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Old 05-23-2015, 09:58 AM   #2721 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post

I was just heading off to bed one night last week when I happened to catch a recording of the Sonisphere 2014 festival, and while some of the acts were meh, there was one that stood out to me, the more because it surprised me how impressed I was. That was the single song performed by Gary Numan, darling of the eighties new-wave scene and best known of course for his number one hit with Tubeway Army, “Are friends electric?” It was in fact this song that he played, but it was the way he “rocked it up” that truly staggered me. Known as one of the best examples of what would be seen as emotionless pop music of the time, it's hard to imagine this rocking at all, but he did a great job on it.

Now of course I guess anything can be made tougher and harder and more rocky if you have the talent, but for me the awe was that this was not a cover by some rock band who would be used to such music, but the artiste himself, famous for his pasty-faced makeup, emotionless drone and unblinking stare, and to see him with long(ish) unkempt hair, smiling and dancing around, well it was quite a revelation.

The crowd certainly seemed to love it (most would have known or known of it I guess, even if they would pretend never to have heard it or enjoyed it) and Numan himself seemed to be having a blast. The keyboards were there, sure, but cut right back and the electric guitars drove the song, giving it much more of a bite, adding a real punch and injecting a lot of emotion into a song that originally would have made the likes of Kraftwerk proud. I of course don't know how Numan performs these days, and his last album seems to be mostly still rooted in the new-wave/industrial style of music, but it's good to know that almost thirty years later he's discovered how to kick back, let his hair down, smile and not take everything so deadly serious. Are friends electric? This song certainly was, in a live setting.
Dang, that's actually really cool. Without changing the instrumentation that much, he completely changed up the vibe of the song.
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Old 05-23-2015, 11:21 AM   #2722 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Powerstars View Post
Dang, that's actually really cool. Without changing the instrumentation that much, he completely changed up the vibe of the song.
That's what I was saying. This is not a song I would ever have conceived using guitars in a rock context, and yet, there it is...
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Old 06-04-2015, 02:41 PM   #2723 (permalink)
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Those who know my journal and have been here a while may remember that a couple of years back I used to run two daily sections, “Random Track of the Day” and “The Daily Earworm.” Keeping this up on a daily basis soon became a pain and I knocked both on the head. This new section is nothing to do with either of those, and yet there are some basic similarities, with the idea having been somewhat born from a kind of amalgamation of those two ideas.

From time to time, I wake up (as you probably do) with a song inexplicably lodged in my head. It may be a song I haven't heard for years, but for some reason --- maybe it was involved in a dream I had which I no longer remember on waking --- it's there when I open my eyes and I go around for an hour or so after getting up, humming or singing it. When this happens, from now on, assuming the song is interesting enough for me to write about it, I will do so here. I'll tell you what I know of it, the artiste that sings it, and any other information that seems relevant, interesting, or will just fill up space.

Whereas RtotD and TDE were songs I purposely chose (even if at random) to feature each day, these will not be anything of the sort. Firstly, they will most certainly not be daily, or maybe even weekly or monthly. If nothing else, they'll serve to fill in for that one time out of a thousand when I have nothing written! There'll be no real order on them; I may feature one today and not another for three months, and then six together, who knows? But they will be born from actual experience in my sleeping state, or anywhere else that they happen to pop into my brain. In other words, they will be

The first one I want to look at is, oddly, not one that was playing in my head when I awoke. In fact, this morning I woke up with Billy Idol's “Hot in the city” running around in my brain. It's a great song, but for some reason put me in mind of another, one I have not heard in at least thirty years, and which has a similar title.

Hot child in the city by Nick Gilder, from the album City Lights, 1978

The things you learn when you start to research! I had no idea who Nick Gilder was, and for some reason --- maybe because their names sound a little similar --- had him linked in with Nils Lofgren! But it turns out Gilder was singer in the glam rock band Sweeney Todd, who also were home at one time to one Bryan Adams, and who had a big hit of their own, and this is where serendipity and coincidence collide, as the name of that single was “Roxy roller”! Sound like one of our favourite MB members? Perhaps she knows the song. And yet, this is a Canadian band. Or was. After success with that single, which got to number one, Gilder went solo and this is from his second album.

