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

This Is the 21st Century Lyrics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anoraknophobia - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Rebel Heart!

Rebel Heart - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Code Orange – Underneath (2020 Series)!

Greetings, Glancers! Another highly rated album from 2020 to cover today, and another one I have absolutely zero knowledge of. In fact, before writing this introduction I had to check on my original 2020 post to see which publication listed this album as one of their favourites. It was Kerrang, so this must be a Metal album. At the very least an album with guitars, given that Kerrang goes after all sorts these days. That’s all I know, but maybe the artwork will tell me something.

It’s a fleshy, cyborg, alien thing? It’s a bit like if Iron Maiden’s Eddie were a nerd, but was kidnapped by a Cenobite and then placed in one of Jigsaw’s traps. It doesn’t tell me much. Is it meant to be a violent, brutal image so the album will be violent and brutal? For any new readers – I write my intro before I’ve heard a single note of the album, but by the time we jump to the next paragraph I will have listened to the whole thing multiple times. Lets get to it.

You know, that image is a fairly accurate representation of the music – it’s the sort of music a demented AI might make if the only data it had to go on was Nursery Rhymes and 2010s Hardcore Metal. On one hand it’s fairly straight screamy shouty metal – brutal vocals song by boys who are angry because mommy wouldn’t let them ‘go out with hair like that’, thunderous drumming, and crushing riffs – but on the other hand you have an album deliberately broken with audio glitches and defects. The music will cut out without warning or begin to judder and skip like a dust ridden CD, and many of riffs have been distorted to sound like they have been heavily processed through multiple rusty filters and failing laptops. It’s cool, but the effect doesn’t have the same impact on multiple listens or by the time the final track comes around. It’s probably the most notable aspect of the album and what distinguishes this from the thousands of other Hardcore albums out there, which are generally very samey. It is a cool effect, it is overdone, but at least they mix up those effects with a variety and intensity that it does catch you off guard and create a sort of unique vibe. Of course, this glitching and trickery is not exactly original – The Music’s debut way back in 2002 had plenty of these stoppy starty shenanigans – but I don’t know how regularly it has been used in Metal. I wonder if these guys are fans of The Music – there’s a moment in Autumn And Carbine which is suspiciously reminiscent of the electro beats used in The Music’s third album. That seems highly unlikely.

I must admit to laughing and enjoying the opening track, because all the deliberately off-putting sound, screeches, and distortion is exactly the sort of ‘experimental music’ I was making more than 10 years ago. I have hundreds (literally) of ‘songs’ like this and when I have time I add the odd one to Youtube to terrify people. That intro builds nicely – I like a long instrumental intro to build anticipation and set tone and mood, but when this happens on an especially good intro I’m internally praying ‘don’t ruin it with the vocals don’t ruin it with the vocals’. In general I’m not a fan of Hardcore vocals because they crush the individuality of the voice and enforce limitations. I can take them in short bursts but this is the genre we’re in so it should be expected and evaluated as such. The album isn’t all shouts and screams – there are minor instances of clean female vocals and the songs which deftly balance the harsh with the clean, the light with the dark, such as Sulfur Surrounding are the most successful at sticking in my memory.

That’s the greatest quandary I have with this genre and the album. Hardcore, and plenty of other metal sub genres have a lack of melody and variety; little variety of emotion, little to no variety in vocal melody, and it’s all about as many downtuned basic riffs and how much shouty shouting you can shout. If you like Hardcore, you should like this. If you’re a purist though, you might be put off b the glitches, by the synth moments, by the cleaner sections because this album does strive for variety. It employs Hardcore as its foundation, but wants to build something more monstrous and remarkable. I don’t speak from any position of experience or authority but based on the rave reviews from those in the know, the band succeeded in this respect. This album does have variety – there are memorable vocal melodies (which may take time to sink in) and there is emotional variety (at least in the grey areas between annoyed, angry, and really pissed off). Songs such as The Easy Way and Sulfur Surrounding build upon this by eschewing the tried and tested and boring hardcore route of riff, shout, other shout, solo, shout end, by adding musical and structural elements not typically heard.

Still, as someone mostly unfamiliar with this sub-genre and with no real desire to learn about it or care (it’s all a bit… skinhead, you know), I could appreciate its brutality and experimentation and can gladly chill to any of the songs while driving. A few songs would be enough for me before I’d want to move on to something else – I get enough futile tantrums at home without needing it in my music too. A handful of the better blended songs I can stick on my playlist but the whole thing isn’t one I think I’ll return to. I can marvel at the production and applaud the musical ability and desire to drag the genre into new territory, but the songwriting in itself feels somewhat flat outside of the glitches.  Like many of the albums I have already reviewed from 2020 and likely those I haven’t got to yet – this isn’t for me so I’ll leave it to the people who it was designed for. I have no doubt they’ll love it.

Album Score

Sales: 3. Seems to have done okay, at least within a genre which doesn’t really sell anymore. Seems to be theit highest selling album – but we’re talking 10s of thousands here. I could go 2 here, but lets give them some props.

Chart: 2. A hardcore album isn’t really designed to sell outside its core audience or set the charts alight. It made it onto the top 200 in US. Not as high as their debut I believe, but times have changed.

Critical: 5. Go down to a 4 if you want to include non-Metal publications, but praise has been flawless across the board in Metal magazines and sites.

Originality: 3. Normally a Hardcore album is going to get a 1 or a 2 from me here. This strives for me and generally does more. Enough for a 3 at least.

Influence: 3. I would hope that this will spur other young bands within this genre and the genres less prone to experimentation and variety to take the lead. It’s not going to influence on a wider scale so I could see a 2 or even a 1 here if you’re very harsh. Definitely don’t see this as higher than 3.

Musical Ability: 3. They can play, but we’re talking Metal here. If you can’t better than almost every other genre, you’re not going to get as high as a 3. I expect each person to be an expert in their craft. The glitches are more a case of production and ideas than musical ability – outside of that I didn’t feel enough to hit a 4.

Lyrics: 3. Naturally I had to Google the lyrics to see what they’re all about. There are bits and bobs related to changing and adapting to the modern world which fits with the music. Aside from that, all the usual Metal topics stated plainly without much poetry or invention – control, violence, anger, the usual.

Melody: 2: Only a handful of songs standout in this respect – I’ve been lenient so far in some of my scoring but if you force me up to a 3 here, I can drop Lyrics to a 2. Most of the songs don’t differ in the vocal melodies aside from the few notable ones, and even those aren’t the catchiest in the world. I won’t grumble if you go 3 here but anything higher seems like bias.

Emotion: 3. Genres like this aren’t the most subtle or nuanced in terms of emotion – there’s only so much range of emotion you can convey when your vocals are at 11 the entire time. It comes down to how much importance you place on expectation – if you expect and want anger, volume, shouting, then you can mark higher. If you are looking for a more balanced range of emotions across a spread of songs, then you mark lower. I’ll go average considering the genre. 

Lastibility: 3. While time will tell whether this was a game-changer, it seems like it has made enough impact based on its reviews to sustain itself at least until their next album drops. Metal fans are devout to their group or sub genre, and those outside the group will complain or move on to the next thing. Not enough information to say for sure, but a 3 seems reasonable. 

Vocals: 3. I’m no judge on hardcore vocals and what is good versus bad versus whatever. What I do know is that I can only take so much of it, not because it’s loud or shouty, but because it’s repetitive and dull and lacks character. Some songs offer mainly clean vocals, some songs offer additional vocals, and some songs blend clean and harsh. I didn’t have any issue with the quality of any of the vocals, more that they were mostly generic. 

Coherence: 4. I’m happy going high on this category because the band seemed committed to their idea for their sound, and did everything possible to make a coherent product. The glitches and electronic (for lack of a better term) sound carries through to the end.

Mood: 3. I could agree with an argument for a 4 here as the coherence lifts the mood, but given the lack of emotion and feeling I generally get from this type of music I’m not confident that any mood the band is trying to communicate would not translate to me.

Production: 4. Another strength, everything is clear and the various components are nuanced in the way that the emotions are not. Most notable aspects being the glitches and future shock soundscapes which are handled with both taste and bluster. 

Effort: 3. I always dread scoring this category because effort is sacred and sacrosanct. It feels disingenuous to score low when artists, especially in these genres, put their heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into their creation. I have no doubt the band did everything they could to write, record, and produce this album – but so does every other band if they’re serious about their craft. I don’t see or I’m not aware of anything over and above what other bands do. 

Relationship: 2. When I was younger maybe I would have felt different, but even when I was younger and more accepting of most Metal subgenres such as this were at an arm’s length. I love melody, and emotion, and shades of colour. I also love being heavy and angry and skilful and fast, but there are tonnes of other albums and artists who do those things while also speaking to me on a personal level. 

Genre Relation: 3. Sure… it sounds like most other albums in this genre that I’ve heard. But it also goes further and tries more. Then again, not my area of expertise. 

