Nightman Listens To Marillion – Radiation – Part 1!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afraid of Sunlight - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To Marillion – Brave!

Brave (Marillion album) - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for holidays in eden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – 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!