and metal bands of the 90s. It’s loud and violent and it cruises but the melody isn’t there so it slips from memory. There’s a little hook in the chorus. Is that actually Slash playing the solo – it sure feels like him.

Sacred Cowboys‘ brings the speed again. It also brings the rap again. It’s cool that Bruce is trying stuff that he either wouldn’t or couldn’t in Maiden. Jeepers, take a breath there son, you’ll faint. It’s another which lacks melody in the vocals, until the chorus which thankfully is a good one. I’m not sure I’d listen to this again, but it does stand out in memory as one to recommend to fans who may not have heard it – just as a bit of an oddity and something different. Bruce keeps it from being a failure and there’s some variance and depth in the instrumentation.

Tears Of A Dragon‘ closes the album. There’s different versions of this, I’m going for the 8 minute one, which certainly begins in epic form, all pianos and building. Then it enters a phase with some muted guitar which reminds me of one of my all time favourite songs – Dangerous Tonight. The verses are a little cheesy but we’ll excuse him. It builds to what I assume is the chorus – epic melodies. Yeah, it is more cheese than not, but it’s good and I think I would have loved it more if Id heard it at the time. Into an instrumental section which soon begins to gallop along with all manner of string synth sounds. It even manages to sound like Beat It. And like a precursor to Knights Of Cydonia. Good solo. From the name, he’s obviously poking fun at the whole thing. I like it – it doesn’t hit the peaks of other epics I love, but like I say – many of those epics I’ve been listening to for more than 20 years so this would have some catching up to do regardless. Then he rips the arse out of it for the final minute.

This was a much stronger effort than Bruce’s first solo. While I couldn’t identify a common thread tying it all together, beyond Bruce and beyond it being a hard rock album, there wasn’t anything bad I can pull away from it. Mostly good songs, a few very good songs, and the rest are passable. Metal vocalists don’t have a great track record when they go solo, but I’d wager that this is one of the better ones and there’s a lot here for fans of heavy music to enjoy.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Cyclops. Gods Of War. Change Of Heart. Tears Of A Dragon.

Nightman Listens To – Lady Gaga – Chromatica (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! This could be a biggie Out of all of the pop acts on the 2020 Series list, Gaga is probably the biggest. It’s her or Taylor Swift, right? They’ve both been around for ages and both have a bunch of hits. I can’t actually name a single Taylor Swift song, but I can tell you a few by Gaga. I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed any of those songs – Poker Face…. the one from The Oscar…. the one about glory… but they’re fine. She seems like a good vocalist, she has her own visual style, plus she claims to enjoy a bit of Metal. If she had come up when I was a teenager, I probably would have had much stronger words for her one way or the other. But I’m old and I don’t care. Now, it’s all about the music. Does it move me? Does it challenge me? Does it beckon me to stretch these gnarled joints and shuffle them about in a pseudo-rhythmic mockery of dance? I wouldn’t say I have high hopes for this one, but there’s a bit of anticipation around it. I’ve never listened to a Gaga album before, and most of the pop albums from 2020 I’ve listened to have been okay. Pleasant. The odd bop. Nothing on the levels of what I personally love in pop, but not bad. Lets see what Gaga has to say for herself.

How These Artists Crafted Lady Gaga's Latest Album Cover Look | Vogue

I can’t say I’ve paid attention to any of Gaga’s previous album covers, but I do know she’s into fashion and image, and has a defined style. This all seems a little raunchy, a little BDSM, a little cyber-witchy. Lots of spikes and sparkles. Does this imagery bleed into the music, the lyrics, themes, tone, and atmosphere?

Looking down the track-list I don’t recognise a single song, but I’m immediately curious to find out if this is an attempt at a pop concept album. A few of the song names hint at this, but plenty of pop acts over the years have attempted similar things to little or no real effect. Gaga sure has the clout, and hopefully the creativity to give it a shot – to make something more than just another pop album. By the time you read the next paragraph, I will know for sure.

Chromatica is just another pop album, but it’s a very good pop album. It’s brazen in its confidence and displays songwriters at the peak of their craft, and while its aspirations at being a full blown traditional Concept album fall short, it has enough thematic through-lines that we know it’s an album with something to say, an album which is as much a journey of catharsis as it is a batch of dancefloor favourites. I knew nothing about Gaga’s life before this album, beyond that time she wore a meat suit and that time she sang at The Oscars, but having lived in this album’s orbit for some time I feel closer to her know as a human and artist.