Authenticity: 4. Metal artists often live or die based on how authentic they are. If your fanbase feels you’ve sold out or moved to far away from what drew them to you, they’ll bugger off and let you know. Again, I don’t know much about it but it seems authentic, committed, and they believe in what they’re doing. 

Personal: 3. I’m honestly closer to a 2 because I know I’ll never listen to it again, but I also know it’s a better album than what a 2 would suggest. This score is all about your personal feelings so you can put all of you bias into this score – if an album sells in the millions, tops the charts, gets rave reviews, but it’s Country and you hate it – give it a 5 in those other categories but give it a 1 here. This is a low 3 for me, but the belief and the novelty of the glitching is enough to stop it dropping to a 2.

Miscellaneous: 2. I could go 3 here, but there’s not enough in the artwork or the surrounding info of the album to really nail down that score. 

Total: 61/100

That’s a lower score than most I’ve reviewed so far – but remember it’s only a 7 point difference between Ungodly Hours which is an album I did enjoy much more on a personal level. It may take something special to break that 70 mark!

Nightman Listens To – Bon Jovi – This House Is Not For Sale!

Bon Jovi, 'This House Is Not for Sale': Album Review

Greetings, Glancers! I seem like I say this every post, but we’re definitely getting towards the end of this Bon Jovi series. The only things I know about this album are thus; it has that creepy house from The Outer Limits as its cover, I keep thinking it’s a compilation (it’s not), and it’s the first album to not feature Ritchie ‘Hat Luvin’ Sambora. The things I don’t know about this album; everything else. Lets do this.

This House Is Not For Sale‘ is the opener, the title track, and was a single. Not a hugely successful one it seems, but that’s to be expected this deep into their career. Without Sambora, in these early moment it doesn’t seem like their sound has changed – similar tone and there are still backing vocals to fill the gap. It’s a bouncy pop rock song with a couple of hooks in the chorus. The verse is tame, but still catchy. A solid opener without excelling in any particular direction.

Living With The Ghost‘ fades in with a charging dash of guitar, piano, and drums. The verses have the feel of an anthem, hopefully building to a satisfying chorus. It’s not 100% satisfying, but it’s fine. I wish he’s gone for a higher not on ‘ghost’ to really reach for the more emotive sound. Plus, picking the higher note would have opened up the melody in the second chorus line to be less samey than the first. Mr X, if that is your real name, pulls out a simple enough solo before the song withdraws and the vocals take the lead for a quieter piano based section. They keep it gentle for a while before building up the volume for a final run at the chorus. Two fan-pleasing songs.

Knockout‘ is another single, feels more pulsating than the opener. It’s another return to the defiant ‘we can do this’ spirit of their early singles, using boxing imagery to get the point across. It’s another decent lighter rock song, with enough energy to bring in a varied audience. Good melodies and the backing vocals provide an extra hook.

Labor Of Love‘ immediately makes me think of Dark Shines by Muse, which is quite funny. It’s the same guitar tone, and obviously that relates back to Wicked Game. It’s a ballad, but with a little more energy. I’m not convinced by the vocal approach, but I can look it over. The vocals and song open up somewhat for the chorus. Yeah, it’s another good song. I would have picked different vocal and drum approach. Each of these songs so far I’d happily hear again, but I’m not sure any have the power to make my long term playlist.

Born Again Tomorrow‘ is another rallying call for people to live their lives and make the best decisions so that they won’t regret anything. It’s a pretty nifty song, with a little touch of dance synth in the background. It’s very much in the vein of their bigger songs and I feel like it would have been a hit if it was released at their peak. Big chorus, big verses, plenty of moments to sing along to, and a good solo to top it off.

Roller Coaster‘ is one of those terms which always finds its way into music – criticism and lyrics and song titles. This attempt at a roller coaster song begins well, steady beat and decent pace, quiet, good melodies. It builds and builds, and the chorus is a good one. I’m almost certain I’ve heard this melody in the chorus before, but I can’t place it. There is something odd going on with Jon’s vocals here, its throughout the album but it’s noticeable in the chorus – it sounds like he’s had a little work done post recording, just to even out any rough edges. This is a very catchy and sweet song, another which I think would have been more impactful in the mid 80s to early 90s.

New Year’s Day‘ continues the same tempo and uplifting feel as the previous track. Most of the album has been very positive in tone so far. Lots of songs touching on new beginnings, moving forwards, taking life’s turns. All the videos are cheesy as f*ck and it’s a little sad seeing how old the guys now look. Getting old sucks. Still, this feels like another hit though it’s very much a re-tread lyrically and musically of many of the previous songs.

The Devil’s In The Temple‘ opens with Physical Graffiti era chords before plunging into an optimistic slow tempo rock verse. The tempo has the vibe of a deeper urgency bubbling beneath the surface, as if a faster beat wants to unleash but is being held down. The song doesn’t really have a chorus – or at least the chorus feels more like a pre-chorus. There’s something enchanting but all over there is that sense of holding back – not restraint, but physically forcing something else back to stop it from erupting. I guess that is restraint. I think I would have preferred the eruption.

Scars On This Guitar‘ is surely a ballad with a name like that. Yes, acoustic guitar and piano. Singing about Friday nights again. It feels like we’ve been here before. Something weird going on with Jon’s vocals in the higher register moments. Look, we’ve heard them do songs like this before but it’s still good, inoffensive, and fans will surely lap it up. It could have been better for me with one simple change – when he sings ‘nowhere left to run to’, if he had gone for a higher note on the ‘to’ it would have peaked the emotion instead of leaving it as it currently stands – middle of the road emotion rather than yanking my soul out through my nostrils. It’s a lovely, gentle song for married couples everywhere.

God Bless This Mess‘ is… fine. I’m running out of platitudes or interesting things to say about these songs. You know by this point what you’re getting – it’s generally well written, it doesn’t have any edge but you can dance to it in a crowd, it has a pleasing enough chorus. There’s no blistering solo, not much in the way of harmonies, but if you’ve always been a Bon Jovi fan or if you’ve just discovered them through their bigger hits, you should like this to. If anyone else had recorded the song it would sink without a trace, but as it’s Bon Jovi it’ll find an audience – the audience it was designed to find.

Reunion‘ opens like a U2 song without the Edge’s delay effects. Another pleasant song. Good verse which builds neatly to another tame but catchy chorus. It’s wholesome, it’s hopeful. It looks back and looks forward. It’s one of those songs, and Bon Jovi are one of those bands who make me wish I had been an American teen in the 80s, falling in love, growing old together – the band has always had a way of making this feel so appealing and vital. It’s another winner for long time fans, for someone like me it’s another decent, average MOR rock song that I’ll have forgotten in a day’s time but wouldn’t complain if I were to hear it again.

Come On Up To Our House‘ is the closer. As much as I have enjoyed this album – or maybe as much as it hasn’t pissed me off – I’m still holding out hope for that one killer song from the band. Just out of nowhere, another Livin On A Prayer  or Always or Bed Of Roses. Maybe this is it. It’s clear within the first five seconds that it’s not this one. A sweet closer. Welcoming. Mid-slow tempo. Quiet and tame but nice. The musical equivalent of sitting with a sleeping cat on your lap and doing absolutely nothing while not being aware of the nothing you’re doing. It doesn’t feel like an album closer but it’s as good a song as any to complete this batch of songs.

Very much like the more recent Madonna albums I’ve listened to, I’m surprised by how much I have enjoyed these songs. None of them are life-changing, and while Madonna is still updating her sound somewhat, Bon Jovi are happy doing what they’ve always done – they’re a little softer, they don’t have has much energy, the passion has less edge, but the songs are still fun. This is another collection of big bouncy songs which longstanding Bon Jovi fans will lap up. There isn’t a lot of variance on the album – even between ballads and heavier tracks – they mostly follow a very familiar format but there are still enough hooks and melodies that most listeners should be pleased. In this era of manufactured guff and songs specifically designed to only be consumed by the youngest age brackets, it’s good to have easy nostalgic Rock music to fall back on, being made by the very people who we grew up with and who played the music of our own youth.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Living With The Ghost. Knockout. Roller Coaster. Scars On This Guitar.

Let us know in the comments what you think of This House Is Not For Sale!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marillion.com (Part One)!

marillion.com | Racket Records Store

Greetings, Glancers! We’re almost into the 2000s with Marillion, but for now we’re closing out the 90s with Marillion.com. A few bands were adopting this new fangled technology and internet speak towards the end of the century – The Gathering released If_Then_Else for example. I always get a little wary when I see an album or a movie with something like ‘.com’ in the title. I suppose so many of those titles seem dated now, and seemed dated then, possibly written by people who were afraid of or completely misunderstood the technology. This has nothing to do with anything, but because the only thing I know about the album so far is that Mr Biffo thinks it’s Marillion’s worst album, I had to write something to introduce the post.

