Nightman Listens To Marillion – Radiation – Part 1!

Greetings, Glancers! Here we are, Marillion’s tenth album. Not many bands make it to ten albums these days, but I’m inclined to believe that bands which started out in the 80s are more likely to have made it to double figures than bands which started in the 2000s. More time to reach that target, I know, but how many bands who released there first album around 1999/2000 are even still going today? How many bands are able to or capable of releasing two albums in the space of a couple of years these days? That’s what Marillion appear to have done with Radiation, coming roughly 12 months after This Strange Engine (which itself came two years after Afraid Of Sunlight). 

At the time of writing this intro, I know nothing about the album beyond the tracklist and the fact that the 2013 Remaster cleans up a lot of the Production criticism which the original faced. Presumably it’ll be the Remaster I listen to on Youtube. Actually, it looks like there’s more to it as some tracks have been made shorter on the Remaster and have removed some interlude pieces of music. How strange. Am I going to have to listen to both? Balls to that, I’ll write about the Remaster and listen to the original once if I can find it.

The cover art makes me think of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (Death, chess, marching etc) except that Bergman was known for dreary black and white rather than crystal oceans and blue skies. There’s a dude all cloaked up and shrouding his face with a flaming torch. It’s all a bit cult like – Hammer horror movies from the 50s or The Wicker Man. Is there something wrong his feet – in the picture I’m looking at his legs appear to end with wooden stumps instead of feet. Some of the letters in the text are highlighted – seems to be suggesting that this is the 10th album – and along with the album title and the beach backdrop I can surmise that maybe some themes may include health, heat or burning, pain, nature, environment, and good old water. How can water be a ‘theme’? As always, I’m clasping, so lets get into it.

Costa Del Slough is a funny name. We’re not a sunny nation, but we’re a nation of sun seekers. I can’t speak for Slough personally; I’ve never been and I’m not sure exactly where it is, but the Costa Del (insert name of random beach town) is something we say in Northern Ireland too. We are even less of a sunny nation than England…. roughly the same in terms of sun-seeking I would say, with the added bonus of more than 3 days of 20 plus degrees in a row likely to make us angry and long for a bit of drizzle. It’s more of an intro piece than a song – I can’t imagine this appearing in many playlists or in Live concert rotation as a standalone. Maybe the original was longer but this one is under a minute long. It’s pure McCartney. I don’t know if this was intentional, but it has that old timey dance hall number vibe which McCartney increasingly whipped out in his Beatle days. You could see Betty Boop appearing in a video for this. It’s too short to cause any offence or stay in the memory, but does work as a lead in to the next track.

The lyrics are effectively funny and also tie into the next track. I’m assuming the song is taking the piss out of sun-seekers and people who would sacrifice their health for a bit of sun… of all the ills in the world to write a song about, this is an odd hill to choose to die on but I’m guessing it’s painting a wider picture and introducing the wider themes of the album. Obviously the band has done Environmental songs before and maybe I was correct in my guesses based on the album artwork – surely they’re not going to do a whole album about, what, people arsing about in the sun while the world and the next generation burns? A light bit of satire to kick us off.

Under The Sun gets the album going 4Real, a straightforward rocker which doesn’t scrimp on energy or melody. I’m conscious of wanting to avoid calling out comparisons that I only I hear, but the opening riff did remind me of Kula Shaker’s cover of Hush and some other Britpop tunes. Britpop was on the wane at this point, but still popular enough that you could hear its influence in other artists – new and longstanding. There’s an undercurrent of funky keyboard bashing and I liked the opposing scales used in different places – the upwards scale whistle type sounds which are played in the chorus before the ‘under the sun vocal comes in’ which are countered towards the end of the song by the guitars working downwards through a scale. This creates a chaotic ending as both scales play at the same time – one climbing, one descending, each acting as a counterpoint to the other almost like two sides of an argument.

As straightforward as the song is structurally, that sense of chaos is ever present. The guitars scorch and screech from the first moment with significant overlapping and layering, and you have the underpinning of clattering drums, sudden pauses and shifts, and an unusual middle section featuring plenty of effects, battered keyboards, and wicky wicky wha chords. While it is quite noisy and messy, the lead ‘under the sun’ hook works very well and the verses are suitably bouncy – I can see this working well at a gig even if I don’t see it as one which would be in regular rotation.

I was mishearing the first line in the lyrics as ‘It is to rain’ – Google tells me it’s ‘It used to rain’. ‘It is to rain’ I prefer – it works as both an overly dramatic Latin/French phrasing which suggests exasperation at the fact that is is constantly wet and grim, and as a prediction of the future state of the weather. ‘What’s it going to be like tomorrow – weather guy says it is to rain’. None of that fits with the song though, which is talking about rain more as a memory rather than the current and future state. It used to rain, but now everything is sunny and warm and perfect and too sunny and too warm and terrible. It looks like we’re in some post-pollution end game where there’s no turning back for the world as the polar ice melts but no-one seems to care. I’m going to guess the ‘going to the beach on the Northern Line’ is meant to be a joke of some sort – North usually suggests coldness, at least in terms of England’s geography, but in this new warmer world you do head North for a day at the beach. That’s probably a stretch, but it seems like an odd thing to write without there being some meaning behind it. Ironically, it is the North of Northern Ireland where people travel to for a day at the beach (15 minutes from me meaning our Summers are overpopulated with ‘chip eaters’). Of course it all ends with the sea coming up the street, but everyone is still having fun under the sun. The moral of the song… please recycle?

Thematically, it’s a continuation of the opening track, but with a more serious bent. It’s also a continuation of what is, lets be honest, my favourite Marillion song so far – Season’s End. Environmental concerns are not something which seem to be brought up in music all that often, which is perhaps surprising in today’s Woke world. Historically it’s not exactly the sort of sexy subject matter which sells records, but everyone from Led Zep and The Beatles and many of the folk singers of the 60s onwards, up to the likes of REM and Michael Jackson have written notable hits on the topic. That Marillion was doing this in 1998 and earlier is a testament to their cultural awareness and I always respect bands who aren’t only singing about love and/or sex. It’s not as powerful a song as Season’s End is to me but while Season’s End felt mournful and resigned to the fact that the planet is DOOMED, this was written from a more satirical or cynical perspective.

The Answering Machine continues the high energy and rock sound. There is a lot going on again in terms of texture and soundscapes – I’m sure the production of this one was a pain – but you would still class it as a straightforward rock song from a structural standpoint. I’m not sure what Paul makes of these two songs given he’s not typically a fan when the band positions themselves as a rock band rather than a Prog band, or whatever odd mixture Marillion is. I will say that the weird sounds and the overall mix do their best to elevate the song beyond standard fare. The sudden intro, straight in with the vocals and energy, is unusual for the band and the cartoon alien/robot sounds flashing around behind the guitars show the band is still tinkering with new ideas even if they don’t appear to be truly pushing themselves creatively. There are Celtic rhythms buried under the sound textures giving the song the feel of a jig, and H has a few spoken parts and plays around with different vocal styles. It’s not a disjointed song, but like the previous track it does feel chaotic in places.

H is up in the sky looking down at the world – there was a lot of that in This Strange Engine – and he’s separated his self into different parts again; ‘…My feelings and I…looked down on the city from up in the sky’. I was about write that all we needed was something about drowning or a lake and we’d have the traditional H lyric, but then I saw the word ‘water’ in the very next line. The song does have some interesting phrases – ‘heartbreak of a statue’, ‘bulletproof mirrors where your eyes used to be’, but we’re left with the question of who or what is ‘the answering machine’. My best guess is that it’s simply another part of himself or his conscience, some private part of himself where he can speak and record the truths that he’s never going to tell anyone else. This of course gives the song a sad and dark tone which doesn’t exactly bit with the bouncy jig nature of the music. I think it would be too easy to say that it’s some type of love song with the narrator traveling the world to reconnect with someone they had fallen away from, and I instead see the song as H simply trying to come to terms with himself. He’s travelled the world, he’s trying to find that person he once was, but too much has happened that the past and present can never reconcile. Though it probably is a break up song.

Three Minute Boy marks a turn in the album. It’s the point I begin to connect with the album – the first three songs were unremarkable and didn’t have a huge impact on me. Three Minute Boy musically embraces the darker tone of the lyrics and is as such a slower ballad instead of an up temp rocker, though it does have a brief rock breakdown before the epic outro. In terms of quality, it isn’t a huge step up from the first few songs for me, but it does feel more like Marillion doing what they do. There’s more of a Progressive element, the production is less chaotic, and while it follows the path of chucking a lot of different layered sounds into the mix, those parts are given more time to breath and stand apart. We begin as a sorrowful piano led piece and close with a Hey Jude coda perhaps echoing the journey of the character behind the lyrics. Those first ‘yeah/hey’ vocals leading into the ending along with the string type synths around the two minute mark gave me Duran Duran vibes again – something I called out for one of the songs on This Strange Engine but this seems like such a strange comparison I’ll assume it’s only something I’m picking up on.

I would argue that the outro is a little too long, taking the song to close to the six minute mark when a solid five may have put the same point across. There is time for a hefty solo and extended guitar shenanigans, and the aforementioned rock and roll breakdown which ties the two central parts of the album together is a interesting little curio which somehow works well. This is the song I’m most curious to hear if there is any background story. The lyric itself works as a story and it seems both personal, satirical, and it could have been based on any number of artists in history. The first verse sounds like the memory of a one-hit wonder song, here today for a moment’s success and hype, then gone tomorrow. In the second verse we delve into the the person behind the one-hit wonder, a kid who grew up apparently dreaming of fame and suddenly achieving it, yet that fame was entirely based upon a single three minute song which was written as a bit of a joke. You hear those stories every so often by bands who write a throwaway piece of fun which ends up becoming the song which defines them.

The chorus further suggests the fleeting nature of fame and how transitory it all is, with the good times rolling beneath his feet, with it leading only down a one-way street it’s impossible to return from. My assumption in the next verse is that the man who wrote this three minute song just happened to meet a woman in a similar position – she made a movie people half remembered – and they fall in love. Or sort of in love, the language used tinged with sarcasm – ‘measured up’, ‘giggled’, ‘la la la’. The ‘three minute’ metaphor comes around repeatedly with more bite on each successive line – he becomes a three minute millionaire suggesting that he was lucky and perhaps undeserving, he’s referred to as a ‘three minute kid’ suggesting naivety, innocence, and/or immaturity, and he’s surrounded by fleeting, ambulance-chasing three minute friends. Those last few verses hammer the nails home – nothing to hold on to or look forward to, no escape, no money, girlfriend leaves, talent and confidence shot, media hounding him. The final line I’m not sure which way to read it – it could be a positive in that his next song gets in at number 2 on the charts, but I think that’s too much of a sudden shift back to optimism. Possibly it’s only semi-hopeful in that his song is successful, but his girlfriend is gone and he no longer cares about music so the song’s success is meaningless. Most likely though is the logical bleak conclusion – the girlfriend has simply left and latched on to a new three minute boy, and this new person has written their own song and is just about to ride the same wave of success as our narrator had before. As I said, I’m keen to hear if there was an element of truth or reality behind this one.

Now She’ll Never Know is maybe my favourite on the album. Probably my favourite. There are clear Thom Yorke vibes in the vocals, something which is always going to work with me. Not to compare myself with a professional who has sold millions of records, but he kind of sounds like me here too. This ticks plenty of my boxes – bloke with a high pitched voice, soft and subtle, pained and personal, dripping with melody and emotion. It’s pleasingly understated and has an uncomplicated production which opposes the previous songs. While there are backing sounds and eerie noises and wavering synth, and while those strengthen the song, if you were to strip all of that away and leave just the vocals and guitar the core power and quality of the song would still be there. Even with these positives, I do think the song peters out towards the end and could have done with a touch of shaving here and there to keep it closer to four minutes. It’s a plain song from a structural perspective, and the melodies and vocals are so light and airy that you risk becoming boring the longer you run on. Due to it being quite a plan and uneventful song, I don’t have much more to say about it – it’s lovely and hopefully it doesn’t lose its impact on me over time.

Lyrically it could be the partner of the previous song, the dirty cousin you hide your best toys from when he’s coming to visit because you know picks his nose and probably scratches his ass. Not that the lyrics falter in quality, just that there’s an indirect relationship between the songs with this lyric getting into the nitty gritty of the breakdown between two people. That opening verse sums up the feelings of anyone who’s ever been in an emotional fight and is trying to piece it all together. There’s a lot of guilt, there’s confusion in the disjointed half-finished thoughts and lines. There’s the feeling of stupidity too – ‘now she’ll never know what anyone could tell her’ – stupidity on both sides is how I’m reading it, on one for making a mistake, on the other for not seeing the mistake or being prepared for it. Nothing more than a sad breakup song, but song with particular poignancy and with universal all too recognisable lyrics.

I’m going to leave this post here for today – at the time of writing, Paul and Sanja are getting over their Covid issues and haven’t released the first Radiation episode. It sounds like it was a particularly nasty bout of the illness, so ease yourselves back in to everything! I’m keeping out of mouth range from everybody until it’s safe to go outside without face condoms – so roughly the year 2525 (if man is still alive). That means I get this post earlier, that post two will only look at the remaining songs, and that I’ll do a podcast thoughts specific post to close out the album. For anyone reading this and wondering what the hell I’m on about – go listen to the previous episodes of BYAMPOD as Paul and Sanja listen to and discuss each Marillion album in order, with assorted guest and bonus eps and goodness. Then come back here and let me know thoughts in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – This Strange Engine (Part 2)!