Chromatica follows the similar signature moves as many of the other pop albums from 2020 I’ve listened to so far, particularly how it wears its influences on its sleeves. There’s no escaping the comparisons to Madonna, something I understand has plagued Gaga her whole career. There are worse artists to be compared to, but every artist wants to stand on the quality of their own input instead of being labelled a knock-off. There are obvious call backs to Vogue era Madonna, but they are respectful, knowing, and are merely used as a jumping off point to make something new. This is where Chromatica succeeds over those other 2020 throwbacks; this is not a throwback, it’s a forward thinking dance pop album with one stiletto firmly planted in the 90s.

What I was most interested in when I wrote the intro to this post was whether or not this was a Concept album. The answer likely depends on what you think a Concept album should be – is it a series of songs loosely based around the same idea or topic, is it a full narrative with characters, a beginning, and ending? Chromatica is closer to the first definition – there isn’t a set narrative with the lyrics telling a clear story, but the songs and lyrics do still tell the story of Gaga’s journey through pain and out the other side. The musical threads weave a chronology from Disco through synth-pop to the House inspired underground movement of the 90s and the expansion of EDM, but it never loses its focus on melody and fun, even as each of the genres it cribs from often looked towards more experimental ends. It’s not enough to say that musical connective tissue makes a Concept album – after all, all albums without exception have the same connective tissue. A Concept album tends to have recurring motifs – snippets of the same musical notes repeating at different points throughout the album, the tone of the instruments unwavering in their commitment to the album’s atmosphere, and songs often running into one another making it difficult to determine when one ends and the next begins. Chromatica touches on these points in a cursory way – there’s a bit of sound bleeding from track to track but in terms of tone and motif there is little to suggest a wider Concept.

Yet, the album does hold together, conceptually. The three title-track instrumental interludes seemingly break the album into three acts. Musically, they’re not obviously distinct and thematically they chart an uneven, non-linear journey. That journey starts in a place of reflection, uncertainty, and even hope, proceeds to a darker, more angry middle, and concludes in a finale which attempts to reconcile with the past and to heal. Throughout each act there’s a inward search for answers, a self-loathing kink, and some accusations pointed squarely at others, an in each act there’s a clawing defiance that we can all be better, we can overcome and move on.

I would have preferred more variance in the album – most of the songs are upbeat, up-tempo floor fillers and as such early listens feel repetitive with only a handful of songs standing apart. With additional listens and examinations of the lyrics those subtle variances begin to drip out, never becoming a downpour. My early standouts remain my favourites – Fun Tonight and Sine From Above are the GOATs, with a few struggling to get that bronze position. Stupid Love is ridiculously catchy and even with its annoying quirks it nuzzles its way into your brain-meat. Alice is a fun, brief Conceptual opener with well-worn lyrical metaphors worn proudly while Rain On Me brings the always youthful spirit and vocals of Ariana Grande to an already energetic tragic tale.  There isn’t a weak link – from the instrumental linking tracks to the less eventful non-singles, there is always something to enjoy; a thumping beat, a neat vocal, a jarring lyric which opposes the care-free action of the music.

While the lyrics never scratch my personal itch of being raw, personal, and unique, as a whole they present a not-quite defeated heroine punching her way through the soil and back to life. There are recurring references to identity and uncertainty, escape and rescue, freedom and feeling trapped, frustration and death, addiction and honesty. Having not paid any real attention to Gaga’s music or lyrics previously, I can’t say if this is a step up, down, or sideways for her as an artist. Thematically she has a range to write about here, but the next level in her evolution could be to nail the lyrics in a more overt poetic fashion. That’s not necessary by any means, but from my personal standpoint, that’s what increases my connection to an artist.