Wikipedia tells me the album is over an hour long and only features 9 songs. On one hand that makes me think ‘Prog’, but on the other hand if it’s as shit as Paul says then this could be a struggle. Of course it’ll turn out to be one of my favourite Marillion albums. Incidentally, I did get a shout out in their recent Postbag episode – welcome to any new readers and feel free to add any comments or thoughts here. I should point out that I wouldn’t classify myself as a musician, as much as I’d love to say that I am; I’ve certainly played music and I’m usually fairly good at picking up a new instrument and being able to fiddle something approaching music from it, but to call myself a musician would feel like I was mocking the millions of  genuine musicians out there. If I’d stuck at it as a teenager and made any sort of money from it, then sure. It’s like this blog – I love writing, but the fact that I do it in a stream of consciousness way and don’t make a single penny from any of it means I wouldn’t call myself a writer. Maybe it’s mere semantics and labels – I like writing and I like playing music – that’s not enough to tell people I’m a writer or a musician.  When I write about music I tend to not go into a lot of detail on the technicalities because (A) I’d get it wrong and (B) it would be boring for me and my assumed audience. I approach writing about music from an emotional perspective, but it can be handy to have had a taste of musical theory, perspective, and knowledge when I want to describe a particular feeling and how the music works to elicit said feeling. I’d love to give music another shot but, you know, not enough time, not enough will. Ultimately, not enough need.

Marillion.com then. What about the artwork? There’s a giant barcode – is that supposed to be there? I assume so. It screams PRODUCT FOR PURCHASE and feels a little Radiohead. There’s a girl dressed in black holding… is that a monitor? A laptop? Lets just call it a blazing screen – it’s shining, blindingly so, but it’s transmitting nothing. Is that going to be a theme on the album? She’s standing on a busy junction, I assume it’s some famous or semi-famous road, and lights and cars are buzzing by in neon blurs – Radiohead again. It’s an eye-catching, slightly creepy image, but I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing I would glance at twice in a Record store (if such places still exist). It emits that End Of The Century paranoia as summed up perfectly in OK Computer, but will such themes also be found within the songs? Lets find out.

In the huge gap between the previous paragraph and this one, I have listened to the album a few times. I’ll get into the reasons as we go through each track, but I have to say that I have enjoyed the album more than This Strange Engine and Radiation. I’m a tad surprised by what Paul has said about it so far, but at the time of writing the guys haven’t released their Marillion.com episode so I’ll have to hold out for Paul’s reasons. At a guess I would say that maybe it’s because it feels a little by the numbers on the surface. It doesn’t scream ‘I’m a Marillion album’ – rather it sort of shrugs and whispers ‘psst, do you like softish rock music? Here… here’s some softish rock music, please enjoy’. I think it’s an okay album, but is it an okay Marillion album? There are a few more traditionally structured emotive rock songs (which Paul has said he doesn’t find as interesting as when they don’t follow that approach), I found it to have more accessibility than the last few album, and there are even a few re-used melodies. I can see these as reasons why a longstanding Marillion fan may not enjoy the album, but I found that even the more commercial and simple songs had enough twists for me to punt them into a higher tier than maybe where Paul would place them. Remember, I liked Radiation and This Strange Engine – they weren’t amazing but each featured a couple of songs I can slap onto a playlist. Marillion.com does too. Lets go track by track , shall we?

A Legacy is such an effective, creepy opener for the album. It goes back to that old school soft opening which Marillion and other bands have opened with in the past. It’s a cliché to call out Philip Glass any time you hear a fragile piano in music these days, but that brief introduction is quite reminiscent of the composer’s minimalist ways. I just wish they’d kept that tone instead of going rock, because as soon as the guitars and organs join in, the whole thing falls apart significantly. The rock verses aren’t interesting in any way, but the song does at least retain a disjointed structure throughout – it’s the leaping about from one thing to another which kept this just above average for me because the rock stuff doesn’t do much for me and it’s not the best vocal performance – I can only assume H was deliberately aiming for an atonal quality in some of the vocal lines. The acoustic, quiet ending improves matters a little – the opening and closing minutes are strong, but the ham and cheese sandwiched in between in fairly standard fare, although I did enjoy the subtle twanging guitar part around the two minute mark which reminded me of Rockstar’s Bully soundtrack.

If I didn’t know a single thing about the band and the relationship issues H had been going through, I might have read this lyrics as being the voice of some ghost or demon which had been attached to a person and had either been exorcised or decided to move on to its next victim. Coupled with the creepy vibe which the music produces and ambiguous lyrics like ‘I will leave you things that might not help you/things that might’ it’s easy to take this in as sinister a fashion as you would like to. Having heard enough episodes of the podcast by now I understand that this is a more realistic break up song, coated in bitterness. Blame is cast about in all directions and anger is the overriding emotion. It’s not ‘when I leave you I’ll be sad to leave you’, but ‘when I leave you I will hate to leave you’. Beyond the accumulated blame and guilt and hate, none of the individual lyrics struck me as overtly powerful but their repetition gives the impression of someone trapped within and dwelling on these feelings.

Deserve is a stronger straightforward Rock song than The Legacy. Maybe it’s because the song has an immediacy and urgency to it. I wish it was a tad faster – that heightened tempo would only increase the urgency and emotion. To test this out, I listened to it at 1.25 speed, and it almost works. Maybe 1.15x speed would do it? It almost feels like this song should have had a different vocalist – I don’t know if the other guys in the band sing, but I kept feeling like the vocals needed to be less clean, less reserved, and should have had some gravel or anguish.

The song is bookended by a bit of saxophone – you may have worked it out by now, but saxophone in music instantly makes me think of porn. When it’s not making me think of porn, it reminds me of Police Academy. This saxophone in particular is pure Police Academy. I also got a touch of REM in the melodies – I’m not a huge REM fan, but the verse melody in Deserve which reminded me of REM follows a melodic style I’m partial to. Plus the lyrics have that not too veiled cynicism which REM are sometimes known for. For the verse melody though – I know I mentioned not being a musician but I’ll go on a related tangent – most songs which play off this rough Am G Em structure (when played at a fast tempo) seem to allow for an emotive attack and energy in the vocal melodies which always gives me the feels, as they say. Some of the first songs I ever wrote  followed these three chords because I knew I that by using those I could craft a vocal melody which I would enjoy listening to myself.

Lyrically I couldn’t help but compare it with Radiohead’s Just. ‘You get what you deserve’ is similar enough to ‘you do it to yourself’ although the songs are thematically different. I guess the sentiment is universal enough that this comparison is shaky at best, but we know the band and H liked Radiohead so I’m sure there’s some crossover. This sadly feels like a very timely lyric – our jealousy about the rich young pretty things we see plastered everywhere, but in many cases they only exist because we allow them to as a society. I’ve no idea when Big Brother, X Factor and all of that stuff started, but since then we’ve had a tonne of clones and all of those Housewives and Essex type shows. It’s this type of show or celeb that I felt was being attacked in this song – but I don’t know if it’s suggesting that we get this tripe because we have regressed as a whole society rather than saying that a certain percentage of the population enjoys them. It’s of course not a new feeling – tabloids have existed for as long as media has, and envy and greed much longer than that. Like the previous song, it maybe matters less what is being said that they feelings being pushed, and like the previous song those are mostly negative.

Go may be the best song on the album. I haven’t decided yet if it’s my favourite, but it seems like the best. However, it also seems like a song that is reaching to be more special than it actually is. I felt a sense of over-achieving and grasping to be better but not quite having the skill to get there. Not every song needs to be the best song ever written and not every song needs to be the centrepiece, but it’s good to try and this was a valiant effort. It’s almost as if the song was designed to be too self-confident and airy that this effort became too transparent and rather than sounding epic and effortless it instead sounds like they’re trying to be epic and effortless. Does any of that make sense? No? Good.

That nonsense aside, there’s a lot to love – the extended coda isn’t quite Hey Jude, but it’s probably another ending set up for jubilant audience interaction, I enjoyed the spacey Oh Superman wah wah wah opening, and the guitars are especially flickering, shimmering, and memorable. The keyboards and synth work may be the standout in this song, and is among the highlights of the album as they’re so atmospherically crafted. H’s vocals are perfectly suited to the breezy yet melancholic approach, and the bending, mirage like solo is one of the more interesting solos I can remember from Rothery. I do think that there should have been more energy in the final couple of minutes after that solo finishes – the solo is accompanied by an increased potency in the drums and I expected that energy to continue and expand through the vocals and until the end of the song. Instead H comes in after the solo in the same displaced airy tone as the start of the song. We do pick up for the ending, but the momentum has been lost. Ignoring the feelings and assumptions I had about what the band had in mind for the song, it’s supremely well put together and produced, and comes across as one of their most dense and musically mature songs.

I’m not too clear on the lyrics for Go! I guess that the exclamation mark is for emphasis, but to the writer not the reader. If it’s a personal song then that piece of punctuation is almost like an in-joke telling them to go, get out, run – if you’re going to make a song with all of these feelings but then not act upon those feelings, why bother, so look at the exclamation mark and remember, you dick! But what is the song telling us? Is it simply telling us, or the writer, or whoever, to escape? It only takes a second, no effort, just go? All the crap… just go. I suppose that’s what it’s saying, but I’ve always read the phrase ‘turn your life upside down’ as a negative statement. I suppose if you feel your life is already upside down, then flipping it again would correct it.