This Strange Engine
Greetings, Glancers! Diving in to Part 2, we open with Memory Of Water. The moment I read that title, I thought of the rather lovely piece of music from a fellow Neighbours fan called Memories of… Yeah alrite alrite, I know Neighbours, Harold Bishop, Mrs Mangel, hardy har, but I like it. I’m not sure if the actual piece of music from Neghbours is called Memories Of, but that’s what dude who did a cover of it has called it. The thing is, I’ve always referred to it as ‘Memories Of Water’, because the same dude who did the cover has another Neighbours piece called My Knees Go To Water, and both are wrapped up in my mind as parts of the same thing. Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t, they’re just rather lovely pieces of music which soppy old me gets emotional to while hearing and thinking back to sad moments from Neighbours. Feel free to ridicule me in the comments Memory Of Water is a lonesome, forlorn song with a brave opening – vocals only before the horn synths join. Trying to not sound like a dick, but the band absolutely nail the sea shanty melody with this one. Before I knew what the song was called, those opening melodies made me jot down the note ‘pirates/sirens/fisherman’s friend/handsome Pete’. Handsome Pete was a bit character in The Simpsons who would hang out at the harbour and dance with an accordion if you chucked him a Quarter. It feels like either an atmospheric album opener or an interlude between more impactful songs. I suspect many won’t like this one, but it did strike a chord with me and I could see myself sitting near the sea, legs swinging off a ledge, watching the water and thinking about the past. Maybe the song’s biggest problem is that you can’t talk about it without sounding like a dick. The song doesn’t go anywhere and there’s not great emotional high or melodic hook to grab, but it holds that position of being a quiet, introspective song without need of flourish. I like it, but I fully expect most people to dismiss it. In fitting with some of the, admittedly self-imposed mythological imagery I impressed upon the music, the lyrics have a touch of the Fantastic about them, conjuring silly sights such as wood nymphs frolicking my glades and enchanting men away from certain demise to a deeper sorrow. As if that wasn’t nonsensical enough, it’s capped off with the line ‘you’re freckled like a speckled egg’ which is about as ridiculous as lyrics get. Short song, not much to the lyrics, but I enjoyed it. An Accidental Man is a big boy, trousers down Rock song. It’s trying to be at least, but for me it falls apart in the chorus. Good riff, great intro verse full of energy and promise, but fails to deliver the anthemic chorus it needs. Not only that, the chorus feels like a watered version of the verse which in turn dampens the power of the verses. Credit to the slower, little experimental moments – those would work in a song which didn’t have the potency of this song’s intro. They do at least take the attention away from the disappointing chorus, and we do have an organ solo slapped in the middle. This seems like a song which was built off the initial riff but the band couldn’t quite work out how to extend that riff and verse into a full song – which sounds odd to say given the song is over six minutes long. On the lyrics front, when I first heard An Accidental Man I thought the song was about a collection of circumstances beyond our control – we have no choice how or where we’re born and the environment we grow up in influences our opinions and often sets our lives on an unavoidable path. I think the song can absolutely be read that way given the mentions of being ‘taught from much too young’ and how an ‘accident of birth’ holds you to a certain point of view. Reading the lyrics it becomes clear that the song is likely more about gender and the pressures which environment and circumstances can have on a person’s identity. I don’t think gender identity or politics was something which was discussed much in the media in the 90s and it isn’t something you saw coming up too much in mainstream music. You did have bands such as Placebo challenging traditional notions of gender, possibly Marilyn Manson broke some ground on that front but I’m not a fan of the dude or his music so I can’t say for sure, and of course the Manics have always spoken frankly about this in interviews and in songs such as Born A Girl. As it the Marillion style, there isn’t anything overt, the lyrics are not done for shock value or in a disingenuous way, but I think there are enough hints to suggest gender identity is what the song is about. Hope For The Future gets us back to the more acoustic sounds of the first half of the album. H goes for a more Bluesy vocal approach, there’s a touch of the ‘Bon Jovi trying to be cowboys’ to proceedings, but then the song takes a complete left turn into something altogether more zany. And that’s before it goes all Jamaican. That first zany left turn is refreshing, and I’ve been trying to figure out what song it reminded me of. I narrowed it down to it being a song I knew that I didn’t like, but I struggled to name the precise song. In the end, while it’s not 100%, my best guess for the song which this section reminds me of is You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon. Cannot. Stand. That. Song. It goes into some sort of Caribbean space which was quite amusing initially, but gradually became irritating. I don’t hate it, and credit again for trying some new sounds, but I’m not sure if this was the band trying to make a genuine artistic statement or just someone shouting ‘Dyer Maker was one of Led Zep’s most interesting, most hated songs, we should do that!’ For the record, I love Dyer Maker. I don’t love this. It stands out, it is different, there are interesting instrumental choices. But like I always say – just because it’s interesting, doesn’t mean it’s good. I’m going to go ahead a Rosicrucian Pope is some sort of fish… Jamaica is famous for fish. See, it all fits. Wait… fish? Is this a song about Fish? The band’s hope for the future is for Fish to come back? Something about The Illuminati? Obviously I did Google Rosicrucianism and went down a rabbit hole for a while – interesting stuff. What a strange song though – musically and lyrically – that part about palindromes whispered deep in the midst of the jangling stuff and lines which seem to be about some sort of Mystic or Prophet finding arcane knowledge and gaining forbidden earth-shattering knowledge. It’s all a bit silly and funny and silly. We close with the title track, and it’s a biggie. It’s the song I’ve listened to least on the album, not necessarily because of it’s length, but more because it’s right at the end and by the time I get to the album I’ve already checked out and want to do something else. Is it their longest song so far? It’s over 17 minutes long (not if we remove the laughing nonsense at the end), so we assume we’re firmly back in Prog territory. I could be wrong, but so far the feeling I’ve had with the Marillion epics is of different songs spliced together to make something longer. That’s fine, but speaking for myself the songs I love which reach the 10 minute mark and beyond feel more planned, more natural. In short, they don’t feel like different parts pulled together but feel like one seamless plotted out journey and even though that journey is linear and has been plotted out it doesn’t mean the journey is any less surprising. Lets get it out of the way – This Strange Engine is a great song – a breath of fresh adventurous air which stands apart from the rest of the album. I won’t say it sounds like the band taking chances, because they’re supposed to be a Prog band and do that anyway, but it does sound a little like a reminder that they haven’t forgotten their roots. Most of the different parts work on their own, and I guess they work as a whole, but those transitions aren’t as smooth as I would have liked. In fact, in many places they are not transitions as much as dead stops before the next part begins. It feels more like an overture for an album that we didn’t get – bits of songs that I’d love to hear but which don’t appear elsewhere on the album. Paul mentioned in Part 1 of the BYAMPOD Ep that the band sounded almost out of ideas with this album – maybe this is where most of their ideas went. I’m not going to break down the entire song, but I’ll call out some of the more notable moments for good or bad. I felt like the opening was too sudden and should have had some sort of musical build up – the song didn’t come to life for me until the minute mark, but the majority of those opening minutes lacked a melodic or emotional connection for me. Those connections were made after the 2nd minute once the piano kicks in. I don’t like how this section ends, but I do like the energy and impetus of the next. The Kashmir style strings in the middle – good. The ‘Triumph Motorbike’ line – fuck right off. I have no explanation for it, but something about that line felt so badly timed or misplaced that it’s like a Cov Id test right up my nostril every time. The ‘Montego Bay’ section into the ding ding dong downwards keyboards notes followed by the smooth tapped, near synth guitars is glorious. The intro music to BYAMPOD I’m guessing was a little influenced by this solo? I would have liked that section to burst out of the solo into something new immediately, but it does a bit of a musical Montego Bay reprise first. I can’t say I love H’s vocals in places – at some points he’s as good as he’s ever been, elsewhere the yelps and affectations don’t hit the mark. Most of the closing vocal section does work – it’s all a bit Jeff Buckley Live – the laughing definitely doesn’t work for me. I will always laugh if I see someone laughing on TV or in real life – can’t help myself – but when I hear it in a piece of music it sounds decidedly creepy and… not right. Lyrically I think the song is more coherent than the music – less dead stops, more like a consistent journey. I initially thought the lyrics were tied to the previous song, beginning as they do with a child being born in a Holy place. I thought this was going to chart the life of this kid who grows up to be the prophet character from Hope For The Future, but these lyrics remain mostly rooted in realism. They do chart a life but I’m at a loss for most of the references. A holy woman and a holy place suggests a Convent, but the red coat and the bulldog? Do Cardinals wear red coats, or am I confusing Cardinals with Imperial Guards from Star Wars? Is the Convent in some peaceful, idyllic mountain and lake spot? There’s a mum, there’s a Dad far away and missing home, there are smells. There is loneliness. Memories of a time before birth. Is there the suggestion of an AI in all of this – I’m probably making connections to various movies and TV shows I’ve seen which have no bearing on this song whatsoever, but is there something about this life being an experiment? The latest in a long line of experiments to, I don’t know, create the perfect person or some balls, but reboot the thing when it fails leaving the latest version of the ‘human’ with some fragmented memories of past lives. Once again we’re left with a lyric which it seems we can let our wildest imaginations run away with. I’m curious to see what Sanja makes of it all and if she made a narrative out of the album. The most I can get out of these lyrics are the connections to themes we’ve encountered throughout the album – identity and self, confusion, innocence and guilt, and lets just say man and machine again because I haven’t mentioned that for a while. This may be one of the most cryptic instances of an H lyric so far, though I’m sure Paul will explain the inspiration behind it all. The most logical explanation should be that it’s about H himself, his own issues with his different personalities and, his own sacrifices and the sacrifices of those around him. And then he gets murdered by bees. No idea. It’s an unusual album, all told. There are a couple of standout songs I’ll probably listen to again, but it feels more like a collection of curious and experiments. Lets head over to the podcast to see what Paul and Sanja have to say about each song.
Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter
We begin with some additional history of the band – namely another greatest hits which seems to be a better collection of tracks than their previous effort. The band produced This Strange Album themselves – a good way to save money and perhaps have more control over the overall sound and tone. Sanja thinks Man Of A Thousand Faces is a strong opener and guesses correctly that it’s about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey tome. Not sure how I missed that as it’s fairly obvious now she’s said it. Did I mention the book in a previous post. I must admit I haven’t read the whole thing, but skimmed parts of it at University. As someone who loves myths ancient and modern, it’s something I should track down and give a go. Paul was surprised by the sound of the song on his first listen, something I did feel and mention myself. Paul says it may be his favourite song to see live and then goes on to give H’s explanation for the song. Sanja got a very 90s, bluesy vibe from One Fine Day – the 90s thing stood out for me on the first track so with this song I simply took the sound as a facet of the album’s production and the era it was recorded in. Neither are too keen on the song, Sanja thinks it’s pretty, Paul thinks it’s fine, boring, and doesn’t care what any of it is about. Eighty Days is a song dedicated to the fans, apparently. Paul is more aligned with what I thought it was about – the pain and occasional delight of touring. It’s another boring one for Paul in that it doesn’t make him feel anything. He hates the synth solo, Sanja loves it. In a surprising turn, Paul doesn’t like Estonia either even though it’s the fan favourite of the album. Sanja is surprised by this, given she finds the music and lyrics beautiful and touching. Paul does like specific moments – the atmospheric opening, it’s pretty in places, and he’s uncomfortable saying he doesn’t like it due to the subject matter and because it’s a fan favourite. It’s the simplicity of the sentiment which Paul struggles with. I get it. Grief is absolute torment. Loss is exactly that – loss. You don’t get that person back. While sentiments like these can be a comfort for most against the incomprehensible mourning and suffering people go through and while I certainly wouldn’t be cynical enough to tell someone who’s grieving ‘no, they’re not looking down on you, they’re gone forever’, this is a difficult subject to convey in a song. I think if you’re going to write a song about a tragedy like this, or any sort of death or loss, it makes sense to ground it in honest sentiment, but there’s no way to not make it sound simplistic. My wider family (and my family is stupidly huge) are fairly religious and would use their faith as their strongest comfort when someone dies. My Grandmother died a few years ago. She had lived with her youngest daughter, Heather, who sacrificed her own life, career, relationships ever since she was basically a teenager. My Grandmother wasn’t very mobile in the last ten years or so, and spent most days in the house on the same chair, relying totally on Heather for everything. They were basically joined at the hip. While the family was large and mostly lived nearby, meaning there was always someone dropping in to visit, Aunt Heather still was unable to be with her partner or even attend a family Wedding or Birthday party for more than a couple of hours because she knew she was needed at home. When my Grandmother died, it was obviously terrible for everyone but especially her given their closeness. The silver lining was Auntie Heather could finally begin living her own life. She was still relatively young (48-49) and could begin plans for decorating the house and looking forward to getting married herself. A couple of months after Granny died, Heather felt ill at a party. A quick visit to the Doctor revealed a particularly aggressive Cancer and that there was nothing anyone could do about it. She died five months to the day after Granny, one day before her Birthday. One of the last things she said was that she wouldn’t have wanted her life to be any different, and that the Cancer was a sign that Granny must need her in Heaven. How do you respond to this, her most personal sentiment? Being naturally cynical and a bit of a dick, this is the sort of thing I would laugh off if it hadn’t happened so close to me. The whole thing is a mess and we’re all as ill equipped to deal with loss as we are with related discussions and contradictions. There seems to be little wiggle room in writing, whether it be for a song, a movie, even for a book, between either utter gloom or cheap sentiment. Telling things in a matter of fact way would likely make for a hollow and boring product. I’m sure there can be nuance. Buffy’s The Body is still the most realistic, perfect, representation of grief I’ve seen beyond feeling it myself. In any case, the song doesn’t do much for Paul, and that’s perfectly fine. On to Memory Of Water and Paul telling us that the song was reworked numerous times before its final state. As expected, neither Paul nor Sanja think much of it – a nice enough interlude, but nothing memorable. No ridiculing of the speckled egg line, which I’m disappointed by. Accidental Man Sanja went in an opposite direction from me, nailing the gender stuff first, then expanding to thinking about hiding your truest self. It sounds like it’s a mixture of all of that stuff. It seems like I am an accidental man, though I’ve always been quite happy to revel in my fingers up to masculine stereotypes. I cry watching The Body every single time. Hell, I cry watching Youtubers react to The Body. Why is crying not a masculine thing? Blue clothes? Deep voice? Beards, beers, and hunting bears? It’s all bullshit. I draw the line at football, what sort of chump doesn’t like a bit of footy!? To be fair, football’s the only sport I’m interested in, and I watch about 90% less than most fans. Paul loves the lyrics, isn’t a fan of the music, and says there’s a more pop oriented version out there which he enjoys more. We then learn that Hope For The Future is considered by many Marillion fans to be their worst song. Sanja is surprised by this, but I get it. Going back to Dyer Maker by Led Zep – I’m on a few Zep fan groups on Facebook and some of them come awfully close to good old boy, Harley riding, flag waving, MAGA wearing, everything after the 70s was shit, nonsense. It’s one of the songs which gets a fair bit of ire from those fans, probably because it’s not a big riffy riffy, blasting drums orgy fest. It’s a silly, light but of Reggae influenced fun. Once again, I love it. I’ll never fault a band for trying something different. If you’re going to try something different, you have to commit to it so that at least some of your fans will enjoy it. With Hope For The Future I’m not sure if it was meant to be a joke, an experiment, or whatever, but it never shakes the tone of being a bit of a piss take. No matter what, it looks like the fans didn’t appreciate it either way. I don’t often pick the obvious song as my favourite by whatever the band – with Led Zep All My Love is my favourite – a song dismissed by many (beyond its inspiration), and I rate Mr Moonlight as one of my favourite Beatles songs – one hated by most Beatles fans. Sanja likes Hope For The Future and thinks it’s a lot of fun and Paul appreciates how unique it is. Oh well, Paul doesn’t have a clue what this one’s about, that’s a bit disappointing too. We close on This Strange Engine. I don’t listen to the Marillion podcast, so I’d like to know what it’s about. It’s about H’s dad and his sacrifices, which I believe I did mention as my most obvious interpretation. Paul’s not a massive fan of this one even if it is his favourite on the album, but says this was a template for some of the bigger, better songs which would come later. Paul thinks it shouldn’t be on this album necessarily and isn’t a fan of the song originally stretched out to 30 minutes by silence, with the assumption being that the band pretended they made a 30 minute song to wow long term fans, only to have a song half that length. I mean, it’s still 16 minutes. It’s clearly the ‘best’ song on the album, but I get the band being pissed off by certain labels and wanting to do their own thing. Paul says the next two albums are more interesting, if not better. As mentioned somewhere above… I usually take ‘better’ over ‘interesting’. Though both is best, please. He summarizes by saying it’s a beige, boring album that he doesn’t and has never had much to say about it. I’ve managed to fill two blog posts about it at least. Sanja’s more positive about it and both say there isn’t a bad song versus some better albums which did have crap songs. These things happen. Let us know in the comments what you think of the album, and don’t forget to go check out the BYAMPOD for yourself!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Afraid Of Sunlight (Side B)!

Afraid of Sunlight - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! You should be used to how I begin my Part 2 posts by now; Like this.

Out Of This World opens with an atmospheric slow dance reminiscent of the more dreamy Angelo Badalamenti pieces from Twin Peaks. It’s a return to the dark, shadowy style I’m always harping on about but which the band has stepped away from in recent albums. Even on Brave they didn’t quite nail this tone. As such, Out Of This World is probably my favourite song on the album. It’s one of those songs which manages to disguise how Prog it is and how many shifts and movements there are. The key to the disguise is the keyboards running through each phase and connecting the individual pieces. The atmosphere remains consistent even as the mood moves from gloomy and introspective to emotional outbursts. What stood out was that every time a change was coming, I anticipated where the song would go, but then a last gasp about turn would take the music in an unexpected direction. The song is surprising at every turn. It feels like it’s about to end at several points, but instead there’s an instrumental or sound-clip which leads to some new phase. Tonally, I think this one would have fit neatly on Brave but it works perfectly here and acts as something of a centrepiece. At no point does it feel like an 8 minute song because it’s so absorbing, and I only realised how long it was when I began pausing and taking a closer look at each section.

I’ve already mentioned the dark dreamy, almost sultry sway and swoosh of the intro, but the guitars at times reminded me of Radiohead’s Nice Dream. The opening lyric – no matter how many times I hear it I keep expecting H to sing ‘3 AM’ instead of ‘3 hundred’. This soft and moody shuffle leads into a slow but fierce guitar solo – it’s a solo which could have run on but instead is overtaken by the piano intro of the next section. This section is the emotional peak of the song, with H’s pained ‘only love will turn you round’ refrain yanking every last ounce of wrung anguish from the listener. I imagine it’s a completely unrelated stretch, but this did all remind me of the Orpheus and Eurydice story – how Orpheus went to the Underworld to bring his wife back to the land of the living with the warning that if he turned round to look at her once, to make sure she was following him out, then she would be dragged back to hell for ever. Sadly for him, love turned him round and she was lost. Wanky yes, but one of my favourite myths, and we know Prog bands love their myths and legends.

On to what the song actually means – I don’t have a clue. I Googled Blue Bird in the hope that it was the name of Mike Tyson’s yacht or some such balls. In doing so I did find out about the Campbell family’s Bluebird racing vehicles. What that has to do with the rest of the album or anything else, I’ll leave Paul to explain. The lyrics, or at least the opening set, don’t fit at all with what the music makes me feel. When The Beach Boys sing about surfing or cars, the music feels summery and the sort of thing you might listen to while driving beside a beach as people surf. Listening to Out Of This World does not make me think about speedboats, so there must be more to it. Is it equating the chasing of an impossible dream, of a speed record, of living on the edge, to a relationship. That seems like both a stretch by me, and a stretch by the writer if that’s what he’s going for. The last verse may bring the most educated guess – that being in the spotlight and chasing the adulation of an audience is addictive and potentially dangerous, lying somewhere being obsession and a dream.

Afraid Of Sunlight is a much lighter song tonally. If Out Of This World feels like midnight, Afraid Of Sunlight’s synth and shimmering guitars feel like dawn – the peaceful waking of the world. There are drum sounds which I first noticed in this song and which pop up again in later songs which I’m not a fan of. They’re too weak – they sound like a drum machine – and while I get the decision to do this, it’s a sound which gets on my lid. I do enjoy the quiet/loud dynamic which sees the chorus explode in classic chorus fashion – it’s one of the most simple, oldest, yet most effective dynamics in music, separating the two parts of the song, making them more distinct, and encouraging the listener to get hyped for the chorus and relax for the verse. The little vocal bridge/chorus extension peaks like… licking the squishy part of a pavlova before finishing off the crust (?) before leading into a slight instrumental section and the finale. The ‘how do you feel/I will leave you’ build up parts are my standouts, letting loose that particular yearning quality of H’s vocals. I like the song and I have found myself singing it around the house – always a sign that it’s done something right – but I’m not sure if it has the staying power of my favourites.

Lyrically it does bring us back to the idea of driving, not to escape this time but apparently to surrender. There’s the sense of acceptance – of time moving on unaware or uncaring of your actions – and there’s the sense that it’s a guilty conscience pricking at someone to own up to their crime, a Banquo’s ghost backseat driver, prodding and reminding. The ‘spirit rack abuses’ verse is well constructed, the incessant questioning is recalled in the final track, and there’s a neat cyclical nature to the callbacks to Afraid Of Sunrise. 

Beyond You continues the lighter musical tone but also the annoying drum sounds. One other noticeable item (for me) introduced in this song is how I begin to immediately notice similarities with other songs. None of these are intentional, and some of them are impossible (given the song I’m comparing it to had not been written yet), but nevertheless it’s something which leapt out at me in the final songs. For Beyond You the comparison is the little bloopy sounds which come around the ‘don’t want my heart’ vocals – I couldn’t precisely place what these were reminding me of, but my first and best guess was Another Day In Paradise by Phil Collins. And the Commando soundtrack. It’s an 80s bell/synth sound which I think was quite prevalent in the previous decade but something about the few notes showcased here did stir up those comparisons in my first listen.

As we get towards the part of the song about being like a child having a tantrum (more on those lyrics later) there are some drum blasts which reminded me of the boom drums in Every Little Thing by The Beatles. When I listened to both songs alongside each other – they’re not very similar at all, but I can’t shake that comparison. Possibly it’s their placement – the fact that they seem a little out of place and only pop in momentarily, yet the songs would sound weird and have less character if you removed them.

There are a few things about this song which didn’t land for me, beyond the aforementioned drums. The way H sings in the opening feels too much like he’s forcing himself to sing too softly. Whether this was done for deliberate effect – to make him sound more childlike or more deceitful (feigning sadness to manipulate someone), I don’t know. I didn’t get the impression that it was genuine, but I’m almost certainly misreading it. On top of that, some of the more matter of fact lyrics pissed me off. This is entirely a personal thing but I hate it when bands use colloquialisms in their lyrics or write in a day to day/real life example/matter of fact way. You could say that for almost every song ever made and I get that I’m not explaining myself clearly, but lines like ‘I would sit down on the street, kick my legs and scream’ somehow spark some annoyance trigger within me. That whole section in fact. Is it related to the delivery? Is it because it sounds like something someone would say instead of something someone should sing? I’m not saying every lyric needs to be poetry or unique or some disjointed line free from reality, but every so often a line will come along which feels like it belongs in a conversation and not a song. It’s rich coming from someone who writes a blog about music and movies in a conversational manner, but that’s a deliberate choice by me to allow any audience to (hopefully) understand what I’m writing.

Everything else in Beyond You is tasty goodness. I love how the song ends up in a completely different place from where it began and how the volume and intensity increases evenly throughout. H’s vocals grow and get stronger as the song progresses, the mixing of tinkling keys and ghostly synth in the intro is skilful (I’d switch out the drums), and the little cymbal taps taking over from the drums in the middle is a masterful touch, pulling the song back into itself before pushing forwards for the climax. It’s one of the songs I’ve found myself humming or singing least, but the vocal melodies are concert-bait in the best way.

I believe Paul did a bit in one of his interview episodes about this song. That was weeks ago though and given that I wouldn’t be able to answer if someone asked me right now to describe the paint on the walls in any of the rooms in this house I’ve been living in for ten years, I can’t recall how it was interpreted. Does the fact that this song was discussed (at least I think it was this song) mean that it’s an important song in the discography, or that it’s one fans argue over? That opening line I incorrectly heard as ‘If you were a banquet’ and I’m not sure if ‘folds of my heart’ is supposed to be sweet or gruesome. As a whole, the song seems to be about obsession and being unable to move on or even complete every day tasks without freaking out and giving up. Having never been obsessed about a person or a thing to this extent, the only way I can relate is to ideas. As someone who claims to be a creative person, if I have an idea which takes hold, I can’t focus on anything else until that idea has been realised to some degree. You can’t tell from my writing on this blog, but I can be a better than average writer when I put my mind to it. But when I do have an idea which I feel is genuinely strong and interesting – whether it be for a song or story or whatever, the obsession to simply get it out of my brain and onto paper is much stronger than the need for it to be good. No matter how promising the idea is, the moment I’ve jotted down an outline or the central conceit, the obsession vanishes and the need to care about it dissipates. This may be point to the ideas actually being crap and once the basics are written down there’s not a lot more to it, but I think the truth is more that I’m too lazy and/or not good enough to turn an idea or a premise into reality. It also may explain why I currently have 301 draft posts in my blog and why some of those individual posts each contain well over a hundred reviews of books/movies/albums/games/songs etc.

As much as I didn’t enjoy the ‘kick my legs and scream’ lines, the following verse featured my favourite lyrics of the song – a list of feelings and admissions gradually becoming more visceral and potent, from ‘And the feeling comes in waves’ to ‘exhausted and insecure, took all you have and I still want more’. So, it’s about obsession, but is it over a person, is it being obsessed with the limelight? Is it a mixture of both?

King closes the album, but opens with another instance of me immediately thinking about another song. While I don’t think the chords are the same and while I’m hardly a Green Day fan, King sounds an awful lot like Boulevard Of Broken Dreams. The chord structure and vocal melody in Green Day’s (much later) song is so similar that I found myself singing the Green Day song over the verses of King – they fit almost perfectly. It’s all the more unusual because the songs are completely different in every other aspect. It’s one of those once heard never unheard deals, so I’m stuck with it now.

I’d be interested if there’s a radio edit or shorter version of King as there are a few moments which I would shave off to make the song less jarring. The soundbites after the initial guitar intro – get rid – and the long pause of silence towards the end of the song, either scrap it completely or reduce it to a single second. That’s possibly some sort of heresy to longstanding fans but I don’t like empty space in music. Having said that, maybe there is something going on in that empty space that I’ve simply missed because I’m not listening on headphones.