It's quite clever really, as it's an uptempo, feel-good pop song but Gilder tells us it is in fact written about the curse of child prostitution. He wrote it from the point of view of someone looking for just such an assignation on the dark city streets, which makes the lyric a little more disturbing when you know the story behind it. Listen to this: ”Come on down to my place, baby/ We'll talk about love/ Come on down to my place, woman/ We'll make love.” When you realise he's talking to a fifteen or sixteen-year old --- and he knows that --- well it just makes you shudder.

But it's still a great song, and everyone else thought so too, as it went to number one for him in Canada and in the USA, emulating the success he had with Sweeney Todd. After that of course he had no more hits, though he released six more albums, wrote songs from Better Midler and the late Joe Cocker, as well as Pat Benatar's hit “The Warrior”. He's still recording and touring today, but I guess if he's known at all, it'll be for one of those two big hit singles.
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Old 06-07-2015, 11:32 AM   #2724 (permalink)
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Note: having hit on a pretty cool way of reviewing albums with my "Love or Hate?" thread, I've decided to henceforth apply this format to my own reviews here, and in other journals. I'll still be doing my usual long-winded diatribe of course (hell, I wouldn't be Trollheart if I wasn't expostulating at length about some line of lyric or a keyboard solo, or some "introspective guitar", now would I?) but in some cases I may just take that alternative route. When I don't though, I'll be upgrading the Tracklisting to "Tracklisting and Rating", and colour-coding each track so that you can, if you want, at a glance, see what I thought of the album.

I'm sure most of you know the codes by now but in case not it's
Green for Love
Red for Hate
White for Meh
and Blue for True Love, which means obviously I really love that track. I'll also colour-code the title so that you know beforehand where I stand on it.

We've done both stages of a band's life, so to speak, with “Maiden Voyages” concentrating on the beginnings of the artiste and their first album, while “Swan Song” has taken a look at their final offering, but what about that transitional time when a band undergoes a serious lineup change? Like when a lead singer, founder or otherwise important band member leaves, whether through mutual agreement, over artistic differences, or a big knockdown fight? Or when someone dies, or a band splits into two incarnations of itself? When these things happen, things can go one of two ways: the band can fall apart and perhaps limp on for a short time before imploding, or they can suck it up, either advertise for a replacement or soldier on as they are, and resign themselves to being a man short, but determined to be just as good as, if not better than before.

In other words, when those fateful words “X is leaving band Y” hit the music headlines, fans of the band hang their heads and wring their hands and wonder what is now going to happen. Is this the end of an era, the sun setting on a once-great band's history, or is there a chance it will be

When Fish left Marillion in 1987 I was crushed. To tell the truth, I firmly believed that the band was broken up, would be no more. Fish had, after all, been the driving force behind the band, and though he had not actually been a founder member he was the lyricist and as a frontman, one of the main reasons that they had garnered the attention they had. Fish had a way of speaking to the audience and interacting with them that few frontmen possess; a sort of theatrical idea mixed with a small amount of of self-deprecating comedy, and a determination not to speak down to or belittle the fans. The lyrics alone on the first four albums show what an incredible wordsmith he is, and while he did not play any instrument, his mere presence onstage was enough to elevate Marillion to the very highest echelons of the emerging neo-prog rock revival going on at the time.

But excessive touring and a lack of belief in EMI led Fish to decide that his fortunes lay elsewhere, and after releasing Clutching at straws, the prophetically-titled final Fish-era album, he bade farewell to the guys he had spent five years making music and history with, and embarked on his own solo career. This left Marillion with a choice of Genesisesque proportions. Did they advertise for a new vocalist, or did someone in the band feel competent in taking over from their tall Scottish frontman? Could anyone else write the sort of lyrics Fish had? While Genesis all mostly wrote as a team on their Gabriel-era albums, Marillion had always left the lyrics to Fish while they wrote the music. Unless they wanted to become an instrumental band --- and how would the fans take that? --- they needed to fill the shoes vacated by their own “Big Yin”.