Handclaps in music are a big no no for me. Rich has handclapping. It also suffers a little from feeling like a twin to Deserve. It’s a strange song because on one hand it’s similar enough in pace and tone in places, but elsewhere it’s like some madcap piss-take of The Beatles and Austin Powers. I like the chorus – it’s unashamedly poppy and infectious, while the verses have synth sounds straight out of Look Around You and some strange vocals wavering which makes it sound like either H was laughing when he was recording, or was extremely nervous, or had swallowed a bee. For what is basically a bit of fun, it’s an almost 6 minute long song, its length extended by a couple of guitar solo and instrumental breakdowns. I’m not convinced that the final two minutes add much to the song and detract a little from what could have been a sneaky cult-type sleeper hit single. It’s quirky and it’s disjointed in a similar vein to A Legacy, and while I appreciate it as a throwaway pop rock song I think I would have enjoyed it more if some of the quirks had been taken out – straighter vocals, no handclaps, more prominent guitars in the verses.

Rich comes close to my own preferred style of lyric – individual statements which convey wider themes when tied together. You can take any single line from the first verse and it’s self-contained. You can take a variety of meanings from one of those lines, but taken together something more holistic comes across. In theory anyway, as Rich isn’t concerned with letting me in on its secrets. There are parts alluding to failure and to wealth and achievement. The song is, of course, titled Rich. Is it a positive song about self-confidence and not needing wealth to be rich? Is it imbued with a sense of self-improvement and a spirit of never say die? Given how bitter the previous songs have been I’d be more inclined to say there’s something more to the lyric, something more along the lines of ‘you’ll never be rich because the system’s set up to screw you, and why bother anyway because every success is really a failure’. But I don’t see enough in the lyrics to point me down that road and the chorus reads as defiant – ‘no’ to all the bad things.

In what is a recurring theme of the album (at least in my mind) the idea of twins makes a return, with Enlightened acting as a partner to Go. It might be more accurate though to say that it’s the twin of Estonia. That central vocal melody, we’ve definitely heard that before, right? It’s the part from Estonia which I said was very similar to Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls. While I’m at it, the intro is pure Rooster by Alice In Chains. Go on, click the link and tell me I’m wrong.

The verses are too restrained and uneventful to make an impact, which is a shame because I did enjoy the intro and chorus. It’s another example of the frustration I felt with this album – the songs have excellent moments, but the final product is dragged down by more dubious musical and production choices. What could have been a highlight instead feels like your typical mid-album track. If these had a better verse, and if the final 30 seconds or so could be shaved off  I would name this as one of the better songs on the album. As it stands, the most interesting thing I could say about the music was how much it reminded me of other songs.

I found the song to be quite poor lyrically. Like the vague, airy, and unadventurous music, the words neither tell me much, paint any pictures, or make me care. I’m tempted to say it’s some throwaway drug haze song – there’s enough evidence in both the lyrics and the music to support this from the slurred laidback music to the song’s title itself. As such I don’t have much more to add on the lyrics – lightning is repeated a few times with the odd related play on words to spruce things up and I suppose as a whole if the song is trying to evoke some sort of either relaxed or stoned atmosphere then it succeeds. I’m not convinced that’s the atmosphere it’s going for.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

And with that downer, we finally get around to part one of the BYAMPOD Marillion.com breakdown. We begin with a chat about what was happening in 1999 – Sanja moved to the UK and I was in the midst of A-Level preparations. Fish and H shared a stage with the pair tackling Lavender and Hope For The Future. It was a different time. A different and very strange time. Paul heard the title when it was announced and had the same misgivings I had regarding sounding cool but dated. Their intentions were fine, but also geared towards promoting their online store? They did a lot of interesting merch and interactive stuff with fans which is always pretty cool – many of my favourite bands don’t bother with this, and by and large if you don’t have this connection with your fans these days you’re not going to get very far. Marillion made the right decision at the right time.

The guys talk a bit about the mixing and production process which the band has followed, here and on other albums. Both are integral to an album and a song’s quality and impact – it’s always interesting to follow the lifecycle of a song from its inception to a demo to the end quality. Paul sees this as one of the major issues with the album – the right people were not always working on the right song, hence the unfortunate results. Production for me, as vital as it is, is one of those things for me which I tend to put lower down my list of priority than many people would. I don’t need everything to be crisp and pristine, and I’ll overlook a murky mix or shoddy production values if the core of the song is good. Having both at top level is best. Paul concludes by saying, while he has many negative things to say about the album and some of his experience of it, it’s still an album by his favourite band. In other words, I was right when I said I enjoyed it and was surprised by his previous comments. Ha.

A Legacy – Paul used to despise it, now quite likes it and would like to see it live. We learn that it’s a Helmer lyric which deliberately jumps between styles and genres musically and lyrically. The Beach Boys harmony bit is the Bully bit. H was knowingly trying to sound like The Beatles and Grunge and a hundred other things. Disjointed is right. Paul calls out his displeasure at the band constantly and knowingly writing songs trying to sound like someone else – and admitting to it. While Marillion were trying to sound like others, those others had already moved on. The Manics do this all the time now – ‘our new album is The Clash meets ABBA’ – but we’re well used to such callouts and comparisons with the Manics by now. Paul says the song doesn’t suit H’s voice – oddly enough, this is something I called out too but I don’t know if it was on this song or something else. I even mentioned whether or not someone else in the band should have sung instead. Could be on the second half. Some people just aren’t suited to certain types of song. For anyone wondering – I usually write my thoughts on the music of every song first, then split my post into a Part 1 and Part 2, before going back and adding my thoughts on the lyrics. Then finally I listen to the podcast and add these comments you’re reading now. That’s some quality blogging insight for you.

The guys think it’s a fitting continuation of the relationship strife as showcased on the previous album. Paul sees it as less about infidelity and more about toxic relationships in general. We move straight into Record Breakers! Or Deserve. Record Breakers…. while I did watch it, like Blue Peter it was only something I watched because I had to and sat moaning that it wasn’t a cartoon or didn’t feature any gunge. Is that how you spell gunge? Tough, gunge it is. Paul hates the lyric and compares it to some of the more Feminist leaning songs released at the time. Saxophone always sounds dated – it’s just an instrument trapped in the 80s. I did watch Animal Hospital, but you know, Rolf. I just checked back at my comments and saw that this was the song I felt could have had a different vocalist. This is what I anticipated when I heard that Paul didn’t like the album – Paul doesn’t want Marillion to play this type of Rock music. I think it’s fine, but I appreciate it’s not what the Marillion hardcore want.

Paul says he doesn’t like the vocal either. H’s quote is… hit and miss. Do we get what we deserve? No, just a whole bunch of stuff happens and then we die. The rich and pretty are an easy target, and that’s fine, but extending that outwards and inwards requires a little more tact and skill. Sanja focuses on the inward looking side of things – H realising his own flaws and writing about them but doesn’t have the honesty to say ‘I’ instead of ‘we’. The ‘get what we deserve’ type of thinking, if we place it on a philosophical level (and we should because that is apparently what H has done) is one which has been around since the dawn of time and can be taken in a variety of ways – the Neitzche school of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ to the more ‘well that’s what the great God of Nature has decreed, so deal with it’ Gibran style. None of these have ever sat well with me – much like any philosophy which espouses a universal truth. See, I read sometimes too! Anyway, Paul says ‘it’s horrible and shit’.

Oh, they’re ending this episode with Go! That makes a mess of my formatting above, given that I included another two songs. Of course I could simply cut and paste those songs from this post into the next and no-one would be any the wiser, but no! I am on a roll and I refuse. We’ll just have to cover the podcast comments for those songs in the next post. Does this mean the worst Marillion album is going to be a three-parter for Paul and Sanja?

Sanja says Go! is like a balm after Deserve while Paul tells us that the recording and arranging was a pain. It’s one of Sanja’s favourites and it took Paul a while to appreciate it – though that may have been down to his overall experience of the album. It sounds like the lyrics are in fact supposed to be positive and evoking the sense of freedom through change or escape. I didn’t always get that optimism, but that could be down to the aftertaste of the previous songs. It’s not the first time H has used this theme, and it sounds like he comes back to it in the future. Sanja goes a bit Australian while we wait for a flaming galah to pop out, whatever that is. As expected, this has turned into a bit of a lighters up song. I’m not sure what finger lights are, but I am receiving visions of middle aged men wearing fluorescent Witch finger nails. And unfortunately, that image is where we must leave it (not before Rolf comes burning into my brain with his witch finger up a hamster).

Let us know what you think of Marillion.com in the comments, and as always go listen to BYAMPOD and follow the guys on Twitter, Facebook, Bebo…

Nightman Listens To – The Spencer Davis Group – The Second Album (1966 Series)!

