Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Somewhere Else (Part 3)!

Somewhere Else by Marillion: Amazon.co.uk: CDs & Vinyl

Greetings, Glancers! This should wrap up my Somewhere Else coverage before we move on to… actually I’m not sure what the next album is. Lets get straight to it.

The Wound brings a sense of urgency after the more pedantic pacing of the last couple of songs, and its opening is brimming with drama. At over seven minutes long though, it’s difficult to sustain both drama and urgency. As this the case with many of the songs on Somewhere Else, it’s overwritten and unfocused. There’s no need to add the slower section, it cuts out the immediacy and energy of the opening and feels like an outtake from one of the previous couple of songs which was cut and pasted here instead. If The Wound had ended around the 3 minute mark and may have made for the less abrasive partner to Most Toys. 

The final four minutes are not strong enough to be their own thing either. There’s little in there to get my juices going as it slumps along like a sullen teenager. Defend the lyrics in this half – they’re fine and they complete the story of the song, but the music is too meandering and displaced to make any impact.

The song is about trauma – perhaps that’s even too strong a word for it – but it’s about a wound which never heals no matter the attempts to make it go away. It’s an emotional wound, but the lyrics treat it like a raw, physical entity with a life of its own. H has anthropomorphized pain like this before, but it gives a detailed sense of the long-lasting hurt. What is the wound? The wound is your life. H’s own life, or is he being reminded of someone else when he hears a song on the radio? I can see an argument for both, given how H has written about himself and his partners before. Hell, I could even see an argument being made for this being about Fish. It’s not about Fish, is it? The lyrics deserved a better musical accompaniment.

The Last Century For Man is H going back to the Radiohead reserves for a few more ideas. I don’t have many issues with this, with crimping from other artists you enjoy, trying to emulate them, or subconsciously allowing their sounds to be infused into your own. All bands do this. But it feels more blatant on The Last Century For Man – there are at least a couple of OK Computer songs which are very similar to this – the guitar tones used, the melodies, atmosphere, pace, and overall style make me think that the band said ‘we want a song with sounds like The Tourist, so lets do that’. Again, I’m not going to say that’s necessarily a bad thing as any artist wants to celebrate their influences and take parts of what they love while putting their own twist on it. The issue comes when there isn’t a lot else to say about the song outside of its influences.

The Last Century For Man feels like an album closer. It becomes more classically grandiose than anything on OK Computer – the string sections feeling more like a traditional swelling than the jagged Bernard Hermann or Krzysztof Penderecki influenced nightmares which Radiohead employed. It covers a lot of ground in its near six minute running time and feels less repetitive and meandering than the last few songs. It still follows a similar lethargic pace, but there is more interesting stuff going on and the hooks are more notable. It’s one of the few instances in the album where the departure from the central idea is successful – rather than hurting the song, the last few minutes which depart from the first half’s ideas, are complimentary.

Are the lyrics prophetic? Is this the last century for man? It’s easy to say it doesn’t look good, between hard fought freedoms being eroded, pandemics bringing society to a standstill, the climate doing summersaults, and Neighbours being cancelled (yes, I’m still pissed about it). Not to mention the cost of living rises. But this isn’t the last song on the album. It ends with Faith. Is that a bit of hope at the end of the tunnel or a vain, clawing guess akin to offering thoughts and prayers in lieu of any decisive action? As a species we’ve rarely been more safe, more healthy, more knowledgeable, more free. Every previous century has had its own share of catastrophes and every society has its doomsday purveyors – it’s only natural to fear the unknown, and the greatest unknown is the future. Keep fighting, vote, do what you can, screw what you can.

Faith is the song I mentioned near the start of my first post. It’s the only song which grabbed me in its first seconds on my first listen. It’s lovely, tender, great vocal, simple, earnest. And yet… and yet. It too falls into the trap of doing too much. What should have been a neat little coda for the album, a song which does what it needs to inside two minutes, instead goes off into another unnecessary middle section. I like the middle section, but it’s not as good as the opening minute or so and I think the song would be perfect without it. Even the return to that melody and style for the final minute isn’t as potent.

On top of that, and not to make any unfounded accusations, but that guitar riff… it’s Falling Away With You by Muse, isn’t it? It’s slower, and they change it up for the second bar, but come on. Here, I’ll even link again. I don’t mind – that’s one of my favourite Muse songs, but as much as Muse were influenced by Radiohead, this feels like Marillion being influenced by Muse. That particular song, as is the Muse way, becomes more bombastic and ridiculous, but the gorgeous opening is similarly gorgeous to Faith. The comparison to Blackbird may be more obvious, but for me it’s closer to Muse. Look, I don’t care, it’s worth calling out, they’re all good songs which each do a thing I like, so why wouldn’t I want more?

The lyrics I’m not too sure about. I could say they ramble on and attempt to make some vague disguised point without really saying anything, but again it feels honest and earnest so lets give the boys some credit. Is it about having faith, but not in the Evangelical sense? Having some belief that there is more to life beyond what we see and feel? I don’t think there is and that those feelings are a mere response to the thoughts which biology and circumstance have given us, but it’s a feeling which has spurred us all on for thousands of years, leading to some of the finest art and greatest minds we’ll ever know. As long as Faith leads to questioning, I’m good. As long as it’s honest, as long as all options are considered rather than the easiest or the one which suits your existing pre-conceived ideas.

What am I harping on about? What is H saying? Knowledge without proof, belief without reason… to me those are not good things, but being romantic about it… sure, the unspoken sensation which I lack the ability to put into words if I try to describe it – that’s what I feel about you. That’s what H is saying. Love isn’t a real concrete thing, but it exists, we feel it, it’s here in my hand. If it’s just about love, then sure, lovely. I suppose it makes for a better lyric than ‘my feelings for you are due to an emergent process of shared evolutionary traits passed on through successive generations in order to promote the survival of the species and protect us from things which might eat us’. I see that standing as much a chance of wooing a partner as my dad’s oft-repeated piece of Robert Burns thievery – presented here with copious apologies – ‘long and thin goes too far in, and doesn’t suit the ladies/short and thick, does the trick and manufactures babies’.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

With that slice of Highland lewdness out of the way, lets hear what Paul and Sanja make of the last few songs. They begin by wondering why this album has had more BYAMPOD than something like Clutching At Straws. It’s a combination of things – perhaps this album had more personal context or wider context than Clutching At Straws, perhaps there was more banter, maybe it was the heat, or maybe it is because the guys are more confident now with the format of their show. Not to say they weren’t confident before, but maybe now that we’re so many more albums in, they are comfortable with saying everything they want to and not rushing to get to the next thing.

Sanja’s not a fan of The Wound beyond its atmosphere and the rhythm. Sanja then compares a moment when H sings to Tim & Eric. I’ve heard Paul and others (including real world friends) praising Tim & Eric but to my knowledge I have never watched a single second of them – even though their humour is probably right up by hole (street). It seems like one of their characters sings and sounds just like H. The comparison’s there, but only as much as both do a bit of a faint, warbling falsetto.

Paul sees the first part of the song is just trad rock which Marillion have never been the best at, and like me he sees the second half as a slog. It’s interesting that the song was designed by Marillion as being flipped from their usual ‘slow part first, fast part second’, but lets be honest – every band in the world has followed both approaches. Like me, the guys don’t have a lot else to say. I could see the first part of the song working in a live setting, if it were to segue into a different song – cutting out the second half.

Paul and Sanja both love the lyrics, with Sanja saying that the focus has been on the wound rather than the cause and that the imagery as a creeping thing reminding her of Stranger Things. Paul makes some personal comparisons with his own life and is open with how the lyrics were deeply relatable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all relate to happy, sunshine, lambs and sugar lyrics instead of the darker stuff? Personally speaking… it’s always the dark stuff. Stuff like ‘Pete cumming at you with a creampie’.

Sanja likes The Last Century For Man, even if it does have a creepy opening. Matron? She appreciates how the music complimenting the lyrics and enjoys the transition from climax to quiet. Also matron. Jesus. Paul hates it, saying it’s dull and a prime example of Marillion trying to sound like other bands. I think Wicksey mentioned that it was like Subterranean Homesick Alien (which it does) while I mentioned it sounds like The Tourist (which it does) and after those comparisons Paul can’t unhear them. Sorry for that. Lets hope he doesn’t listen to Falling Away With You. ‘Every song I sing’s like Someone Else’? What would Marillion ripping up the rule book sound like? Do they do that later? Few bands have made such a departure as Radiohead between OK Computer and Kid A. You can reinvent yourself and morph gradually over time – most bands who last beyond a few albums do that, often by necessity, but few simply go ‘fuck it, now we’re a different genre, now we’re a thing that may not have even existed before’.

Paul’s biggest issue though is that the song is simply dull. I didn’t find it as dull as some others on the album, or at least I thought it tried to be a bit more interesting. The lyrics are interesting too, mainly because of the discussion we can have about them. Yes, it’s obviously about people doing stuff to kill the planet, but there’s a definite cynicism – but is it H or is it a character? As a writer, you write yourself into your product – even if you don’t mean to. But you usually mean to. This all adds up to the song feeling uncertain of itself. Does H feel the weight of expectation that he has to write about these topics? To chuck in another Manic Street Preachers comparison – they started out as a very openly political band at a time when music was all about getting loaded and having fun. In the last twenty years where we’ve seen freedoms eroded, the wars in the middle East, rampant consumerism increasing beyond recognition, the rise of the Right Wing across the globe, Brexit, Bush, Boris, Trump, seismic shifts in the political landscape – Manics fans have been waiting with baited breath to see what the lads have to say about it all in the music and lyrics. The band’s response? Absolutely nothing. Songs about Artists, songs about aging, the past, and confusion. The closest we get are the odd one-liner about not giving up the fight, tempered by admissions that they don’t even know what to fight for anymore. Their response to the weight of expectation has been to do what they always have done – whatever the fuck they want. I could throw in some hollow sentiment like ‘you’re a writer, so write what you want’, but I’m in no position to comment from my holy position as lofty observer.

On to Faith, which I imagine they’ll love (until they listen to Falling Away With You). Sanja does indeed love it – sweet, heartfelt a folk vibe, and she joined the Marillion Facebook group just so she can vote for it to be played live. Certainly it’s the one that jumped out to me in my first listen. Paul says it’s one which had been around for a few years in a more stripped back fashion, and people were therefore a little disappointed by this, I don’t want to say overproduced, but new version. Now, I haven’t heard the earlier version, but I can definitely get behind this sentiment. Staying on topic with Radiohead – this is something they have been known to do throughout their career – they’ll write songs, play them live frequently, and then they show up maybe three or four albums later, generally in a vastly different format. The most obvious version is True Love Waits – a song they released live in the early 2000s but which only made it do a studio release in 2016. The song is completely different. Radiohead puritans will not accept any degree of criticism and say that the Moon Shaped Pool 2016 version is the pinnacle – but it’s muck. It’s a dull, hollow, garbled dirge and not a patch on the heart-breaking original. On a lesser known note – JJ72’s City was an extraordinarily fun and energetic live song, but when it appeared on their second album all of that fun and vibrancy had been completely sucked dry and replaced by torrid verses and an anti-climactic chorus. It happens.

Paul simply states that the lyric is comparing love with magic, which is as succinct a way of saying all that needs to be said. And we don’t say much more about it. We move on to an overall discussion on the album’s place in the Marillion canon and plan for next week’s wrap up. Sanja’s task for next week is to go listen to Paranoid, The Tourist, Subterranean Homesick Alien, and Falling Away With You. In general, following up Marbles and too many slow and dull songs has led to an overall average effort. It’s not bad, but perhaps some more editing and maybe a few replacement songs would have helped things. There’s a letters page coming and I realise I may have sent mine to the wrong address, so I’m away to forward it to the correct one. Bonus points for laughing at my email pic because I look like a murderer.

As always, go listen to the podcast, sign up on Patreon, comment, like, share your thoughts below and with the guys on Twitter!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Somewhere Else (Part 2)!

Somewhere Else by Marillion: Amazon.co.uk: CDs & Vinyl

Greetings, Glancers! Today, we return to Marillion’s Somewhere Else, the album with the unenviable task of following Marbles. In my Part 1 post, I concluded that the album was something of a mixed bag and very much scrawled a tick in the ‘does this song have good parts and bad parts in equal measure’ checkbox you see when Downing Street sends out their yearly Music Census. Will Part 2 follow suit or slide off a smelly cliff into Crap Creek?

