Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 2)!

Greetings, Glancers! On my first rambling Marbles post I only managed to cover the first two songs – that’s the problem when you have free reign to waffle on about nothing with nobody to smack you around the chops and tell you to stop. We’ll get through more today, don’t you worry. More songs that is, less waffle.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

We get back on track with Genie, a smooth song which sets and cements some of the childlike themes and sounds of the album. It was around this point that I began drawing thematic parallels between Marbles and Misplaced Childhood – were those intentional or am I seeing connections that aren’t there? Genies is a lovely pop ballad with a sweet vibe and sentiment. Outside of all that ‘boxsh’ nonsense, of course, which I won’t mention again. Look, plenty of my favourite singers do weird shit I can’t stand. I’ll get over it.

After a brief swirly intro, we get a novel off-kilter lead riff which sounds like it begins on the off beat, like the halfway through the riff if that makes sense. Tubular Bells does this, for example. It lends an unusual atmosphere to the song’s opening, but perhaps the most unusual aspect is how it differs from the rest of the song. The song is less than five minutes, but it goes through more transitions and moods than plenty of songs with a much longer run time. The first transition sets the tone for the rest of the song, coming before the first minute closes as the finger-picked riff ends on a transitional chord smoothly leading into a softer, ethereal interlude. The keyboards, guitar, and vocals in this section are particularly lovely – evoking childhood images of peace, calmness, and love. There are some backing vocals here, which I think are from a mystery woman – in any case, they had another layer of sweetness and warmth. This portion of the song reminded me a lot of Radiohead’s Let Down in terms of soundscapes and how much is packed into a short timeframe without compromising on quality or feeling messy.

We then enter what is the traditional chorus – the traditional big moment of any song – and it does what a chorus should, peaking and releasing the emotions while begging you to chant along. It’s not a traditional structure for a pop song by any means – that chorus only coming at the three minute mark and isn’t followed by the previous verse breaks – yet it feels like it could have been a hit. The chorus is anthemic and euphoric, and all of the build up to it both heightens the impact and is strong enough to stand on its own. Even without the chorus it would be a good song. Although it does have warmth and innocence, there’s a subtle hint of sadness mixed in, possibly the sadness of looking back to childhood, and that sadness continues into the church organ intro of the next song.

Before moving onto The Only Unforgivable Thing, we should cover Genie’s lyrics to assess if the nostalgic feeling comes only from the music. It feels like the key to unlocking the lyric is understanding what the ‘genie’ is, and why letting it out of the box has caused so much trouble. It feels like there could be hundreds of interpretations of what the genie is and what the song means – genies are magical creatures typically known for granting wishes, sometimes coming with the caveat of being careful of what you wish for because you might get it. So, by letting the genie out is that a metaphor for hope turning sour? Hoping for a positive outcome but the reality being worse? Are genies known for being kept in boxes – the use of box made me think more of Pandora. The ‘scared of everything I am’ line feels more like it’s saying that you’re opening yourself up to someone, unveiling who you are but being terrified of what this could do to your relationship. By the end of the song, the recurring yells of ‘I let the genie out of the box’ feel more regretful and emotional and pained when compared with the resigned opening line. It certainly doesn’t correlate to my ideas of sweetness and light.

The middle portion of the song, the dream section, is all about escapism and being away from the current reality – something we know H is fond of writing about. This vain hope fades as he gets older, but then the tone shifts with the appearance of ‘she’. The ‘she’ you could take as a literal person – in an ordinary pop song it’s the appearance of a ‘she’ who tends to turn the man away from a life of misery and onto the path of love, but that isn’t what happens here. Is ‘she’ the dream of escape, personified? Is ‘she’ the genie? Is ‘she’ the black dog on H’s shoulder, holding him back and feeding on his fear? Is she a force for good or bad? I don’t think the song answers this, because H, or whoever the character here is supposed to be, genuinely doesn’t know. They’re as confused as we are. She seems to be encouraging him towards the end, almost saying ‘you have all this goodness locked up inside you, you can make a difference, you can give a lot of happiness to a lot of people if you’ll let them share in that attic of treasure’. But H can’t let it out? Or he has let it out already and it’s the genie? I’ll let Paul tell us what it’s actually all about.