Seasons end --- Marillion --- 1989 (EMI)

Although John Helmer, who would work with them through the 1990s and then vanish to add his lyrical prowess to Fish's solo albums, had written some lyrics for the emerging fifth Marillion album --- and much of Fish's half-completed work would be used also --- Marillion needed a new guy to express these lyrics and communicate with the audience, to show the fans that Marillion were still very much a going concern. In Steve Hogarth they struck gold. Whereas Fish had a pronounced Scottish accent (of course) Hogarth had the more genteel, relaxed cultured English accent found in people like Roger Hodgson and Roger Waters. He seemed to fit in perfectly, and when I found this album, to my intense surprise and delight, thinking that Marillion had released all they were going to, I immediately fell in love with his voice.

Unlike many fans, I do not ascribe to the “he-left-the-band-and-now-I follow-him” or the reverse; I enjoyed Gabriel's solo work as much as the later output from Genesis, and Dio's albums as much as Rainbow or Black Sabbath. I don't understand the “line in the sand” idea that when a band member, particularly a vocalist/frontman leaves a band that there has to be a choice, that you have to “support” one or the other. Why not both? Makes sense to me. Anyway I had absolutely no problem buying both Marillion --- new Marillion --- records as well as Fish solo material, and I enjoyed both. But initially this was something new for me, as it was for everyone, and I wondered what I would make of it. How would Marillion sound without Fish?

Answer: pretty much the same, as in any case Mark Kelly, Steve Rothery, Pete Trewavas and Ian Mosley still created all the music, so that was never going to change too much. However we would see something of a swing away from much of the darker themes that had encompassed the band's first four albums, and less of the more epic, longer song suites that had characterised the likes of Misplaced childhood and, to an extent, Clutching at straws. There would also be shorter, snappier, almost poppier songs as the band found their feet with their new identity and began to perhaps pull away from the overly controlling aspect of Fish's lyrics.

We begin, however, with a familiar sound as Mark Kelly's sparkling keyboards slowly --- very slowly --- rise from the silence, attended by Pete's dark basslines taking us into “The king of Sunset Town”, Steve Rothery's crying guitar swelling in tandem with Kelly's keys before the whole thing bursts out on a big attack from Rothery, Mosley battering his kit as if really happy to be back, which brings us almost two and a half minutes into the song before we first hear the clear, dulcet tones of the new boy. It's clear from the outset that Hogarth is not going to be a Fish replacement; he's his own man and he is about to give Marillion a whole new sound, a sound that will eclipse the Fish years while never forgetting or discounting them. With typically obstruse lyric, the song is about poverty and also pulls in the massacre in Tianamen Square as Hogarth sighs ”Everyone assembled here/ Remembers how it used to be/ Before the twenty-seventh came/ This place will never be the same.” I used to think the 27th referred to was a date, but Wiki tells me it's the Chinese 27th Army that Hogarth is namechecking, they who rumbled their tanks into that infamous square on that fateful, dark day.

Kelly's doleful piano follows the vocal almost in sympathy, with little twinkling synth flourishes, before the whole thing ends on a big flurry of instruments, powering out and fading as it began, into the distance, and I'm already impressed and if I'm honest, a little relieved. This was a big ask for Marillion, and initially at least, they've risen to the task. “Easter” is up next, and it's a beautiful, aching ballad which shows for the first time Hogarth's songwriting skill, as he speaks of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, something which immediately earns him points in my book. With a soft little acoustic guitar line from Rothery, the song is a mid-paced, almost folky tune, and treats the situation in Northern Ireland far more sympathetically (for an Englishman) than Fish did on “Forgotten sons”. There's no vitriol here, no soldiers dying in the street, no “children mourning your death in a terrorist's smile”, just a fervent wish for peace and harmony. Sides are not taken, recriminations are not thrown, accusations do not fly: it's a perfectly balanced lyric and probably one of the least contentious and therefore most effective songs about the North that I've ever heard. I would imagine it was tough to play “Forgotten sons” on stage in Belfast, whereas here, this song would be, and is, welcomed by even the staunchest Nationalist in the Falls Road as it would be on the streets of London.