Somewhere Else gets us back to what Marillion does best – chilled, atmospheric music with a melancholic edge. The first time I heard it, the opening gloomy but gripping mood had me lapping it up like a puppy at a pool of vomit. I was ready for it to be one of my favourite Marillion songs… but it loses its way. It goes on too long and perhaps has one section too many. Around the 3 minute mark the song seques into a Britpop, Beatles-esque section which tootles along for over a minute before morphing into an instrumental sequence which eventually leads into the booming ending. I think that the majority of that middle couple of minutes breaks up the momentum, tension, and sonic quality of the song and drags the whole thing down. There’s an excellent 4-5 minute song in here which hits all of my personal beats.  While I think it’s a B Grade song, even the easily missed moments such as the guitar complimenting the vocal melody on one of the final ‘somewhere elses’ are in themselves A Star material.

The intro and opening verse is some of my favourite Marillion work. If I were more technically proficient and savvy with Music Theory, I’d love to do a deeper breakdown of even the opening thirty seconds, because it’s so rich in detail and emotion, and made my body react in ways that are typically only reserved for my most favourite bands and songs. Hopefully it’s enough to say that the combination of the keyboard dancing between Minor and Major and the ghostly, wafting guitars creates that shadowy tone I’m always harping on about. It’s a tone which almost forces introspection. The verses are gorgeous, the chorus is too but could have been trimmed, the Britpop piece from 3 minute loses much of the minor chord impact and I the song doesn’t find its way back to A Grade quality until the the ‘Everyone I love’ section takes us into the crushing finale. While the middle section certainly doesn’t feel like it belongs in another song, I don’t think it needs to be here. I’m sure there are plenty who will enjoy that section and see it as a necessary bridge or maybe even prefer it to the start and finish, but for me it just slapped a roadblock between the two strong pieces.

The lyrics of Somewhere Else are what I wanted from Most Toys. This is the personal, incisive, insightful stuff I live for, this is what makes someone a fan and not some passive listener. It’s not new ground, but it feels like a summation of all of H’s previous attempts at examining the Rock lifestyle, its worth, and his relationship with it. They also lose their way in the middle, arguably becoming vague to the point of nonsense, but as with any truly great lyric its power doesn’t lie solely within the words themselves but how the words correlate to and collaborate with the music; this is where the opening and closing of Somewhere Else excel. I can feel the pain in the music, I can read the pain in the lyrics, smashing together to create a sense of grief even if it isn’t clear what has actually been lost. It’s like hopping channels and catching a snippet of someone crying, screaming, emotionally shattered on the News – you don’t know who this person is, you don’t know any of the details, but you know this person’s life has been ripped from them and in that moment you feel a fraction of that emotion yourself – not just a brief wave of empathy, but a shuddering ripple deeper in your core.

H’s delivery of the opening lines help things – the song has some of his best work. Some of his most unusual work too as he goes full falsetto to the extent that he doesn’t sound like himself. I love a falsetto. This is how I sing, or did when I used to. But I get that it’s painful for some listeners and I’m curious what others think of it. I’m not convinced it entirely works – maybe there are a few too many ‘look at myselfs’ when keeping that falsetto as a more brief surprise would have enhanced its potency.

A Voice From The Past has a haunting piano intro which does a good job of piquing my interest from the outset, but rarely expands beyond that to go anywhere interesting. I could see people calling it a dirge because it’s slow, its melodies are vague and bland, and it neither changes pace nor introduces any dramatic shifts in tone. There’s an increase in volume, a growth in instrumentation and chaos in the middle and this leads to a brief break in the lead piano motif, but for all intents and purposes the overall tone and feeling doesn’t vary. I’m not convinced that cutting any time from the song would improve it – some songs are beyond help. I don’t mean that to sound as harsh as it will come across on screen, it simply means that speeding things up or cutting out sections would either not improve my opinion towards the song or would change the song so much that it becomes something entirely new in which case I would be evaluating this new thing on its own merits.

I do like that piano melody – it’s a great way to start a song and could have led to something more interesting. It does a good job of setting up the introspective mood which allows H to tell the story of the lyrics. That introspective mood also forces the vocal melodies to be dull and derivative – it’s very close to being spoken word in places – but even in the space between the vocals, the music meanders along in loops.

The lyrics are more engaging than the music and the interplay between the words and sounds is very close, with the peaks in volume equating to the eruptions of written anger. I don’t know if the song is about a specific person, or if its a generalisation or characterisation of an imagined or potential individual or group – there are enough references to death, disease, germs to suggest that we’re talking about some unlucky soul who just happened to live in a place and time which wasn’t safe for them and is asking for help to ensure that the people who come after him will have more safety and better opportunities. Fate, circumstance, and futility come up – issues often ignored or not considered by those of privilege – and I can see an argument being made for the music deliberately being made to suit the mood of the lyrics and vice versa. As a call to arms, a rallying cry for change, it gets lost under the collective shrug of the music – protest songs and anthems tend to work best when the music is anthemic.

No Such Thing has much in common with A Voice From The Past – slow, introspective, gloomy in its outlook, and built around a recurring motif. Here, it’s a haunting guitar in place of the piano. The song’s placement in the album could be a major plus or a significant minus depending on the listener – the two are so clearly a pair that it makes sense to have them together, but the fact that both could be considered dirges means that having two such songs in a row risks creating a skippable section in the album.

That being said, this is a much more musically interesting and astute song. I like the riff, but it does wear thin around the hundredth rotation. The song is considerably shorter than A Voice From The Past and never reaches the point where I’m waiting for it to end, but I’m not sure there’s enough good stuff in there to make me deliberately seek it out or choose to put it on repeat. Interesting drum timbre, the bass is doing subtle funky stuff underneath, and the various twinkles and swells of the keyboards create a warmth that was lacking in the previous song.

The vocals are a little more than the one note slog of the previous song – the rotation of the song’s title a shade different each time, a slightly different note, inflection, or emphasis on a particular word and the reverb airy effect to add a somewhat robotic quality. I’m not sure what the intent was behind that effect – is it making a satirical point that the people who would make such statements are ‘there’s no such thing as an answered prayer’, are hopeless robots? I don’t think that’s the case because previous songs suggest H does feel some of these statements are true when it comes to women, religion, etc. Then again, some of these statements go against what H has said previously, so who knows? Is saying ‘there’s no such thing as the ozone layer’ him mocking climate change deniers, or him saying the atmosphere is now beyond repair?

I’m sure someone could or has spent more time going through the lyrics line by line to look for patterns or opposites than I’ll be arsed to, but one thing which immediately leapt out was the seeming opposition between the first two statements – ‘an unanswered prayer’ typically an argument made by people grounded in the reality which they see, atheists and scientists for example, and the ‘no such thing as an ozone layer’ typically made by those who deny science and typically accept things on faith. Unless, as mentioned, it actually means that there used to be, but we’ve destroyed it. Continuing the reality versus faith line of thought, there seems to be little connection to ‘no such thing as an action hero’, unless you want to define God in such terms. This opening verse more than anything creates an aura of helplessness – nobody is going to help you, and our environment is fucked. This continues into the second verse – everything is hard, every day is a pain, and you can’t escape.

The third verse is more of the same – you can’t hope for something more than this life, although the ‘easy girl’ seems out of place and fits more in the fourth verse and its overarching paranoia and cynicism. The whole song does a great job at conveying this gloomy, hopeless outlook, and feels like it could have fit on Brave as much as it fits here.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

The Heatwave hits its peak as the guys recorded their next Somewhere Else episode, while here in Northern Ireland our one day heatwave has long since passed. We begin with a little more history covering some of the songs which were written before Somewhere Else but which would instead end up on later albums or B Sides.

The guys enjoy the title track, not least because it wipes the memory of the preceding track. They find it the most Marillion song on the album. The ending is some of Paul’s favourite Marillion work while he thinks the many minutes before could have been cut. Same with me – I would certainly cut some of the middle section and I don’t think it would lessen the impact of the ending. Sanja gives her perspective on the lyrics – how H’s rock star lifestyle has been manipulative and of less value than a regular career. She does a much more detailed read than I did, making sense of some of the more vague lyrics which I glossed over. My high level overview hits on the obvious central point of H examining himself and his lifestyle with a critical eye. Paul adds the interesting point that, perhaps, Marillion’s greater success since H joined over the solo career of Fish is down to H’s ability and willingness to put his emotions on the line and be vulnerability and therefore being more relatable to the rest of us.

H being H, the song is more influenced by love, relationships, and feelings, than fame. H attributed the end of his relationships to his rock star lifestyle – everyone I love is somewhere else. The more vague elements of the lyrics are simply what H was looking at when he was writing. That ‘Mr Taurus’ rhyme never sat well with me either but I let it go because it feels as nursery rhymey as the music which surrounds it. I was convinced that the opening line says ‘shit’ and that the ‘ship’ I read on Google was a typo. ‘Ship’ is now irritatingly used as a short form for ‘relationship’ by youtubers and idiots these days, but now back then. Maybe he was trying to make it tie in to all the spacey stuff later. ‘Shit’ is better.

Oh, Paul then goes on to answer one of the questions I sent in last week for a future postbag episode. I promise, I had not heard this episode before I sent those three questions. My question was ‘what’s your favourite run or sequence of songs without a dud on any Marillion album’. Maybe this isn’t his absolute favourite. Lets see what he thinks of the next couple of songs as I found them both mostly dull and potentially skippable.

A Voice From The Past he loves the drifting sound and the lyric. For me it was mainly the piano and lyric which worked, but the piano was just so repetitive. It was the Make Poverty End song. Makes sense. There are plenty of songs and pieces of fiction which hinge on those warnings from the past. I briefly commented on the lyrics and didn’t pick up that this was the poverty song, but taking it out of that context it does seem to be asking people to think about others for a change, a thought which has somehow become political because politics is such nowadays that the opinions of the other side must be attacked without question, almost without exception. The Left is no longer seen as the working class party for all, but The Loony Left, synonymous with whatever religious, financial, or biological strawman The Right can cook up. Enough!

Back when I was genuinely writing lyrics, I would painstakingly write and rewrite till they were what they were supposed to be. Still shite, of course, but shite I was proud of – difficult to flush and hard to forget. With these posts and the vast majority of my blog, I just type and go with my only edit being a quick check for typos. A writer by trade should of course take a hell of a lot more due diligence with what they publish, even running it by your editor and colleagues, and anyone else who may have a perspective. This paragraph is a good example – should I just delete it because Sanja is now talking about Almond milk (I’m an Oatley boy) and whatever they were talking about with respect to writing has now passed. Ah well. Go with my charity idea from the previous post – not saving the world, but making incremental, achievable fixes to reduce the amount of nonsense we face. Number 9. Number 9. Number 9.

Paul does a nice transition between Planet Caravan and No Such Thing – I can’t say I noticed this even as a Black Sabbath fan (ish). I will say that this trippy, now called Stoner/Doom Metal style, has been aped many many many times over the years, with plenty of bands taking their complete inspirational from that single song. Sanja takes a shot at the lyric after Paul saying he doesn’t really know what it’s about, while I went off on one about religion. As the guys suggest, it seems to just be a song of hopelessness, while Sanja says it could be a call to arms for us to make the world better for ourselves, before dampening the mood by saying she’s been cheating on Paul. /S.

Not to harp on again The Manics again, but there’s quite a lot of the defeatism of The Holy Bible in H’s lyric here, and quite a few closer similarities in the metaphors. ‘Just an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff’. ‘Beauty she poisons unfaithful all, stifled, her touch is leprous and pale’. ‘The only way to gain approval is by exploiting the very thing that cheapens me’. It has been a while since my last Manics mention, so humour me. It has been a cynically charged episode, so it fits. Incidentally, new Manics reissue of Know Your Enemy coming, with a couple of ‘new’ songs. Man, that album was slaughtered upon release. It is a bit of a mess, but it’s a Manics mess. It’s raining again.

 

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Somewhere Else (Part 1)!

Somewhere Else by Marillion: Amazon.co.uk: CDs & Vinyl

Greetings, Glancers! We find ourselves in a post Marbles landscape and I fear there will be some sort of downturn in quality. Marbles was such a strong album, such a statement, that it would be impressive to follow it up with an album of similar high quality. The only thing I know about this album is that it features ‘the steamer’. I think. Most Toys is meant to be the big bad, right? I’ll be looking forward to hearing that, and it inevitably becoming my bestest Marillion song.