I’m happy to go on the record and say that the organ intro to The Only Unforgiveable Thing is one of the best things the band has done. It strikes that blend of melancholy and beauty I’m always on the hunt for. Thankfully when it fades it is replaced by another lovely, solemn song rather than losing any momentum or becoming something unrelated and less interesting. By this point in the album I was already considering it the band’s masterpiece. These few songs in, it felt like all of the ideas which worked and didn’t work, all of the effort and planning and years of writing and touring, had finally managed to coalesce into that lightning in a jar moment which all bands crave. Every note seems perfectly placed, every melody feeding the emotion and creating a precise connection between the band and the listener. As much as I griped about the little things, there wasn’t any true misstep.

However, am I the only one reminded by Pink Floyd’s Learning To Fly? Only the opening verse – something about the interplay between rhythm, mood, and the bass. I’m not a huge fan of Learning To Fly – I think this is the better song, but I did hear comparisons however momentary. If I have any notable negative to mention, it’s that I don’t think the song will have as long-term an appeal for me as Genie will, and that may be down to it being both airy and fairly long. I have no issues with longer songs, no issues with airy, soothing songs – but gluing both aspects together accentuates the negative aspects of length and the airy atmosphere. I’m good with it for now, but maybe in the future I’ll feel the song is too stretched – too many additional lines which don’t add much, too many repetitions of the song name. The tonal shift in the middle perhaps comes too late and doesn’t last long enough. The guitar work in this section is great though, functional, overlaying the jangling celebratory riff with some simple but effective high squeaking solo work, before relaxing into a more traditional yet equally simple and effective solo.

I think the song features some of H’s best lyrical work, assuming it wasn’t written by that other fella. They strike the balance between being vague but open for interpretation, matter of fact yet poetic, and cryptic while talking about everyday observable things. It’s quite similar to Genie in that it’s taking the idea of some thing which always seems be lurking, either close to or as a part of the narrator, and presenting that thing to be harmful. Do we know what that thing is? A secret which can’t be shared? Typically in music, the thing is a proxy for addiction or depression or anger. Here, it’s an ever present, an omniscient haranguer of weighty proportions, one which notices the small things which are prone to bring a person down (bloody English weather) while mocking one’s attempts at getting on with the basics (clean my teeth). It certainly feels like the terms people suffering from depression use.

I don’t have a decent answer for ‘Will no one help the boys/who exist only as voices’. Is this talking about people with depression – I can’t say they’re depicted as helpless and voiceless because it says they are only voices. So I can’t adequately make that fit my narrative. The ‘lost the stars and skies’ piece seems simple enough and would align with Genie – settling for what you have rather than trying to achieve your dreams. There are threads running through the album, tying ideas and themes together, with the Marbles interludes acting as the musical connective tissue – it’s a very neat transition from the end of The Only Unforgivable Thing into Marbles li.

Marbles Ii is… better than part 1. I can’t be too down on it because it is connective tissue acting like a complete song. It’s the handshake between two people kicking off a discussion, not the discussion itself. While it’s not the powerful Presbyterian handshake squeezing the power of the Lord into your palm, it’s not the limp, clammy clutch with the coughing new boyfriend of your ex. I’ve only experienced one of those, I’ll let you guess which. The biggest difference between Part 2 and Part 1 is that I can see Part 2 being expanded into a full blown standalone, good song. This has moments I would like to see extended beyond what seems like an idea or a moment, with some of the rougher edges ironed out or omitted.

The jingle jangle instrumentation and rhythm is all crafted to be childlike and similar to a lullaby, even the vocals seem to be performed in a childlike fashion, giving away to the more interesting and traditional middle section. The lyrics follow part 1 and the flashbacks to childhood – playing marbles was the favourite game, the marbles more valuable than diamonds. I had my own version of marbles when I was young – it involved marbles and my toy cars with the marbles being aliens/zombies/monsters/bad guys, and the cars being survivors in some post apocalyptic wasteland. You would give the cars a push, then flick the marbles to try to hit the cars – the winner being whoever got the most cars to the finish line. I played it by myself, so I always won. And lost.

Next time, we’ll tackle another of the epic songs on Marbles and by that point Paul and Sanja will have started their discussion on the album. It’s currently 2nd February and they’ve finished their last Fish episode, so I’ll probably do an additional summary post covering their thoughts on the first few tracks of Marbles. Till then, give the album a go if you haven’t already, and make sure to check out BYAMPOD too!

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!