A superb, aching guitar solo from Rothery injects further heart into the song before Hogarth asks, plainly and without artifice ”What will you do/ With the wire and the gun/ Will you set things right/ When it's said and done?” After that powerful statement, the more rocky, somewhat tongue-in-cheek “The uninvited guest”, beginning as it does on a marching, military drumbeat comes both as something of a relief and a disappointment, but it's nice to see some humour being injected into the often too serious Marillion lyrics. ”You can fly to the other side of the world” warns Hogarth, grinning, ”You know you'll only find/ I've reserved the seat behind you/ We can talk about old times!” I honestly don't know what the song is supposed to be about, but it's a good example of a hard-rocking song which still retains the progressive rock sensibilities Marillion have, at this point, become known for.

The title track, also the longest, just beating the opener by a few seconds, comes in, like “The King of Sunset Town”, on a low, murmuring synth from Kelly with am emotional guitar intro from Rothery as Hogarth worries about global warming, this being perhaps the first Marillion song to focus on the damage we're causing to the environment of the planet we live on. He moans ”We'll tell our children's children/ Why we grew so tall and reached so high/ We left our footprints in the earth/ And punched a hole right through the sky.” There's a terrible sense of loss and shame in the song, a passionate plea for something to be done before it's too late. Another emotional guitar solo from Rothery, perhaps his best work on the album, with particularly dark synth backing from Kelly, before the song winds down to a false ending, coming back in very slowly and gradually on a shuddering guitar line from Steve, pulsing bass from Pete and tinkly piano from Mark, leading up to a final crying vocal, distant, echoing and forlorn, the whole thing drifting away then and fading out.

And that's only half the album! Political lyrics were never anything Fish shrank from, and here we get another one as Hogarth deplores the imprisonment of women in “Holloway girl” and wonders about miscarriages of justice when he sings ”Like a needle in a haystack/ The truth gets so disguised/ In a kingdom built on madness and on lies.” There's a nice jaunty jangly guitar line opening the song and then it runs on a solid keyboard basis, but it's not really one of my favourite songs on the album. Not that it's bad; nothing on this album is, but it's probably my least favourite. A very Marillion sound about it, that's for certain, and Hogarth gets to express his vocal passion very well. Much better is yet another standout, as “Berlin” takes the idea for what would later become Fish's “Family business” and was initially called “Voice from a thin wall”. Written only weeks before the Wall would fall, it paints a stark picture of life for those in what was at that time Eastern Germany and the efforts of their government to keep them there by any means necessary. When Hogarth sings about the “spotlight dancer”, we all know what he's saying. There's a slow, almost muted beginning as he describes the opening of the day for a local prostitute as she ”Rises at twilight/ Gets dressed in a daze”, the song mostly led by a soft acoustic guitar line from Rothery, attended by --- I think for the first time ever --- sax from Phil Todd, but it builds to a powerful climax. I also like the double-meaning of ”Dancing in the spotlight/ To the sound of clapping hands”, which can refer to the girl dancing at the strip bar as well as the guy being shot on the wall when he's trapped in the searchlight as he tries to make it out of the city.

In the midway point, it all tails back for a low-key run that slowly gets more intense on mostly the military drumming from Ian Mosley, building alongside Hogarth's muttering then slowly more anguished voice, followed by Rothery and Kelly as Trewavas thumps the bass and the whole thing explodes into the main end section with a very Fish-like lyric leading into a superb solo by Rothery before the song fades out and then, “Seasons end”-like, comes back on a muted keyboard line and a final vocal from Hogarth. Mesmerising. Another first then for Marillion, “After me” is the only time up to this that I've heard them write a ballad that wasn't full of bitterness and recrimination. Yes, there was “Jigsaw”, “She chameleon” to an extent, “Lavender”, but all of those, even “Sugar mice”, one of their minor hits, had a dark, acerbic message in the lyric.