Making presumptuous gleamings from the artwork and the album title, it seems reasonable to assume we’re in for another batch of songs about escape, running away, being anywhere than here. I like the creamy blue hue of the album artwork, and the… I actually don’t know what those things are called. Are they telescopes? Standy-up binoculars? I’m sure there’s a proper name, but whatever they are I associate them with movies set in New York or some other metropolis, usually making up a brief moment in some first date montage scene. I’ve only ever seen a few of these around Northern Ireland – the only certainty in using one being your immediate infection with various diseases. There’s one high on the hills in Belfast Zoo, but I can’t think the view would be improved by using it rather than your own eyes. I love Belfast Zoo, certainly one of the most gorgeous spots in the country, and great for a hike. If I could be somewhere else right now, that’s where I’d want to be. Lets do this.

Somewhere Else is a downturn in quality from Marbles. We’ll get into the details, but if I can begin with something of a conclusion, it feels like little more than a collection of songs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – most albums are – but this is Marillion we’re talking about, a band we’ve come to expect more from even when they’re not doing an overt Concept album. There are tonal, thematic, and musical threads which make it feel coherent rather than disparate, but that sense of it being a collection of songs instead of something more is one I kept returning to. Admittedly that could be a consequence of spending so much time with Marbles and a deliberate act by the band – I have no issues with an artist wanting to distance themselves creatively from their immediately previous work by doing something different, and this is something which Marillion has done repeatedly. It would be unfair to equate this to Marbles or expect it to be Marbles 2.0, but an upside of not being another Marbles is the cut to the running time – it’s a less exhaustive and perhaps easier listen.

The songs vary in quality and few grabbed me with the immediacy of either a commercial hit or one of the atmospheric epics the band is known for. One did immediately grab me, but more on that later. Immediacy isn’t something I expect with Marillion, and the songs eventually found a sweaty nook in my brain to lurk in, but a few past albums felt like they had songs which could more easily and readily access that sweaty nook.

There’s a cynicism throughout and rather than being an album about escape, it feels like an album which accepts being trapped. Both inward and outward looking, the search for answers and hope more often than not draws a blank. The ‘Somewhere Else’ isn’t necessarily the wish for escape and freedom which I anticipated – it’s more like an anguished cry of loss – everyone I’ve loved is somewhere else, somewhere far from me. It’s not the darkness of Brave or the drunken despair of Clutching At Straws, but it’s not all smiles. Lets have a look at the first few songs.

The Other Half quickly showcases one of the most notable aspects of the album – H’s vocals. He tries a few new techniques in the album, leaning more heavily on his higher pitches than before. The Other Half is not an easy song to sing, with the intensity it deserves. The vocals just about stay above breaking point, but I’d hazard a guess that this one either doesn’t get a regular live outing or has been significantly changed over the years to suit the vocal needs. It begins in a standard enough fashion, mid-paced rock riffs with a touch of The Stone Roses as unusual as that sounds. Once we reach the mid-point, the vocals take off and we hear an effectively tingling amount of grit in the highest moments. As tricky as those vocals are, they’re far from the most difficult on the album.

Elsewhere, it isn’t the most challenging song musically, nor the most memorable. With repeated listens its power grows on me, but outside of the mid-point vocals and a few neat guitar moments its something of a lacklustre opener. Not a bad song, a perfectly pleasant mid album song, but not the moody or bombastic opener I look for. Lyrically it is more interesting based on what I’ve learned about H from listening to the podcast, his relationship woes and fears. It’s another revealing lyric, the way I’m interpreting it anyway, with H sort of admitting his faults (without naming them), calling out that he has learned and is learning, and concluding that he can’t be parted from his other half. So… basically… he acted like a dick, lost his wife, and now wants her back?

I’ve often wondered what it must be like to be the other half in a relationship where one party is in the public eye, specifically an artist or songwriter; someone who dedicates a piece to their other half which then enters the zeitgeist. Think of The Beatles penning songs for various loves over the years – songs which are part of our cultural whole but which were written for one individual. It must be bizarre and alluring knowing this thing everyone knows and loves was for you. How would you feel having this song written for you, would it be enough for you to give it another shot, would it further distance you? The song has some nice imagery, but putting myself in the shoes of the other half, I don’t know if I would want something more apologetic, something with actual details or if I would be mortified by that.

See It Like A Baby opens with a jazz-lite shuffle, a brief eerie interplay between the drums and guitars which continues into the verses where additional Rothery flourishes attempt to raise our interest levels. It’s a dull verse vocally and melodically, and the chorus follows suit merely repeating the name of the song in a derivative way. If it weren’t for the guitar noodling this would rank amongst the most boring songs Marillion has done to this point, and even then the guitars don’t offer excessive amounts of flair – it’s like the most boring mid-week dinner you can think of, and improving it with lo-salt. It comes and goes with little fanfare.

The lyrics don’t offer anything to improve my opinion – a short series of lines which you’ve heard variants of in a hundred other songs, the point seemingly that innocence is good, or experiencing something for the first time is good… I’m sure H will have a bigger explanation for what it really means but any interpretation I tried to force upon it didn’t make it any better or worse.

Thank You Whoever You Are fares better, but that may be because it constantly reminded me of songs I like more. It feels like several previous Marillion songs, tonally and melodically, and even with a soaring chorus (albeit another one which simply repeats the title) it feels like a retread or a band repeating former glories. Mostly, it reminds of the Bishop’s Robes by Radiohead in a very specific way. I’ve linked the song for anyone unfamiliar. The little wavering musical interlude between the first chorus and second verse (which I think is guitar with some sort of heavy flange – like Led Zep’s Down By The Seaside) around the 1.42 mark represents a maudlin tonal shift opposing the joy of the chorus. Getting a little technical, it goes B C# B to B B A and down to F#. It’s cool. But listening to the final 30 seconds or so of Bishop’s Robes, that song fades into a similarly downbeat departure and has a guitar (in B4 rather than Marillion’s B3) repeats B B A, then down to A A G. It’s not the same, but the similar pattern combined with the gloomy tone, combined with the tonal shift each represents, combined with the rhythm, made me draw comparisons. It’s a distraction which pulled both pulls me out of the song a little, but also improves it because it’s a cool way to bridge the distinct verse and chorus.

Speaking of bridges, the middle instrumental of the song raises the song beyond what may have otherwise been an okay, somewhat ordinary song to something more interesting, something with more life and substance. The verses are fine – a little bare with an unusual emphasis on the drums – while the chorus soars without reaching the heights of some personal favourite singles. The bridge (which I hope wasn’t cut from the running time for the single version) descends into a minor key led, dramatic clanging of pained pianos and guitars and bursts with the emotion I feel is lacking from the rest of the song. It also features an excellent understated guitar solo where we’re reminded that being tasteful and fitting a solo to the needs of the song is always better than flying off at a million miles an hour. The emotion from that bridge then carries through to the final chorus and end. One other nifty bit is H changing his pronouncing of ‘You’ in the chorus from something in a traditional song pronunciation to the more direct ‘yooo’. I love when singers take this into consideration in their performances, a slight shift in pronunciation of a single word or vowel, a slightly different note or timing on a note on a repeated piece. Rather than just repeating the same few words in the same voice in the same way, just that little shift can add so many more dimensions.

Whenever we have a ‘you’ in a song, we inevitably question who that ‘you’ is. 9 times out of 10 in your average pop or rock song, it’s the object of the writer’s affections, or hate as the case may be. If the other lyrics don’t make it obvious, we look to the context of the song and the writer’s life, and then make wild guesses and assumptions. Thank You Whoever You Are doesn’t give any obvious clues, and even the title suggests that the ‘you’ could be plural or that the writer doesn’t even know. Is H singing of his muse? Is he singing of his fans? I took it to be a prophetic ‘you’, this potential person who might step into his life in the future and provide some joy. I assumed there was confidence on H’s part that this person would come because there have been others before. I also took it to be more concerned with temporary fun and wading into groupie territory again – ‘I won’t ask you to sign on some dotted line’ – suggests no commitment beyond the immediate, a bit of fun, maybe a trip, maybe I won’t even remember your name but I’ll remember that I was happy with you for a while. So while I can see that most people may view this as a happy song, I found it uncovered more of that lonely Rock Star life and fits with the more hopeless aspects of the album.

‘Hopeless’ might be an appropriate segue into Most Toys. For some. If I’m correct in thinking this is the song people say is Marillion’s worst, then I’m a little surprised. It’s not that bad. It’s not great, but it certainly didn’t leap out as some blatant outlier or the ugly mistake we must not bring up in polite conversation. Every artist has one, and as fans we either come to terms with them, avoid them, or treat them as some humorous curio not to be taken seriously. Led Zep’s The Crunge. Manic Street Preachers’ Repeat Stars And Stripes. Guns n Roses’ My World. Everything REM did outside of Automatic For The People. I didn’t find Most Toys to be as bad as any of those and if anything, it was an energetic distraction from the opening run of mid-paced, soft songs. It’s not going to be anyone’s favourite, but it’s short, abrasive, and offers something different from everything else on the album.

The greatest accusation I can lob at the song is that it doesn’t seem to know what it want’s to be. What sound was the band trying to create? The drums are oddly flat, there’s not enough ring or sustain on the kick, the harshness of the production is like they’re going for a raw Steve Albini approach, yet the guitars and vocals lack any anger or substance . There’s an attempt at that faux Britpop bravado (one of the things which most pissed me off about that movement even while I was a fan), the sneering confidence and self-righteousness, and the whole song is very monotone. It’s not vicious enough for punk, not fun enough for irony and instead seems like something a band might write very early in their career rather than this late and off the backs of many more mature works.

But there’s a charm in how chaotic it is, in the fact that they tried to do something like this. Most will say that the band are again trying to distance themselves from Prog, trying to chase a sound that they’re not known for, trying to prove that they can still rock with the young’uns, but I would offer the counterpoint that maybe they were just trying to have fun, to let down their hair (literally) and just do something silly that didn’t exert them too much or require much thought. The lyrics kind of mirror that – a dismissal of expectation – if you’re in position X, then you must do Y. The band is saying ‘fuck that, we’ll do what we want’. Of course, whether or not the end result is enjoyable is down to you.

The lyrics are an overt dismissal of wealth, status, and all that material stuff, with a little bit of  Trademark Marillion Snark concerning popularity within the music industry. But you know what? I like my stuff. I lean Left as much as anyone, but having famous millionaire Ewan McGregor smugly asking us if we’re going to regret the stuff we didn’t buy, or the places we didn’t go (also a thing which is exchanged for money) while being paid to advertise whatever cash-obese Holiday or Flight Company or whatever it is, comes off as such bullshit. Having famous globe-trotting rock star H, who just completed a double sided Concept album about A TOY, telling us that toys are shit and there are more important things in life, also feels like bullshit. I get it, I agree, other things are more important. But lets not tell each other how to live our lives. He who dies with the most toys may still be dead, but while he was alive he had the most toys, right? He who dies with the least toys, is also still dead.

The music industry has always been shit, always been a business, always supported or pushed what is popular and cool, but Marillion is a band which has survived for decades, played to (probably) millions, and I assume has made more money than most people will see. Are they millionaires themselves? Based on the podcast it sounds like they are not. We’ve covered it before, but do they deserve to have sold more albums and singles and had more radio air-time and media support? The quality of their output suggests that they should have – but that’s not how the business, or any business works. It’s rarely about quality over necessity – what sells is what the people want, skewed and skewered by a massive media machine which can manipulate the desires of the populace. It’s not fair – bands come and go and have a massive impact on people’s lives, but fade into obscurity or never make enough money to see their potential be met. Same with many walks of live, particularly in the entertainment industry. There are writers, actors, artists who I have been immeasurably influenced and moved by, who have given me exactly what I needed when I needed it, yet remain relatively unknown. Hell, look at Paul. As a Digi Original Reader, or thereabouts, I’ve been laughing for decades at what he has created and still am today. It seems to me that people should be kicking down his door with requests for scripts, art, jokes, vids, ideas, whatever. Many of my favourite bands split after one or two albums, yet those who seem to have considerably less musical talent top the charts. It is what is is, and fair it ain’t, but in the end maybe all that matters is the artist’s happiness – did they achieve what they wanted to? Was fame and fortune their aim, or simply getting their thoughts out of their bodies and seeing a creative process come to its conclusion regardless of views, audience, response, or likes?