It’s one of the heaviest songs on the album – it never approaches hard rock, but there’s more of an edge to King than most of the other songs, plus the chaos and dissonance and distortion at various points (especially the ending) makes it sound much rougher and more Rock influenced. H is quiet again in the opening verse, but it doesn’t sound forced. He sounds resigned yet accusing, like a disappointed father berating a child for doing something bad after many warnings – ‘Look, I’m not going to shout any more, I told you not to do it, I told you what would happen, and now it has’.

For what is essentially a simple four chord song, the band spice it up and add more complexity and interesting choices – completely removing all instruments from that four chord structure just leaving keyboards and vocals, bringing it bath with single wavering guitar notes like an abridged arpeggio verses the more loose yet traditional guitar tinkering in the opening verse. Even though it’s all repetition of the same structure they do something different on each lap to make the 7 minute running time not feel like 60 seconds of content on a loop. There is of course time for both a guitar and keyboard solo in the middle. It may not be one of my favourites on the album, but it’s an apt closer.

The lyrics remind us of the various motifs and themes of the album – running, fame, guilt, boxing, private self and public self, questions. Assuming it’s H speaking he seems to take on the perspective of that disappointed father/advisor/bystander, asking how long the person can cope with their lies and performance, proclaiming that he hopes ‘for your sake something gets in the way’ in their pursuit of what they want. By proxy, is he talking about himself and the band? By extension, is it all a warning to others hoping to become successful because it all comes with an ‘ensuing, all encompassing mess’? Incidentally, I did appreciate ending one line with ‘mess’ and starting the next with ‘message’. Every good thing is countered by bad; message of love – but there’s so many of them to cope with, there are people to touch, but they all waste away, until finally your choices and free will are taken by strangers. The building of accusations and home-truths with regards to fame becomes one of the more effective and lucid takedowns of fame and success I can remember hearing. The song does appear to become more personal towards the end as it references the writing of songs rather than a boxing match or movies or…. breaking the land speed record. It mentions with a final nail in the coffin – ‘I hope you’ve got what it takes to be spoilt to death’. Like we mentioned in Part One, or possibly in Brave – the chasing and acquiring of fame can be wonderful… but it could end up killing you.

This is one of the first times that I didn’t want to (or couldn’t be arsed to) write about the album, primarily because I was enjoying listening to it so much. I’ve had it on constantly while I’ve been working, and the times I tried to jot down my thoughts I simply listened to it and ended up reading or doing something else instead. This is one of the best examples so far of the band being both accessible and not losing touch of their roots or their creative integrity. It’s an album with the hooks to pull casuals and new listeners in, but enough depth to interest those who want a bit more to their music, while not being as obtuse as their more lengthy prog moments or as much of an emotional challenge as Brave. 

I will admit to eventually tiring myself of the album before coming to solidify my thoughts about it in these posts. I can see why people will rate it highly – it’s certainly one of my favourites by Marillion so far, even if the individual highs may not be as high as on other albums. They experiment without sounding experimental and got most of the novel new sounds and playing around with different genres out of the way in the first two songs. After those opening tracks the album finds its feet in a more cohesive way, eventually gelling and finding a concrete identity, with recurring lyrics, themes, and musical ideas popping up again and again. It’s going to be an album I listen to in the future, but I’ll need a break from it – in the meantime a few of the songs will make it over to my ‘new music’ playlist in the car.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

Hopping over to Episode 3 of the Podcast, Paul prepares us for Sanja asking forbidden questions. I wonder if I have committed any crimes in my post above. Sanja doesn’t like Out Of This World, while it’s my favourite on the album. It’s her least favourite. Paul isn’t a big fan either. As we know, I like dark and atmospheric things and that’s exactly what it does. Am I a traditional Marillion fan because the majority of fans love this one? Hey, I was right about Chelsea Monday so I wait for Paul loving Out Of This World in a few weeks time. Paul’s feelings on the song seem to be influenced by how popular it is, at least considering it’s a Live favourite. Having almost zero experience of this live, I can’t really relate, but I do get the sentiment. You Stole The Sun From My Heart is a perfectly fine Manics pop song – but I can hardly listen to it because it’s played live every time I see them. Turns out Paul doesn’t like the solo much – I like what it does more than what it is if that makes sense.

There is a story behind the song – great, because I didn’t have much of a clue about it beyond the snatched references which I had to Google. If I hadn’t Googled those, I wouldn’t have had much to say about the meaning of the song. So the song is directly about what I mentioned – again, this is a story I had not heard of until Googling. I didn’t know that the soundbites were actual recordings of the dude dying, so that’s nice. Or more appropriately, not. I assumed there was more to it, for such an atmospheric song. Seems the band simply had an affinity for the Campbells and the event. There is of course a rich (?) history of bands playing soundbites of people’s final moments, or clips of their last interview etc. To chuck in another Manics reference, because that seems to be what I do now, The Holy Bible incorporates soundbites from all manner of places, including one of the last interviews with a young woman dying of anorexia, and the mother of one of the victims of Peter Sutcliffe. Not exactly the same thing, but the first examples which leapt out to me.

On to the title track, which Paul says is in the mix for their best song. I liked it a lot more in my early listens but it did take a bit of a beating due to me over-listening to the album. By the time I came to writing about it, my initial love of it had subsided somewhat. Sanja affixes the song into her story of the album, and it fits. Paul agrees that it’s more introspective than Afraid Of Sunrise while I took this less about escape and more like and admission that the person has tried to escape but realised it’s impossible. Which Sanja just paraphrases as I finish the sentence.

The title track and Beyond You are the two Marillion songs which made it on to Paul’s mixtape for Sanja. As such, there’s obvious personal connections to them. It’s always an interesting conversation – which songs would you give to someone to get them into the band, is that different from the type of song you would give to someone whose musical taste you respect, and is it different from what you would give to someone you would like to go on a little date with and hold hands on the way to the Cinema to see Freddy Vs Jason? Slipped into my own personal life then, sorry.

It’s Paul’s favourite on the album, and maybe his favourite Marillion song. H has said he couldn’t play it live because it’s too personal. Fraser Marshall sees the song as a little darker from how Paul does – my interpretation was even further into the darkness reading it clearly as a more unhealthy obsession. The line which Paul and Sanja read as not wanting to leave… but it comes with a caveat… I wouldn’t want to leave if I were a child. He’s not a child, he’s an adult, and sometimes adults have to make other decisions. Am I reaching? Who knows? The only H quote about the song… I can’t say that’s what I felt from the song – I certainly felt the pain and that seems like the most obvious read…. but I definitely took something darker from it. Sanja likes the soft vocals… as I said that did feel forced for me, which fits with my more cynical read. Before Paul and Sanja rip me for not loving it as much as they did – this was another which I liked a lot more before too many listens dulled it for me.

Neither of the guys are overly fond of King. I’m of roughly the same opinion – it’s fine, a good closer, but in a few weeks time I won’t remember much about it while I’ll still be singing Out Of This World. Paul thinks this may be their heaviest song – the chaos at the end does come close to the noisier elements of Rock – and has come to appreciate it more revisiting for the podcast. I think it does suffer by coming after three much stronger songs, and I think the lyrics are more interesting than the music – even if the music is spiced up with the little variations I talked about earlier. Sanja gives an interesting take – previous dark albums ended with more uplifting songs while this one doesn’t. I don’t know if I would say this album ends in the same place as where it begins – I see King more as a comeuppance and a warning and a suggestion that ‘hey, you wanted the fame, you invited the monster into your home, well you got what you wanted so now live with it’. I think that’s a cool sentiment to end on, the hero becoming the villain over the course of the movie, Tony Montana floating in a pool of blood or Michael Corleone closing the door on the woman he loves.

H was heavily influenced by Kurt Cobain’s death in the writing of the album, as Paul reads a quote. I didn’t know that little snippet of history about Marillion being the first band to play on the same stage where the last Nirvana gig took place. With that, we’re done. I know there’s an interview with John Arnison which I haven’t listened to yet, and there seems to be some other bonus eps. I’ll listen to those, but I don’t think I’ll be writing about them which should give me a chance to catch up on all these other non-Marillion albums I’m meant to be listening to.

Let us know what you think about Afraid Of Sunlight, as always make sure to go listen to BYAMPOD yourselves, and don’t forget – Spread em!

Nightman Listens To Marillion – Brave!

Brave (Marillion album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! We’re deep into Marillion’s second phase now, and from what little I’ve been told about this album – it’s dark, difficult, and different. Continuing with the way I typically start these posts, I check out the album art, the track list, and accidentally side-eye some of the peripheral album info on Wikipedia. I see the album was released in 1994, three years after their previous effort and right at the peak of Grunge. Kurt Cobain would die two months later, but the spectrum of Rock music had definitely tilted towards the more introspective side of things and away from the overblown and fun-loving years of yore. The Holy Bible was released in 1994. In Utero came out in 1993. There was something insidious in the water which led to a host of infamously dark releases.

The album artwork hints at something cold and intense – the extreme close up of what seems to be a woman’s face, with scribbled handwriting watermarked over the top – it’s a very Grunge adjacent image. The woman looks like a Gothic Winona Ryder or an Elfin Diamanda Galas (if it sounds anything like Galas, we may be in trouble). The band name and album title are etched in miniscule font at the top, almost out of sight, leaving you no opportunity to avoid the stare or the face in front.

Is it a double album? The track-list only features 11 songs, but a few of these are longer than the five minute mark. The total running time is over 70 minutes, so this could take a while. I don’t recognise any of the song titles and if anything can be gleamed from their names – lies, alone, hollow, hard, mad, escape, runaway… I probably wouldn’t have picked up anything from those names if I hadn’t already heard that this was ‘a dark album’, but obviously those words conjure some images and feelings. While we’re on the topic of feelings, I should probably highlight some personal bias – I’m a fan of so called ‘darker material’. All my life I’ve been instinctively drawn to more fringe or extreme forms of media – Horror movies, Heavy Metal,  my childhood enjoyment of gory myths and legends. Not that I’m deliberately trying to be an edge-lord, not that I’m unhinged or some dough-faced cynical pessimist, I simply enjoy music and fiction which touches or embraces those hushed emotions we’re not traditionally supposed to talk about. I generally find fans of similar material to be as well adjusted as anyone else – it’s the Country fans you have to watch out for.

I mention this not because I think I’m automatically going to love Brave due to personal preferences – quite the opposite. I have a history of being less than impressed by recommended dark offerings in Film and Music – everything from Nine Inch Nails to The Cure’s Pornography to all manner of nonsensical Metal albums which claim to be dark or bleak – they don’t do it for me. I tend to not be as invested in darker albums which deal with love or break-ups or subjects of that nature, as much as those which attempt to uncover the uncomfortable and the unspeakable – murder, mental illness, war, real world tragedies, personal destruction. I should add that I’m not looking to revel in these subjects, more that I want to understand those who have been impacted by them on a personal level to the extent that they needed to express those feelings publicly and artistically; many of the greatest artistic statements have come from places of pain and authenticity, or have attempted to push moral or cultural boundaries. If there’s any general rule I apply to these considerations, it’s that albums designed to try to sound dark tend to fail (for me), while albums recorded from a genuine place of pain tend to succeed.

I unfairly compare these works to The Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible, which is such a unique and uncompromising artistic statement of despair that nothing comes close to its power. I’ll have to separate myself from this bias, and while I go in knowing Brave is not meant to be an easy listen, I have a feeling that in the back of mind I’ll be thinking ‘yeah, but it’s hardly 4st 7lbs, The Intense Humming Of Evil, or Archives Of Pain. I’ll try as much as possible to take Brave for what it is and only compare it to Marillion’s existing work. I don’t know any of the context surrounding the recording of the album, or if any of that information helps to envelop the music in a haze of darkness, pain, or despair. There’s no point guessing any longer, lets just dive in.

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Bridge as an opener, does what an opener should do; it introduces us to the overall tone of the album, giving an idea of the theme and the sound which we’ll be with for the album’s running time. It’s clear that we’re moving in a direction of soundscapes and textures – the opening melodies are created via a mixture of traditional keyboards and more modern studio trickery. You can’t put your finger on what these sounds are or what is creating them, but it sets a mood. There is a somewhat harsher production, although this comes more to the fore in subsequent tracks. The recurring HRRRRNNNMMMM sound which opens the album, it sounds at once like an aircraft crashing overhead on its way to deliver some apocalyptic payload, and a guitar bending a volume knob twiddling. What it most reminded me of was… the videogame Siren Head (I believe there is a movie now too) which depicts these giant robotic sentinels trampling through forest wastelands, and giant speakers/sirens for a head. This is the sort of sound I would expect such creatures to make. 

The song is definitely a mood piece, stepping definitively away from the commercial pop sound of the previous album. What mood it is meant to convey, I’m still unsure. It is forlorn, it moves into a more quiet second half for a brief vocal melody which fades off the end of a cliff as if giving up a thought mid-sentence, allowing the final moments of the song to form the intro of Living With The Big Lie. As the bulk of the song is a texture of sounds and not my usual forte, I don’t have much else to add. The lyrics give little doubt as to what the mood of the song should be, as they depict a woman on a bridge, peering over the edge, while cameras go off and police ask questions… it’s obvious what we’re talking about and upon reading them for the first time I wondered if the rest of the album’s narrative was going to be of a suicidal woman recounting her life before stepping forwards or not. Incidentally, there is a highly divisive and shocking documentary called The Bridge which details those who have lost their lives at the Golden Gate bridge’s ‘popular suicide spot’. Hearing a song like this draws clear parallels. Having listened to the album multiple times before reading a single lyric or understanding the subject matter, it certainly made me re-evaluate some of my first time thoughts. 

The gloomy, almost claustrophobic tone continues into Living With The Big Lie. It’s a ghostly, light intro with a soft vocal, a song which eventually finds some edge and volume. I tend to hunt for melody as my first magnet in a song – these opening tracks don’t have a lot in the way of melody, or vocal melodies at least, but this goes roughly unnoticed because of the atmosphere grabbing attention and enticing production overdubs and tonal shifts. This song pulls itself in different directions with chaotic overdubs, anguished echoed vocals, scratchy guitars, and sudden moments of introspective calm – conflicting sounds imitating a tortured mind. It’s a grittier sound from what we’ve been used to, although it does recall some of the darker moments on previous albums. I like what is done with the guitars in the first half of the song – it sounds like harmonics with added reverb and other effects, making the notes sound like a keyboard. One of guitar tones near the end (there’s a lot of overlapping parts) reminded me of the famous filtered sound from Nirvana’s Come As You Are. There’s a deceptive amount of musical content going on as the song progresses, and it’s easy to miss much of it on a cursory listen. 

The song, assuming it is following the narrative I suspected from the opening track, covers the birth and first days of (presumably) the woman on the bridge. It reads like one third prose, one third poetry, and one third diary entry – ‘it all began’ sounds like the opening narration for Jim Henson’s Storyteller or Jackanory, then dipping into the assorted imagery and near haiku stylings of ’empty winter trees/How space feels/Love of the soft flowers and the sky’. 

It’s quite a long lyric – long in the sense of the number of individual verses rather than being some rambling soliloquy. It starts out as a largely pleasant series of images and feelings, confusion is stirred in, then those images take on a darker turn as maturity and experience come into play. ‘The beauty of your mother’s eyes’ is simplicity, warmth, innocence, and your world view honed in on a protective force of good, but then we get the ‘thunder of jets’, ‘drugs in the food’, ‘attitude of authority’ – a succession of inescapable lessons which dampen our early experiences and show us the first snarls of an outside world ready and willing to bite. There’s no single issue or big bad acting as the target for our ire, rather it’s a cynical and realistic perspective of the world – perspective being the key word. 

If there is a key refrain or word within the lyric, it’s ‘I got used to it’. All of the confusion, all of the stuff we deal with, all of the expectations, all of the things we’re not good at – you get used to it. It’s a sink or swim attitude – you cope or you drown. If all you know is being knocked about, then that becomes the natural state. It’s a psychological state of acceptance I see a lot in myself – I can’t do anything about any of this stuff, so fuck it. But not ‘fuck it’ in a dismissive way ‘well I’m just going to ignore or avoid these things’, but more of a sad state of realisation that this is how things are and this is how things will always be, so keep your head down and let it happen. I’m in no way qualified to talk about these issues in an intelligent coherent way beyond my own feelings and experiences – sadly few people are – but I have empathy. Not necessarily to recognize it in others, but to try to understand. 

Into young adulthood and things are progressively worse – ‘I was made to feel worthless’. This could conjure up any number of interpretations, from the well trodden idea of the big city swallowing all hopes and dreams, to the more recently topical issues of the #Metoo movement. The narrator continues to look outwards – from Mum’s face, to School, to the big city, to war-mongering politicians, religion, the media – but it’s okay, because that’s just how it is, and you get used to it. I very much read the lyric as this person, through circumstance, through hardship, through loss of innocence, taking on a jaded view of the world and that this view will go on to inform her opinions and decisions, and ultimately be one piece of the puzzle leading her to a bridge. As mentioned, it’s something I recognize in myself and I have to be careful to ground myself in other perspectives and not pass it on to my kids. 

There’s a little segue between Living With The Big Lie and Runaway Girl –  a series of voice clips and effects which you can kind of make out. I make out multiple voices, one distressed woman saying what sounds like ‘hate everybody’ and ‘all my friends’ before trailing off. I’m sure a decent set of headphones would uncover more. That sound clip, while potent, it feels a little excessive at this point in the album. It sounds like someone in the immediate midst of anguish – could be the middle of an argument, could be the aftermath of a breakup, could be a total breakdown. Two songs in and based on the way the previous song did a good job of building and exploring, that clip felt like a sudden tip over the edge. Maybe its purpose is just as an example of the person’s mindset at any given moment of depression, but it felt a little out of the blue or extra, as the kids say.

Rothery offers a little more of a jangle to his guitar tone, but than shadowy atmosphere is still clear. I enjoy organs in songs – it’s such a powerful and versatile instrument which can increase a song’s grandeur or give it a funereal vibe. Certainly the opening tone of the song is one of sadness and monotony, hinting at the need to run away. I enjoyed the fake build up around the minute and a half mark – building as if to a chorus which would release tension, building to a chorus which I was unsure would be driven in a positive or more angry way – was it going to a chorus showing the joy of a Runaway Girl escaping monotony and sadness, or the anger of needing this escape. The fake out instead forces us to relive and continue the monotony, with the music building, building, then dropping with a shrug back to the verse. The repeat this trick a second time, then decide to avoid a chorus altogether and replace it with an instrumental led by a flickering, screeching solo, closing out with a fiery, pissed off vocal. 

Lyrically, Runaway Girl reads at first like a thousand teenage cliches – the isolation, adolescent angst, and confusion. It’s another expansion of the lead character’s story (or how it is imagined to be by the narrator) as she struggles for identity, freedom, place. Many of the lyrics are questions, often what we are left with after someone goes missing or takes their own life, with the chorus being a deliberate blanket assumptive statement – Runaway Girl/A real wild child/too bad. The last lines hint that all of the running away, homelessness, starvation, mistreatment, loveless hook-ups are all due in part (or at least favourable to) the treatment she has received at home – treatment which is suggested to be violent or sexual. 

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

Three songs in and it’s a good place to pause and mention the comparison which has been nipping at me – it’s not one which will mean much to many reading this due to the band in question not being widely known – but this album has a hell of a lot in common with The Gathering’s output, particularly the more ethereal moments of their seminal How To Measure A Planet? album. For Paul’s benefit – think mellow Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree with female vocals. For everyone else, think OK Computer with female vocals. Or Portishead’s Dummy with a little edge. Very similar production, similar in mood, and even the guitar tones have more in common than not. It’s an album to slip away to in the dark, headphones on – I’m not sure if that’s advisable with Brave yet. The main difference between Brave and How To Measure A Planet? (which I highly recommend everyone to go purchase and/or listen to after reading this) is that The Gathering’s album doesn’t deal with such dark material and instead revels in isolation and the idea of floating away, entirely alone, in space and doesn’t treat this as something terrible, rather a beautiful, inevitable part of life. It’s a masterpiece, and a tragedy more people don’t know it – when you search for it on Youtube, results for ‘How To Measure A Plant Pot’ are suggested first. I see no reason prog fans wouldn’t like it, unless they only like bands with big manly men up front.