You’re going to question the necessity of each song in any album that is sixteen tracks long – the three instrumental pieces are brief and bridge the gaps between each section of the album, and justify their position. Neither is the most breath-taking or interesting piece of music, but they’re short and inoffensive. 911 is about as average as the album gets and is skippable outside of the Concept, Plastic Doll is better but forgettable amidst everything else, and Sour Candy is the best of a dull mid album sequence due to it’s interesting structure. Enigma isn’t quite the anthem it wants to be – it’s close, but the chorus doesn’t live up to the hype of the verse and lead in, while Replay fuses any number of genres and hits together to make a solid dance mashup. The final three songs are a stellar conclusion, led by the album’s high mark Sine From Above. I’m not Elton John fan, and I didn’t recognise him until I read that it was him. It’s a furious, euphoric club classic the likes of which you’d expect from Sweden’s hit-makers, hitting the sweet spot of melody and emotion which makes music special. 1000 Doves is sweet and hopeful and feels more like an album closer than the Vogue sequel Babylon. Babylon isn’t exactly a dud closer because of the fun lyrics and antics going on in the production, but it isn’t a floor filling or emotive climax.

As far as my first Gaga experience goes, this was mostly positive. I can see why she’s adored, I can see myself listening to roughly half of the songs regularly in the future, and there’s enough good stuff here to make me curious about the rest of her discography. I’m also curious to see how I score the album in relation to Jessie Ware’s album – both ostensibly pop albums with similar tones.

ALBUM SCORE

Sales: 4. This will likely increase to a 5 over time, but at the moment it’s difficult to determine sales. It seems to be around 1 million worldwide, low when comparing it to A Star Is Born’s 6 million sales.

Chart: 5. As easy a five as you’ll ever get. Number 1 in Australia, Canada, France, Italy, UK, US, and others. Top 5 in most Countries which buy music.

Critical: 4. I feel like I need to be harsh here otherwise most albums in this series will get a 5 by nature of being included in the series. The album didn’t get many Number 1 Best Of The Year picks, but plenty of top 10s. While praise was positive, it wasn’t super gushing.

Originality: 3. You could go 2 here, I don’t think you can go higher than 3. It’s another album taking its cues heavily from previous artists and periods of time. That’s fine, but it doesn’t do anything particularly innovative to bring that time period up to date.

Influence: 3. I imagine anything Gaga does will be influential in the pop landscape – along with some of the other retro-type pop albums of 2020, there seems to be a backwards looking movement. I can’t say whether this individual album will do anything to influence other artists more than any of Gaga’s previous work already has.

Musical Ability: 3. It follows a tried and true approach with little musical variation. Everyone knows what they’re doing.

Lyrics: 3. The album has lyrics. They’re fine. Other may enjoy them more and take the score to a four. It’s certainly not a two, but not personal enough for me to get higher.

Melody: 3. Possibly harsh, but most of the solid melodies miss out on being quite as anthemic or ear-bait as I’d like. I can see plenty going for a 5 here, for me it’s close to a 4.

Emotion: 4. I’m happy to go 4 here. There’s a range of emotion which is often hidden by the music rather than accentuated by it, but those emotions bubble up with further examination.

Lastibility: 4. It’s a solid collection of floor-fillers, good for summer driving and winter clubbing. The singles will likely live on and be recalled in years to come.

Vocals: 3. I’m a little disappointed here, hence the 3. I know Gaga can wail, but there’s not much of that in this album. There are a few nasal moments too, and quite a few instances of one of my biggest pet hates; putting an ‘o’ sound in front of an ‘I’ sound, to make a weird Irish/Cockney ‘oi’ disaster. It’s one of the reasons I could never get invested in certain sections of Punk, with their obnoxious ‘oi oi oi’ chants. Even the otherwise excellent Sine From Above suffers from it.

Coherence: 4. Ignoring the assumption that it’s a Concept album, it holds together well in terms of genre, atmosphere, and tone. Taking the Concept into consideration, its coherence runs deeper, even if there isn’t a pure narrative thread from start to finish.

Mood: 3. Go 4 here if you must, but for me to give a higher score in this category – I need to feel it. Even with the Concept and the emotion involved, this is primarily a dance record and there’s only so much mileage in in Mood I can get out of it.

Production: 5. There modern day pop albums know how to sound good. I don’t know shit about Production, but I couldn’t find any significant faults here.