Regardless, Marillion still benefited from the industry while nameless, countless thousands have not. This song? It’s fine. I understand the message, part of me applauds parts of it even while it doesn’t say anything new, it’s not as dull as a few other songs on the album, and it ends when it should rather than dragging on another couple of minutes. It sounds like Paul (maybe more so Sanja) actively dislikes this song based on the comments from previous episodes, but in the context of the album I don’t have many issues with it. It’s the obvious scapegoat for what may be seen as a generally bland, unadventurous album.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

It has been a while since our last album focused podcast, what with the Marbles postbags, live show chats, and interesting rundown of the band’s most played songs. If anything, these reiterated how many songs I still have to hear and reminded me that Setlist FM – a site I’ve loved for years – is only as accurate as its contributors allow it to be. It’s not conclusive, especially not when it comes to lesser known artists and gigs from the pre 2000 era, and gaps are inevitable but it still gives you an educated guess close to the correct figures.

We begin with a discussion of weather – apparently the South of the UK has been in an unseasonal heatwave for a number of weeks. That heatwave has only today, on the 18th of July, reached Northern Ireland. For us poor lapsed Brits/Celts/unknowns, it has been one of the most dull, cold, grim and wet summers that I can remember. The few days of warmth we’ve had since April have been decimated by either cloudy skies or intermittent showers leaving it pointless to try to go outside. Even my lovely week off to the coast was interrupted by such shitty perplexing weather – didn’t stop me walking around outside in shorts and eating Ice Cream every day though, to the bemusement and horror of the handful of European and American tourists we met.

The guys are not beginning their track by track today – but fortuitously due to me being a week behind, I’ll cover two podcasts in post today! Paul wants to spend some of the episode talking about the potential myth that the album was universally dismissed by fans and critics. By his metrics, most reviews were average to positive, but after some time the fan forum backlash exploded and led to a more general sense that the album isn’t very good. And Paul may have had something to do with that backlash. It’s time for a reckoning.

BYAMPOD was mentioned on the recent H podcast, as a potential historical aid to what H wants to talk about on his own show. I can see why someone might get riled up about this, but lets calm down – in the absolutely certain event that someone makes a podcast or blog about me, I’ll take it as a compliment.

Between Marbles and Somewhere Else there was a three year gap – fairly standard for bands after their first few releases. Paul says the band had planned to release interim EPs – great, I love a good EP while waiting for a new album. The idea was eventually dismissed and the band took their time getting Somewhere Else out due to other projects and commitments outside of the main band such as H getting involved in Make Poverty History. If I were a rich boy, and assuming I wouldn’t just bugger off and visit every theme park in the world before retiring to my grotesque mansion and eat semolina all day, I wanted to create my own charity – a charity for rich boys. Long story short – the purpose of the charity is not to make poverty history, end war, cure cancer etc, but smaller, perfectly achievable things which would make life easier and remove those shitty little pointless annoyances that don’t need to be there, but which never seem to be fixed. A way to smash through red tape or council bureaucracy. Essentially, in order to be contribute to the charity, you have to be a rich boy. You need to show proof that you earn a minimum of 100 grand a year to sign up, and in signing up you agree to contributing X number of money per month. In exchange for your donation, you get to nominate and vote for a thing to fix – potholes on the road, a new kids park in your childhood town, fund for a new teacher in the local primary school, pay for some expensive piece of medical equipment in a particular hospital, build some new houses in a war torn/impoverished/run down town or country. Perhaps like Patreon, there would be tiers of donations equating to number of votes you get – if you pay 500 quid a month you get 1 vote, versus 10 votes if you pay 5ooo a month. Count the votes, pick the thing, go make it happen. I’m not sure such a thing is possible, but it would be a practical way of making life that little bit less annoying. Also; E-penis.

Paul gives his thoughts on why Somewhere Else was seen as a bit of a disappointment. The first reason is interesting because it has fuck all to do with the music – people may have been annoyed that there was no pre-order. Fine… does this make the fans sound entitled? I don’t know, I don’t have much to say about it. There was no physical single, certainly nothing to capitalize on their recent success. It wasn’t a double album, so less content for what you’re paying for. This is an easy one to agree with, however as a fan of a band I’d be happy with whatever they put out after three years as long as the music isn’t shite (see Radiohead and their 8 year gaps between lacklustre re-treads of better songs). The production is different, the focus is different, the tone is different, it’s more direct and simple than Marbles. It very clearly seems to be wearing its influences on its sleeves – Radiohead and Beatles most obviously, Black Sabbath not something I think I picked up on, but it makes sense. Even the critics of the period called out the similarities to other bands.

Three out of five reviews are not bad. Look at any music magazine – how many albums do they review each month? 10? 50? That’s every month. The problem with a three out of five is that it’s forgettable, both in itself and in the context of all the other stuff the critics are reviewing that month. After six months I’d wager most critics have forgotten most of the songs on the four star albums, so those three stars don’t stand a chance. Seemingly Most Toys being on it didn’t help.

Paul then relays his story of writing a Press Release for Somewhere Else, filled with humour and possibly multiple moc moc a mocs. With certain pieces removed, the final result ended up sounding desperate and the fans didn’t like the sound of what was coming. Having not read many Press Releases, it seems okay. Is it supposed to be so long? I thought a Press Release was a few brief snippets, but I don’t know what I’m talking about. Over on the forum, like any online meeting place where humans can get together in relative anonymity, people starting dicking about and spreading slurry, and a vocal minority spoiled what was once perhaps an engaging place and soured an otherwise okay album. People are the worst people.

Look at the length of this thing (that’s what she said, ‘she’ being yer ma, etc). We plough seamlessly into the next BYAMPOD and straight into the opening track. Also: Shiny Pink Heads. Also also; E-penis.

Sanja gives a quick bullet-point of her thoughts on The Other Half – which just happen to extend to her thoughts on the album as a whole – nice, accessible, good guitar bits, singy songy melodies. Paul agrees on the whole, but counters that the song and the album sounds like Marillion, but Marillion playing within themselves but lacking the skyscraping reach and soundscapes of their best work. Paul says the songs sound similar – I’ve called this out already, with many very mid-tempo, inoffensive songs in a row which don’t peak. Sanja goes into greater detail in her summary of the lyrics – the writer hitting rock bottom and flying through some Stranger Things portal where the falling because rising. Sanja takes a much more positive stance than I do, and I can see it. She puts it more beautifully than I gave the song credit for. Paul highlights the sadness of the lyrics, I had a little more cynicism.

See It Like A Baby is one of the songs I’ve written least about – Paul starts by saying he has nothing to talk about on the lyrics. It was the album’s first single, but download only and reached roughly 45. It’s a dull song. I haven’t listened to the album in a few weeks, but I’ve already forgotten mostly what it sounds like. Paul says it sounds like an Ian Brown song… I can see that, but I’m not a fan of Ian Brown and try to avoid him as much as I can, even though he always seems to be supporting whatever band I go to see or is lurking at whatever festival I’m attending. It’s not a song worth discussing – that’s something Most Toys has over this.

Thank You Whoever You Are was the second single and didn’t do too badly, reaching 15. Paul thinks it’s underrated – I think it’s a good song and don’t know enough to say if it’s underrated or not. It’s the clanging in the middle which makes the song for me – Paul and Sanja feel less interested in that portion but both agree that it’s a decent track. Paul isn’t a fan of the verses, likes the chorus, and thinks it’s Rothery’s best work ln the album so far. I have no idea what I was rambling on about when I was discussing the lyrics, but Sanja calls out that the vagueness of ‘whoever you are’ is interesting. H attributes the ‘you’ to both his son and his fans. So it’s a sweet little lyric.

Most Toys makes Sanja want to leave her skin. I’m still surprised the guys hate it this much – maybe it’s because I listen to music which can sound like this – heavier? Harsher? Or is it because it doesn’t sound like Marillion? Sanja mentions what I did – she doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be, and that it doesn’t do H any favours. A length of a song absolutely plays a part in your enjoyment of a song – what’s better, Most Toys or Most Toys on repeat? I’ll say this for it – it’s one of the few melodies I can remember instantly from the album. Paul has grown to hate it less, and thinks the lyric is trite. Sanja, if you’re reading, what if there is a slow, piano version of this out there? Like one of those Christmas TV Adverts featuring some twee solo artist covering an 80s Power Ballad. Do you think there’s a version of this song you could love? Hell, even with Most Pies. Or most Pie-ness. Penis?

Let us know what you think of Most Toys, of the album, and as always please go support the guys as they’re providing hours of banter and fun for me, for you, and for everyone else. I’m off to sign up to Patreon now.

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 5)!

Greetings, Glancers! We’ve finally made it – the final part of Marbles before we move on to something else. Or Somewhere Else. I’m ready for it.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Angelina doesn’t need to be seven and a half minutes long. I’m sure the opening thirty seconds or so mean something, but I’m guessing the average listener or fan wouldn’t miss it. There’s radio chatter and the lyrics mention ‘tuning in to Angelina’, but again you could get that across without the thirty seconds of noise. It’s not until the 2nd minute that the meat o the song begins. The slow and static section before then is echoed later – I suspect the opening would drag for me with time and more listens, but I’m fine with it for now. The actual meat of the song is right up there with the rest of the album, chilled, smooth, more reflective melodies. The vocal harmonies are quite lovely, the introduction of a woman’s airy vocals add an unexpected depth, and the guitar solo is tasteful. Perhaps the song’s biggest problem is its placement – we’ve already had several similarly paced songs on an album which we’ve been listening to for an hour. I didn’t find it any better or worse than those, but did we need another? In isolation it’s another strong Marillion song, in the thematic context of the album it makes sense, but considering the running time of the album I wouldn’t be surprised if listeners are exhausted or distracted at this point.

Is Angelina H’s favourite Babestation performer? I can read the lyrics as pointing towards such an assumption, or that she’s a radio DJ. But why? What’s it all about? In a album concerned with memory and regret, is this a memory of sneaking a phone to call up some sex hotline when you’re a teenager? Is Paul going to have a story about H’s parents fighting over mysterious, costly entries on their phone bill – Mum asking Dad what The Permed Milfs (or whatever sex lines were called in the 70s) is? Too many of the lyrics don’t suggest childhood, but an adult drunk, stoned, and unable to sleep, lost in a routine of addiction and insomnia. Is this just another song exploring the pitfalls of the lonely rock star life? That would make sense in tying up the various thematical strands of Marbles. 

Drilling Holes feels like the most overt Beatles-esque Marillion song yet. Musically, lyrically, even the name all gave me Beatles vibes. It’s not a bad song by any means, but I think it’s one of the weakest on the album. Having said that, even though I prefer Angelina, I might pick this over Angelina to stay on Marbles if I was asked to cut a song. It’s a little shorter, but the difference in tone and structure breaks up the momentum of the album and acts as a breather before the final two songs. It’s has a noticeably harsher sound, with warbling phasers, clattering keys and bass, and the layering is aiming for chaos rather than the relaxed vibe felt on the majority of the album. There’s a lot going on, from the Lucy In The Sky floaty interludes replete with harpsichord sounds, the day to day detail of the lyrics, the funky bass transitions, the swelling of sounds with barely a note or sound repeated – it’s maybe the most dense production on the album.

Lyrically I was reminded of A Day In The Life – the lyrics seemingly randomly fixating on small matter of fact details rather than some overt grand theme – while being open enough to interpretation than you can apply a variety of themes to it. It’s also has that slightly nonsensical, Goons-esque playing on words which Lennon was so fond of; Non-sequitors, Escher sentences, words looping and contradicting. I did like how the idea of a man drilling holes, and the various other characters coming around and causing interruptions through the day (s) was mirrored by the throng of musical shifts and dissonance.

I originally read the lyric as being another childhood recollection, a child seeing all of this going on in their home, but it seems to be more of a day in the life of a rock star in a band. Hours pass with the only notable incident being someone arriving to drill holes or work in the kitchen, before the band (most of them, anyway) show up for a party. The ‘woman in a panic’ I interpreted as Lucy, the ‘man wearing plastic’ as your cliche record company exec – but more than anything the references all serve the goal of explaining the matter of fact, daily grind of a random day in a rather strange life. So while I think it’s one of the musically less enjoyable songs on the album, it’s arguably the most musically interesting and creative, and one of the best written lyrics.

Marbles IV closes out the Marbles arc, another drifting, dreamy short entry, but harmless and not without its charm. From my own standpoint, the most interesting thing I have to say about the song is my own mishearing of the lyrics. The closing repetitions of ‘only words’, I heard as Hollywood’, but before reading ‘sometimes I think I should go see a shrink in case he can find me some more’ (which makes perfect comical sense in line with the whole marbles/sanity thing), I was singing it as ‘sometimes I think I should go see a shrink if Lucy can find me someone’. I had this whole bit prepared in my head to write about how even though H is no longer the helpless, he admits to still relying heavily on a mother figure to help him figure out his problems. Turns out I’m a half-deaf idiot, though we likely knew that anyway.