Returning to Brave, and possibly it’s centrepiece, Goodbye To All That shatters much of the niceties we’ve been presented with so far. It’s a bit of a beast, a chanting, industrial monster offering a tempestuous odyssey from relative piano calm to percussive dissonant booming, and a breathless array of emotion and texture in between. That transition around the second minute into an echoing sequence sounds like a literal descent into a dark place (struggling to avoid hackneyed Greek Myth analogies), with the backing instruments stripping away their natural musicality and instead performing screeching downstrokes like fingernails clawing down a tombstone, leaving the drums to keep any semblance of form. It probably won’t interest anyone else, but I found this very similar to a section of Gold Against The Soul and Nostalgic Pushead (Manics again) right down to the sound effects and the adopted American accent for the vocals. That moment is followed up by a spine-tingling swell of vocals/vocal sounds which gives a echoing, epic pained sentiment. Anyone who follows my music posts regularly knows I love a sudden layered vocal swell to give the impression of a choir.

This sequence peaks with a suitably blistering guitar solo, petering out to an exhausted repose. It’s another section which gave me distinct The Gathering vibes, and it shows the balls of the band to comfortably remain in this space for several minutes and let the song puzzle its own way back to a recognizable place – this would typically be seen as dead air, but for more adventures artists and prog bands it’s an integral part of cementing mood and texture. When we eventually do return to a regular vocal and melody, those closing moments have greater impact thanks to the maelstrom of relative silence we’ve passed through. It’s one of the more harsh songs in the Marillion discography, and the three songs preceding this one… as different as they have sounded they are all unmistakingly Marillion. More and more it’s Rothery’s guitar tone and style which is the most recognizable component for me, followed by the keyboards.

Goodbye To All That transitions seamlessly into the first obvious Single of album (turns out it’s not even a Single). Hard As Love is as close to a traditional old fashioned rock song as Marillion have come – right down to a name which conjures images of cock-rock superstars.  The album so far has not had songs you would consider as Single material, but that hasn’t made it any less appealing. Perhaps it’s not as immediate as some, especially after the previous album, but I imagine Marillion fans aren’t looking for a quick fix but a long term drip-feed of goodness. The vocals blast out like Springsteen in the opening seconds, begging to be heard from the most obscenely sized stereo you can sling over your denim-clad shoulder. Musically and vocally it sounds out of place on a first listen, but a deeper delve into the lyrics unveils its truer nature, and subsequent listens shine a light on the song’s softer moments as the highlight. The indulgent string bends and transition into a twinkling piano section around the three minute mark may be one of my favourite parts of any Marillion song so far.

The song is almost seven minutes long – not exactly single fodder with that length – but it could have been edited down somewhat, even to only include the harder edged sections. I’m not generally a fan of heavily edited singles, especially when they turn the song into something entirely different from the album version, so that probably would have been a horrible idea. With a title like Hard As Love, coupled with the trad rock stylings of the verses, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was some ill-advised AC/DC knock-off. On my first listen of the album that’s exactly what I took the first half of the song as – confusing me as to why there was such a stark left turn in the content. Multiple listens soon clarified any such misgivings, and the lyrics further shot down notions of misogyny or trad rock nonsense. I’m not positive from which perspective the lyrics are coming from. It’s a tad vague – I get the sense that H’s lyrics are more about creating a mood or feeling than explicitly barfing details on a plate for us to lap up – but it does leave the song open for empty interpretation. It’s a guessing game where every answer could be as right or wrong as the next. The gist seems to be that… love is hard… and maybe each verse deals with anticipation or entitlement or some sort of struggle. Verse one; somebody wants someone, but shucks – love is hard. Verse two; more of the same, with extra maths. Verse three; a little more creative detail – are you sure you still want me, you’ve heard about the pictures, right? My assumption for the middle verses was that love is being equated to addiction, then we suddenly shift to religion for the final verse. Is it the main narrator speaking throughout – a series of people wanting something from her, wanting to save her, with an air of prostitution throughout, the person dehumanized to a commodity.

I don’t know how Paul and Sanja are dividing up their podcast episodes for Brave, but I think I’ll slap a moratorium on this post for now. I think Hollow Man is supposed to be considered under the first half of the album, but look at how much I’ve written already. I have a feeling I will split my Brave thoughts into three posts – the second post will either close out the album with the third left entirely for podcast musings, or the second and third will both include some song thoughts and podcast stuff. My thoughts on the album to this point – it has mostly avoided the apprehensions I outlined concerning dark albums – the lyrical and thematic content is certainly not sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, but the music isn’t as caustic or off-putting as I was anticipating. It’s still Marillion, it’s still eminently listenable, and it shows a progressive step of (I don’t want to say maturity) songwriting  beyond what was apparent on Holidays In Eden. The hits are missing, and while that’s not a bad thing, the ability to write those hits is something any self-respecting band should have in their pocket. Otherwise you’re probably not going to get very far. Maybe the second half is more hit-heavy. 

Feel free to skip over  or ignore the next couple of paragraphs as they don’t pertain to the album directly or my thoughts on it, but it’s the elephant in the room and possibly it’s going to be brought up in the Podcast. Trigger Warnings for Suicide. Suicide is something that, when I was young, was seen as something only the ultra famous or viciously unstable would consider. Naturally, part of that misunderstanding is due to the wonderful innocence of youth and inexperience, but as you grow and learn and experience, and as you go through shit yourself, you see that it’s not some random or rare event. I knew peripherally of several people who, before I turned 18, had killed themselves. By the time I was in my twenties, I personally knew a few who had lost there lives in this way, and many more who had considered it. I went to a fairly large school by Northern Ireland standards (maybe a hundred in my year) but as segregated as we allowed ourselves to be, pretty much everybody knew everybody else by name or face. I was on friendly speaking terms with three people in my school year who have killed themselves. Once you see the statistics, once you feel the loss yourself, it’s easy to get angry about the state of Mental Health services in this country and all of the other various preventable issues which contribute to this spiral. It’s easy to get angry when people and politicians are fighting over a history or a divide which simply does not matter anymore – at least not when weighed against the lives lost each year in this actual, ongoing battle. It’s easy to get angry when the word ‘suicide’ is continually used – a word which has a criminality attached to it. Every country has a too-high rate of people losing their lives in this way, and while Northern Ireland is by no means the highest, it’s still shocking for a place with a limited population. Everybody knows somebody, right?

I made a point earlier about melody being the immediate and obvious hook for listeners – it is often the more challenging albums which do not feature obvious melodies. That doesn’t mean they are not present, it may simply mean you need to spend more time with each song before they’re uncovered. Not to make an over-simplified comparison, but isn’t that a bit like people? Maybe it takes spending time with someone to see their strengths and to understand and appreciate their flaws, the pain they have undoubtedly suffered. Maybe we need to spend this time with each other, to communicate, and find a way to help bring us out into a bright new morning and bright new day. Sometimes when we do, the results are that much greater. I’m as guilty of treating music (and people) in this passive, distracted way. We’re not necessarily inherently selfish, but we all have our own shit to deal with and a limited time to play with. It’s important that we allow ourselves to breath, then maybe we can listen and absorb, understand and help. I’m wildly out of my depth in this topic and I don’t want to make any ridiculous generalizations or simplifications, and I hate writing or talking like this because it comes off as sappy or self-serving or misguided, and given that I write in a spur of the moment way… well, it’s the sort of topic demands more respect than my half-assed blogging can provide.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Brave, and as always give the BYAMPOD a listen!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Holidays In Eden (Side B)!

Image result for holidays in eden

Greetings, Glancers! When I was finalizing my thoughts on Side A or Side B, I found a random snippet of text in the middle of a couple of paragraphs which didn’t seem to relate to anything within those paragraphs, so rather than lose it I’m going to use it as my non-sequitor intro to this post – ‘I think the album may have been a greater success if it had been released in the 80s. It’s an alarming change when viewed alongside their debut, and is very much an MOR pop rock record with singalong melodies dripping out of each song’

Holidays In Eden has a touch of The Who and The Police. Not for the first time in the band’s career. If there was any song on this album which felt familiar it was this one – I don’t see how I possibly would have heard this before, unless it was on a movie soundtrack, but since hearing it I have been scratching my head to try and place where I know it from, if I know it at all. Having said that, it’s a bit of a shark-jump moment. I’m not sure what the intent was for this one – there are spots of nice music – the quiet guitar parts in the verses, maybe the lyrics, but the bouncier moments are bizarre. It turns into this weird clownish thing with H sounding like Sting, the keyboard sounding like a moped struggling to start, and a rhythm which just irked me from the off. All I could think of when hearing the bouncy moments in this was Bob Mortimer dancing – in fact, here’s a clip of the exact moment I’m thinking of. That’s the same song, right? I struggled to find enough to say about this one because I had to skip through those bouncy bits. There’s a non-eventful guitar solo… the riffs are uppy downy but in a nauseating manner, and the ending is a ludicrous dead stop. 

Dry Land restores some sanity and normality to proceedings. The guitar in the intro and verses reminded me of Somebody’s Baby from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It’s a particularly earwormly chorus. Earwormly? I don’t know. I think this album, more than any other so far, has the best selection of singles. The right songs were picked as singles, and the most melodic of these have been my most played songs around the house up this point. To the extent that I’ve caught my daughters shouting ‘Alexa, play Cover My Eyes’. 

H gives a laissez-faire, sultry vocal for the verses – almost like he’s being coy or playing hard to get – and he saves the bigger notes and expression for the chorus. It’s a very strong performance for a melody which dips and peaks suddenly and wouldn’t be the easiest to perform in such a smooth and relaxed manner. I found myself not paying attention to the rest of the band for this one – there rhythm and percussion side of things is consistent and happy to underpin the vocal, while there’s a lot of layers to what the guitars are doing. 

The lyrics range from curious, defensive, pleading, afraid – the mental state of someone in love from afar, desperate to make the next move, but terrified of doing so. The object of these affections is somewhere between being placed on a pedestal and being seen as a natural solitary soul. I think this sentiment should be fairly universal for those of us who have fallen for a certain type of person, and allow ourselves to be wrapped up in a torment of indecision, adulation, and self-doubt. The language is easily understood and the words allow the difficult melody to navigate freely.

The first comment I jotted down for Waiting To Happen was ‘a wedding first dance song. Possibly even more so than Grendel’. That was before I heard the first Holidays In Eden Part 1 Podcast episode where Sanja referred to a track on Side A as a Wedding song – to be honest her pick was probably the better choice. At the very least, this a lighters up song. Does the, presumably older, audience who attends Marillion shows still use lighters or do they use phone like everyone else? 

It’s a pure power ballad – if I think of early 90s power ballads which were going out of style by this point – stuff like Wind Of Change, Always, Mr Big’s To Be With You – a few of the ingredients which made those so successful can be found in this one, though there’s a higher percentage of emotional desperation and yearning in Waiting To Happen and reduced levels of cheese. It was apparent on my early listens that the lyrics felt more poetic, though my mind and ears could have been dazed by the spell the music put me under. It’s quite lovely – the ‘nicest’ song on the album but probably out of the four most commercial songs on the album it’s my fourth favourite currently. Which means it’s my fourth favourite song on the album. 

There’s quite a tonal difference between the verse and the chorus, and even within the pre-chorus, and it’s here that the twist on the power ballad formula becomes apparent; Most power ballads are unashamedly about being in love, or falling out of love. This musically bounces back and forth between those in a musical sense – if we think of being in love, that is a positive thing which we would attach a major key or major chords to, while a break-up or some related anguish would normally be played to the tune of minor chords. We have both, and the lyrics further blur the lines to the extent that it’s never really clear which side of the debate we should be on. I’ve tried to write my thoughts on this with some degree of clarity but have given up numerous times – the summary of my thoughts going somewhere along the lines of ‘the verses point to positives and negatives, the chorus points to positives and negatives’. Assuming this is an H lyric, we’ve come to learn that he does write in this vague catch-all way, but at times I questioned whether the song was even about another person or rather another version of himself. I’m sure the truth is far more simple. No matter what it’s about, it’s another lovely song, part of a quartet of lovely songs.

I’m not sure what the thought what process was for This Town – ‘you know all those terrible Country one hit wonders you hear on US Rock Radio stations which think they’re heavy an bluesy but they’re really not? Lets do one of those!’

It’s not great – it’s tame and it’s silly, but to their credit they do sound like they’re having fun. It’s jolly and bouncy and there’s a couple of more interesting moments towards the end. It sounds like a car chase caper movie soundtrack. This is probably the song I dismissed most quickly on this album – a distinctly average rock song which ends with a tasty solo, but it’s too little too late to allow my thoughts on the overall song to change.

The Rake’s Progress was a pain to find on Youtube as a standalone track, with various ‘video blocked in your region’ messages and the only alternative being to play the track as part of a trio including the previous and next track. Then I remember Paul mentioning there being a longer three part piece on Side B, of which this must be the middle piece. I say this all because it meant I listened to this song less than most others. It’s a rambling piece – it makes sense that it’s part of a larger arc of music and if I’m honest it doesn’t really work on its own, whereas This Town and 100 Nights do. I’m not sure why they didn’t just make this the intro of 100 Nights. It’s fine but I don’t think there’s much here to make me seek it out. 

100 Nights is the requisite epic to close the album. It feels like the proggiest song on the album, which is unusual because there aren’t too many changes in time signatures or tone or anything else. While previous songs have been labelled as dirges, this one felt more like a dirge to me primarily because it was all a little one note and felt like a slog to get through. It isn’t musically a dirge (as those are traditionally in the minor key or slower) but it isn’t very exciting. There is a particularly screechy solo in the middle which I was hoping would lead into a more interesting second half, but that second half is instead a louder shoutier version of the first half. The last couple of minutes are more promising and feel like a tacked on idea for a song they couldn’t quite work out how to transform into its own thing. There is a lyrical call-back to This Town. An anti-climactic ending to the album.

If anything, the lyrics highlight the boredom and indifference I felt towards the music, with the narrator bemoaning the repetition and monotony of his existence. There seems to be a bit about how fame changes you, but we’ve already been more than well-versed in this concept over the previous few albums, and many of the lyrics just seem like random nothings added to fill space – ‘you don’t know that I come here, but if you did, you would know why’ – I’m sure that means something that isn’t pervy, but vague, meaningless. There’s enough in the final couple of verses to suggest that the song genuinely is about… something… but I’m sure a hundred people could give a hundred different interpretations and they’d each be as tedious as the next. 

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

On to the podcast and talk of steamers, which is one of the many terms for a type of poo my friends would have used in school days gone by, along with ‘the flock of sparrows’, ‘plopper’, ‘pebble dash’, ‘grunties’, ‘brown disgrace’ and the always controversial ‘depth charge’. Dry Land was apparently a song from H’s previous band repurposed for Marillion. Is popped out another poo thing? Or a boob thing? Everything’s a thing now. I’m glad Sanja picked up on how tricky the song is to sing – it is made to look easier than it actually is. Sanja loves it, Paul isn’t much of a fan but still better than average. Out of the four commercial poppy songs on the album, it’s my third favourite. 

With Waiting To Happen, Paul and Sanja both agree it is a lovely pure love song, while I wasn’t so sure and sensed some negativity or cynicism. Maybe it was fear and apprehension coming through, translating to negativity? They both love it – it’s their favourite on the album. They don’t spend much time discussing this song, because there is worse to come… such as This Town which Paul was looking forward to before the album release due to some prior version being high in his estimation. He was therefore disappointed by what it became. The most similar example I have of this phenomenon in my own musical memory would be JJ72’s City. The band played this song live a few times after the release of their stellar debut, and had me excited to hear it on their second (above and beyond the singles they subsequently released). Imagine my disappointment when the album version of City stripped away all of the venom and force and emotion of the earlier version. The same could be said of much of JJ72’s second album. Radiohead did something similar when they finally released a studio version of the once glorious True Love Waits – and turned it into an empty collection of robotic noises.

The guys aren’t overly impressed or effusive about the final three songs – neither enjoy This Town, they’re fine, they both appreciate the lyrics of the final two parts, but Paul says the whole thing is a slog live. Is 100 Nights about The Invisible Man? In which case – pervy. I was half-expecting Paul to love this one because it’s a bit more prog-oriented, but no, that’s one of the reasons he doesn’t like it. I don’t hate it – I don’t care enough to hate it – and I have the luxury of being a Marillion pleb so I can say it’s a bit rubbish. Incidentally, I can’t hear the name Chris Neil without thinking about The Exorcist (Mac). They some up their thoughts on the album – some highish highs, some steamers. 

We move into some talk of the other B-Sides which I haven’t bothered listening to, then the spoiler that the next album is both scary, dark, and a bit of a departure. They also made a film of the album. Paul’s making a big deal of it now, so I’m a bit concerned I’m going to think it’s shit. I’ve seen various posts on BYAMPOD on Twitter regarding the next album, but I’ve purposely avoided them. They give a little more info on where The Rake’s Progress name came from – fair enough. We’re (well, you’re) fans – the product is out there and we can’t be expected to lie to ourselves about our feelings. There are plenty of Manics songs where I will gladly kick Nicky in the nuts for giving them birth. Man… I hate when my wife crunches crisps with her mouth open. IT’S ALWAYS THE THIRD CRUNCH! <munch munch CRUNCH STOP!> I wouldn’t say I have this feeling about any song by a band I love, as I’ll just go out of my way to ignore it and not listen to it. And as die-hard fans, I think you’ve somehow earned the right to have strong personal feelings about this band you adore. Someone who blindly loves everything… that’s a more disturbing level of adoration that’s bordering on unhealthy obsession. I tend to trust the opinions of people I already know and can gauge our aligned musical tastes before choosing to listen to something they recommend. And as they’re my friends I can tell them their taste is terrible without getting slapped. I knew nothing of Paul’s musical tastes before starting out on this nonsense but the general area of Prog is something I wanted to expand into and I was happy to give Marillion a shot. 

The rest of the episode is a a listeners’ letters thing, so maybe my email will be answered. Beerman doesn’t like Cover My Eyes. Go have another beer, man! The next bloke loved the band already but has seen his love revitalized thanks to the podcast – that’s great. I have to admit, I don’t know if I would have been a fan if I had heard the band when I was the same age as when Paul first heard them. Back then it was all grunge and metal and angry men shouting stuff angrily… and sounding angry when they did it. Whether or not this was a maturity thing, their general sound I doubt would have pulled me in. If they had been a band with a little more mysticism surrounding them or more cult credibility then I would have given them a chance in my teens. 

The next email is from ‘Pee Twitcher’. It looks like a lot of those contacting the Podcast are those who ‘lost their way’ around the release of Holidays In Eden. Charlie likes walking his dog and was in University in 1991. I was 8 in 1991, but that should not matter to any of you. My email does pop up and yes, I am also disappointed I’m not really called Carlos and lack the balls to genuinely change my name. Hey, I am also a shy man, but thanks for the kind words and to anyone who keeps showing up to read these posts. Also, apologies for that really badly written email – hearing it read word for word was yuck. It’s tricky finding more than one band that you can honestly say you truly love and want to spend time talking about and sharing that love for, and that you have a personal story with, while also being knowledgeable about their history and inner workings. Maybe just go completely leftfield and both plod through the works of Scatman John? I’m not a music merch fan either… one of my earliest G’n’R t-shirts is a really rare one that is the envy of new fans. It’s not signed or anything, and there’s probably thousands in existence, but you never see it on anyone. Thanks for the answers and another shout out!

Some more emails from fans from Sweden, fans who only joined after the Fish era, and people looking forward to Paul and Sanja’s thoughts on Brave. Before we get there the guys have a bonus episode on Marillion’s 10th Anniversary which I will be listening to but probably not commenting on. Roll on Brave. Thanks to those reading who have come here from the Podcast, and for any of my existing readers, why not hop over to Twitter and Podcast places and give BYAMPOD and Marillion a listen!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Holidays In Eden (Side A)!