“After me” is a simple acoustic love song, though it does retain a few of the old Marillion trademarks in the lyric, such as the reference to the dog the girl finds: ”He loves her to hold him/ But he won't let her keep him/ And he claws at the door/ To be let out at night/ And she makes do without him/ She worries about him.” Some fine organ lines from Kelly and a keyboard passage right out of “Fugazi” and it builds up on a powerful guitar/keys combination and fades out triumphantly, taking us into yet another first. If you discount “Kayleigh”, it would seem that “Hooks in you” was actually written with the intention of getting Marillion a hit single. Didn't work, but it's very commercial and is the first point at which, linked to the previous track, the band begin to show that they are prepared to leave their neo-progressive roots behind to a degree and come out swinging as a straightforward rock band. “Hooks in you” could, theoretically, be by any rock band and while it has a great hook (sorry) it's a little less than playing to their strengths. It's a good song, but they can and would do better.

We end however on a return to what they do best, as the enigmatic “The space ...” takes us out, with a staggered, fading-in synth line from Kelly, almost orchestral, which builds up the tension and then is joined by Hogarth's voice quietly singing the opening line before Mosley pounds in and Rothery joins the party. According to Hogarth, the song is something of a hybrid; a retelling of an actual event he witnessed when younger and a reassessment of his life in relation to that. There's a reprise of the familiar guitar line from “The Web” as the song reaches its midpoint, before Rothery screams off on an expressive solo on the back of a dramatic, orchestral keyboard passage. Everything then falls back for a solo vocal from Hogarth backed only by organ before the rest of the band pile in, taking the song, and the album to its conclusion, Mosley underlining this with a big, booming echoing final drumbeat.


1. The King of Sunset Town
2. Easter
3. The uninvited guest
4. Seasons end
5. Holloway girl
6. Berlin
7. After me
8. Hooks in you
9. The Space...

Having heard this album I was more than happy. There's no way I would, or will, ever forget Fish nor his contribution to Marillion's sound, and fame, and position as leaders of the neo-prog revolution of the eighties, but he had made his decision and all that was left now was for us to hope and pray that a suitable replacement could be found. And our prayers had been answered. Although some of the songs made me look a little more closely, at running times and subjects, and wonder just how much Marillion were going to change over the years (answer: quite a lot, but they would never really ditch their prog rock sensibilities and would return to them with a vengeance for 1991's Brave, as already reviewed), this was not the disaster it could potentially have been. In fact, it was nothing like a disaster: it was almost a vindication that the band were not dependent on Fish, and that they could stand on their own feet without him.

A few months later, Fish would release his first solo album, and many Marillion fans would be torn, unsure of who to support, but not me. I bought the output from both camps and enjoyed them all (mostly), and it was now clear that in the case of Marillion, they had set down a new foundation which was solid and built to last. The past was the past, and would never be forgotten, but it was time to move on.

And the music of Marillion was, I could see, in very safe hands.
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Old 06-15-2015, 02:30 PM   #2725 (permalink)
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Most of us probably know what power exchange in a relationship is (and for those who don't: get out more!), but it's seldom you see it taking place in a song. Even more unlikely that it should occur in the songwriting of a man who has become known as a pretty inoffensive pop singer/songwriter and balladeer, not exactly known for courting controversy. This song doesn't, either. Court controversy, that is. It appears on his third album and was in fact very well received at the time, being on the face of it a --- say it with me --- inoffensive pop ballad. But look into the lyric and there is something much deeper and even very slightly sinister going on.
A rainy night in Paris (Chris de Burgh) 1977 from the album At the end of a perfect day
Music and Lyrics by Chris de Burgh
It opens as a man breaks the sad news to his lover that he must leave her. They are standing on the Champs Elysee, and he has to leave the country. It's winter, and he reckons he won't return until the spring --- ”We'll meet again in Paris/When there are flowers on the Champs Elysee”. The girl is, naturally, worried that he will not return --- ”How long? She said. How long?/ And will your love be strong?/ When you're across the sea/ Will your heart remember me?” He reassures her he will come back. But then something strange happens.