Neverland closes the album, another lengthy song, and one I keep forgetting is there. I think during my first listens of the album, I would accidentally turn Youtube off after Marbles IV or I was listening to some gimped upload which didn’t actually include Neverland. It’s another great song, a little overlong sure, with some pieces maybe feeling artificially stretched towards the end. The opening is on par with the best of the album – sombre, melodic – and the minimalist synth backing coupled with some of H’s vocals set us up for another great ride. The jump-scare introduction of the rest of the band pushes the emotions up a notch and H moves into a more rock oriented vocal. I know Paul isn’t a fan of H’s harder vocals a lot of the time, but I think this is an example of H doing it well. It’s sincere and led by the emotion of the song and the individual take, rather than some pre-conceived idea of having to sound raw.

Elsewhere, more good guitar moments – the pained D Sharp to D transitions and onwards down the scale are potent, their Gilmour-esque sustain wrenching every ounce of emotion out of every second, lovely orchestration of the layering keyboards, the lyrical call-backs to previous songs. The final couple of minutes I can take or leave but I imagine the song’s better instrumental moments could be dragged out even further when played live.

Being called Neverland, we’re firmly in the realm of fantasy again – the world created by a mind devoid of marbles. We get a more specific reference to the title in ‘Wendy Darling’, and again with the talk of hooks and tic toks, and it would be easy to see this as another song of escapism. The escapism is there, but it’s also about love, about loneliness, and seems to be a complimentary nod of dedication to H’s muse, whether that be a real person or otherwise. They’re the person, the thing who made H who he is, providing the spark and the soul, and allowing all of these thoughts and songs to be shared. Sure, this relationship may have caused damage elsewhere, caused damage to other visible relationships, but this is the one which will last. It’s an ambiguous note to end on – is it a good thing or a bad thing, and who decides?

Yes. Marillion’s best album, up to this point. It’s exactly the sort of music I was listening to around the time it was released, but it’s only now that I’m hearing it. If any album was going to make me a Marillion fan, this would be it. In a fair and righteous world, any number of songs, albums, and artists would have greater levels of success, acclaim, and fame than those who get the plaudits, and Marbles is an example of one such album. It’s deserving of what it has received, but also of so much more. We’re not in a fair or righteous world and I’m a firm believer that most of the best art and music ever created, or potentially created, will never be seen or heard because the creator never had the opportunity or the will to actually create or share it. We should thankful for what does get out there.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

On to the final Marbles BYAMPOD (unless there will be a postbag episode), and Paul begins with an alarming shout of ‘I’m not putting it in’. Read into that what you will. Paul and Sanja have heard some stories about the recent Marillion live shows from friends and discuss themed restaurants. What would a Marillion themed restaurant be called? Surely the Dessert Menu would include Sugar Mice and the bar would be known as The Bitter Suite? Those are too easy. Barillion? Enough. Has there ever been an album cover which is just bird shit? That’s my car bonnet.

On to Angelina – Paul likes it, Sanja less so. They agree it’s a late night song, with Paul drawing comparison to House. Like much of the album, it’s a success in terms of atmosphere and painting a mood with sound. It’s not a song which gets a live airing too often, but Paul says it always works well. Sparse jammy openings. Warm Wet Circles. BIRTH CANALS. Actually… H, water based songs, canoes, horny dirtbag… how has H not written a song called ‘Birth Canals’ yet? While I said I would potentially cut the song, that was more in relation to finding something to cut from the second half to ease up the length. It fits sonically. Thematically too, even if I wasn’t sure exactly what the theme was. If I were to make my own cut of the album – a single album – I’d keep Angelina on. It’s one of the songs which will make my own playlist. Actualina.

H says the song was inspired by seeing a Capitol Radio poster driving in to London. The interplay between DJ and Babestation is mentioned and that’s what I picked up on. So… not really about anything, but by extension loneliness and escape. The production keeps the emotional relevance in place, it sounds like the Steven Wilson mix is too polished and removes some of the feels.

Drilling Holes is a lot of fun for Sanja – she wouldn’t seek it out, but enjoys it when it’s on. Paul doesn’t like it, saying it feels contrived and too whimsical, unlike the bands they are trying to emulate. I don’t have as much of an issue with this because I found them clearly trying to ape a sound. Does it make it better saying ‘lets make an early Pink Floyd/Beatles song’ and then making it – being honest about it up front? I suppose it doesn’t matter much to me, though I get what Paul’s saying. In any case, we agree it’s one of the less enjoyable songs on the album. It’s interesting that Dave mentions how it’s a mixture of so many takes and him throwing in the parts which didn’t repeat. I definitely picked that up, and I think that’s a cool idea. I’ve mentioned before, but I love the idea or experiment of handing a sheet of lyrics to 10 different artists and having them write music for it to see how different the results are. Kind of what’s going on here, but with one artist recording different takes and one producer taking the parts he likes. It’s a hippy, drug-fuelled, Alice In Wonderland day according to Sanja. Paul tells us it seems to be a recollection of them enjoying their time recording Season’s End while actively avoiding the sound of the rest of the album.

Neverland is described as many fans’ picks as the best Marillion song. That’s interesting, I’d rank quite a few on this album alone as being ‘better’ in my eyes. Still a great song, but it’s no Invisible Man or Ocean Cloud. We agree about cutting a few minutes out, but it goes on my playlist. I’m not sure a shorter version would have been a huge hit single, but it certainly would have been stronger – as a standalone and in the context of the album. It’s the perfect end to the Marbles. We’re then treated to a Teaser trailer for BYAMPOD season 2 – Mr Biffo Reads The Works Of J.M Barrie. Incidentally, Michael Jackson’s favourite book.

The guys talk about the repeated references in interviews to this being ‘a male album’. What anyone means by that is anyone’s guess, but it’s not a thing I listened for or something I ever look for in any media. Man, woman, whatever – I’ll listen to whatever you’re offering and try to bridge the gap between the artist’s emotions and mine while listening. Sanja sees Neverland as a gorgeous love song, starting out in a dark and hopeless place and coming into light, and an opposing, correlated force to Invisible Man. Both see it as a song of reconciliation, of forgiveness, and as a powerhouse performance lyrically and vocally from H. Paul has a lot of personal emotional ties to the song, while it may be one of H’s most revealing lyrics.

Turns out we will have a postbag episode, but the guys give a brief summary of their feelings as a whole. Even in my most favourite albums of all time, there are songs I would change, or something I would change – cutting a few moments, changing the running order etc. Is there a perfect album? I look at my favourites – The Holy Bible I would take off She Is Suffering, Joni Mitchell’s Blue I would switch out The Last Time I Saw Richard, The Wall I’m not much of a fan of Run Like Hell, G’n’R’s Appetite For Destruction has a couple of songs I’d swap with others, The Bends has some better B-Sides than what makes it on the album etc etc. And that’s that – go listen, subscribe, like, and share, and let us know what you thought in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 4)!

Greetings, Glancers! We begin our coverage of Side 2 of the Marbles extravaganza with another piece of the Marbles Suite. The third part of this suite is maybe the most commercially viable track of the four, felling both self-contained and having some nifty melodies, while leading perfectly into The Damage. It has a creepy drip-drip piano intro like some introspective window-watching scene from a BBC Detective show. It’s a section I could happily have had more of, but it leads into a more pop-oriented ballad 2nd half. The second half I could also have had more of. Without Biffo’s explanation of H’s childhood marbles terrorism act, I wouldn’t have known what to make of the lyrics. I don’t think I even made the connection between the lyrics and marbles until I heard the actual explanation, which seems stupid now. They form a neat little story which is evocative for any of us naughty little boys who got up to bad stuff when we were young and ran home to hide hoping that neighbours wouldn’t find out and come calling.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

The Damage, is pure Matt Bellamy. I brought this up towards the end of my Part 3 post, but it’s true. The jaunty piano bopping, the buzzing distorted guitars of the intro, even some of the vocal tics are all very similar Muse songs of a particular era. It’s a fun, fuzzy, pop rock song with amusing vocals. It’s very catchy and I’d call it another example of Marillion making a song which could have been a hit had it been recorded by a different, possibly younger/newer band. It doesn’t too dissimilar to what many of the big rock bands of the time were putting out. I think it could have been shaved by thirty seconds to hit that sweet sub four minute radio friendly unit shifter timeframe – there’s one or two chorus re-runs too many – but before it run out of steam it’s a fun, inoffensive song. This entire section of the album feels very hit heavy – a run of songs which could have been popular singles in another space and time, and this is the most off-kilter of the bunch thanks to the vocal antics, even if it does tail off in that regard before the end.

We have some callbacks to previous songs and themes in the opening lyrics – ‘I’m scared of opening the can/I’m scared of changing who I am’, which suggests both this inescapable internal battle but also a more deliberate placing because he’s done the deed, failed in his bid to defeat temptation. The song itself has its own internal repetition – howling ‘the damage’ over and over like a man banging his head off the wall in regret for the things he’s done. The parts about wanting what’s under the counter (which, now that I typed it also seems like a filthy euphemism) I can only read in relation to the repetitions of ‘natural woman’ in that the narrator seems to be looking for something real, the reality which other people are not allowed to see. What this all means in a wider sense, I don’t know. The desperate nature of the vocal delivery and the semi-crazed rhythms and tones of the song lead me down the path of thinking the song is some frantic cry for a new relationship having realised what has been lost – that could be with a new person or (less likely) with the old flame. But it’s all futile guesswork until Paul tells us what it’s actually about.

I only realised when I began typing this exact paragraph that I’d been listening to the ‘promo version’ of Don’t Hurt Yourself. There’s the album version of the song which seems to be two minutes longer, so I’m going to go listen to that now…. well, that was interesting. I was going to begin my bit about this song by saying how it’s a good single, but also fairly cheesy and that the frankly awful accompanying video only increases the cheese levels. The album version drastically decreases the cheese factor, adding a lovely extended intro and what seems to be a very different vocal and audio mix – possibly with different takes too. Now, I’ve only listened to the album version once and as such it sounds… wrong, compared with the promo version. That’s an interesting phenomenon which probably has a name, and it’s one I’ve experienced plenty of times as someone who has listened to a hell of a lot of music. Back when I was getting into certain bands in the early ages of Napster et al, I would download a song by a particular artist and assume it was the ‘right version’, only to learn (sometimes years) after that what I had downloaded was an alternate take, a demo, or a remix. My most fun personal example of this is when I accidentally hit the record button on my (recorded) cassette of Michael Jackson’s Bad. It was near the start of Just Good Friends that I hit Record, shouted ‘oh no’, and went abut my day. This meant that every time I played the cassette (which was at least twice a day through most of the 80s and early 90s), I would hear the recording clicks and me shouting ‘oh no’ before the song resumed, and any time I heard the true song on the radio or on a friend’s copy, the song didn’t sound right without my shouting.

So now I’m doubting which version of Don’t Hurt Yourself is the right one. At this point I’m more excited about this ‘new’ one, so I’ll talk about it. What a lovely intro – a touch of Country, Folky, Neil Young in the acoustic guitars before the slightly heavier central verse stuff comes in. Something about the rhythm made me think of Richard Ashcroft’s Song For The Lovers, even though there’s little other comparison to be made there. In another era this may have been an atypical power ballad, but on Marbles in 2004 it’s less on the nose, more subtle, and has more textures. Backing vocals and near choir moments, slide-guitar esque screeches reminiscent of what Slash did on Estranged, and the underbelly of funky bass and keyboards all create a much richer sound than what you would usually see in a heartfelt cry for self-forgiveness and stability.

Similar to the internal struggles of other lyrics on the album, Don’t Hurt Yourself is caught between the past and the future, between holding on and letting go, and the overall message is encapsulated in the opening line. All things must pass, from possessions to people, dreams and desires, memories and moments. It’s a hopeful message, but with it comes the inevitable bittersweet tinge of loss – not of sudden monumental loss, but of transitional everyday loss to the constant march of time. The music echoes the lyrical sentiment, never completely committing is bouncy pop, with one foot in soft maudlin melancholy. It seems to be H’s song to himself as much as a song for the audience to ponder over.

As I click on my usual Youtube version of You’re Gone, I cringe as I realise it is also a ‘promo version’. Four minutes, three seconds. Let me just see if there is an alternative album version. Great – 6 minutes, 26 seconds. I really should do more research for these things.