Image result for holidays in eden

Greetings, Glancers! Last time I was introduced to the H era, and an album which saw the band aiming to, and succeeding in moving on from their time with Fish in a confident, almost jubilant manner. That transitory step now complete, the band could continue without their past hanging over them and cement their new sound and approach. As always, I know nothing about this album – I don’t know if it is merely another collection of songs, if there are recurring themes, if it takes the band deeper into commercial territory or further into prog. I don’t know if it is a Concept Album, I don’t know if it is heavy, light, dark, if the songs are short, long, or a mixture of all of these. Mayhap the album art will offer some spoilers (or sneakers as I have come to call them with my kids).

At first glance, it’s rather a bland cover. The dark blue and black colouring catches the eye and I’m momentarily drawn to the various creatures which seem to be darting towards the moon. It reminds me of those pictures hand made by blowing or pushing sand around. There’s a tree in the centre, and a bland circular logo/album title spinning around the moon. Animals… Eden… is there something there? It’s a neatly presented cover, but I don’t have much to say about it. Is there any wider context? I’m sure the podcast will shed more light.

I see the album garnered three singles – none of which I recognise. There are ten songs and a running time of under 50 minutes – so a roughly average 4-5 minute running time per song. I’m assuming there aren’t as many epics on this one. The only other thing I would mention is that it was released in 1991. Probably too early to be influenced by Grunge – I don’t know if Marillion got caught up by the popularity of Grunge and consciously or otherwise changed their sound to accommodate for the Seattle bands and scene, but that is certainly something which did happen to a lot of existing Metal and Rock bands. They either tried to change their sound and style, or stayed entrenched in the 80s and subsequently found themselves relics. Prog tends to be on the periphery or complete outside of these things, yet it doesn’t exist within a vacuum. Maybe this will be answered on the next album, but I suspect Holidays In Eden is ‘simply’ Marillion continuing along and doing their own thing.

Splintering Heart continues the band’s trend of setting up their stalls with a longer, atmospheric opener. The plodding intro made me think of an army of frogs hippidy hopping out a swamp and down some dusk road towards the city’s bright lights. What an odd thing to think of but it’s there every time I play the song – going away once the singing begins. While it relies heavily on atmosphere, there is a heavy use of dynamics and it doesn’t scrimp on the melody. Songs which set themselves up to textures or soundscapes rather than traditional often (or purposefully) lose melody and can leave me feeling detached. Splintering Heart does the quiet part/loud part thing well, but doesn’t place it around the confines of the verse chorus verse structure – it more accurately builds its atmosphere and explodes when the tension and story calls for it – the first loud break only coming after the build up of lyrics about heartbreak and the agonized shout of ‘and it tears her apart, but not as much as this’. this first explosion of sound begins with a note combination I have a particular fondness – the little Bb-A-F lick – extending out into a wider reminder that the band can shred and kick with the best of them. H gets to show off his pipes once more, smoothly reaching highs and adding a little bit of gristle when called for.

As I mentioned in the previous album, many of the lyrics seemed to be written about a ‘she’ or a ‘her’ and Splintering Heart seems to follow in this respect in places. With the few lyrics I picked up on, and with the title in mind, it seems like a reasonable guess that this is a love song, or more closely the pain of love. That build up of lyrics in the beginning covers the unending circular nature of pain, yearning, and potentially grief – stabbing and twisting and familiar to most of us. There is the potential that the yearning is actually for a drug, with the reference to ‘the cost of the high’, but there isn’t anything else specific in the song so this feels more like a rhyme to suit the following line. The later talk of fragments and ‘glass hard’ made me think of the old Ice Queen story where the kid’s heart is frozen by a shard of ice, turning him cold to his friend. It’s another matter of fact lyric which doesn’t is hardly the height of poetry, but it is lent potency by the often hissing and earnest delivery of the vocal.

The first things I noted for Cover My Eyes were a couple of comparisons I’ve brought up before – it sounds like Run Like Hell and it sounds like U2. Both comparisons are due to the guitar style and beat of the intro, but that’s as far as the comparison goes. It’s a lovely, sweet song, and it pulls off a new trick – a melodic trick that I can’t recall the band pulling off or attempting before – replacing lyrics in a chorus by ‘oohs and aahs’. That’s something I frequently did in my own songs – mainly because I couldn’t be arsed trying to fit lyrics to a vocal melody I already loved, but at a wanky level I felt that the melody was more pure without shoving semantics on top of it and attempting to mouth harsher syllables. Enough!

I can only assume this song was a single – a quick look back to Wikipedia confirms this was the lead single and only reached 34 in the UK. In some ways that surprises me, but not in others. It’s an incredibly catchy song and normally I would see no reason why it shouldn’t have been a hit. Sure Smells Like Teen Spirit wasn’t released for another few months after this, but you knew music was already splitting off from this sort of sound early in the year, with the increase in popularity of UK dance acts, American Rap and R’n’B, and boy bands popping up everywhere. I’m curious to see what the Top 40 was in May 1991… Cher, Blur, Chesney Hawkes, Sit Down by James, Madonna, Roxette… yeah. I was expecting this song to be more of an antithesis to what was in the charts, but this song seems like it would have slotted neatly alongside most of those, at least more the casual listener. I don’t remember it at all but I think it’s one I would have enjoyed had I heard it back then. It’s their most obvious pop rock song since Kayleigh, and if I’m pushed I may prefer it to their prior hit. Maybe it’s just the newness of it, but I’m going to side more with the sheer goodness, lightness, and loveliness of it. It goes on the Marillion playlist regardless.

Reading the lyrics I realise I got the whole non-lyric in the chorus thing completely wrong – it looks like he is actually singing ‘pain and heaven’, but even knowing this it’s quite difficult to pick it up with my ears. It becomes more obvious when I sing it myself – the softness of the word sounds mean it’s quite easy to cloak the lyrics. It’s another love song about being blinded by beauty. It’s mostly done in a positive way – blinded as in wowed rather than blinded as in not seeing the bad, negative, or dangerous attributes. The word ‘dangerous’ is repeated throughout, so maybe there is a hint of caution which, along with the comparisons of ‘she’s like the girl’, suggest that there’s a reason this person is unobtainable or a wish fulfilling fantasy instead of a reality. Maybe it’s not so positive. 

The Party is a nasty cautionary tale of awakening. I can’t admit to ever been a teenage girl, but I was once a teenage boy with plenty of teenage girl friends. I get that the song is supposed to evoke memories of those first house party experiences, the wonder and excitement and nerves but there’s something about the delivery of the vocals, the music, and the fragments of lyrics I’ve picked up which lend it a darker tone of warning. Once I read the lyrics it should become clear if I’m feeling this all wrong. Looking back at my own experiences, I don’t recall much excitement or apprehension. I suppose because I already knew most of the people going to these parties or because we’d hung out at houses and outside of school in smaller groups beforehand. And because I’m a bloke. Honestly, house parties weren’t much of a thing in my teenage years. There were a few 17th or 18th birthdays which we had in houses, but in most cases these were just where we met before heading out for the usual pub/club crawl. My 18th was a complete write-off – afternoon pub antics to watch the Grand National, back to house for prep and beers, then food, then out to another few pubs where one of my pints was helpfully spiked with a shot of Absinthe. By the time we got to the actual club (the infamous, awfully named ‘Boom Boom Room’), I had to propped up by friends to gain entry, only to vomit all over the VIP section’s leather sofas. But that was fine because we just pulled a table over to hide the vomit on the floor and moved to another sofa. Good times. By the time I got to University I was well-versed in the ways of house parties.

The song’s main character is positioned as being more excited, more naive, less experienced. If you notice I haven’t said much about the music. That’s because I found it quite bleh. Outside of some great drumming towards the end, the music didn’t land for me. There’s something off-putting about it, it’s slow and not the sort of dirge I tend to enjoy. The vocals were a little on the yelping side too, which didn’t help pull me in. The lyrics don’t shed too much more light on whether there is a sinister nature to proceedings, though there is the hint that girl loses her virginity at this party and this isn’t necessarily treated like a good thing. Or a bad thing. It’s the mood of the music which makes it all feel so nasty and finger-wagging. 

Luckily No One Can is utterly gorgeous. It took me several attempts to type anything about this because I tend to listen and write at the same time but with this song I just end up listening to and enjoying it instead. Not because the music is particularly special but because it’s so sweet and evocative. I think about my wife. I thought about some of the people I unreservedly loved when I was younger and I hurt and I smile. Make no mistake, it’s pure cheese, but it’s so sincere and relatable. Maybe it’s because it’s the first time I’m hearing this, or maybe it’s because it gives me nostalgia for a lot of the pop power ballads I enjoyed as a child, but there’s something sweet and comfortable which puts me in a warm and snuggly introspective mood.

Like I mentioned on Cover My Eyes, this is such an obvious single – the only thing missing is the success it deserved. It looks like it did crack the Top 40, but the fact that I don’t remember it when I watched TOTP every week back then tells me that its success wasn’t lasting or wide-spread. Which is a shame given a lot of the other wank which was selling by the womb-full. I do have a soft spot for cheese – good cheese – and I do have a soft spot for nostalgia and finding these hidden hits, so possibly the song will fall in my estimation in the future and I’ll end up enjoying it on a purely pop level, but for now it’s a clear playlist maker. As you would imagine, it’s another love song – this time as pure and streamlined as you would wish for, with H presumably speaking from a place of truth when he found someone who made him realise that the freedom and nights out with the boys and crowds and success and guardedness was just a grey dark shadow.

Overall, that was another nice departure – two longer songs, one of which worked for me, one of which didn’t – and two rather lovely wonderful singles. Lets see what the podcast has to say about Side A. Paul begins by revealing that it was a controversial album. I can see long term fans who wanted their idea of Marillion to continue, and that’s fair enough. To bring my own comparisons in – because many bands have been accused of selling out or changing their sound too far beyond what made them successful in the first place – you have your obvious pop culture picks like Bob Dylan going electric or Metallica simply making a music video, but in my own case if a band I like keeps making music even while they change their sound, I’ll keep buying it. The Manics went from punk to hair metal cock rock to stadium US anthems to whatever the hell The Holy Bible is and then into A Design For Life where I first became a fan. Joni Mitchell went from folk acoustic ballads and pop rock hits into jazz fusion and concepts – though to be fair I tend to very rarely if ever listen to much of her work after Blue. Radiohead went from U2 clone to their own thing (becoming bigger), then fucked off into Thom Yorke’s bemused brain. If there’s any fact related to Marillion it should be that fans should have known the band changes their sound between each album and that maybe they had been trending in this direction. Easy to say for me as someone blasting through the albums in a matter of weeks than the fans who had been listening for years by the point Holidays In Eden came out. 

But yes, so far it is a pop oriented album with not a touch of the wider concept or lofty levels of prog. There’s a 15 minute long three song suite on the second half? At this point I’ve only listened to the first two tracks on Side B. It’s interesting that the band had some turmoil over whether or not to go the commercial route, but when you have one hit the money man want another and another. That’s why the Manics’ Know Your Enemy is so funny because they made that off the back of million selling singles and albums, stadium tours, then decided to say fuck it and make a bunch of spiky, verbose punk songs and the random slice of Disco and experimental nonsense. Enough!

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

I assume Marillion as they are today, are mostly free from record company pressure. Plus with the freedom of making a song in a vacuum and slapping it on to Youtube yourself, you can cut out as many middle men as you want. It’s a two edge sword – you need a fanbase for anyone to listen to your stuff (and give you the all important moneys) but the bigger you are the greater the red tape. If you’re a nobody there’s no hype or red tape, but nobody knows you. The guys talk about the artwork – it’s very blue. Paul doesn’t like it. Sanja thinks it’s okay. Paul gives some more info on how the band and fans felt about the album – there was an awareness that they were chasing a pop sound (and answers my earlier question about having to bow to pressure now) and that this in itself was a wider experiment for the band to undertake. Paul liked the album when it was released, that’s where I am with it now.

Sanja isn’t sure about Splintering Heart – bits she likes, bit she doesn’t. It is another longer one, it is slowish… maybe it’s a little close to those earlier dirges she didn’t enjoy. Paul rates it higher and doesn’t love it, then states there is a song later he despises. Is it The Party? I always hear these stories about songwriters hitting an epiphany and grabbing a piece of paper to write down this ground-breaking poetry – then you read the lyrics and it’s generic shite rhyming love with dove. That’s not the case here, but again it’s hardly the Word of God or some mystical Muse or even a Biffo. Lyrics take time. Sure you can pull some one-liners from thin air and find a place for them later, but a whole song from nothing always seems like a stretch. I don’t recall Norman Wisdom doing a Brucie.

Cover My Eyes apparently spurted forth from an earlier song. Fair enough, it happens. They acknowledge it as a fun song. I thought they’d be a little more keen on it, but then again it is just a fun pop song. I love it, but as I’ve said I’m new to it so let me have it. Sanja doesn’t like The Party at all. Well yes, same. Paul liked it at release as it sounded more like the Marillion of old – a story, and atmosphere, aiming for something bigger or more complex. His opinion has waned over time – mainly thanks to much better subsequent songs – that it’s just a lower tier Marillion prog song. Mushrooms… I saw Al Pacino in the trees once, though I couldn’t quite turn that into a song. This sneaky buying booze business when you’re sixteen – always a bit of a strange one for me. Maybe it’s a Northern Ireland thing but getting your hands on booze – especially cider which was 50p for a litre or two – was not a problem at all for me. Being an odd sort, I preferred West Coast Cooler and Malibu which was admittedly more pricey. And I still looked 12 when I was 20. So there is a song worse than this on the album.. great. Is it the title track? I’ve heard it and I’m so far not a fan.

They both love No One Can – of course! In fact, I’m away to listen to it again. Ah ha! Grunge talk! I really only mentioned that in my intro paragraph because I was a huge grunge kid, and if I’m honest never really grew out of it. Of course I was a child then and my musical horizons have greatly expanded (Kurt died on my 11th Birthday, lest we forget), but Grunge cemented everything I loved about music then, and those formative times are never lost. At least for a romantic like me. Enough!

Not a lot more to say about the song, though Sanja does highlight the lyrics. It’s all lovely. What is it about writing while standing in fields? Hey hey, don’t be lumping Iron Maiden in with Def Leppard. I’m a massive Iron Maiden fan! And look at the cheese I’ve just foamed all over. They’re covering the title track now, which messed up my post sequencing so you’ll have to wait until my post about Side B to hear my thoughts on it (basically another Who/Police inspired song which is this album’s Incommunicado, and all seems like a weird bouncy piece of nonsense). They discuss the meaning behind the song – again wait until Side B for my thoughts – but this all makes sense. Ha ha, this is the song Paul despises. I’ll give some extra insight from my side – this is the song I found myself skipping through in my listens. That’s the first time I’ve done this with a Marillion song so far. I listen to each song many times, pause and rewind when writing. This one I made through fully about four times, then couldn’t finish the whole thing. I wouldn’t say I despise it, but I have zero desire to hear it again.

And with that, it’s time to go. Four songs and I still managed to spill out a fuckillion words. Listen to the thing yourself, and the other thing, and slap any comments below!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Seasons End (Side B)!

Seasons End - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! Today I continue with the second half of the Fishless Seasons End. Side A was good, not great, not exactly what I was expecting (though I don’t know what I was expecting), but ended on a high. Lets hope the highs continue with Side B.

Holloway Girl is the sober sore-head comedown after the debauched highs of Seasons End. By comparison to the end of Side A, this is a mundane restart. The slappy, warbling bass intro, atmospheric instrumental, and ominous verse is promising, but once we pass the first minute it begins to ape some stadium rock anthem. A bit U2 lite, a bit generic. I know they’re reaching for the anthemic fist-pumping chorus, and I have no doubt that’s precisely what this will be for some fans, but I’d be the one in the crowd nodding along saying ‘yeah, this one’s okay’ while hoping to not get mobbed by the diehards. I have softened on it after multiple listens, but I suspect that in another album or two’s time I won’t remember much about it. Not bad by any means, but I equally wouldn’t be keen on hearing it again. Average all around for me, beyond the promising introduction. 

I cheated a little when reading the lyrics for this one – by mistake. I was googling the lyrics and I accidentally saw a post explaining it was based on a real person. It’s not a case I am familiar with but it looks like another sad case of miscarried justice and a lack of understanding or respect for mental health issues. The lyrics are certainly evocative of the story its inherent tragedy. I suspect the… I don’t want to say simplicity as that isn’t correct… but the lack of unique creativity within the words and phrases chosen will take some getting used to. The lyrics tell a story in an honest and plaintive manner, but you know Fish would have given the lyrics that extra twist, a different angle, a smattering of tongue-puzzling that only he could have spun. I have no issue with these lyrics beyond this fact – that they are in the aftermath of Fish and his wordsmithery. 

Berlin’s crisp opening is encouraging, as we get another dose of the delayed, shadowy guitar tone I enjoy so much – a chef’s kiss all round. The verse builds a wall of sound, brick by brick, line by line, peaking with some harmonic voices and brass. Is this the first instance of saxophone or brass use in a Marillion song? I’ve probably overlooked or forgotten already, but I feel like this is the first prominent use of the instrument. Anticipating the sax would merely pop in with a snippet here and there, I was surprised that it continues throughout the song and pulls off little runs which the guitar typically would. Saxophone does have the unfortunate misfortune of only ever making me think of softcore sex movies usually seen in the early days of Channel 5, or steamy late night US Detective TV shows like Midnight Caller. Berlin is presumably therefore a song about a renegade late-night Krautrock DJ who tracks down Germany’s underworld crime lords in her spare time.

There’s a mini departure around the 3 minute mark, scrammed forwards by a whispered vocal and military march. Once more – not the direction I was expecting the song to take. When the first half dropped away I was gearing up for a slow keyboard led ending. Instead it picks up for a harsher climax where the words are spat in punctuated phrases and increasingly torn up vocals, and where the guitars grow in intensity while losing their connection to the rest of the music. It’s calculated chaos, finally fading out with a softer outro similar to what I originally predicted.

One of the first things I noticed about the lyrics on Side B was the amount of songs which, on the surface at least, seemed to be about women – little stories focused on a specific woman. This is a departure from the very self-focused lyrics of many of the Fish lyrics. Berlin follows Holloway Girl in this respect, and features lyrics with a position of ‘she’ rather than ‘I’. From the opening couple of verses it looks like the song speaks about a sex worker, stumbling, sad, and lonely, but it becomes a little more vague as it moves on to give allusions about the separation of the city with war time imagery of checkpoints, ditches, no man’s land. It’s like a lyric spreading out in its scope from a single woman to a man who may have known her to various groups inhabiting the city – soldiers, skinheads and punks, bakers, butchers, dancers – everyone. A snapshot of a city lost. 

After Me – rather nice, no? Quite a similar sound and vibe to Easter. I could be cynical again and say that as it reaches its highest point it sounds like its aiming for that U2 stadium sound – not a full blown anthem, but a song which rises to a fist-pumping climax. Honestly, it feels more like when Radiohead mimic U2 on Pablo Honey. Regardless of whether any of this was intentional or not – there’s nothing wrong with incorporating music or styles from other artists or influences into your own music. Regardless of the intent, it still sounds good. While I’m by no means a big U2 fan, and I enjoy Radiohead’s early mimicry more than U2’s own efforts, this doesn’t quite reach the same potency or power of either for me. But. Still. Good.

I don’t know if this suggests the direction the band will continue to move towards – more ballads, a more commercial streamlined sound, more short palette cleansing songs between the larger, expansive, experimental tracks. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, sometimes my favourite song on a complex album is the simple one, sometimes my favourite on the most grim album is the one sliver of light, and maybe those same songs only work so well because of everything surrounding them.

