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’.
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!