Effort: 4. Gaga seems to pump out albums very quickly, so she’s driven and still at a personal peak. This takes inherent effort. Add in the push to make this a personal Concept album and you can imagine this took more effort than just another Pop album.

Relationship: 3. The universal personal stuff I can relate to, but more so I can relate to the artist wearing her heart on her sleeve and exposing herself, regardless of the specific details. I don’t think she went personal enough for me to give this a higher score.

Genre Relation: 4. It sounds like a lot of the other pop albums I’ve heard this year, and aside from the obvious improvements in tech, it sounds like the early 90s albums it draws inspiration from.

Authenticity: 4. I see no evidence to doubt its sincerity, either when acknowledging its influences or being open about its emotions.

Personal: 4. It’s a lowish 4. I don’t think I can go three because I enjoyed it more, as a whole, than some of the other albums I’ve given a 3. But because it lacks 1 or 2 more big chorus bangers, it’s a low 4. Still, it’s an enjoyable modern pop album which I can see myself listening to again – that’s something.

Miscellaneous: 4. A rare 4 in this category, because a big all guns blazing tour followed, along with one of those re-release remix albums too.

Total: 74/100

Is this our highest scoring album so far? If so, I wasn’t expecting it to be, but I guess it’s justified. I think it’s maybe a match with Future Nostalgia, which is fairly apt.  Will anything else top this score? There are plenty more albums remaining on my 2020 list, so stick around to be find out! Let us know your thoughts on Chromatica below!

Nightman Listens To – Electronic Sound – George Harrison!

Electronic Sound - Wikipedia

Trust a Beatle to create dance music. I’ve never heard this, but I know what it is. It’s Harrison experimenting with the new-fangled synthesizer which was threatening to change the musical world forever. It’s two long tracks, which I can only assume will mean a lot of bleeps and blops and not much of anything else. In case you weren’t aware, I also have a Youtube channel where I upload experimental ‘music’. Without the use of any musical instrument. I essentially recorded clips of others sounds, songs, myself talking, and using Text To Speech Software, and mashed it all together using nothing more than Windows Media Recorder on my ancient laptop. I have hundreds of these things, but I’ve only uploaded a handful because I foolishly decided that they each needed an individual video to accompany the noise. And making those videos takes forever. Some day I’ll just upload the noise as it is. I’m assuming Harrison’s album is like that. My stuff is terrible – but probably better than Harrison’s because I can at least get some enjoyment out of remembering how I made a certain sound. FYI – any track/video that begins with a Capital Letter is one I wrote. Anything beginning with a small letter is by a colleague – hence The Spac Twins. Go listen to my stuff. You will regret it.

Under The Mersey Wall: Crowd noise? Boats. Yes, this is precisely what I was expecting. Lasers. Space race. Tinkerbell with a flamethrower. An asthmatic lion. Hearth. Pinging Spac Twin Colleague as I listen. Up the M2. Fondling the knob. Why does all experimental music sound the same? Because we’ve all tapped into God. A man on the street below has arms too wide for his sleeves. Another is draped in a sheet for some reason, looks like a Nun with a mint-head habit. It’s funny because I imagine a pile of Beatles-obsessed kids sticking this on the turntable and 20 minutes later joining a cult. Or letting their dog swallow them. Crack open a MAGA’S skull and this emerges in a puff of dust. A Google Fi ad interrupts at the 10 minute mark. Then a jumpscare WOOOOOP! Mint Nun has vanished. A scale. I assume Harrison was naked while recording. I am naked now. Orb loop. Ghost Banana. Rod Serling.

No Time Or Space: Headbutting a fence. Like a toddler whacking something until Mummy comes. Oh no, here comes Mummy. Now they’re communicating via a series of whirls and open mouthed head-shakes. Mummy has fallen out a window into a wind tunnel. Channel static. Bubbles. Bath farts, but instead of water in the bath, it’s lava, and instead of your ass it’s a giant fly. Prosody. Now there’s a guy whose neck is thinner than a daisy stalk. Even though his skull is like a raindrop I’ve no idea how that neck can support it. Zipper up. Horror. Techno. Dance music would be better if it was just this. An abacus made of snow. Thunder in a cup. Another Youtube Ad – something about a chairboy. Moonraker. Attempting re-entry. Tech blast again. Spoons. Ten minutes left. Crash. Frog spawn. Grand Theft Roboto. A bee in a tube with a magnetic wasp. Cyborg cat leaping off cliff. Tie a whistle to your shlong and spin it around. Fireworks in a keyboard. Silence. Distant. More. BabaYaga O’Reilly. Going up the slippery dip in reverse. Means? Gizzard. Dying. End.