This is a pleasant, gentle song that I don’t have much to say about. And that’s fine, I could happily have this in the background and be content. It’s the third song in a row (since I started counting) which appears to feature a woman as the protagonist. If there’s a twist in the song it’s that while the details concern the life of one woman, the writer turns the focal point back upon themselves – ‘she named it/him after me’ – but then one more twist in the final line that the writer is going to name this feeling, this special dream after her. I quite enjoyed the idea and narrative of this lyric – nothing within the semantics or turn of phrase is too imaginative, but the idea holds significant weight. The song title – another play on words – ‘After You’ suggests a break-up and a continuation, but also obviously connects to the ‘named after you’ portions of the lyrics. So from the outset you’re prepared for a possible tear-jerker break-up song, and it’s written from a place of tender sadness. 

Hooks In You is the second short track in a row. It’s not an Iron Maiden cover – nor did Iron Maiden cover this as it looks like Marillion got there with the name first. This is a surprisingly straight forward bit of riffing to the extent that it feels like a single. It’s not quite the poodle hair rock we heard at the time, but it’s not far away from that sound. It is very commercial pop rock and I could see this being lumped in with all of the other hits of the day. I’d be tempted to say this is the most conventional they’ve ever been? 

Interestingly (or perhaps not for anyone who isn’t me), I have a similar opinion to this as I do to Maiden’s song of the same name – it’s just another song the band wrote. It’s not going to be anyone’s favourite, it fills a space on an album – it just so happens that the Maiden song appears on a pretty crappy album and therefore stands out as one of the okay songs. Where Marillion is concerned – this appears on a middling album and get lost between all of the other middling songs. The ‘hook’ before the chorus is the strong melodic point, with the chorus a rather bland recital of the song title and the verses a standard pop rock frolic. I get the impression that the band needed another ‘hit’ and slapped this one together purely for that precious air time. Or maybe it’s symbolic of a new found sense of fun and levity in the band, departing from some of the pressure and turbulence of the past? 

The lyric is darker than what the music suggests – going in the opposite direction from the previous tracks placing women in a positive light, and instead talking about a woman as having her hooks in this person, not letting go, and causing pain and ruin. If we’re being literal. There’s the temptation to say the ‘she’ is actually a drug or some other metaphorical device. Still, the metaphor is given a gender. The specific lyrics aren’t impressive and seem to me like they were thrown together as quickly as the music.

The Space is all about build up. The strings/synth lets us know we’re in for an epic album closer. It’s leisurely – which comes across to me as confidence – and is comfortable in not being excessive. While it has an epic vibe, it’s not shouting ‘look how epic I am’ like some attention seeking content creator. Rather, it knows it’s good and accepts that people will see that goodness. Vocally it’s a strange one – it features some of my favourite vocal moments on the album, with H sounding like Jan Jamte from Swedish band Khoma in his smoothest moments, but then suddenly turning into Sting in the second half. 

It’s a strong end to the album, at least to my tastes. From a technical perspective, it strikes me that this one had more attention paid to its structure and creation than the previous track. The darkness and smoothness of the chorus, the main melody of the chorus, the long-held vocal notes, the coming together of the string/synth – all to my tastes. I would have been happy if the middle instrumental was edited down to a shorter length – it feels a little like it’s delaying the ending rather than bridging the two halves of the song, but it’s fine. The song then ends as if it’s the closure of a live show. If anything, the song is a showcase for H’s versatility – comparing those highs to the low notes of Seasons End almost feels like two different singers. I don’t think it’s as strong as the title track, but I’d be content calling it my second favourite on the album.

Lyrically, it feels like another snapshot song – a story about someone drifting through uncertainty and dealing with love and tragedy, with the final verses equating this to what we all go through. It reminded me of one of my favourite Buffy quotes – ‘every single person is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy dealing with their own; the beautiful ones, the popular ones, the guys who pick on you. Everyone. If you could hear what they were feeling, the loneliness, the confusion. It looks quiet down there. It’s not. It’s deafening’. Aah, out of context quotes. Certain words and phrases seem to lend specificity to certain events – the bit about cars and trams in Amsterdam, while the use of ‘he’ feels personal. I found myself feeling like ‘everybody in the whole of the world’ should really have read ‘everybody in the hole of the world’, as in the world is one big empty space and we’re all sucked in. 

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

Before I move on to the podcast, The Bell In The Sea came on as I was typing some thoughts about The Space. Usually when the B-Sides or demos come on I pause or flick back to the previous song. However, I quite enjoyed the intro of this one so I let it play. It’s a groovy song – it feels more like the meeting place of prog and rock – just interesting enough to fall into the Prog genre, just approachable enough to be considered rock. I liked it – I won’t say much more but I’d have been more happy with the album if this had replaced something like Holloway Girl. 

Returning to the podcast – Holloway Girl was another grower for Sanja. Sometimes I wonder if you come to enjoy any song if you listen the right number of times. Of course you can grow sick of a song, but maybe the key to unlocking some enjoyment is just listening enough. Paul doesn’t like it and goes as far as saying he would replace this with The Bell In The Sea which is exactly what I said in the previous paragraph. All around lower tier for the band – I’m curious if there is anyone who has this as a favourite. Sanja’s not a fan of Berlin – I was half expecting another comparison to 80s TV and movies, but alas. Is there a trend that Sanja doesn’t like longer, slower songs? Or at least longer songs which don’t feature too many tonal or musical shifts. I think my ‘snapshot of a city lost’ comment sums up the lyric fittingly. Paul likes it, at least to a middling extent, but feels like it was the band trying to write a Fish type song. Oi, I said you were wrong about Chelsea Monday, which was of course a tongue in cheek comment. I do like that one though.

Paul and Sanja both love After You, with Paul explaining it is an H lyric. It gives Sanja cosy, homely feelings due to its tender nature. It was quite clear to me that it’s a love song, just written in an interesting way, from an interesting perspective. Like I mentioned somewhere, the lyrics can be vague enough to be universal, allowing us all to fill in the gaps with our own stories. Is Fish at the door? I’d be more concerned if it were Grotbags. My cat refuses to wear his collar, bell or not, and their remnants are scattered underneath the obligatory trampoline in the back garden.

Hooks In You was a divisive track within the band, with H pushing for it and everyone else saying ‘wtf’. We all admit it’s silly, short, and fun – it’s not going to hurt you in the grand scheme of things. Did I call this one a palette cleanser? That about sums it up. Seems a bit odd you would release a bit of tongue in cheek nonsense as your lead single – this is you’re bit of flag waving to let people know what the album is all about. It’s not too unusual for bands to release a single which isn’t truly representative of the album, but it feels odd when this happens. The Space has been called out as Sanja’s favourite. 2nd place for me, but it makes my playlist too. Paul’s only picky point is the synth strings – of course it’s always better to have the real thing – but he doesn’t get as far as loving it. He does admit it’s a great closer.

Hey listen, I’m happy being the third, fourth, or 50th member of the podcast. Maybe not the 69th, as that would be weird and uncomfortable. Naturally I can’t compete with Fraiser (Frazer? Phrazyer?) Marshall (Marshell? Martial?) and his Marillion website, but I will endeavour to continue to give my ill informed thoughts as we go along. We still have 40 minutes left in this episode and we’ve finished the album, so presumably there is going to be more cat talk? I’d better go off and listen to The Release after I’m done here. Ah ha, its a letters section. I sent a mail. Can’t remember what I asked… something about what the future plans were. Maybe I’ll answer these now:

First Impressions Of H: It’s all very new – I’m still keen to see what direction the band will move in and I have no awareness of any future facts or fun. So far, I’m guessing I’ll prefer his vocals to Fish, but not his lyrics. Of course both can improve or get worse. It’s a weird one when you’ve seen a band in a stadium at the peak of their success, then years later in a smaller venue. I’ve seen the Manics at huge festivals and in Northern Ireland’s largest indoor venues, and then have seen them in the much smaller 1-2000 people spots, though in those instances there are so many diehard fans that the atmosphere was still ripping. 

Turns out it was just the one question then. As a newb, I still prefer Clutching At Straws to this, but give me twenty years and maybe I’ll feel differently. There you go – another one in the can. Does this now class me as in the second half of Marillion’s career, even though there are more years to catch up with than I’ve already covered? Second phase? In any case we are in a new era and I’ve no idea what’s coming up next. Don’t forget to check out the podcast if you want to follow along as a new or existing fan, and feel free to add any comments below!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Seasons End (Side A)!

Seasons End - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! It’s a new day, a new album, and hark – a new singer! Some bloke without even the common decency to name himself after an animal has taken over from Mr Fishusss. I have no idea what this change inherently did to the band – does Steve Hogarth have a different type of voice, or vocal style, or lyrical style which forces the band to pivot? Is he a Fish clone? Do the band stutter in their creativity and take an album or two to get into the swing or things? I guess we’re about to find out.

I don’t enjoy bringing comparisons into the discussion while talking about unrelated acts, but it’s a simple way to baseline my thoughts alongside what was going on in the band. At some point the Fish ran away with the spoon, and at some point Steve Hogarth joined. Lets briefly mention three of my standard comparisons. Pink Floyd famously split from Roger Waters, deep into their career, and the remaining Pink Floyd releases are more ‘floaty’ than before. Iron Maiden had two albums with their original singer – a singer whose voice was more suited to their in your face punk approach. Once Brucey joined, his theatricality seemed to usher in a new era of more expansive, creative music, and when he left in the 90s, the new fella’s deeper vocal gave us a pile of crap. Nightwish’s originally singer was a classically trained opera singer and music fit the grandiose nature of Opera. When Tarja left, she was replaced by a more conventional rock vocalist – the music shifted moderately while remaining epic. Once Annette moved on and Floor joined there was another miniscule shift. Long story short – changing your singer will probably amount to a change in the sound of your music, it may not be monumental, it may not necessitate a shift in direction. It’s stunning revelations such as this which keep you flocking back to my blog in your ones and twos.

Before we get into the songs, we have to check out the album cover. Bit of a mess, right? A sepia or black and white stormy sea, what I assume is a planetary orbit zooming on either side of four central shapes. Top left, a silhouette of a feather floating in a dessert, top right a blue sky with a small flourish of colour (is that meant to be a jester’s hat? I’m looking at a small picture). Bottom right, a familiar painting of a jester sinking into a puddle (telling), and bottom left a lizard flicking its tongue while a fire burns brightly behind. Logo. Album title. I’m sure it all means something, something about saying goodbye to Fish, but it doesn’t exactly catch my interest – too much going on, and none of it amounts to anything.

I enter the album with some trepidation – new singer and crappy album cover – but as the opening track kicked in, I felt that the band sounded confident. Any time a new singer joins a band you love… it’s that opening vocal that you’re waiting for. That first listen can be unfair and difficult – you can instantly shut the thing off and suddenly hate the band if it’s not a positive experience. Maybe you need to give it a few listens, maybe you’re sold immediately. It’s a weird human phenomenon amplified by a million other moments of your life. Whether it’s the first single being released or holding on until the opening track on the new album… I empathize with the nerves. Having only been listening to Marillion for a few months, I’m merely curious to hear how this goes. 

They make you wait, too. It’s not exactly like when (another of my favourite bands) The Gathering changed their vocalist and then opened their new album with an instrumental, but there is a long drawn out intro with at least fifteen seconds of silence at the start. The music comes in waves – something I only picked up on after I looked at the album cover – but it’s a calmer sea. At about one minute the bass comes in, then the drums tip a tap shortly afterward, a measured intro which keeps me on the edge of my seat, unsure of which direction the song will take. Once the lead riff finally drops, it’s pure Marillion. I’ve heard enough of Rothery’s guitar now that it’s more or less recognisable and by this point he has nailed the Marillion sound. What’s clear, even if nothing else is, is that the Production is clear, the sound full, and the playing confident. We settle into a groove and Mr Hogarth makes his first appearance.

I moved back and forth on my thoughts on his vocals on my first few listens. These listens were more or less focused on him rather than the song as I tried to establish some sort of set opinion. Initially, I admit to hunting for comparisons – a cross between one of the 80s Rock balladeers such as Richard Marx, with the higher tone of Steve Perry, but with nothing distinctive to set him apart. I couldn’t shake the feeling that he felt like a composite of other singers, but of course I was comparing him against Fish, who was very much his own thing (even if I did look to compare Fish with others). Even after listening to the album multiple times I haven’t fully latched on to H – he’s clearly a good singer, I love the smooth highs he hits in this song, and I get the impression that his vocals probably won’t jar as much with me as Fish did on occasion. Still, a little generic. I’m fine with this for now and I’ll continue to gauge in future albums. 

Returning to the song beyond the vocals – it’s a jubilant opening track. I don’t know if the intention was to show people, maybe specific people, that ‘they could still do it’, but it’s a confident statement. Melodic, dynamic, and with a euphoric chorus. One thing did gnaw away at me with continued listens, stay with me, with regards to the chorus melody. On the vocal ‘some go up’ he sings a G-A-G note series (and follows up with a G-B-A-G), but I kept expecting G-A-F#. This probably won’t mean much to anyone but the more I fixated on this the more I kept noticing it and questioning why the drop to F# wasn’t made. 

The guitars seem to use similar pedals and effects as on previous albums and the instrumentation is similarly layered, and the band remain willing to allow songs to flow in different directions. It’s around the five minute mark that the song seemingly abandon the central verse chorus structure and move into a softer mood piece. This is a brief two minute detour before we return to the chorus and fade out. It’s a solid opening track which admittedly took me a few listens to get fully on board with. 

Lyrically, I don’t know if I’ll spend as much time, or need to spend as much time talking about as I did with Fish. The song takes the appearance of a story with a simple rhythmic meter. There isn’t much room for extended description given the roughly eight syllables per line, unless you extend the idea over multiple lines. Extension doesn’t seem to be of much interest, at least in this song. I don’t know if this is another Concept album but this song didn’t strike me as meaning an awful lot on its own. Possibly the two dates mentioned are the key to unlocking what it’s all about – if indeed it is about anything. On the surface it’s the story of some bloke, a puppet king, possibly a magician, possibly someone dangerous. This story doesn’t really go anywhere and instead becomes some vague lyric about balance, fate, and circumstance. Mostly it feels like a bunch of words there for the sake of meeting the commitment of having vocals.

Easter is a sweet little song with a sweet little ear worm melody, almost folk style in its approach. I don’t recall another Marillion song which sounds like this – it’s 100% a ballad, musically, while any previous Marillion ballads spun off in enough different directions for them to be considered something else or something more. There’s a great guitar solo – every time it looks like it’s going to end, it shifts and continues on for a few more bars and in the background the surrounding music flows from the gentle sway of the main melody to darker more ominous places and finally onto the ‘do do do’ section. My first note on this song went along the lines of ‘Easter? Sounds more like Christmas – like Mistletoe & Wine’. There are moments in the chorus and ending which have a similar sway to Sir Cliff’s seminal festive hymn but this initial comparison quickly faded from my mind with further listens. With a name like Easter, with the folk style, and with the mention of Ireland, I’m guessing it’s another Irish influence song or that the lyric will somehow discuss Ireland’s history or current state. When you hear ‘Easter’ and Ireland in the same sentence, you automatically think of the Easter Rising if you’re from here. Or if you’re me, you just think about Chocolate. I’m mostly happy the band didn’t go down the hackneyed route of ‘having a fiddle’ and adding Irish instruments to make the thing sound more ethnic. Mostly because I can’t stand Irish music.

Lyrically, it isn’t hackneyed either, but it does seem to be about Ireland and uses enough familiar terms that it’s simple to grasp these references. I’m always curious when people see Ireland as this green place – to me it’s a very grey place, and especially once Autumn and Winter hit and much of the green becomes sullen brown and even more depressing. Any time I’ve been away for extended periods, the green does strike me when I come back. I must be accustomed to it by now. I don’t know who Mary Dunoon or her boy are, or if they are anyone at all, but it’s an Irish name and this reference leads into mentions of freedom, questions, borders, division, wires and guns. It’s all well meaning and if you’re going to write a song about Ireland, as mentioned in a previous post, it’s probably best to not pick sides. From a creative point of view – yeah, it’s fine, nothing leaps off the page as a stunning or particularly engaging turn of phrase, but the words server their purpose.

The Uninvited Guest is the band at their most conventional. They sound like an American rock band. I’ve heard so many songs with similar melodies and rhythms – true or not they always make me think of solo artists branching out from a successful band, like there’s just enough of familiarity from what the person did in their previous band, enough of the band and enough of their own voice, but it clearly shows what is lacking and missing when the two are apart. What’s interesting is that this isn’t the solo – this is the band. This is more what I would have expected Fish to come up with, except with Fish being Fish I wouldn’t expect any of his solo stuff to sound as pleasantly commercial and generic as this does. No, I’m still not going to listen to Fish’s solo albums.

It’s not a bad song, but it is one of the most forgettable for me. This could be anyone – it could be a song by any of the solo artists I’m listening to as part of my Iron Maiden Members non-Iron Maiden listen through. Too plain, even with the ‘cuckoooo’, and very far from anything the band has done till this point. Like they’re aping a stadium rock band but feel very uncomfortable doing it, or like they’ve been pressured into writing a hit that the hair metal fans will enjoy. 

At least the lyrics are somewhat disconcerting. I don’t think there was any intention behind the song sounding like a serious of sexual threats, but there’s something unsavoury in the undercurrent. Beyond that, it seems to be about… demonic possession? Inviting an evil presence into your home? 13 is a spooky number… Banquo was a ghost… no idea what a fifteen stone first footer is, but I got an image of a giant foot flopping about on its own. Then there’s a bit about cheating, a bit about moral conscience personified, a bit about disease… does it eventually turn into something about AIDS or sexual disease as a ‘ha ha, you probably shouldn’t have cheated’? Who knows. 

Seasons End. The title track. The centrepiece. Until I reached this song, during my first listen of the album, I was steering towards the opinion that the album, if not the band, had lost the thing which had made them special. With Fish the driving force behind the lyrics and seemingly other creative decisions, the three songs so far were trending towards the more derivative side of Prog and into conventional rock. The band no longer felt like this enticing oddity, the naughty loveable dunce in the corner of Prog’s classroom. The first three songs made the band look like they were sitting somewhere near the back of the class – not at the front getting all of the attention, not in the middle following the trail everyone else had blazed, but a little lost and uncertain of things, squinting to follow along with the Prog 101 notes on the overhead projector. Not to belabour the metaphor, but they were starting to sound like just another band, another person in class with nothing particularly interesting to say. The moment the title track came on, I had to re-evaluate my opinions.  

Some songs have that ability to instantly grab you at first listen; maybe you’re doing something innocuous like waiting in line at the supermarket, flicking through TV channels before bed, or lying in a half-sleeping state while the radio dribbles goodnight kisses through the headphones. You catch a snippet of a melody or a voice and you’re snapped back to the moment with everything else fading out and it’s just you and the song. It’s happened to me many times over the years. This is as close an example as Marillion has come so far. I was zoning in and out of the previous tracks and not fully engaged, but that A minor opening guitar using a similar delayed effect tone as was  used on the previous album caught hold of me. I think I listened to the song five times in a row before moving on to the next track, and played it another few times before staring the album over. Long story short, I like it. It was the key to unlocking this album.

Given that I’ve already written two paragraphs without actually saying anything, I don’t want to add much more. It’s a good vocal performance – the highs can be a little scratchy and close to breaking point (something I usually love in my singers) but it’s the funeral synth, the lovely melodies which feel at once like a freezing night but also being huddled around a fire looking into the darkness of such a night, and the simplicity of the chords and structure. It’s exactly the sort of song I would have loved on the long dark night drives home when I was young, or sitting near the fireplace with my headphones on in my own little world while the rest of the family were watching TV. Wanky I know, but there’s no sense in lying about your feelings. I could happily cut the song before it enters its final few minutes – those minutes extend the mood of the song and take it in a more experimental direction, but I’m not sure they really add anything not already covered in the first five minutes. I’m struggling to think of another Marillion song I’ve enjoyed or listened to more till this point.

On the lyrics, I think you could easily just read this as a Winter time song if not a full blown Christmas one. I suspect there is more to it – the sense of things coming to an end and rather than a Season being part of a cycle it seems more like a punctuated final stop – this is the final season. It’s a bit of a stretch to read this as some anti nuclear war song, though I couldn’t always shake that sentiment while I listened. It more obviously feels like a warning about environmental mistakes, pollution punching holes in the ozone, and making sure we are leaving a liveable world behind for future generations, one similar to the one us and our ancestors grew up in. It’s a subject area I don’t remember them covering yet, but the music mimics the sombre mood of such a topic. 