The Second Album (The Spencer Davis Group album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Last time we had our first truly, fully positive experience in this series so far thanks to Roy Orbison. I hope that trend continues but it doesn’t look good given that I don’t know anything about the Spencer Davis Group. I’ve heard the name somewhere on my travels, and I’m thinking jazz, in which case this is going to be a chore. I’m going to assume this is their second album. Actually, in looking at the tracklist this appears to include yet another series of covers. Lets do this.

Look Away‘ starts with piano in a light blues infused jazz rhythm. The vocals are crisp and clean and we then get some fine gospel style backing vocals. I don’t think I’ve heard the song before, but it’s a good start. A solid bass line propels things with the piano over the top and the vocal combo the cherry on top.

Keep On Running‘ is a song I do know, but I don’t think I’ve heard this version. It’s given more of a Garage rock feel and the vocals are up there with the original. As always I could do without the hand claps. It’s another one of those songs from this era that you can’t imagine anyone could really mess up, such is the strength of the melody and the energy needed to carry it.

This Hammer‘ opens with a suggestion of country infused garage, before dropping into a blues rock stammer. What makes it stand out from it’s ilk is those high pitched vocals. It’s all very Dukes Of Hazzard. 

Georgia On My Mind‘ starts with slow saloon piano – it’s another song I know from others. Even with the piano doing some jazz spin-offs, it’s too slow and drunken for my liking.

Please Do Something‘ opens with a simple two note riff and collection of beats before kicking up a gear for the chorus which brings layered vocals and chords. The vocals are still good, this is probably the catchiest song so far although it does lapse a little too easily in blues vocal melodies at times. Good drums throughout.

Let Me Down Easy‘ has very smooth almost Motown vocals and recalls many of the famous voices of that era. The touch of organ, staccato chords, and unusual melodic lines give this an air of mystery. There’s a decent guitar solo in the middle too.

Strong Love‘ gets off with a leap, faster drums, up down guitar and bass, some sort of hand drums in there too – it’s quite chaotic but fun. The ‘ooh ohhs’ are catchy and the rest of the vocals and melodies retain interest.

I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water‘ is classic blues as you would expect. Big guitar opening, feels Country alongside the Blues. Is it a different singer this time?

‘Since I Met You Baby‘ opens with similar guitar to the previous song, your standard descending Blues downwards scale. This sort of slow Blues quickly gets on my nerves if there’s a run of tracks in a row. There is a certain sweetness to this which I credit to being a bunch of white British dudes and for having a piano section in the middle more than the lyrics.

You Must Believe Me‘ sounds familiar. It has both a Swinging Sixties and Motown vibe. It’s certainly more pop-oriented than the run of Blues songs we’ve had. The title is used as the chorus, and it’s a catchy one.

Hey Darling‘ is a sex song. Low down sweaty blues at a seductive pace – it’s the sort of song British advertisers would use in a commercial for chocolate. You know the sort – a bunch of frustrated nymphs are watching a hot builder or gardener doing some sort of topless manual labour, and just as they’re about to climax they get distracted by a bar of chocolate, grab it, and head inside to close the curtains. As soon as the solo hits… that’s exactly the sort of solo you hear in softcore. It’s all very distracting and I can’t focus on any other merits of the song.

Watch Your Step‘ blasts open with an ascending riff and clattering drums for a frenetic closer. It’s very fuzzy, hissy – could be just the version I’m listening to but it feels more like a conscious choice. A nice slice of early garage rock with overlapping vocals. It’s pretty obvious that the original, which I don’t believe I’ve ever heard, must have influenced the likes of Moby Dick and Daytripper.

It wasn’t Jazz, so that’s already a positive. I still don’t know anything about the group, but this album at least was a mixed bag of 60s pop with a near garage rock infusion, Blues, and Motown – all good things – with the thread of solid vocals and playing tying it neatly together. I don’t think any of the songs are strong enough to make my long-time playlist, but there’s certainly plenty I would enjoy listening to again. A solid album again, but it’s difficult for me to recommend covers over the originals unless the originals are crap or the covers are exceptional.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Look Away. Keep On Running. Let Me Down Easy. You Must Believe Me. Watch Your Step.

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – MDNA!

MDNA (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! We’re up to our twelfth Madonna album and very close to catching up with what she’s up to now. I know absolutely zero about this album other than seeing that she worked with William Orbit again when I was trying to grab the track-listing. They’ve worked well before, so hopefully they struck gold again. Looking at the twelve songs, the name of the first sounds familiar but I don’t think I’ve actually heard it before – or any of the others. She seems to have a lot of collaborators in tow this time and I’m going to assume it’s another one designed for dancefloors. Lets do this.

Girl Gone Wild‘ opens with a spoken confession, spoken with a touch of satire. A familiar Noughties trance beat then drops forcefully before fading into the chorus. This type of music generally doesn’t need a strong vocalist, but definitely stands out more when the singer has vocal prowess. Madonna fluctuates between good and okay, rarely reaching any height but she’s always recognisable. By the time the chorus hits I’m certain I’ve never heard it. Maybe I was thinking of Alice Cooper’s Ghouls Gone Wild… This is a middling floor filler – I can see people dancing too this and it’s not too hard on the ears either. A decent opening song.

Gang Bang‘ starts in a scratchy, near industrial fashion before a clicky, dark beat hits. Madonna’s vocals are deep, monotone, and recall a certain Cher/Dusty song. I hope it’s building to something as on its own the monotone melody won’t do much. There’s a slight, I’m assuming chorus which repeats much of the verse but alleviates a little of the monotony by adding inflections to the melody. The music largely remains the same too, every so often a new beep or hoot or guitar or siren interrupting things. It does that beatdown thing in the middle that used to be all the rage – that fad almost never worked and it’s worse here because Madonna talks over it. It does feel angry and darker than she usually gets but it gets a little silly towards the end, but crucially that lack of melody stops it from being the sort of thing you’d want to listen to again.

I’m Addicted‘ keeps us on the dancefloor – this is working quite a lot like whichever that other dance concept album of her’s was. At least this one has a melody and the music is ripping all over the place. It’s not very good so far, but it’s not monotone. It’s an average pop/dance track more on the forgettable side and far from Madonna’s best work in this genre. I like how it’s cut together to sound like she keeps singing ‘I’m a dick’, but that probably wasn’t intentional.

Turn Up The Radio‘ starts with an almost 80s synth intro. Thankfully there’s a playful verse melody. The drum sounds are that terrible weak paper thin sound which makes you wonder why they bothered at all. They improve in the chorus and the melody there isn’t too bad. It’s just a slice of fluffy pop but better than the last couple.

Give Me All Your Luvin’ is one of those .feat tracks that has been stinking up the charts for the last five years or so. It’s cheap but catchy, the cheerleader refrain silly but works. It’s in the same vein as the previous song – uneventful, harmless fluff. I can’t see it making my playlist any time soon. Some silly super-fast rapping pops out of nowhere in the middle, followed by a slower section – neither really add anything to the song and they feel out of place, but they don’t hurt it either.

Some Girls‘ starts with some parping or vuvuzelas or something. More monotone singing – doesn’t bode well. This all feels like some of Michael Jackson’s less advisable experiments on Unbreakable. Then for a moment the vocals (hatefully) sound like Mel & Kim. It’s not great.

Superstar‘ is more like what I would have expected from a William Orbit/Madonna collab. Maybe he wasn’t even involved on this one. The drum beats are very weak – I still don’t understand why so many songs have this sort of beat especially when it’s a dance song. Aside from that I quite like the music. It’s another simple one which you could imagine being played with any basic stripped down instrumentation or heightened with  myriad of other sounds. It’s catchy, the lyrics are… I’m not sure if she’s being genuine or or if this mockery, but they veer between silly and pleasingly charming. Better.

I Don’t Give A‘ opens with a funky beat – better drum sounds than before. I think I heard the name of this one, but I definitely haven’t heard the song. She’s doing some sort of rapping in the verse, the chorus more traditional pop. She’s reached the point now where she has to parade this rebellion to the youth to get the sales from the younger crowd, and yet it still fits her persona. It sounds silly through 36 year old years – the Minaj part sounds even worse (who rhymes ‘business woman’ with ‘business woman’ twice) – but I imagine it works when your 15. It heads into an orchestra based chanting session towards the end which grows to epic proportions making me think Madonna should actually try something along those lines.

I’m A Sinner‘ sounds like a robot knocking at your door. At least the beats are better again and the melodies continue. This has an Orbit feel – must be the guitar. It’s not one of her best, but it’s fun enough pop that I can get behind it and it has enough creative spark and variety to help it stand out.

Love Spent‘ opens like furtive Western soundtrack and then the synth and beats drop. The verses have an 8-bit feel, good melodies which get better in the pre-chorus – again it’s a shame the drum sounds are shite again. Some lyrical callbacks to old songs. Good all round.

Masterpiece‘ is a title that begs to be ridiculed. Lets see. It’s starts out well – I love the main melody, simple and sad as it is. It’s lovely, and it too gets better in the pre-chorus. The chorus is good too. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, but it’s one of the best songs on the album.