I didn’t find the album version as many differences from the single version as I did with Don’t Hurt Yourself. The single is more streamlined and feels like it has more pace – the album version having longer instrumental portions between verse and chorus. There’s an additional bridge section which bulks out the running time, and unsurprisingly doesn’t feel right after being so used to the promo. In all honesty, it’s somewhat of a subdued bridge and I don’t think it does enough to build up to the release of the return chorus. At this point in time I prefer the single to the album version, aside from a few nice vocal additions in the last minute or so. It’s another nice enough song no matter which version you punt for, it slots neatly within the context of the album and works equally well as a standalone, but I don’t think it’s one of my favourite singles till now.

We’re on familiar ground lyrically – more memories, more loss, more love passed by. More dichotomies – night and day, you and I, gone, here, with the space between either clashing like a thunderstorm breaking from the northern sky’, or exhausted ‘like nightfall followed dawn without a day in between’. I don’t have a lot to say about the lyrics, just as I found my opinions lacking on the music – a few poetic lilts to well worn themes, but nothing which demanded my attention.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

On to this week’s BYAMPOD, and while the guys are not in Poland to see Marillion, Sanja has an ulcer – two wrongs make a right! The guys admit they have less to say about side 2 of Marbles so we’re on the final lap before moving on to whatever the next album is. Hopefully everyone who did make it Poland had a great time. I was here, in the rain. We skip over Marbles iii and go right into The Damage, which Paul, Sanja, and the superfriends call themselves. Sort of. Apparently the song owes a debt to Karma Police – one of the most famous Radiohead songs, but not one I was ever the hugest fan of. Paul remarks on how unhinged the song sounds, which matches the theme, but Paul doesn’t think it’s the best example of H’s voice. I felt that it was a more obvious display of him putting on an act, rather than the assumed mumbling that was brought up on the last episode. Sure, he’s not a Rrrrrock vocalist, but he does the job of conveying that desperation. The polished production doesn’t necessarily fit with the punk ethos the song is aiming for. It’s the first time Paul was disappointed while listening to the album… I suppose they just wanted to throw in a silly fun rock song and maybe it works better outside of the context of the album.

Paul reads the song as the drunken, lecherous aftermath of Genie, while Sanja thinks it’s more desperate and needy than, well, horny and dirtbaggy. The loss of control is there, I suppose I read it more as desperation born out of regret and mistakes and damage, rather than the booze of the moment. Paul later retracts his statement about being a letch (H that is, not Paul…), but instead of someone being vulnerable. Then we learn about what FUAC actually means, as I assumed from Paul’s BYAMPOD tweet that it was the acronym for a Marillion album we haven’t got to yet. And who knows, maybe it is.

Don’t Hurt Yourself – Pete and Rothers switch instruments, which I didn’t notice at all. Though why would I. I wrote a lot about it, though most of that was down to the different versions. Paul doesn’t like it. Dull, tedious, uninspired rock. I preferred it to The Damaged and You’re Gone, but I like a middle of the road ballad here and there. I can see how this, being single bait, doesn’t fit with the flow and vibe of the album – maybe if it had been a standalone single released a year after Marbles and in no other way affiliated, Paul would have liked it. There’s always a pull to write something immediately enjoyable and which is going to promote the album to a wider user base, while figuring out how to make it as artistic as everything else. Sanja likes it more and they have a discussion about the lyrics – is H talking to himself or to others – which is something I remarked on. H himself says of the song that it was born out of his own pain and hearing how others are struggling too, and wrote it as a cathartic expression of finding his route out of pain.

Paul loves You’re Gone, which I felt was more bland than Don’t Hurt Yourself. I suppose there’s more of a Prog base to it, but I had little to say about the music. The context of Rothers building the song makes it more interesting, but I don’t think my opinion of it will change because of this. It’s fine – nothing bad, certainly more positive than not, but didn’t strike much of a chord with me. Then the guys do their own bit about the different versions – Sanja is as sloppy as me then, except I worked it out before it was too late. ‘Not fit to fart up his chimney’, is the phrase we expected to hear. Paul has a greater love for the lyrics than I did – again, I liked the lyrics, but didn’t find that personal attachment which raises the stakes for me. ‘Pessimistic Ghost’ sounds like an Ultra Rare Top Trumps card. Paul goes deep on the potential metaphor reading ‘early hours’ as ‘affair’. I can…seeeeee… that but I didn’t get that feeling. Could be, that’s the fun of guesswork and metaphors. I worked with a guy once who claimed metaphors didn’t exist… like, they weren’t real or something. Whenever he heard someone explaining the metaphor of a movie or song, he would get incredibly worked up and frustrated. I don’t think he was arguing that everything should be taken literally or that people were lying when using metaphors, but he would grumble and say that music and movies were nothing more than sounds and stories and contained nothing extra beneath the surface. I think he went on to work in a Bank or something.

Go listen to the latest BYAMPOD episode, send the team an email, follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and possibly up a chimney, and as always, leave any comments below!

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 3)!

Greetings, Glancers! Since my last Marbles specific post, the world has gone a bit mad (pun intended). It hasn’t been great for the last few years, between Recessions, Pandemics, Trumps, and Neighbours being cancelled, but then Putin entered the chat. If reading this distracts you from the shit for a few minutes, then I may go down as one of history’s greatest heroes. Since my last post, Paul and Sanja have done a couple of episodes of the lead up to Marbles and have reviewed the new Marillion album. I listened to the first and last 10 minutes of that review (I didn’t want any spoilers), was intrigued by the positive feedback, and disgusted by Sanja’s toxic gas emissions. Some things we don’t forget.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Fantastic Place continues the trend of smooth and relaxed music, being another laid-pack and atmospheric song with another spirited solo. I love Rothery’s central solo here not because it’s technically difficult but because it breaks and enhances the build up of tension which grows from the song’s glacial opening. I enjoy songs which have this stacking quality anyway – starting slow or soft and gradually adding further textures to subtly shift the sound through the gears until it a bombastic climax without you even noticing that it’s happening. Fantastic Place is a prime example of how to do this well – strings and synth, light percussive elements drifting the song outwards even as the melodies remain familiar, then backing vocals, additional drums, a twisting of the volume knobs – these elements continue to grow until the solo breaks the tension and shuffles us into the final couple of minutes. It’s another very strong song, another piece of excellent production.

Lyrically, we’re firmly in escapism territory, one of H’s consistent fall-backs. Even if you took away the repeated key lyric ‘take me to the fantastic place/keep the rest of my life away’, this yearning for freedom and escape is glaring. The more interesting question is to ask why he wants this escape – I’m not sure the lyrics show the writer in the most positive light. The opening verse suggests the end of a relationship, with the honest admission of wanting to own your lover and that ownership being one of the prime reasons why letting go is so difficult. Yet the second verse feels like finger-pointing – you screwed me down, you took my money, you forced me into drinking; it isn’t the sweet song of freedom yearning which the music may suggest.

By the end of the song, we’ve pivoted somewhat to the writer asking for (presumably) the person they’re breaking with to come to this fantastic place with them, because it’s a place where they can be completely open and honest, a place where understanding is natural and where struggles can be made transparent. The fact that the fantastic place is framed as an imaginary world casts a bleak and frustrating drape over the argument, the writer almost suggesting it’s impossible to get there, but the listener (perhaps naively) shouting that all you have to do is talk!

There’s nothing like a 6 plus minute song leading into an 18 minuter! Ocean Cloud would be the centrepiece of any album – it just so happens that Marbles is a beast of an album with multiple epics. What could be an exhausting experience and only one step of the overall Odyssey, is instead a wonderful jaunt into everything which makes Prog so exciting for people who enjoy Prog. Lets be honest – as Prog fans, do we not expect songs to stride confidently beyond 10 minutes? We certainly don’t want two or three 30 minute songs in a row, or 30 two minute songs. Both have their place in music of course, but Prog fans expect their artists to be adventurous, to be technically proficient, to take risks, and to push envelopes – to be confident and not shy away from writing and performing what 20th Century popular music has trained us to be afraid of.

You could spend an entire post, or podcast episode, on this song alone; at least then you could structure a valid response to the song rather than my on the fly waffling. I’ll get the stuff I don’t like about the song out of the way first, because there isn’t much. I don’t think the songs needs to be as long as it is – the section with the sound clips of the guy talking does nothing for me, and more than anything takes me out of the song. I understand why it’s there, and after Googling the lyrics and the history of the song, it makes sense. But I’d scrap it. It’s not self-indulgent, but I think cutting it would not do much damage to the song. Most of the backing instrumental, soundscaping is suitably airy, it’s honestly only the specific soundclip pieces I would remove – less than a minute in total. Or even just edit the talking out and keep the music.

That’s the only negative comment I can muster. I do prefer the opening minutes of the song to much of the second half – but the second half is excellent too, not because we have recurring motifs and melodies from those opening minutes but because the music takes on a darker, more threatening slant with guitars and drums which reminded me of the Kid A – Hail To The Thief era Radiohead. The roughly 10 – 13 minute section is some of the best stuff on the whole album.

Which leads nicely into the good stuff, of which there is an abundance; that solitary sole voice intro, which feels simultaneously like an ending, and the cautiously comforting words of a campfire bandit inviting you to gather around the warmth to here the sorry story of his life; the eerie and forlorn mixture of guitar and gull reminding me again of Rooster by Alice In Chains; the layering of keys and synth bloops; the unexpected switching from minor to major and the fluid move back; the leisurely pace laden with confidence which proudly screams ‘we’re doing this at our own speed and you’re gonna fucking love it’; the string and cello sounds around the 13 minute mark; the little peaks which foreshadow greater peaks; the placement of tasteful and varied solos; the guitars starting at 5.12 for which there is no earthly or logical reason why they should be so devastating, but they are. The magical power of music. There’s more to it, but you get the idea. It’s, and we all know it’s an overused and essentially meaningless term in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a masterpiece.

What’s it all about (Alfie)? I know what the top layer of the song is about, having Googled the lyrics and learning of Don Allum’s escapades across the Atlantic Ocean. Real life blokes going off into the unknown for some symbolically heavy journey seems to be a recurring them for Marillion. Have they done a song about Scott heading to Antarctica or some guy climbing Everest? Or me, tackling their entire Discography for needles Blog purposes? It’s all very interesting, but it’s the subtext I’m more curious about.

We can read much of the song as being purely about Allum, but it seems clear that while H admires/envies the guy, he’s also comparing. We know at this point H dreams of escape, and what could be more freeing than sitting in a yacht in the middle of the ocean, alone for months? The first verses examine this internal struggle of being pulled back to the sea even though he knows how dangerous it is, but we can read this as temptation on H’s behalf by almost literal Sirens. But to have a mistress he’s allowed?

As detailed as the lyrics are, I don’t have much more to say about them. They read like a story, a series of memories with that ever present pull of the sea underneath. I was sure that I was mishearing ‘cream puff’ and that I would ridicule myself when I read the correct lyrics. But no, he does sing ‘cream puff’, which may be the only instance I’ve heard of that phrase being used in song. There’s a bit about getting one over on the bullies, there’s a call-back to The Invisible Man – always entertaining when an artist’s song mentions another one of their own songs, the lyrics neatly play with various water based metaphors to draw comparisons with emotions, people, sexual urges, and from start to finish there’s a tonal interplay between the lyrics and music where each changes to suit the needs of the other – it feels like an uncommon amount of effort was put into making the song feel like a coherent whole where no individual aspect was left untethered from any other. A song doesn’t get to be a masterpiece without this level of attention.

Between You And Me (@BYAMPOD) | Twitter

Now that we’re all caught up, and I’ll inevitably fall behind again, lets hear what Paul and Sanja make of it all. As you may have read on the socials, Sanja unfortunately contracted Covid again, and the trip to Poland to see Marillion was cancelled. If you want to know why… well you’ll just have to Patreon it up, won’t you. I recently got a pay rise, so I’m sure I can chuck them a quid. Then again, milk now costs 14 pounds a litre or something, so everything is on the rise. I’m not poor, but it’s another thing to have to go online and register for and Paypal for, and…. look, the depths of my can’t-be-arsed-ness know no bounds. But all that extra bonus material – BYAMPOD, Digi, and other – is very tempting for someone who has been reading Digi since the early 90s.