In the second and closing verse, she realises this is a vain hope; he is not coming back (or she has convinced herself he is not) and though she mouths pretty promises to him --- ”And then, she said, and then/ Our love will grow again” --- he begins to see that she is not in earnest, that she has decided he is lost to her, does not trust him to come back to her, or has made the decision not to wait, perhaps in vain, for him, and has effectively ended the relationship. ”In her eyes he sees/ Her words of love/ Are only words to please” and by the time they part the man is convinced they will never be together again: ”I know by the lights of Paris/ I will never see her again.”

So it's a very interesting and quite startling exchange of power in the song. Initially, you have the man, trying to comfort the girl but determined to leave, promising to come back, and she all upset and doubtful. He is most definitely in control at this point. He reassures her and she wonders if she can trust him, is his love strong enough to sustain a long-distance relationship? Will he come back to her? But somewhere along the way, during the conversation, whether she sees something in his eyes, hears in it his tone or just simply decides she has had enough and is not going to be toyed with, the power dynamic shifts and she chooses to take the lead, not telling him that the romance is over, but making it clear via her platitudes or something in her eyes that she will not be waiting for him. The man is now in the position of having been dumped, effectively, when just prior to this he was doing the dumping. He is now the recipient of empty promises, and, whether he originally intended to come back or was just covering himself and trying to hedge his bets, he is now the one who is being played.

I've never quite seen such a transformation take place within a short time in a song, and for me, it lifts the songs out of the realm of ordinary ballad (though it's a fine one) and into a much murkier, darker world, which for Mr. Clean, Chris de Burgh, is unusual indeed.

”It's a rainy night in Paris
And the harbour lights are low.
He must leave his love in Paris
Before the winter snow.

On a lonely street in Paris
He held her close to say
“We'll meet again in Paris
When there are flowers on the Champs Elysee.”

“How long?” she said, “How long?
And will your love be strong?
When you're across the sea
Will your heart remember me?”

Then she gave him words to cling to
When the winter nights were long:
“Nous serons encore amoures
Avec le coleur du printemps.”

“And then,” she said, “and then
Our love will grow again.”
Ah, but in her eyes he sees
Her words of love are only words to please.

And now the lights of Paris
Grow dim and fade away
And I know by the lights of Paris
I will never see her again.
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Old 07-01-2015, 03:09 PM   #2726 (permalink)
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If anyone asked me what my favourite band was, I'd have no hesitation in saying Genesis. If they asked what my second-favourite was, it's these guys. I've followed them since their debut single in 1982 followed by their debut album in 1983, and never once missed a single album. Apart from one, I've always been enthralled by their output and it's always been consistently good. Even after a major lineup change in 1988, when it looked like the band could go under, they survived, recruited a new singer and frontman and continued on where they had left off, becoming even more popular and often a little more mainstream, though never losing the progressive rock edge which had made them into what they were.

I don't know how long this is going to take --- my Tom Waits discography took three months --- but as before, while I'm doing this there will be no other entries in this journal. So if you don't like prog rock, or specifically this band, then stay away for a while as the journal is going to be totally dedicated to them.

If you do like them, then you're in luck as we begin the complete discography of

Formed in 1979 in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Marillion began life as Silmarillion, taking their name from the JRR Tolkien book that preceded both The Hobbit and of course The Lord of the Rings, but soon dropped the first three letters rather than face a copyright lawsuit. They built their initial following on frontman Derek Dick, known by his stagename and ever afterwards as Fish, and his engaging, often jarring Peter Gabrielesque theatrics. Fish wore greasepaint makeup and did things like using the microphone to machinegun down the audience during performances of one of their best loved songs, “Forgotten sons”. But Marillion was not just Fish; he wrote the lyrics and sang, but the rest of the band played and wrote the music, and together they formed a real powerhouse that brought the thought-dead subgenre of progressive rock right back into the musical consciousness and into the clubs and halls of Britain.