Falling Free‘ starts with bending and tinkling piano, synth strings, and another simple lullaby melody. Not quite as nice as powerful as the last song but there’s more going on musically here. I like how clear the vocals are and how each line has some sort of different pause or instrumentation. The long extended outro… I think it would have worked better as the intro. A good closer.

The album gets stronger as it goes on, peaking with a strong closing set. The opening half feels like the dance half, with the second more contemplative and ballad based. While I always enjoy Madonna’s biggest pop tracks, her focus on the various dance genres rarely does much for me. Her ballads tend to be my favourites so I’m glad we had a few in that vein here. A hundred years into her career and she’s still troubling the current wave of pop stars, challenging them to up their game. I wish she would pander (or seem to) less to them and simply say ‘I’m at the top – it’s up to you to catch up’.

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Superstar. I’m A Sinner. Love Spent. Masterpiece. Falling Free.

Let us know in the comments what you think of MDN!

Nightman Listens To – Bob Dylan – Rough And Rowdy Ways (2020 Series)!

Rough and Rowdy Ways: Amazon.co.uk: Music

Greetings, Glancers! <Large audible and visible sigh>. Bob Dylan. He’s a legend. One of the greats. A songwriter second to none. An icon. An inventor and re-inventor. His albums appear on every Best Of list you’ve ever read. So they tell me. Listen, I’m all for maturing as a fan of music and as a person – it’s one of the main reasons why I have this blog and continue these Albums Series – but as we’ve seen, sometimes your personal preferences simply trump what is supposedly good for you. It’s just like being healthy – I bought myself some ripe fruit to snack on during the day but here I am typing this and entire an entire 472 gram Ms Molly’s Trifle from Tesco. What’s good for you isn’t always good.

I have known of Bob Dylan all my life. As a Guns ‘n’ Roses fan from an early age, I loved their version of Knockin On Heaven’s Door and assumed the guy who wrote it must be a genius. I love Jimi’s All Along The Watchtower. And that’s the thing I struggle with when it comes to Dylan – he’s one of those artists who is maybe better served as a writer and staying away from the mic? Far from me to criticize a vocalist when my own sound like a goose slithering through the inside of an elephant’s trunk – but if I’m happy to criticize my own singing then I’m going to be picky about everyone else too. Dylan’s vocals are simply horrendous. Maybe over time you become accustomed to them, I don’t know. I certainly haven’t, though admittedly I’ve never given him much of a chance. In my ongoing quest to listen to every album ever recorded, Bob Dylan’s work will come up again and again but as much as a fan I am of folk music and of singer songwriters and of lyrics, I tend to pass his albums over because of how much I can’t stand his voice. But today I’ll be listening to his latest album for the first time and who knows – maybe now that he’s a hundred and eighty six years old, some of the mucus and pig fat oriented nature of his warbling will have been replaced by the dusky husk of a throat more attuned to the ravages of time and instead sound like an old and ragged yacht hewn from the most decrepit oak, moaning as it capsizes under the weight of its alcoholic crew. Now there’s a metaphor for ya.

Am I being shallow? Naïve? Puerile, dismissive, idiotic? Obviously there is more to music than vocals. Obviously. But when you’re a singer songwriter, vocals are at least 50% of what you are – the clue’s in the title. My problems with Dylan are not purely skin, or voice, deep. He has a handful of songs I’ve enjoyed and every so often one of his lyrics will ring true on a personal level. I’m going to say something now which is likely completely incorrect but, and again I’m speaking from an extremely ill-informed position given the number of songs I’ve heard from him, most of the songs and lyrics I’ve heard from him are simply moderately elevated love songs. You say there’s more to music than vocals? There are more things to write about than love. I know he gets political and I know he’s done protest stuff. Maybe that’s more my level, maybe those songs and lyrics will spark something inside me. Most of what I’ve heard is simply better written Celine Dion that I care equally nul for. But for everyone out there frothing in anger at my ranting or giggling from your highest of high horses – I’ll be the first to admit when I’m wrong and will happily slap my own chops if and when an artist’s quality clicks for me. I would much rather have music I love in my life than music I don’t, and that’s why I’m here.

As always, I begin by saying what I know about the album. In this case, it’s absolutely nothing beyond its name and the recording artist. The album artwork strikes me as deliberately retro. It seems like some 1950s swinging shindig based on the outfits and asses on display. It’s all quite faceless, to the extent that the dude on the right (who is staring into either a jukebox lit by Heaven’s golden shimmers, or some Tabernacle-esque fridge freezer unit) has seemingly suffered an unfortune bout of head-loss. The sparse room doesn’t suggest much in the way of rough and/or rowdy antics – but maybe showing up to your local juke dive in an ill-fitting skirt was enough to raise the eyebrows and middle wickets of those in attendance. Simpler time, simpler folk. You may have noticed I’m stalling. Fine, lets get on with it.

I usually start these posts with the positives. Before I do, at risk of repeating myself let me just restate that the vocals are not my cup of tea. Given I don’t drink tea, they’re not my hot chocolate either. I was correct in my assumption that the vocals would be more weary and gruff, and thankfully less nasal. Sounds a bit like Joni Mitchell after 300 cigs and covid. I’m never going to come around on the guy’s singing and if you struggle with vocals while listening to an artist, you’re probably never going to like listening to them. There’s less urgency here, and while he sounds like he’s the drunk propping up the furthest end of the bar spouting wisdom to anyone who will listen, he still sounds potent and virile. More like a sage imparting truths but knowing it’s going to fall on deaf ears. I could get through individual songs if I were to listen to this in the future, but listening to the entire album again in a single sitting would be a stretch for me.

We do get off to a promising start. I Contain Multitudes is rather lovely – relaxed, swirling Country guitars and a gentle vibe. I Contain Multitudes seems like a response and a slap in the face to my proclamation that he only writes love songs. You should aware that I’m being tongue in cheek for entertainment purposes, just in case you hadn’t picked that up. There are some great lines in here, but there are some absolute clangers too – you can’t win ’em all. False Prophet is a rough Blues song with a nifty heavy edge and solid riff straight from the 1930s. It’s fair to say Dylan has spent his career aping the African American Blues men he looked up to – it seems with age he’s finally able to sound like them. I think it’s impossible to write an authentic Blues song today. The genre is too long in the tooth, too limited, meaning we’d seen everything it had to offer by 1960. As limited as the Blues genre has always been (given the fact that it’s basically a hundred years old or more) there isn’t much that anyone can add to it. The only way to make a Blues song work today is to make it a pastiche. There are plenty of people plying their trade today by playing the Blues, but they are mostly writing to serve a specific target niche audience – either existing connoisseurs of the Blues, or guitar fans. Blues’ greatest strength was always that it was a framework to build upon, leading to a hundred offshoots and much of the best music of the 20th Century.

 There’s a variety in these opening songs which I wasn’t expecting, but which sadly does not continue through the rest of the album. Beyond the vocals, that’s my main fault with the album – it quickly devolves into a series of Blues standards I’ve heard a hundred times before. Even within False Prophet we fall back into clichés and tropes from a musical perspective. If we’re calling this a Blues album that’s perhaps not a valid criticism, but I’ve always had an issue with a full album of straight Blues and I prefer the genre in small, vicious bursts. At least when the music and the vocals become parody and boring we have the lyrics to fall back on.

It is unsurprisingly the lyrics which stand out for me. Each song has a frame, a topic, yet each is peppered with asides and insights ranging from hilarious to razor sharp, and more often than not there are multiple references to Literature, Cinema, music, real life people etc. It’s truly a shame there aren’t more minds like Dylan in music today, or even some with a fraction of his fire, wit, and intelligence to breathe life into their songs. As is often the case with songwriters who overload their lyrics, it should be stressed just how difficult it is to build a coherent song and an interesting and catchy melody around the words. Today’s pop, or Popular Music as a whole, relies on simplicity – too many words are simply too difficult for most people to remember, and too many words either lead to convoluted rhythms and off-kilter melodies which don’t appeal to the masses, or overly simple beats and repetition which is the trap Dylan falls into. While much of the music works as a one off, and while genres like Rap are purpose built to allow for effusive wordy lyrics and repetitive music, managing to craft something which strikes the balance between music and semantics is challenging, and a challenge Dylan only partially succeeds with here.

I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You is almost a musical retread of the opening track, albeit one with more romance and sway, Black Rider attempts a more haunting approach but gives way to forgettable minimalism, while any number of other tracks are rehashed Blues rockers. The highlights for me are when there are slight twists or variances in the sound – Mother Of Muses is another sweet song with melodies to match, but infrequent surprising chord changes, while Key West introduces some different instruments and pushes Dylan’s vocals to offer some heightened emotion. Key West, as long as it is, has probably become my favourite on the album though I would probably enjoy it more if it were half the length. Murder Most Foul is the obvious centrepiece and has the vibe of an old dude strumming his guitar while perched on a rocking chair at sunset at the edge and end of the world.