The guys start with a bit about alternate track-listing – something which has always interested me but is sadly less important these days with Shuffling and hoverboards and whatever other futuristic nonsense the kids have these days. I must have been listening in the wrong order too. What is the right order? Who knows. In any case, Fantastic Place was the initial standout for Paul. We hear a snippet from the band about the song pushing the band out of their comfort zone and how Rothers was pushed to create a more emotional based solo – I mentioned the solo as a highlights, so it must have worked. It feels like a traditional Marillion song, but apparently it was a difficult one to get right. We hear about the different click tracks and audio engineering the band deals with when playing live – this is always interesting, but I think it’s par for the course in most established bands – and how many notes, and words, and beats, and songs the band have to remember while playing live. Some bands struggle with this the longer they exist and the more songs they write, so recalling the less frequently performed songs can be tricky. That’s what rehearsing’s for, plus it’s your job so at least try to be competent at it.

There is a bit of mumbling, which I felt was a deliberate approach similar to the lisping I mentioned in another post. People may have been pissed off because it’s not so obvious to the point that it feels like it could have been a mistake rather than a choice. Whatever the truth, it didn’t annoy me. Not like the lisping did. It’s rare for mistakes to get through to the final product without the band and the producer being aware of it – as listeners, we are not the experts no matter how technically proficient we may be. Another producer or musician will pick up on things that your average listener may miss or misunderstand, but most instances these ‘mistakes’ are aesthetic preferences or purposefully left it.

Paul and Sanja mention the theme of escape again, which is plainly obvious from the lyrics. Sanja says the song takes a stark shift from a closed off place to an Eden of freedom and confidence. Sanja wants one of the lyrics printed on a t-shirt, which reminds me of my ‘I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing’ t-shirt which I bought recently and which has already garnered some interesting looks from passers-by on a Sunday morning. Paul and Sanja both initially thought the song was about adultery, but that it later becomes a more realistic depiction of a relationship being hindered by real life. There’s the yearning for a relationship to work, but perhaps the admittance that it never will. It feels like Paul has a similar sad view of the song as I have – it never felt like a happy song, a song saying ‘we had our problems, but now we’re good’. It’s a song saying ‘We’ve had our problems, they haven’t gone away, I wish they would because look at how amazing we could be – but these problems can’t be solved’. Sanja was reading a more positive future, which may be the truth, but it struck me as a hopeless admission.

On to Ocean Cloud and Paul starts out by saying how cinematic and narratively powerful it is. The way the song feels like the ebbing and flowing of weather is something which struck me on later listens, but it’s absolutely there. It’s surprising to learn that some people didn’t like Ocean Cloud at the time – I would have thought this would have been right up your traditional Marillion fan’s alley, unless those fans were looking for something for guitar heavy? All of these future songs they mention I haven’t heard yet. It definitely feels coherent, even though there are distinct parts. I can’t say I’ve had many water-based dreams – probably for the best as I don’t want to wake up with moist garments and sheets. Being away from people is great -whether that be on a beach, in the desert, in the oceans, or like me just in the house, inside my head, or walking at night like a weirdo.

We hear about Don’s journey and H’s fondness of these stories – both the escapism and romanticism of such adventures. Wait a minute…. H… H Rider Haggard…. now it all makes sense. Paul and Sanja both love the lyrics, their poetry, their evocative nature. I was never picked last for any sport in School, mostly because I was faster than everyone, and because there were a handful of people who were entirely inept, but I was among the last picks. Unless we’re talking gymnastics, for which I was always sought out by the PE teacher as the person to demonstrate a move (which I’d never done before), yet over the course of my 7 years at this School he never bothered to learn my name. H’s quote about stronger, fitter men is interesting. I can understand that even if I’ve never felt it myself – I think I’m comfortable with my own abilities and lack thereof, and have never been competitive about anything or felt threatened in such a way. I’m great!

With that shameless crap out of the way, we can wrap up for another week. I need to get writing about Side 2 because at this point (even though I’ve listened many times) my only note is ‘The Damage is pure Muse complete with Matt Bellamy vocals’. Come back next week for more on that bombshell. As always, go listen to BYAMPOD and give the guys likes, reviews, and all the other algorithm volumetric shenanigans!

Nightman Listens To – BYAMPOD – Marbles Episode 2

Greetings, Glancers! Of all of the places I’ve never visited, Poland is one of those places. Some day, you know? Paul and Sanja are going though – maybe next week, maybe the week after. They’re going to see Marillion. Will there be time for a Digi Poland thing? I’m sure they’ve probably addressed this somewhere, but I don’t know what day it is never mind what week.

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Paul explains that Marbles i-iv was originally written as a single piece, at least lyrically. As I mentioned in one of my Marbles posts, the moment someone writes a song and then splits it into several parts, you know someone’s immediately going to edit them back together. I agree with Paul’s assessment – they’re interludes, not the most interesting, but I wouldn’t feel like skipping them when listening to the album as they’re fairly short. Are they integral to the overall quality? I don’t think we’d miss them if they weren’t they, I don’t think they add much, but they don’t do any damage.

I’m trying to remember if I did any explicit damage with Marbles. Now, I just played my strange post apocalyptic zombie game with them, indoors. I didn’t even want to risk taking them outside for one of the local gingers getting their freckled hands all over them. Plus we had a pond in the back garden, and I’d already lost several prized toys in there – Micro Machines, MUSCLE men. Of course, one summer when we were cleaning the pond I did manage to dredge up one such missing MUSCLE man – the legendary (self-named) Leprosy Man. He was a little discoloured and probably disorientated, but no worse for wear for having been the play thing of goldfish and rudd for 10 years. And who cares about discoloured skin when you have leprosy?

We did of course throw plenty of stones? Look, it was Northern Ireland in the 80s, the only thing we had to do at the weekends between episodes of He-Man was throw stones at each other. There was a new house being built at the bottom of my street, and one of my pseudo mates (he was in the year above us in school and was never fully part of the gang) used to entice younger kids (don’t worry, this isn’t going into dodgy territory) over to this site, grab fistfuls of stones, gravel, and muck, and throw them up into the air to rain down onto the kids’ heads. I fell victim to this several times, and like dreaming about teeth falling out, I sometimes have dreams about pulling that loose sediment out of my locks. I did hit one of the younger kids on my street with a stone from a Black Widow catapult once. It wasn’t intentional – he was heading home and I thought it would be good sport to launch a pebble into the air in his general direction. I didn’t expect to see him fall over and squeal 8 seconds after I let fly, just as he reached his driveway. Don’t worry folks, he wasn’t harmed. Badly. The lesson seems to be – never be younger than anyone on my street.

Do I have time to mention that time I had my head split open by a boomerang? Lets leave that for another day. All of these memories had a great impact on H, and rather than sticking them into a blog no-one reads, he put them into what appears to be his best piece of work. On Genie then, and one of Sanja’s favourites which she sees as uplifting and easy-listening – pleasant, effortless. Paul speaks positively of the song’s placement, coming precisely in the running where it should. The album’s consistency and coherence is definitely one of its strong points. Paul says the Production is a little more raw – while it’s ostensibly a pop ballad, it’s emboldened in a less commercial way to accentuate the lyrics and emotion. I think it’s still very glossy and they could have gone even further to rough it up if that was the intent, but it’s perfect as it is. Sanja’s lyrical analysis feels spot on, but Paul lets us know it’s all based on a specific incident. H had a bit of an obsessive fan who had an interesting story about his past life. I’m sure she’s happy she now has a song about her – behind it all, this being a rock band, is a horny dirtbag trying to not shag everything in sight.

Moving on to The Only Unforgiveable Thing, and I think we can all agree with Paul’s ‘one of Marillion’s best songs’ sentiment. Paul’s ‘it’s so diverse but not’ thought is one I can agree with – there’s a wealth of musical talent on display but I can see plenty of listeners being bored by the repeated smooth and relaxed vibe. Not me though. The album is a step up from everything else they’ve ever done for me, as a first time listener. I don’t know which upcoming albums are those which fans think rival Marbles for title of best album.

Sanja loves the descriptive weight of the words, the persistent oppression. I found it a very Thom Yorke lyric – finding the intangible in the mundane every day objects, depression and paranoia personified by those items we use or see every day. I felt it was among their best lyrical work, and Paul says it can be interpreted in two ways but it’s most likely about guilt due to infidelity. Horny dirtbags. Paul connects this to the ‘lost the stars and sky’ line with H not willing to give up the horny dirtbag life, while Sanja saw it as a relation to Genie’s themes, as I did. Paul recalls how his first experience of these songs made him think they had taken a creative leap forwards and that everything the band was doing around that time seemed to lead to success, but with that we sign off until next time. Go listen for yourself and let us know in the comments what you think!

Nightman Listens To – BYAMPOD – Marbles Episode 1

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! With all the excitement over Marillion’s new album, Paul and Sanja have been off the beaten path for a couple of months, but recently they found their way back to the straight and/or narrow to pick up the chronology once more. Regular Glancers will know I’ve already published two posts on Marbles – the third is written too – but this post is simple a smattering of my thoughts based on what Paul and Sanja have to say about the first few songs. Feel free to skip, as this will be even more stream of consciousness than usual.

That’s a sever looking H on the thumbnail – he looks like a Victorian era Schoolmaster about to rattle some knuckles.

The band think it’s a ‘male’ album’ In that case, it’s severely lacking in biceps and miniguns.

I never want to be bitten by a spider. Or touched by a spider. I’m not Australian. I’ve never been touched by an Australian.

This was the first album Adult Paul felt a relation to what the band was talking about.

I was in my last year of University in 2004. I was in a relationship, with a woman, and with drugs. Neither were serious, though they felt with it at the time. Mostly I was still hung up on the relationship which never happened from a few years earlier. I was also trying to get a band up and running, but as is the case with most creative outlets in my life, I can’t find anyone to come with me on the journey and therefore blame everyone else for my own laziness and failures.

I’m eternally interested by the writing and recording process – lyrics first, music first, or some mixture. It’s partly why Get Back was such a joy. It looks like for Marbles the music was there to serve the words.

Marbles really are dangerous – they’re so solid. You can choke on them, break almost anything with them.

Sanja was daunted by the prospect of getting to Marbles and her journey through the album has been challenging in terms of putting her thoughts to words. She’s also concerned about how she will move on from Marbles to the next album.

Marbles has been my favourite album so far – it seems to be their best album too. Why is it their best? Because everything I say is fact, bruh. It’s as I mentioned in another Marbles post – it feels like everything the band had been trying to do since day 1 finally came out, the stars aligned and so on. All the little things they tried simply work. 

On to The Invisible Man with Paul saying it’s probably his favourite Marillion song and Sanja drawing tribal/womb/heartbeat comparisons. The bit they’re talking about – the bit they (shock horror) play a clip of is just after the bit I mention in my first Marbles post – as soon as H says ‘Amsterdam’. It’s everything I love about Prog, and I suppose about Music.

I agree that the album doesn’t feel dated. I’d still class it as fairly recent… I suppose. Other pop hits from the time you could instantly place, an experienced Sound Engineer I imagine could place the album, but there are likely quite a few albums from the era which still feel modern. Has music moved on much sense then? I’m sure it has, but I don’t listen to enough modern stuff.

‘Choir Noir’ is not so hard to say in my accent. ‘Qui-er No-Arr’. What do you call a Klingon who hates noisy pirates, but can’t pronounce the letter ‘T’? ‘Qui-er No-Arr’ (Quieter! No Arggh!) These Funny Me Dos are hard.

What’s it all about? Sanja draws comparisons and differences between this and Hollow Man, with Paul seeing similarities with Beyond You. She sees it as a cry for help, with the overall theme being powerlessness. I like the idea of parents/ancestors watching their children/descendants from beyond – I like it from a fictional perspective and it makes for interesting narrative and imaginative ideas. I believe I alluded to this in my post, comparing it to What Dreams May Come. Paul’s interpretation is more on the romantic side – the powerlessness comes from wanting to be with someone when you can’t, or watching someone move on when you’re not ready to.

H’s interview sums all of these feelings up – it’s a song which has specific references, but is more concerned with the wider picture, those wider modern feelings of alienation heightened by the amount of data we have exposure to. We get intimate pictures of pain and destruction and can be little more than passive reactors – we can help, but does our help make a difference? Maybe we can give considerable support to one person or group or thing… but do we miss out on helping others? More than anything, this (for me) points to us as being decent human beings – we’re one species and we want to help each other. No other species has evolved to the state of being aware of such worldly widespread troubles and has the technology to both bare witness and potentially help, and to feel empathy for those troubles. At least as far as we know.

