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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Fugazi – Side B!

Fugazi (album) - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fugazi (album) - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover Art By Mark Wilkinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover Art By Mark Wilkinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Grendel!

cover art for Grendel!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Courtesy of... unknown?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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