The laid back 9 minuter Key West leads thematically and tonally into Murder Most Foul perfectly, thought having too such long tracks back to back at the closure of an album I struggled with was enough to push me over the edge first time around. Taking breathers between chunks of the album is definitely the approach for someone like me who isn’t a fan. Depending on your level of fandom, Murder Most Foul is going to feel either like an intimate one to one session with your favourite poet, or a visit to your senile grandfather’s a stale living room on Christmas Day as he regales you with memories of fabricated events. I imagine this may be seen as a crowning achievement by Dylan’s diehard followers, but after the fourth minute of my first listen I was begging for it to end, to change somehow, a different lilt to his delivery, some variance in the music. But it goes on in exactly the same pattern for another twelve minutes. The lyrics are less like a Burroughs-esque series of insightful hallucinations, and more like a list of names, popular phrases, events, and references deliberately selected for no other reason than to rhyme and to spruce up the bird’s eye view of the USA which pervades the whole album. It’s less a sign of relief when it ends than a sigh of regret that I didn’t turn it off after four minutes.

My opinion of it has since increased with subsequent listens and with reading the lyrics. It’s an effective re-account of the last 60 odd years of American history. The little subtle musical touches come though with more effort on the listeners behalf – the strings doing their own thing, the scattered piano, the comparisons and in-jokes in the lyrics with references which will fly over the heads of most who are not musically or historically inclined, but work wonderfully for those of us who can catch even 50% of them. We cover music and the new bands and waves of the 60s, juxtaposed with the violent event of November 63, 80s horror movies, the Civil Rights movement, and any number of other popular phrases and moments in time. It’s a song I can listen to on its own, for its own merits rather than at the end of a long album, and even with that I do struggle getting through the entire running time. The music simply doesn’t change enough and as much as I appreciate the lyrics I’d love to see some smart arse do a Prog version of this to actually spice up the music and give the words a proper home.

I understand I’ve been quite negative with this post, but I should close with the key positive I took from the whole experience; Dylan is still here. While I’ve never been a fan, and probably never will, that’s fine. He’s not for me, but for all of the people he is for, for the millions still around who do love him or are yet to discover him – the dude is still going when many many others have fallen to the ravages of time, health, lack of staying power, or lack of talent. I’m positive that those the album was written for will hold it dear, as they should. For me, it’s always cool to see people with genuine talent (regardless of how I enjoy or feel about that talent) and real experience still making music today. We know that music as a Business is catered to, by, and for the young, and that the entire spectrum of successful popular music today is extremely narrow – so I admire those who can sustain an audience and success over such a ridiculous stretch of time. While there are countless thousands of musicians out there today who have been performing since before I was born, an almost insignificant fraction of those are known or are successful to any respectable degree versus the plethora of new, recent, short term, and up and coming acts who come and go with the wind. Dylan has been doing it long before I existed, and his songs and his words will be here for hundreds of years to come, assuming we haven’t fucked up the planet beyond repair before then.

Album Score

I’m loath to continue doing this score business, but I suppose I’ve started so have to keep it up.

Sales: 3. As I always mention, I’m not really sure how to gauge this one anymore. It went Silver in the UK, which is okay, but elsewhere data isn’t forthcoming or strong. What are Dylan’s sales usually like? I imagine this spiked for a couple of weeks at release, then tanked. 2 or 3 on this one, lets give him the benefit of the doubt.

Chart: 4. We know the album at least peaked at Number 1 in various Countries, including the UK and US, and he even managed his first Number 1 single, somehow. 

Critical: 5. The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. When the dude finally bites the dust and people can do a retrospective of his entire body of work, I’m not sure if this will still be seen in as favourable a light, but for now you based on the current influx of Year End top spots and glowing praise, you can’t really go lower than a 5.

Originality: 2. Maybe there’s some original stuff in here for Dylan – I didn’t hear any Grime or Dubstep, but maybe he does enough differently from what he has done before. To my ears it’s a very simple Blues, Folk, Americana infused album with little or no originality beyond the lyrics, though it’s tougher to call lyrics original just because no-one has used a particular turn of phrase before. 

Influence: 2. I don’t see this influencing anyone, at least not in the same way as his early work undoubtedly influenced others and will continue to. 

Musical Ability: 3. A few guest stars, but for the most part there isn’t a lot of complexity on display or much opportunity for the musicians to show off their ability. 2 or 3 here, max.

Lyrics: 5. It’s not flawless, but nothing is. I don’t many albums in the 2020 list are going to get a 5 in this category, but Dylan’s wordsmithery, use of language and wit, and storytelling have enough lyrical flourish to put most other songwriters to shame.

Melody: 3. Not great – there are a couple of songs with a hook or two which I have found myself humming after I’ve stopped listening, but I suspect that is more to do with the sheer length and repetitive nature of the melody rather than the quality. Again, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, but this is a weak 3. More likely a 2, definitely never getting a 4.

Emotion: 3. I would argue that most of the emotion people feel from this album is more down to what it represents than the genuine content – it’s probably one of the last, if not the very last, albums from a man who has been doing it for 60 years. The music and lyrics at least in part reflect this. But I found it a mostly bland affair. At this point he’s hardly trying to convert any new fans so I’ll split the difference and go with a 3. 6

Lastibility: 3. Purely because it’ a Dylan album, you know people will be talking about this for years and decades to come; it’s not some flavour of the month pop album, it’s a release by one of the most important artists of the 20th Century. I don’t think it will have the staying power of his most famous releases in terms of what people reach for when they want a bit of Bob, but it’s not going away. 3 or 4 here. 

Vocals: 2. I could easily go a 1 here, and he really wants me to go that low with his insistence on making songs longer than they need to be, but the timbre of his voice has improved with age, removing much of the nasal quality with grouchy gravel. Still, it’s not the sort of vocal I’d ever choose to listen to. 

Coherence: 4. It all holds together – you know what each song is going to sound like and feel like, and all of the music and lyrics are trenched in American folk and blues.

Mood: 3. The mood is held together by the coherence, but slips for me because of the lack of emotion I felt. 

Production: 3. A crisp and clear no-nonsense Production. The vocals are front and centre in the mix, though everything feels balanced. I would have preferred more expansion and invention with the instrumentation – not that it’s needed for an album like this, but it would have made the whole more interesting.

Effort: 4. It feels effortless and I don’t think the musicians or anyone else involved put in, or needed to put in, more effort than was required. Then again, there’s the pressure to put out a good Dylan album, and what may be the last Dylan album, so I’m sure everyone did their best without pushing their creativity. Dylan himself, given his age, probably put in the most effort and clearly spent a lot of time pondering over the lyrics and overall ideas for each song.

Relationship: 2. Depending on how you few this category – how do you personally relate to it, or how do you think most people will relate to it – will dictate your score. Personally I didn’t relate to it much at all – there is too much distance created by the stuff I didn’t enjoy – and while I can empathise with the thing, I didn’t care for it. Fans will go high on this score because they have a higher chance of relating to the guy they love, but first time listeners or people like me who are not fussed either way will likely not get a lot out of it from this category. 

Genre Relation: 4. I can’t exactly criticize the album for being a generic Blues album, then give it a crap score in this category. When it plays the Blues it feels like the Blues, when it goes Folk, it feels Folk. It’s not the best of either world, but you know what it is. Of course you could argue that when someone has been going for as long as Dylan has they essentially become a Genre all of their own, in which case yous should ask how it relates to his other work. 

Authenticity: 4. It feels personal, it feels real. It doesn’t feel like a product manufactured for the masses and it doesn’t feel like he’s done it purely for his fans. At this point he can do whatever the hell he wants, and he has, 

Personal: 2. I don’t think there’s enough I liked here to go with a 3. Maybe that will change with time, but I doubt it. We know fans will go a 5 here, unless they’re particularly strict and the individual songs were not to their taste, but I can’t see a fan going less than a 4. A 1 would be harsh even for me, because I appreciate the effort and talent involved. But he’s not  an artist I’ll be able to enjoy, unless someone else is performing his songs.

Miscellaneous: 3. The album cover isn’t the most exciting, ripped straight from a hundred 50s and 60s album artwork like some shoddy easy rock compilation. You have to suspect this might be his last album which does offer some interesting side notes, and he did pull together some notable guest stars. Nothing exciting, but enough to get a 2 or a 3. 

Total: 64/100

That’s actually an interesting score. I enjoyed Biffy Clyro’s album more than this, but this gets a better score (by a single point). Does that mean the system works? Hopefully it shows that any bias is decreased. Let us know in the comments what you think of Rough And Rowdy Ways!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Radiation Part 3!

Greetings, Glancers! For those of you wondering why there’s a part three – it’s mainly because I got ahead of the guys in my Marillion posts and didn’t include any commentary on their podcast episodes for Radiation. Therefore, this post is going to be another quickfire round of bullet points and meanderings. If that’s not your sort of thing then ride on, cowboy!