Don’t worry, team – my first Marbles post was only this song and Marbles I. There’s a lot to unpack in the song, and it’s wonderful to hear fans gush over it. Plus it’s nice that I like the song too. I suppose I’ll be doing a few more of these bonus posts. Go listen to BYAMPOD.

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

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

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Marbles (Part 1)!

Marbles (album) - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! I’m writing this post on 1st October 2021. It has been a while since the last ‘mainline’ BYAMPOD episode – the guys have been busy with Digi Live, a Kickstarter for the 2nd Season of Digitiser The Show, and various other Youtube antics. In addition, there has been a lot of Marillion news recently and a tonne of Marillion.com based letters to Paul and Sanja. As such, we’ve had several interim BYAMPOD episodes including the bumper 50th Episode in which the first 50 listeners each received 50 pies of their own choosing (I went for Lemon Meringue).

Has it been roughly a year since I started this Marillion journey? That feels about right. It has been a year of listening to ‘new’ music in the form of Marillion, but also in the form of a bunch of other artists and albums I either missed first time around, missed because I wasn’t alive yet, or missed because it’s relatively new and I ignored. It has been a strange year nostalgia wise too, with many of my favourite artists releasing new music. The Manics recently released their 14th album which earned them only their 2nd Number 1. Anneke Van Giersbergen released The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest earlier in the year and Alice Cooper released his retro styled Detroit Stories. Iron Maiden dropped another mammoth tome a month ago, and Radiohead have been unveiling some cutting room floor treats from the Kid A/Amnesiac era. Tori has a new one coming, though I don’t think I’ve listened to her last one yet. Hell, it even looks like Guns ‘n’ Roses are about to release a new album (even if it will likely be made up of unreleased bits and bobs from Chinese Democracy). Finally, as if there was any doubt remaining, Natalie Imbruglia confirmed that she’s unquestionably the greatest pop star of her generation with her recently released Firebird. Sure I come into this with a little bias given her White Lillies Island is one of my all time favourites, but Firebird is lovely, varied, emotive pop with the wisdom she brings to a genre almost sapped of it.

Sadly, it’s not all good news. The news emerged that Greg Glibert, lead singer of The Delays, tragically lost his long battle with Cancer. Greg was a unique talent, creating some of the most summery, shimmering indie pop/rock/whatever you want to call it, this side of The Beach Boys. The first two albums by The Delays are beautiful, joyous slices of life which never failed to put a smile on my face, and their subsequent two albums are pretty great too. The Delays are my soundtrack to Summer drives with the family. I don’t see how anyone who may be reading this and enjoys music wouldn’t love them. Greg had one of the finest voices in music and by all accounts was a wonderful human – poet, artist, brother, son, father, husband. He was also beloved as ‘one of the good guys’ by hundreds in the music business and the wider world of the famous, and it’s fair to say that as a mere fan I’m devastated by the loss. Those who actually knew him must be beyond heartbroken. Knowing it was coming doesn’t make it easier, but Greg had known for the last couple of years that… well, lets just leave it with one of the last poems he wrote –

Death makes a crown of love,

A mantle to take across the threshold

as a sign of accomplished living:

You are loved,

You have loved,

You have lived.

None of this has anything to do with Marillion, so let us return to the subject at hand. I still need to go back and update my Anoraknophobia posts with my BYAMPOD comments once those episodes are ready, but if I’m honest, I’m done with Anoraknophobia and I’m keen to get stuck in to Marbles. Beyond Misplaced Childhood, I’ve been led to believe this is the Notorious B.I.G.G.I.E. A double album, maybe the best of the H era, maybe the best album they’ve done so far. That’s all I know about it – hype. I don’t know if there’s a change in musical approach, tone, genre, or if it’s simply the band hitting their stride or perfecting the formula they’ve been tinkering with. Does the title mean anything? A concept album about the old timey game of flicking each others’ balls? A collection of songs about (in)sanity? An affectionate term for H’s favourite Spanish coastal town? Lets see if the artwork can shed some light.

It’s another close up of a face. It’s another picture of a boy. Is one half of his body tanned or darker hued than the other? He’s holding a couple of marbles up in front of his eyes. I used to do that trick of sticking a 10p into my eye and sort of squinting to hold it in place, becoming a sort of more pervy-looking Popeye. Then I remembered how germ ridden 10ps are and that looking pervy isn’t generally a turn on for most people, or socially acceptable in polite circles. It’s fine? It doesn’t tell me much, and I think I’d have preferred some striking artwork instead of another photograph. Like a drawing of Popeye, marbles in eyes and a maw filled with spinach, staggering out of a pub atop a pier with a speech bubble drooling from his lips howling ‘Yuk yuk yuk, I can’t stands no more’. Or an actually funny quote. Look, I don’t plan this shite, just go with it.

I don’t know how many episodes the guys are going to do on Marbles based on its length. They’re talking about cutting down both the length and numbers of the letters and emails – I’ve done my bit by refusing to send any – but the thing is over 90 minutes long so I’m guessing they might top two eps. As such, I don’t know how many songs to include in my posts. The clever thing would be to simply edit my posts once their episodes are available, but I’m not that clever. Looking at the track list I’m going to go with the first two songs for now. If they cover more in their first episode, maybe I’ll edit my posts to match. In which case this paragraph is entirely redundant. Keeping it in though. Lets go.

It’s now 23rd of November and I haven’t posted about Marillion for a while so it’s time to get this Part One out into the world. First off – carving 4Real into a tree? I get it. 

The Invisible Man is my kind of Prog. Long, experimental, thought-provoking, but with heart and melody underpinning everything. Where Prog can lose me is when I feel detached from the music and the meaning; Songs can be long for the sake of being long, but lose coherence or purpose. Songs can be experimental within the traditional scope of the genre and within the traditional scope of the artist, but if the experimentation is too sharp a departure from what made you love the band, then you can lose that personal connection. If it’s your first time hearing the band, then the experimentation can often feel like, well, an experiment, rather than a song. It’s a fine balance and there’s a place for both approaches and outcomes – I enjoy both, but I am drawn more to those experiments which feel like an extension of what the band already offers. Songs being thought-provoking… Prog has a reputation for beating listeners over the head with words, sounds, emotions, ideas, and can seem like a closed boys club from the outside, but sometimes songs which claim to be thought-provoking are nothing more than a collection of thoughts which mean something to the writer but nothing to the listener. Finally, if there’s no emotion and only plain or boring melodies, then you’ll lose me from from the outset.

So yes, The Invisible Man is my kind of Prog – the good kind. It’s a fantastic opener and ticks all of my boxes, but as with any Prog it does still take some time to bed in. I was engaged and curious from the opening moments of The Invisible Man but by the end of its bubbling crescendo I was sold. There’s a moment around the four minute mark (which the previous minutes have been building too in a chilled but other-worldly instrumental) right after H sings ‘Amsterdam’, that everything coalesces and makes sense. It’s a goosebumps moment, the coming together of the underlying guitars and the – I’m not sure if it’s keyboards or Rothers using one of those little ring finger tools which can increase your guitar’s sustain and make it sound like a synth or Theremin. The confidence which I touted on the previous album is front and centre in The Invisible Man, but it’s not the sort of yelping bravado of an attention seeker. This confidence is comfortable and natural. It’s the confidence of simply, unquestionably knowing you’re good, perhaps without even realizing it. It’s the confidence of ‘if you build it, they will come’.

The opening couple of minutes have plenty of twists, feeling like a trip in the physical and metaphysical sense. In the numerous times I’ve listened to the song I couldn’t find a musical anchor – a recurring riff or melody, a standout lead instrument, and for a song to be this good without that anchor is all the more impressive. Without that anchor songs can fly off in any direction and become nothing. Moments do flit in and out – ‘I have become the invisible man’ is repeated at various points but as more of a passing face in the crowd you might recognise than a solid anchor. I went off to check out the written score for some of the instruments because I’m curious about how all of this works. It’s less complex than it sounds when you follow the chords but where the transitions land and where the additional instrumentation and production expand the soundscape beyond the core structure is where the interesting magic seems to happen. In essence, you could play this song without much effort solo with a guitar or piano but it wouldn’t have anywhere near the same effect of awe and mystery. It’s cool how the song leads with predominantly G – F type chords, then the little transitions add in subtle D and E shapes before transforming to a lead D and A form and finally into E and B. Then it clatters it all together for the final moments. I’m not sure what that actually means, but I like the little clues in each lead which seem to set the listener up for where the song is going next.

There are different levels of intensity in the song, seemingly moving from an airy tone to one of disembodiment and on to anguish and anger. I love the introduction of the backing vocals (are those synth too?) as the song becomes more pained through the ‘Autumn light’ section, eventually exploding into a more quiet phase, answering the various ‘what can I do’ questions. It’s one of the better, maybe the best, examples of Marillion melding plot and music. The lyrics by and large echo the changes the music takes, or vice versa. It seems like a song which would have been written with a great deal of partnership in getting the story across via the words and the music. Lyrically I was imagining a literal ghost (or soul, if you like) wafting through the streets in search of its hosts former haunting places and familiars. We begin with the concise and beautifully put explanation of how this out of body state has happened – the world slipped away while I was distracted and now my body is gone but my eyes remain. This being H, it does feel a little stalker-ish in places. I get this is likely another break-up song with the feelings of displacement coming from falling out of the routine and fixture of being in love and being in a relationship. It’s a different metaphor from the same themes of House. It’s another example of the language, the words themselves, not needing to be poetic while forming poetry from the images conveyed and the form used. Anyone can read the lyrics and feel moved without reaching for the dictionary or misinterpreting a connection personal to H or some subtle cultural reference. I also appreciate the little nuances between the tense delivery, constantly jumping from ‘I shout’ to ‘I will hear’ to ‘I am’ to ‘I’ll feel’ and eventually onto ‘If I close my eyes I can see’.

I could waffle on about this for ages but I don’t want to bore anyone further. I’ll leave it with me noticing some slight parallels with this and What Dreams May Come – the book and the movie, although those deal less with a break up and watching or imagining someone moving on to a new relationship as The Invisible Man does. The Invisible Man goes straight into my playlist. Marbles I doesn’t. At least not immediately, at least not on its own. It starts with this relaxed Jazz Club (nnnnice) vibe which isn’t really my thing, but it’s short and leads neatly into Genie. I’ll ask the obvious question, assume the obvious answer, but not do the obvious thing of actually checking for myself – has someone edited all the Marbles 1, 2, 3, 4 into a single track? People do that all the time when bands split up a song into different tracks, or even when the songs were always meant to be separate but were given the same name for whatever reason. I assume someone has done that and it’s probably out there on Youtube. Maybe I’ll check it out some day. Part 1 is nice enough, but too much of a come down from the opener – maybe it would work better coming after Genie? It does remind me of something I meant to talk about earlier – H’s singing on the album. It’s a little different. He seems to be curling his tongue more when he sings to give that faux Grunge warble, but even worse he’s doing one of the things which irrationally pisses me off – singing with an affected lisp. If he had been doing this on other albums I’ve either forgotten about it or not noticed it, but it’s plastered all over Marbles (or should I say Marblesh?) from start to finish. I’m sure this won’t annoy anyone but me but it’s one of those things which has always got on my nuts. I don’t mind if it’s in one or two places, but it’s there in the first track and it’s all over Genie (out of the boxzssh). Unless you can’t prevent yourself from doing it, it seems like such a bizarre choice for a singer to make. Itsh a shame, becaush Genie izh ssuch a lovely shong elshewhere. See?

But more on Genie in the next post. I made the guess that the name Marbles was likely related to losing one’s mind – or marbles. It’s a word ripe for metaphor, and the idea of sanity has been covered a million times in music. Some of my personal favourites being Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Dark Side Of The Moon, and Alice Cooper’ From The Inside in which Alice doubles and triples down on the number of metaphors and ways to refer to someone as ‘mad’. Great album though, and one of the best examples of gatefold artwork you’ll find. Part 1 of Marbles is childlike enough in its music and lyric that someone could take it literally as someone is sad that they’ve lost their favourite/last marble, but it’s obviously showing how someone’s sanity has been steadily shedding and now some incident or trigger has caused the final break, the last marble and ounce of sanity and inspiration to disappear. In any case, I like the metaphor and the song is short enough to not really do any damage.

That’s about it for now. I’m going to post this, probably before the guys do their first Marbles episode so I’ll have to circle back and leave my episode comments in a later post. For now, let us know your thoughts on Marbles as a whole, on the two songs I’ve covered, on my stupid hatred for lisp singing, and anything else you want to get off your chest!