That was everything I hoped it would be, and now I never have to hear it again. For more of this, head on over to my Youtube channel and feel your brain give up. Let us know what you thought of Electronic Sound in the comments!

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

Somewhere Else by Marillion: Amazon.co.uk: CDs & Vinyl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somewhere Else by Marillion: Amazon.co.uk: CDs & Vinyl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Somewhere Else by Marillion: Amazon.co.uk: CDs & Vinyl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells (Top 1000 Series)!

Greeting’s Glancers! We all know this, right? Tubular Bells – one of the most famous pieces of music of the 20th Century, possibly one of the most recognisable instrumental works ever written. Iconic. And yet, most people, myself included, only know the pieces from The Exorcist. I think I’ve heard this album before – being a horror fan, I listen to the soundtracks of my favourite movies, but beyond the bits used in Friedkin’s classic I don’t really remember much about the music. It’s only two tracks though, so this should be a shorter post – huzzah!

What Do I Know About Mike Oldfield – An obscenely talented multi-instrumentalist and composer. Beyond Tubular Bells, he did that Christmas song everyone loves.

What Do I Know About Tubular Bells – Famous for appearing in The Exorcist, and famous for being one of the few pieces of 20th Century instrumental music to have a wider cultural impact and success. I believe Mike wrote, played, and recorded the whole thing himself.

Tubular Bells Part 1: This is the piece that everyone knows. While the central motif (love it starts on the off note) runs throughout the whole piece in some form, it’s really the opening 2-3 minutes which people recognise as The Exorcist music. Afterwards, the accompaniment shifts to guitar and woodwind, often drifting into beautiful and poignant fantasy/folk sections which sound like they would fit more in an Animated fairy tale than the most famous Horror movie ever made. Each transition feels natural and gives a sense of endless progress – the bass charged, scratchy guitar led section is almost Metal, this is followed by a spacey, throbbing manic phase, and on to more introspective clanging, organ-based sections. The layering is extraordinary, with new instruments fading in to take up barely a supporting role before expanding to being the lead, motifs revolving around, fading, and returning; the patience and thought and focus it must have taken for one person to build this is impressive to say the least. There’s even a touch of the Morricone in places – you can hear snippets of influence in many moments, but above all this is a maddeningly confident solo extraordinaire. You can slice this up a hundred ways, and each piece will be captivating. I could do without the spoken pieces telling us what the upcoming instrument is.

Tubular Bells Part 2: The second half of the album is tonally very similar to the first – multi-instrumental, loose yet tight, with seamless transitions and a wealth of information. While the first half ended with some slight vocalisations, this half begins with the same. It’s a guitar heavy opening, reminiscent of the folk meanderings of something like The Wicker Man. It’s another piece to be swept away be or get lost in. There’s a section in the middle which feels like a precursor to some of the music from Ocarina Of Time – Lon Lon Ranch, Zelda’s Theme and all that, before moving into a more stirring, rousing piece around the 34 minute mark led by booming drums and scorched guitars like a demented Medieval march. Both pieces are beautiful and a joy to hear. Then it goes all funky and weird, with growling and Zeppelin riffs and musical theatre pianos. It would be difficult to find another instrumental with so much invention and nonsense and having it all work. Then it closes with a random rendition of Popeye, because why the hell not.

What Did I Learn: I can’t say I actually learned anything, but it re-iterated just how much of a genius Oldfield is and how shameful it is that other popular musicians will never approach anything as jaw-dropping as this. I always knew it was good, I just didn’t remember it being this good.

Does It Deserve Its Place In The Top 1000 Albums Ever: Absolutely. If ever there were an instrumental album to hold a single spot in such a list, this is it. Every metrci you could have for being a ‘Best Ever Album’ is met – sales, influence, critical acclaim, skill, impact – it’s all there, plus it still sounds great decades later.