  • Bong! Marillion news – new album almost done, and live dates confirmed.
  • Paul fell out of a taxi once, in Stockholm. I’ve never been to Stockholm, but I have been to a taxi (and fallen out of one, or at the very least stumbled gracelessly). Incidentally, any mention of taxi stories makes me think of my friend Mike from school who was so drunk after one of our pre-Formals (basically an excuse to go out on the Friday nights in the months running up to our School Formal/Prom and get drunk at the prospective venues) that he forgot his dad was picking him up, sauntered over to his dad’s car believing it was a taxi, opened the door and asked ‘are you waiting for anyone, mate’. You had to be there.
  • I barely have enough money for a weekend at the mother in law’s in Portstewart, never mind crowd-funding a romp to Poland. I do have Polish friends, maybe they could set me up if I ever decided to travel there. One of them is from a town called ‘Hell’. Possibly Hel.
  • I once won a Bee Gees VHS.
  • So Marillion didn’t create crowd-funding, it was Bedford Jeff.
  • That’s some great fandom, but I am too tight to give anyone money. I love the idea that traditional ways of doing things can be circumvented. If only we could do the same for the many other ills of modern music (cutting out the middle man, distributors, money men, etc).
  • So basically that 60 grand enabled every album Marillion has released since to exist. Money well spent, I would imagine.
  • ASWAD. TISWAS more like. JIZZWAD?
  • Your latest album is always going to be promoted as your best album. ‘How’s the new album coming along?’…. ‘Yeah, it’s almost done, but it’s a bit shit…. enjoy!’
  • I think These Chains deserves to be Top 40, but 1998 was all post Brit-pop gubbins and weird stuff. As Paul just says.
  • I don’t see much comparison between Radiation and OK Computer. 
  • I still haven’t heard the original mix.
  • I miss Mansun.
  • Prog was really making strides in Europe and Metal at this time – it wasn’t quite big in the UK yet, but this was around the time I got into Nightwish. Ray Of Light is a masterpiece. This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours came out in 98 too. Hardly a Prog album, but definitely an album which marked both a growth and departure for the Manics.
  • The context is obviously important, but to me as a new listener it does sound flat and not adventurous.
  • Speaking of freebie copies, today’s freebies from Amazon for me include 2 Barbies, Shampoo, Conditioner, a Pikachu toy of some sort, a Polly Pocket compact, and a set of Post Its.
  • I’m trying to think of any instances when one of my favourite bands has come out to say that they’re essentially denying their past in the ‘we’re not a Prog band/we’re not a Metal band’ etc… I think plenty of my favourite bands have said they’re changing their sound for a particular album but I don’t recall them explicitly saying ‘that’s not us’. Radiohead have done a bit of denying their past over time – refusing to play Creep, then refusing to play songs from The Bends, and even stopping songs from OK Computer. Again, that’s not a huge issue for me as a band can do whatever they wants and those albums are a million years old now, so of course people and tastes grow, people get sick of playing the same old hits, and people want to promote the new stuff.
  • Did I get any Beatles vibes from the album? I don’t remember.
  • Cathedral Wall was an attempt at a Bond song? I definitely didn’t get that, I’ll have to listen again. In any case, I wasn’t a fan of the song.
  • Sounds like the guys like the album, Sanja in particular, probably more than I did. It’ll be interesting to see if their favourites are the same as mine – they’ve already called out A Few Words For The Dead, which I love.
  • On to Episode 2 of the Podcast – we have a Digi interloper to provide an unexpected intro.
  • Ooh, a new Switch model has just been unveiled, hold on, got to check that out….
  • I’m not really sure what the difference is… it’s bigger?
  • Back to BYAMPOD and an alarming disclaimer that not everything Paul and Sanja say should be taken as truth. I’m waiting for the shocking twist in the final episode that Marillion never existed.
  • H is a sad boy. But likes the bants. So H is all of us. The production process was somewhat laid-back, even though H was going through personal stuff.
  • Paul realised he was going through personal stuff too at the time Radiation was released, which gave a spin on his feelings about the album.
  • Sounds like some of the differences between the original and the remix were good, most were bad. Go take the bits you like and add them back in.
  • I am beginning to hear some weird audio blips – Mr Digi Interloper’s prophecy has been fulfilled.
  • Costa Del Slough – confirmed as a joke song. Nah, we allow the corporations to exist and wreck the place. If we didn’t buy, they wouldn’t sell.
  • <Skims through memory to recall any songs about burning cats>
  • They don’t have much to say about Under The Sun. Did I? Oh yes, Britpoppy, ‘it is to rain’ etc. Nobody likes Cannibal Surf Babe.
  • Parp.
  • I think I gave a range of possible explanations for the lyrics for The Answering Machine. Sanja goes down the same route as me in terms of explaining H’s psyche, yet takes the approach of thinking it’s a love song.
  • Paul thinks the answering machine is the person he is trying to talk to, while Sanja is more literal and says the narrator finds it easier to speak to a physical answering machine rather than the person. Did I think H was the answering machine himself? Can’t remember, no-one even has an answering machine anymore.
  • Is anyone going to say it’s like a medieval jig?
  • The jauntiness of the rhythm does match the mood of the lyrics, I can see that, but it almost feels too bouncy which gives it a lightness which doesn’t convey the lyrical sentiment.
  • Paul thinks Three Minute Boy is pure Beatles. And now I remember saying Costa Del Slough was pure McCartney. I found this one more like Duran Duran. I did make a Hey Jude comparison.
  • Sanja’s not a huge fan of the song, especially the lyrics. I liked this one more than the first two. Paul doesn’t like the lyrics either. He finds it very bitchy and jealous. I didn’t pick up on any of this jealousy regarding Oasis or their ilk. They like the music, shame about the subject matter.
  • Paul and Sanja turn into Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke doing their baby characters.
  • H’s explanation of the song is precisely what I picked up on, not really any of the envy or jealousy. I remember Patsy Kensit from Silas Marner. Damn forced GCSE literature balls.
  • H confirms he will never appear on BYAMPOD.
  • Now She’ll Never Know – lovely, innit? It’s their 2nd favourite on the album – I think we know what the first is. This is my favourite, with their favourite being my 2nd. What?
  • People don’t like this? People are idiots. I get it’s not Prog, not musically complex, I get some hairy dead men don’t like falsetto, it’s definitely Radiohead inspired, but I love Radiohead and I love the song.
  • These Chains is my 3rd favourite on the album. I’m not sure what else could have been a single from this one, it’s an obvious single for me – just maybe released in the wrong period.
  • The lyrics are quite personal again, while easy to extrapolate onto any person. Surely the H equivalent of Torch is Horch?
  • It’s a song about insomnia, which I don’t think I picked up on at all, or with Cathedral Wall. I’m losing touch. H says the song is a bit of an encapsulation of ‘life’, decade by decade. Oddly enough, we’re all different.
  • On to the sex song. They say it’s weird, which is exactly what sex is. Sanja also fell for the Springsteen trap. The song already has a new name – ‘the sex song’ is as good a name as any.
  • Mystery songs appearing on album is always amusing – then the real thing sounds wrong without them. Sanja gives basically the same interpretation as I did. I ran away, though was self aware enough to fully embrace my roots.
  • Late night, smokey – that’s another way for saying sex. Mutter singing/mumblecore?
  • Paul loves the keyboards – that’s the obvious standout musically. Abraham who? They love this one more than I do.
  • They don’t love Cathedral Wall – neither do I. Can you imagine Goldfinger with Shirley Bassey whispering the vocals instead. Go on, imagine it.
  • I get the song is authentic – dog shit is authentic, doesn’t mean I want to stand in it. The song isn’t dog shit though…. it’s not funny enough.
  • If it’s about insomnia, I can see that now. I used to go for walks at night when I had insomnia, but I didn’t live in a rich enough town to have a Cathedral. Plenty of Gospel Halls, if that counts? I would climb out my bedroom window and go for a wander. Then wonder what the hell I was doing and go back to bed. The world can be a lot more interesting at night, I love the quiet. I did dream about seeing a spider the size of a cat in my garage last night. I’m always dreaming about spiders. The H quote makes sense and maybe the sound is given a dreamlike gleam – Lynch style.
  • Paul gives it the basics – hate then love – and doesn’t think there’s any more to it. I was assuming there would be a reason or an inspirational spark behind the lyrics. Sanja does allude to the quiet ‘or you could love’ so I’m not the only one you thought that was interesting.
  • Sanja appreciates the depth of the mix which gives you something new and extra with each listen. Paul says it almost feels like it doesn’t belong on the album – I can see that.. it almost deserves to be on an 8 track album, one with a ten minute opener, and instrumental in the middle, and this to close out.
  • Paul says this is the album which made Paul realise that the band was trying to do something different with each album, deliberately.
  • It sounds like the next album is balls. I haven’t started it yet.
  • And that’s that. There will be a letters bag coming. Please give money. Please give me money too, though you won’t get anything in return.

Let us know what you think of Radiation in the comments, and as always check out BYAMPOD for yourselves!