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

Back to another episode of the podcast. At time of writing this exact sentence you are reading (which is being written a few days after the previous paragraph), I have listened to the End Of The Fish Era episode, but not the Introducing Steve Hogarth episode. Probably by the time I post this post I will have heard that one too, but I wanted to wrap this album up by focusing on the two Seasons End episodes first. So this album gets the dual episode treatment – must be plenty to say.

Are A sides always Greatest Hits? Paul begins by explaining H pushed that band into new territory, or beyond their comfort zone. Is making a Prog band more commercial and making more simple songs pushing out of a comfort zone? I suppose technically – they are comfortable with Prog, but you could argue that bands are Prog precisely because they’re comfortable with pop/simple music and want to expand into more difficult territory. Enough!

Poor Phil makes an appearance in the Podcast again – we all had a Phil, right? I had a Simon, who wasn’t quite a Phil, but I did used to go to his house specifically to get the chocolate biscuits I wasn’t allowed at home. Or sometimes his Grandmother, who I don’t believe was called Phil either. I didn’t pick up on the feather being from a Magpie. Paul gives his thoughts on the album artwork, more from the perspective of them feeling like an unfair appropriation of Fish imagery. It sounds like Sanja’s opinion on the cover is similar to mine. Nobody likes brown.

Sanja likes the opener – already familiar with H she was comfortable to be back with his velvety voice. Incidentally, when I was in St Lucia I did have an exotic laxative. Unintentionally as our guide decided to climb a tree in the jungle to grab a mango or some such, slice it open with a knife produced from God knows where, and slip a segment into my mouth. I’m not sure his hands have ever been introduced to soap. Enough!

I did go out of my way to try to avoid comparisons with Fish in this and the next post, but some comparisons are inevitable, especially in this first non-Fish album. Paul says how unique H’s voice is – to be fair I’ve only heard a single album by him so far, but while I found him a strong and diverse singer, I did find myself thinking he sounded like a composite of any number of other singers. Again, you can’t help but look for these comparisons when experiencing something for the first time. We’ll see how I feel in the future. Apparently his lyrics ‘grow’ but here he is something of a guarded writer. 

I picked up on the band feeling rejuvenated, particularly in the first song, but it’s obvious throughout. This is, subjective statement coming, the truest manifestation of what Marillion is. Again, I’ll judge for myself once I catch up with other albums. Paul doesn’t need a laxative when Sanja is delivering great theories like what she thinks the first song is about. To be fair to Sanja, I didn’t pick up much from it. Apparently the dates refer to Tiananmen Square. Okay, still the words didn’t give me much. Paul doesn’t particularly enjoy the lyrics either, so we’re all on the same page. I don’t know who John Whatshisface is either? Is he some other bloke who joined the band?

On to Easter, which was not necessarily written for Marillion. Yeah, they do sound like a completely different band but there’s enough o the band there to stop it feeling like some out of place solo track. Ah right. Yes, us English Lit graduates pronounce it ‘Yates’ and I’m aware of that poem – so if Yeats was a favourite poet and it’s named in honour of him – fair enough. The lyric again wasn’t specific and in general just seemed to cover some stuff about Ireland. Paul likes it, thinks it’s a little overdone or overplayed, though recognises it as a Marillion classic. We all have songs like that. I haven’t watched Outlander yet – too many kilts. Paul says it’s simply a love letter to the Irish. 

Paul doesn’t like Uninvited Guest. I called it forgettable, Paul calls it boring. Yeah, it’s just meh. Even with the ‘cuckooo’. Yes, it’s a bouncier track in the context of the album. Would I skip this? Well, I think the album only has two songs I’d have on a playlist. Actually, as you’ll see in my next post, I have heard that Bell In The Sea song and pretty much make the exact same statement as Paul. Is the song about AIDS? One nil to me. I absolutely got the humour from it, it’s very silly. Yeah, I can understand the ‘trying to be Fish’ with the lyrics. So that’s what the first footer refers to, and who. Nice. It’s funny, and juvenile, but lets all try to get along.

Seasons End, I hope the guys like this one as much as I do. Or more. Yes, I picked up on that apostrophe after writing my bit about the song. It was a grower for Sanja, while it was an instant win for me. It never really needed to grow on me because it was there from the start. So the last few minutes was a bit of a loose faff – still could do without it. It’s a bittersweet backstory for the song. The whole thing is lovely. Paul took time to warm to the song too. I can’t imagine the outro being all that exiting live, but Paul says it is, so there you go. 

That’s about it for today, folks! Let us know your thoughts on this one in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Clutching At Straws (Side B)!

Marillion - Clutching At Straws (1987, Vinyl) | Discogs

Look at this – no intro whatsoever! Straight into Side B, which opens with Incommunicado. Audible sigh. I hinted in my first post on this album that, as long as nothing went disastrously wrong in Side B that this was shaping up to be my favourite Marillion album so far. Did I jump the gun on that? This song… this song is pure Rock Opera. It’s pure Quadrophenia. There are melodic moments here, there are certain musical phrases, chord choices, and rhythmic choices which feel like they were copied and pasted from Quadrophenia. Make no mistake, that’s my favourite album by The Who but this is so similar to certain songs it’s almost like listening to that album’s title track. The famous Townsend three chord attack, the keyboard twiddling moments… I don’t know if this was intentional but it’s absolutely brazen and I can’t accept it was a coincidence. I’m not criticizing the band for doing this, rather giving my most immediate thoughts.

I’ve softened on the song a tad since my first listen – I went from being too busy laughing at the similarities, moved to to dismissing the song as being Marillion’s equivalent of Zep’s Carouselambra, to appreciating it for whatever the hell it is. It starts nicely enough – it’s not until the 50 second mark that it goes full Quadrophenia. The whole thing feels like a bit of silly throwaway fun. I can’t fully get on board with the vocals – it’s the most Fishy vocal yet; he’s doing the uppy downy thing on almost every line, and when he’s not he seems to be channelling Roger Daltry. If it had a longer running time I’m not sure I could have had many redeeming comments to make, but as it is I’ll accept it as a bouncy little throwaway pop song. It was the 80s man, everybody fucked up. It has its catchy moments, it has its good moments, but in the scope of the album so far it feels out of place.

The lyrics seem conflicted, or show the lead character as conflicted. He’s tongue in cheek joking about memory loss, which could explain things, but he’s uncertain of whether he wants fame or not. He doesn’t want to be the huge star, but equally doesn’t want to be a nobody. Actually… I misread the lyrics in the second verse – he DOES want the fame. I’m assuming Fish is poking fun at the fame game with some of the lines here – credit once again for fitting ‘rootin tootin’ into a song, and most of the lyrics are suitably comic and expressive. On the whole, it seems to describe someone who is so famous and successful to the point that they can entirely withdraw from the public eye yet still be spoken about while hiding their true selves. I don’t know – my original thoughts on the song were based on my misreading of the lyrics and I’m too lazy to reassess. 

Torch Song gets us back on track in terms of the dark tone of Side A. Much of that is created by the guitar tone itself, with the bass burrowing through the space in the background. It does feel like a mid album track – robust, well made, though in danger of being lost amidst the more notable songs. What is notable is the very Fishy vocal where most lines follow the uppy downy vocal approach, and there is a lot more repetition in the lyrics to the extent that this must have been an artistic choice… repetition highlighting the burnt out nature of the main character, potentially writer’s block, possibly the inability to get out of a funk or way of thinking. The song does a good job – the whole album does – at crafting atmosphere again. Maybe it’s the drinking sound effects and the spoken pieces, those certainly add to it, but I think it’s the drowsy, loose instrumentation (mingled with the guitar tone) which imbues the song with the bar floor atmosphere. The song feels wasted – strewn on the ground, struggling to wake, or even stoned. As I’ve said, I don’t like the uppy downy Fish approach, but here it serves the atmosphere as he sounds like a drunk swaying back and forth.

I don’t need to go into much detail with the lyrical content beyond saying that it’s neat that Fish has managed to fill a whole album with boozy metaphors and songs about being drunk, without those feeling stale or monotonous. 

Slainte Mhath (you too) takes us back into Quadrophenia territory – I can’t help but want to shout ‘Looooovveee, reign o’er meeeeee’ during the piano intro. Is there a touch of Queen in there too? The guitars crash in like a Queen anthem, though that’s most likely a case of me hearing things that aren’t there. It’s a groovy start to a song, little Edge flickers of guitars, single static bass roots, dynamic drums only blasting off on a loose whim. It’s a song that feels like it, to use an inappropriate sexual term, is edging you. It wants to peak, but doesn’t ever give it to you. It teases and any peak is momentary. Taking that to a more logical, less sexual place, maybe it’s commenting on the all to brief highs of the addict.

I don’t know how I feel about some of the vocal decisions – I assume he’s being theatrical but some of the wails don’t land true. I give him the benefit of the doubt and assume this was deliberate to accentuate the manic nature of the lead character but it’s more likely I’m being picky. Given the song’s name, I gather that it’s another drinking song. Lyrically, it attempts to get to the core, or a core, of the drunken creative. I get the sense of a character with enough creative spark still fizzling among the embers, and a sprinkle of the lounging Dandy of eras past. The lyrics move from bar talk to comparisons with soldiers and generals – I’m sure there’s more of a story here than a simple battle/battle scar comparison, but I don’t have enough context to eek that out. 

Is Sugar Mice a term related to booze? It sounds like a dodgy club in Essex. I’m taking it more literally and thinking of sweety mice. It nails the dark tone and atmosphere, but it sounds happier. Not as foreboding. The opening riff is all smiles and calm, and as the verse progresses the melodies unveil themselves as sweet and sunny. There’s little or no musical comparison, but tonally I got the same vibe from this as something like Screamadelica – waking up in or from a stoned haze. Or alternatively, drifting away from a life and not giving much of a fuck about it. It’s soothing; there is a slight synth (I’m guessing) backing which is made to sound like a swelling of strings (would have been great to have actual strings) and the eventual swell accompanies the euphoric guitar solo. It feels like this might be a bit of an anthem for fans – a good one for the live setting? I would have been happy if the song had ended or faded out after the solo (and after the great ‘know what I want know what I feel’ vocal) – the last verse felt a little tacked on. That’s  too negative, but personally they felt like an unnecessary come down. A minor gripe. 

At this point in the narrative, if there is one, before looking at the lyrics I would have guessed this was the wake up song, the realisation point. That may be the direction the lyrics are supposed to be taken – in which case it feels like a similar journey as what Misplaced Childhood conveyed. There is introspection, guilt, acceptance. It’s all very sad, even as the music sounds quite happy, so possibly this time the story diverges from Misplaced Childhood with the characters realising that it’s too late to change or save  himself? Metaphors are left aside for simple statements and truths – blame it on me, the toughest thing I ever did was talk to the kids on the phone, when it comes right down to it – but that’s the sort of matter of fact approach you would expect at this point in the story.

The Last Straw feels like a single. That was my first note upon hearing the opening bars, but turns out it wasn’t a single. It’s in a similar vein of proggy pop rock as other songs of the era – it even feels somewhat similar to Kayleigh. Sure it’s near six minutes and it does feature longer instrumental sections – not the most ideal choice for radio listening – but those could be shaved to make a four minute hit. You would definitely lose a lot by cutting those pieces as they serve both as natural bridges and transitions, and in building or easing tension and atmosphere. The first instrumental section (around the two minute mark) leading into a low bass driven march and set of sombre melodies is my favourite part of this one. That instrumental absolutely nails the shadowy tone I’m harping on about, as well as keeping in step with the rest of the album. Near the end there’s some female vocals – I’m not going to hazard a guess at who this is, but there’s that gruff pop rock quality of a Stevie Nicks or, laughing as I type it, Lulu. Naturally I’m reminded of The Great Gig In The Sky and Gimme Shelter. I’d be curious to know if it’s someone other than a random session vocalist. It’s a terrific ending song, though it does leave me wanting something else – a shorter song to act as a resolution point. I’m not sure what it is I want after this – certainly not the actual final track – but as good as song as The Last Straw Is, I was anticipating… something else to close the album.

The lyrics feature further call-backs to other moments in the album and it feels like a summary and conclusion of everything that has happened, with the bleak final admission that even after it all we’re still drowning, clutching at straws. Yet it feels defiant. Or celebratory. I’m not sure they’re going for a celebration of going down in flames as much as a ‘well, if we’re going to go down we may as well have fun doing it vibe’. I know enough about the history of the band now to draw obvious parallels between the lyrics and Fish’s stance. Like any good lyric, you can understand the writer’s intent but also choose to ignore that and apply your own meaning and circumstance. Actually, that’s probably not an example of good writing, but I wouldn’t say anything here is vague or misleading or contradictory. In this instance, as a listener who is not currently part of a successful band that I want to be rid of, I can instead read this as general frustration with some part of my life – a career, a friendship, something deeper. I don’t know at what point Fish did leave the group – if it was a few months or a year after the release of the album then the listeners at the time may have interpreted the lyrics differently, or applied the frustrations to the character of the piece instead of the bloke behind it. 

Happy Ending is someone laughing.

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

Before I get on to the podcast, I’ll lock in my own opinion. This is my favourite Marillion album so far. Much of that is down to the atmosphere – it’s a little dark, a little grimy, it takes the listener to depressing places, and while it doesn’t have the big, obvious, hooky singles, most of the songs have prominent vocal melodies and cultured riffs which work their magic on you post-listen. I took a break from listening to this album over the Christmas break, but little pieces would often float out of me as I was making breakfast for the kids, playing with the cat, or indeed pouring myself a rum. Coming back to the second half of the album to write this post, those pieces fell together and all of the nuances I’d missed began to bubble up. Now when I’m pouring the cat a rum while eating my kids for breakfast, I sing the songs with that little bit more detail and oomph. Even the earlier songs on the album which I wasn’t overly impressed by in my first listens I am more positive about.  

I strap myself in for the 90 minute-ish episode and anticipate what the guys are going to say about this one. We begin with a couple of B-Sides and a discussion on what Marillion fans call themselves. ‘Freaks’ isn’t the best name – it sounds to commonplace, like it could be assigned to any group. Marillionacs? Members Of The Shoal? I haven’t listened to these songs – maybe in the future. I have a feeling one of them came on after listening to an album track – remembering I’m listening on Youtube so any old crap automatically comes on after, including conspiracy theory adverts and people prompting me to purchase Grammarly. Which I willn’t. 

Marillion missed out on the Highlander soundtrack – there can only be one, after all – and had a variety of management mishaps which pissed them off. When you have a taste of success and want more, but see your managers (in retrospect) making the wrong calls, it’s going to have a bit of an impact. Plus touring, plus addiction, plus existing turbulence – these all fed into the product we’re discussing today. What is it, Biffo – there’s always a wasp in your stories/Digi bits. Man, I miss giving songs and albums the time of day. I mean, look at all of the ‘reviews’ of Bowie and other critical darlings – of course I’m not going to love them after a single listen. When I was young, spending my hard earned pennies on a new single or even a big boy (album) you could be damn sure I was going to drain every millisecond out of the thing. Two listens of a new album every day was probably a minimum. 

But onto the album – Paul talks about the album being a Concept album (is someone going to mention Rock Opera) with Fish hiding his problems behind a character. At least he called the dude ‘Torch’ – he could have called him, ah balls, Paul got to the joke first. I was going to type Fash, but that made me think of Gladiators. Awooga.

Incommunicado seems like a bizarre choice as first single. Or a single at all, but there you go. What maniac made that decision. I did have some bands that I would listen to with friends – yeah, sometimes on my first listen. Kyle and I would have listened to Nirvana and G’n’R songs for the first time together. Biffo’s not a fan of the album cover – saying it was rushed and miserable. I don’t hate it – it’s not good, but it does concisely alert you to what you’re getting in the album. What would the alternative been – a lion with a pint in each paw, soaring over the sun being ridden by a jester? Seems like young Biffo (and Fish) loved the album, at least back then. 

Sanja admits to struggling a little with the album – maybe because of the distance between listens, maybe because it is in the unfortunate position of coming after Misplaced Childhood. Admittedly, I did have several gaps in my listens of this. Certain songs I did instantly like, and those only grew. Even the few I wasn’t so keen on I have softer opinions on. What can I say – I’m instinctively drawn to darker material – not just dark in lyric and content, but in sound. Look at two of what have in my personal favourite albums – The Holy Bible and The Wall – you don’t get much darker than those, in both respects. 

Sanja and Paul both mention a lack of cohesion between the lyrics and music, which is interesting as this felt like one of the biggest and most obvious positives to me. The lyrics and the tone of the music – it’s all right in the pit for me, it’s all touching those dark places. I’m aware the band weren’t in sync behind the scenes, but none of that came across to me in the music. It feels more like an example of a band using that tension and forcing that into the music in a solid, creative, cohesive manner. It sounds like the album is a fan favourite in any case. 

Sanja picks up on the 80s TV feels of the intro to the first track _ think I pegged it as an 80s action movie, but apples and pears. Sanja is not much of a fan of the sound of this one – like most of the songs on the album it’s fairly obvious what it’s all about. I still find this song somewhat bland, but it’s still that solo which sticks out. Paul calls it a scene setter and an admission that Fish is not enjoying things anymore. Paul and Sanja both agree about Warm Wet Circles being a weird choice as single. Those ‘warm wet circles’ are any number of things – still sounds filthy regardless. Onto That Time Of That Night – Fish sees the song as him being scared of being trapped in a ‘normal world’ while Paul sees it more as a loss of innocence. As always, the truth is somewhere in between. Fannies.

Sanja again didn’t like the song at first – seeing it as a No Man’s Land – which it turns out is what it is exactly supposed to be. Fish apparently made the lyrics up on the fly, explaining the brevity and oddness. It’s another cry for help. They don’t spend much time on this one, straight into Just For The Record which Paul got a Police vibe from. That was actually one of my first notes before I changed my thoughts from Sting to Phil Collins. I have a feeling I’ve made a white reggae comparison before when talking about Marillion – but I’ve been writing so much about 80s music recently that I could be mixing up posts, songs, and artists. White Russian – anti-Semitism as I correctly picked up on. Again, not sure of the context of the time it was written in – we had out own problems over here during the 80s to worry about. Sanja saw it more as a continuation of the story and the metaphor but it seems more outward looking even if Fish did explain the lyric as a character piece. They’re not huge fans of the song, bar the outro, but appreciate the sentiment. Apparently it sounds a little like a song on the next album.

Onto Incommunicado and Paul instantly mentioning the The Who comparison. It’s not merely the vocals – the vocals are probably the least obvious thing about it for me – the whole thing could have been lifted off Quadrophenia the similarities are so amusingly glaring. They both seem to love it – it’s fun and playful and silly, but it feels to me like a bit of a shark jump. Sanja does not like Torch Song – maybe it’s because it’s downbeat and worn out. Again, that can be my sort of jam if it’s done right. Paul makes a totally, wholly, unfathomably unforgiveable faux pas by stating that Johnny Depp played Jack Kerouac in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, when of course he was playing a fictionalized version of Hunter S Thompson. I assume by the time I post this someone on Twitter will have picked him up on this. Both blokes were known for their writing and ‘intake’, of course. Paul says ‘the whistle’ is the whistle of the factory, which makes perfect sense. I don’t think I even considered this due to checking out on the lyrics as they mostly covered the same subject. It’s Sanja’s favourite on the album, while Paul’s is Sugar Mice. It’s interesting to hear the lyrical discussion given that I wasn’t really investing much effort into breaking those down for a change. 

Sanja doesn’t like The Last Straw. I’m surprised by this and by the fact that Paul doesn’t love it. Maybe it’s not a good Marillion song but it is a good rock song. I’d say it’s one of my favourite songs on the album but I don’t mind when any random band does a rock song, or when a band does anything outside of their meat and veg. I don’t think Incommunicado is anywhere near a standard rock song. The Last Straw is, it’s not prog, but it’s good, regardless. I take the point though, as a non-Marillion super fan it’s not an issue for me. I agree about this as an ending which varies from Misplaced Childhood – I originally expected the album to finish in a similar way, with the hero escaping – but it doesn’t. I stand by the sense of defiance though, dark and depressing as it may be.

Oh God, they’ve just shouted me out on the blog. Um… shucks, thanks for that… apologies for not keeping up with these as much as I had been! Next time we’re onto Marillion without Fish. There may be other episodes which talk about the in between antics without actually speaking about specific albums – I’ll listen to those but probably won’t write about them. 

Let us know as always what you guys think of Clutching At Straws!

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

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

Greetings, Glancers! Today I share my thoughts on Side B of Marillion’s hit album Misplaced Childhood. Overall, I enjoyed Side A and beyond a selection of personal quirks which dampened my enthusiasm for listening to the whole thing again, it was a pleasant experience. Good songs, solid concept, all played out with the usual musical and lyrical skill. Lets see what Side B has to offer.

Waterhole started out with two thumbs up – it’s named after a famous pub from Neighbours, it has a vicious snarling vocal and continues the threatening tone which ended Side A, and it features some bloopy key sounds which crop up in any number of 80s action movies I enjoy. In essence, while not Metal, it feels like it has more of that sort of edge. However… and if you’ve read my Side A thoughts you probably know what’s coming – those fucking wide boys are back. Of all of the terms to repeat across songs to aid in the coherence of your concept, you have to pick the one phrase which makes me almost physically ill. This genuinely annoys me because I think it’s a great song, but I can’t listen to it now without getting angry knowing that ‘wide boys’ is going to be shouted in my ear.

The music then – great, no complaints. As for what Waterhole suggests (drinking?) and what Expresso Bongo is all about I don’t know. The lyrics read a little neater than the majority of songs from previous albums – this goes hand in hand with the more direct commercial approach Misplaced Childhood seems to be going for. The lyrics are almost in rhyming couplets! The images remain poetic without being obscure or derivative – striking that fine balance which will intrigue casual listeners and presumably please existing fans. However, I couldn’t concentrate on the lyrics without getting fixated on you know what and being bombarded by images of cockney twats strutting around and being ‘wide’. Mostly what I get from the lyrics is the sense of being cheated, used, and abused – hoping for something – maybe following a hero or turning up to some specific destination only to be repeatedly taken advantage of and seeing your hopes turn to ash. 

Lords Of The Backstage is another short one – less than two minutes – and another instance of songs merging seamlessly into each other. This merging of songs is not something which was new by the 1980s and it isn’t something exclusive to Prog, but it is a hallmark of Progressive music, and of the Concept album. I can’t recall precisely when I first experienced these types of transitions but I can pinpoint some of the Rock and Metal albums I listened to growing up as using this technique, and little me having my mind blown. You have to consider that, when you’re young your main exposure to music is likely whatever is in the charts (or whatever passes for charts these days) and we are therefor taught to expect all songs to have a simple start, middle, and end – even when working your way through an album. One song ends, there’s a pause, and another begins. So when I first heard, to use a continued comparison, Alice Cooper’s Hey Stoopid I was mesmerized by the fact that organ at the end of Burning Our Bed didn’t stop and became the intro to Dangerous Tonight, and that the noises at the close of Dangerous Tonight morphed into the spacey start of Might As Well Be On Mars. That may well have been the moment I understood music and musicians as a true art form, and not just some stuff to sing and jump along to.

Lords Of The Backstage leads in with a looping, hypnotic riff which first emerges as Waterhole finishes, and this riff engulfs the entire song. As much of a Rock and Metal fan as I am, riffs can be hit and miss for me. I prefer my riffs be the introduction, or to act as a bridge between other sections of a song rather than being the central focus. If it is the central focus, then I want some key changes, some dynamics, something to stop the thing from becoming repetitive. Luckily, the riff in Lords Of The Backstage remains fresh by sometimes climbing to a higher key with a slightly different spread of notes and due to the length of the song the riff doesn’t outstay its welcome. I spoke about shorter songs on a previous post with respect to Concept albums – do they only work as a part of the complete album, or do they work as a standalone song? Can you hear it on its own and enjoy it without being aware it is part of a Concept Album? I’m somewhere in the middle for this song – I’m not sure it’s something I would get a hankering to stick on on its own merits, and I think it is stronger when played alongside the bookending tracks. It’s a tricky one, but the example I always give as a song which works wonderfully on its own, and as part of a whole is Vera by Pink Floyd. Vera just so happens to be my favourite Pink Floyd song, a song that isn’t even two minutes long and some of the running time is taken up by samples. I fully understand that this song would be dismissed by most people if heard on its own, and even overlooked in the grand scheme of the other hundred songs which make up The Wall. But to my mind, it’s a masterpiece. If there’s any point to any of this, it’s that I’m sure there’s a Marillion fan out there who calls this out as their favourite Marillion song – but you should probably keep your distance from such an unusual soul.

What I understand from the lyrics to Lords Of The Backstage is that the narrator is sick of his own lies – we already know he has spent a chunk of his life trying to write that one love song which cements his feelings about, lets call her Kayleigh, a song worthy enough for her and his feelings but that over time he has been churning out other meaningless material to merely meet the demands of being in a band. And now that he’s in the band, he’s so wrapped up in drugs and touring and excuses that he doesn’t know where he is, what should be abandoned, what should be chased. I realise I’m stretching a little, which comes with the territory, but it doesn’t sound like much of a stretch.

This song leads into a much longer piece – like on Side A – there is now an epic made up of several parts. Blind Curve tops the nine minute mark and is immediately tonally different from Lords Of The Backstage. Even though the shorter song sounds like a fun little rock song, it’s obviously a more downbeat piece when the lyrics are considered. Blind Curve leans into this desperation from a musical perspective, yet it manages to uphold its epic sensibilities. Doing desperation while sounding huge is not an easy thing to achieve, let alone master. For me it’s the guitars which allow the track to achieve this blend – I love the tone and how the higher notes sound like they are questioning, merging with some of Fish’s best soft moments. There are other vocal moments I don’t think work well, but I’ll skip those.

The song begins with a thumping chord, and a slow, downtrodden beat. I’m sure there’s no relation, but it’s not the first time during this album that I’ve noticed a comparison between the two bands – that opening chord made me immediately think of the Nightwish song Rest Calm. It’s from what is ostensibly a Concept album, though one which is somewhat more confusing. But the fact that Nightwish went and made a movie based off the album – Imaginaerum – means I’m happy calling it a Concept album. The opening of Blind Curve and Rest Calm are very similar, a crunching chord, a slow beat, and a prominent guitar lead. Go compare both songs on Youtube – you only need to listen to the first 2-3 seconds of each to get what I’m saying – and there’s…. there’s something there. I did a quick Google search but I couldn’t find any instance of Nightwish calling Marillion an influence. But I would be very surprised if the band had not listened to Misplaced Childhood quite a bit. The cynic in me slaps the conspiracy theorist around and says ‘there are millions of songs out there, of course you’re going to encounter songs which happen to sound the same, never mind three seconds of music which have some base similarities’…. but there’s something there. Both albums feature a concept about looking back to one’s youth and childhood, both feature a washed out Rock Star as their narrator, both feature a hit single named after a woman, and both feature a song with a long spoken section with a Scottish voice. I’m sure there’s a Nightwish fan out there who is also a big Marillion fan, so let me know I’m not entirely barking up the wrong arse here.

What I assume is the Passing Strangers piece of the song is particularly lovely – it’s dark, ambient, and atmospheric and has maybe my favourite Fish vocals, all topped up with a face-melting guitar solo to rival anything the Metal bands were churning out in 1984. This seems to transition into the Mylo section where one of my irks about Fish’s vocal style comes out – the way he raises, drops, and wobbles his vocals in the space of a single word. That has begun to grate on me over the last couple of albums – I get that’s his style, but it’s one of those instances of the more I notice it the more it annoys me, sounding like he’s singing in the backseat of a car going over a particularly bumpy road. Couple that with some increasing nasal activity and I get the impression that Fish isn’t ever going to be my favourite singer. Jesus, don’t hurt me okay, I fully admit to listening to singers most people would not enjoy. If you happened to listen to Rest Calm from earlier, you probably heard some male vocals you hated. It’s fine, he makes up for it with his lyrics and overall unique style – but some of those inflections and choices do irk me.

I thought I heard ‘boys’ again towards the end of the song, but it turns out this was actually ‘convoys’, which is fine. Lyrically the song starts out in a bleak position, and although I wouldn’t say it ever becomes hopeful or finds a happy place, it does seem to shake free of self doubt to a place of action, or at the very least a place where the narrator is questioning what he sees in the present rather than dwelling in mumbling apathy. Is it a battle cry, or is it suicidal? Maybe it’s because the music also takes on a more euphoric tint as it heads towards its conclusion, and this tone rubs off on the lyrics. The entirety of the song is conversational and there is little of the poet flapping his quill in the air and sighing for inspiration over another chiastic metaphor (there’s my seven years of Latin coming through). It reads like a blend of arguments, both internal and external, a series of drunken recollections and associated reflections – I’ve no idea who Mylo was or why he was so important – all through the voice of the rock star who is just done with it all. It’s quite similar to some of the thematic moments from The Wall as I’ve mentioned already, but the life of someone in the public eye is something I can only assume to be quite a bizarre state and it’s a theme which pops up again and again in music. That theme of course leads to notions of regrets, a wish to return to something more simple, a blank, clean, mistake-free slate. I find the song quite similar to Incubus from the previous album – I believe I called it out as something more mature or cohesive – and this feels the same. It has unique moments of poetry, but it doesn’t over extend. It gets it’s point across in a relatively straightforward manner without resorting to hackneyed clichés or ancient unread texts, and it sustains its central conceits of the running time. 

Childhoods End? feels like a closing song. I thought it was the closing song the first few times I listened to it. Lyrically and musically it seems to conclude matters. The muted guitar riff combined with the synth create a mournful yet accepting tone and the vocal melodies in the verses also blend sadness and happiness. I don’t find the chorus as strong or as interesting but it’s not weak by any means, and it does remind me of So Far Away by Dire Straits which I believe was released in the same year. But it’s not the last song, and White Feather comes blasting in at the end with all of its U2 guitars and echoing vocals. White Feather feels like a bit of an anti-climax after Childhoods End – it does have enough of the musical tone of everything which has preceded it but it does feel like a bit of a bonus track, and it does sound noticeably more upbeat than the rest of the album. They’re singing about carrying a white flag, but it doesn’t sound like the surrender which the rest of the album suggests is coming or has already happened. Does this mean that the narrator has escaped his doldrums? It’s not sudden at least – Childhoods End suggests that we have come to a breakthrough and are climbing out of the darkness, with White Feather being the rallying call for the narrator, the band, and the fans. I’m not sure the album needs it though, but what do I know?

I’m aware there is a Pink Floyd song called Childhood’s End – that always felt like a trial run for everything on Dark Side Of The Moon – I don’t know if there’s any story linking these two tracks together beyond the name. Lyrically, Childhoods End continues the conversational approach while being a more upbeat affair. You have your standard images – looking out the window to see the rain has stopped, understanding you’re not alone – aligned with the running images of the album such as realising that the child you once were never really left. The narrator has had his epiphany and can presumably move on in the accepting understanding that ‘she’ has moved on too. It’s all self explanatory and I realise Fish says all this much better than I ever could within the lyrics, so there’s no point in me explaining in my own words. White Feather then, does it act as the beginning of whatever’s next rather than the ending of this album? Yes it feels like a rally call, the narrator cleansed and asking everyone to trust him as they embark on the next piece of their journey, rejuvenated and free of poison. I guess that works as a closer.

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

It’s a… good album. I don’t know if I’ll ever love it as much as those who grew up with it, but I definitely appreciate it and can understand why it was a hit and a breakthrough. I’m reminded of one of those sad facts – it’s that tad more difficult to fall in love with unheard music when you’re older versus when you’re younger. Those formative years are embroiled with feelings and experiences often felt for the first time – it’s only natural that the music enjoyed during those periods are going to be what stays with you for life over and above the more fleeting experiences and songs. Still, I always want to grow and learn and experience more – not in terms of anything genuinely tangible or useful – but in terms of listening to the next generation’s music, reading the perspective of an author from another Country or era, or watching movies made by people whose own cultural upbringing differs from my own. I’m not exactly chasing the next thing to love in the hope that it’ll recapture some spark of youth – I just want to expand the horizons of what I love beyond what I already do. 

So, that’s partly why I joined Paul and Sanja on this journey. Regular Glancers will know that I’m in the unending process of catching up on the bands and artists I missed and following this Podcast is plugging one gap. If this is the peak of what Marillion achieves, then I’m good with it. There’s still a long way to go and I’m sure there will be songs I haven’t heard yet which I will love. Paul and Sanja begin this episode of their Podcast by recapping some of what was discussed in the previous episode and why they made the decision to split the episodes the way they have. Today, they’ll be talking about the songs! And ghosts.

Paul calls Pseudo Silk Kimono a scene setter, while Sanja sees it as the opening credits, the period of Civil War text crawl. Sanja sees the song as picking up directly from where Fugazi left off, if we’re following the story of Fish. Incidentally, Fish Story is a great Japanese Movie – nothing to do with Marillion though. As it has been so long since I wrote my thoughts on this song, I can’t remember what I said about it. The analysis is plot and character and theme heavy, with further references to masks and persona. Paul sees it beginning somewhat In Media Res, linking with a later song. Did I see it as a standard opening where a trigger sends Fish’s memory off on its travels? That sounds right. Either way, there is something which sends us back in time, with the rest of the album being a journey back to present day and into the hopeful future. I remember that doodle-ooh bass bit. That’s a bit like my favourite moment from Vera – that shrill shriek like a piece of glass scratched down a chalk board during ‘we would meet again’. 

I don’t know when I heard Kayleigh – possibly on some TV show or movie, or maybe on the radio during the 80s, or possibly on the Death Rock Compilation. No idea, but I did know it. Sanja then says some words I didn’t understand. This Shamanic Treatment is something alluded to in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, when Buffy wants to find out more about herself and the true purpose of a Slayer, heading off to the desert with a gourd to contact the spirit of The First Slayer only to learn that Death is her gift. Seriously, go watch Buffy. I promise one of these posts I’ll make a meaningful comparison. 

The song has an obvious sadness, not anger. I took it as acceptance – I had my chance and now it’s gone, so there’s nothing I can do about it. Paul gives some of the background details about the writing of the song. There’s a Podcast called Fish On Friday? I just don’t have the voice for a podcast. I’m writing this on a Friday, and now I really want a Fish supper. It’s hardly the biggest story in the world, but obviously it’s huge for Fish – the band got big, he buggered off to the US, she left, and he wrote the song as a bit of an apology. They reconnected a little twenty years later, before a tragic twist ending. There’s a certain woman I knew and haven’t spoken to since 2002-ish… that’s almost time for her to contact me again I suppose. 

We’re talking about Lavender now, but I’m already dreading any future discussion of ‘wide boys’. Fish mentions Joni Mitchell in his creation of Lavender – did I mention Joni in a previous Marillion post? I’m much more of a folk Joni fan rather than her jazz stuff. Those first four albums or so are breathtaking. What is it about ancient folk songs being about sex? Damn pagans. Look at Willow’s Song from The Wicker Man – a lovely song, but you can’t hear it without seeing Britt Ekland’s arse. Which is not a bad thing. The band has obviously evolved over the course of these albums, though it’s hardly the shift of entire Genres or sounds, like from Country to Rap to Metal. Maybe they will in the future. I have plenty of bands I love which many people hate, or which will never hit the mainstream… but that’s fine. It’s a little tragic when others miss out on what I feel is great music, but if they give those artists a chance and still don’t like it – fair enough. Just be thankful you’re not a Sensorium Girlybox fan.

Bitter Suite is called out for his its darkness, its thickness, and for Fish’s spoken part. I say no to spoken parts. Oh jeebus, don’t repeat ‘lager’. The anger is described as ‘natural’, not forced, which is a good description of the album as a whole – natural, not forced. Paul and Sanja both agree on the song being sad, with the character looking for a replacement… which I think is what I got from it too. All these encounters and women… Fish was a bit of a ladies man. He could have been in Friends with the amount of relationships he’s flying through. He’s also seen a lot of movies. I haven’t seen Blue Angel. It seems apt then that this song is so Cinematic, with its sections named after movies.

On to Heart Of Lothian, and you know what. Sanja loves the song but sees the character as a little desperate. She also loves one of the ‘wide boy’ lines, which we can all agree is unacceptable. Paul gives his assessment to the theme, from what I remember I had similar vibes and takes. Can we all stop saying ‘wide boy’ now? The team end the Podcast on this song, so I’m going to head straight to the next episode and keep slapping my thoughts here. We start with Expresso Bongo, which I only recently found out was the name of a Cliff Richard song, or an older Engilsh song? I typed the name into Youtube and Cliff Richard’s song was the first return, with Marillion’s being fourth or fifth in the list. It looks like I got the interpretation of this one a little different from Paul and Sanja – them saying it is Fish judging others for their antics. Ah, Paul clarifies that it was a Cliff Richard movie, not a film. Fair enough. Time for my regular Manics comparison – A Design For Life – a song taken up by drunks and rugby louts and every other twat who thought the song was about getting drunk, is actually a song about working class identity and how the toffs see the working class as, well, scum.

Sanja loves Lords Of The Backstage and recognises a progression in the character – he’s understanding his position and is struggling upwards. Paul’s interpretation is of Fish being sick of being in a band – I think my take on it was a mixture of these. I can’t hear the name ‘Derek’ now without thinking about The Good Place. Whereas before I saw that show, I only thought of Derek Carpet – a comedy creation of my own. Blind Curve is a ‘slide into the depths of despair’, says Sanja. That about sums it up for me, although I did go off one one of my infamous tangents and talked about Nightwish instead. She picks up a musical cue connecting Grendel which I didn’t pick up, but which Paul appreciates. Paul says this is the acid trip song where Fish recognises the child he once was, almost has an out of body experience, and this shoves him upwards and out of his funk. SuperFishal? He also fills us in on who Mylo was – a guitarist the band knew who had died, so obviously most of the emotion of the song and the lyric is coming from a real place – it’s a song born rather than built. There’s a discussion about the craft of the song, the reality of the emotion, and the power of music when music and words are symbiotic. Some albums have a power, an aura, and while I will say a lot of such power always comes from whatever baggage the listener brings, the best of these types of albums have an innate ability to wrap up any listener in its clutches.

Sanja teared up while listening to Childhood’s End? and describes the song as a journey coming full circle – similar to me spotting it as an obvious closer. Paul and Sanja talk about magpies for a while – magpies popping up on several albums so far – and what this could possibly symbolize. When I hadn’t moved out of my parents’ house yet and played guitar in my bedroom, two magpies would always come and sit on the windowsill. Were they listening? Were they entranced by the shiny strings? Were they superfans and were hoping to pick up a plectrum if I launched one out the window? Who knows, but this was a daily occurrence. I love magpies – they are very pretty birds – and much preferable to the giant monster spiders which would also find their way into my room.

White Feather brings the podcast to a close, with Sanja filling in some gaps in World History by saying the white feather was a sign of cowardice in military circles – I wasn’t aware of such things. Paul believes the song is Fish admitting he’s happy being a coward and that the album as a whole feels like a therapeutic journey. There’s a summary of the personal connection the guys have, obviously most potent on Paul’s side as a lifetime listener. I haven’t listened to any of these with headphones in the dark – I haven’t done much of that since I was much younger – but I’ll admit to feeling the emotion in the album, and I’d say (in my limited opinion) that it’s their best album so far. It’s the lightning in the bottle, it’s the cohesive nature, it’s all of the guff going on inside and outside the band around the time of recording. There are more B-sides, but I don’t know if I’ll get around to talking about those – it’s that time of the year when Birthdays and Christmas and work starts ramping up to ludicrous levels. 

Let us know in the comments what you think of Misplaced Childhood!