Initially, Marillion's lineup was
Fish on vocals
Steve Rothery on guitar
Mark Kelly on keyboards
Pete Trewavas on bass
Mick Pointer on drums

With the single exception of Pointer departing after the debut album, to be replaced by Ian Mosley, and the highly-publicised exit of Fish after their fourth album, his shoes stepped into by Steve Hogarth, Marillion has remained pretty much the same throughout their long career. Even now they are as popular as ever, though of course mainstream success pretty much eludes them, as it did most of their contemporaries in the seventies. But to those who know and care, Marillion are still a major force in a subgenre which has grown well beyond the boundaries that were established in the early eighties, and beyond the borders of its home country, England. Now prog rock is in America, Poland, Finland, Argentina .... but Marillion still come very high in the pecking order. Why? If you don't know, then come with me on a journey through the world of the Jester, and beyond.

Vanguards of the neo-prog revival of the eighties, Marillion first came to the notice of EMI in 1982 after recording a three-track demo,and the label signed them, releasing their first single, which oddly would not feature on their debut album the following year. For many people, they turned the clock back to the seventies with their intricate melodies, lyrics and epic songs that often lasted over eight or nine minutes at a time. For certain people this was seen as bad, a regression in music and a step backwards to the “bad old days” of the overblown, pretentious prog rock gods like ELP, Yes and Genesis, but to others it was a breath of fresh air in a world stifled with hair metal, pop and the remnants of the punk era. Over thecourse of their, to date, over thirty year career, Marillion would go through lineup changes, pioneer a new way of doing business and move from progressive rock to rock, to almost pop and back. They would have an almost-number one single and several top ten singles, but their strength would always remain in their albums, of which they have so far released sixteen, and in their fanbase, who remained staunchly loyal, even when frontman and driving force Fish left the band in 1988.

Their first album has already been reviewed by me in the “Albums that changed my life” section, and you can read it here Some more of their output has been reviewed too, and when these crop up in the discography I will let you know and direct you to the relevant page. For now though, it's time to begin our exploration proper of the music of this most innovative band by looking into their second album, released a mere year after their debut, and which would be followed a year later by what would basically be seen as the third part of a trilogy that began with Script For A Jester's Tear.

Fugazi (1984)

Although their debut had hardly set the music world alight (and with only six tracks in total I don't think it was ever intended to) Marillion did seem to take into account this time out that their songs were perhaps just a little too long to lend themselves even to radio airplay, everything on the debut being over seven minutes long, with the exception of “He knows you know”, which in fact became one of the two singles taken from the album. But it was clear that shorter, snappier, more accessible songs were required if Marillion were to make any sort of inroads on the charts, and while many musicians will tell you they write purely for the pleasure and for the integrity of the albums they make, who honestly does not want chart success? If nothing else, it can lead to new revenue streams, new fans and higher sales for your albums.

Which is not to say that Fugazi was written with singles in mind, because it was not; as dark as the debut had been, this was just as bleak, containing such lyrical themes as desertion, jealousy, revenge and social alienation, to say nothing of a strong strain of seeming misogynism that seemed to run through at least their early albums, as women were cast in the roles of temptresses (“She chameleon”, “Emerald lies”), objects of revenge (“Incubus”) or destroyers of marriage (“Jigsaw”, and again to an extent “Emerald lies”). I never quite noticed before how badly women are treated in Fish's lyrics, right up to his final album with Marillion. So in terms of singles, this album looked on the face of it to be as unlikely a candidate for chart success as had its predecessor.

But it did have them, although proper chart success would elude Marillion until the release of their third album. This album is also a very angry one, punctuated by Fish's scathing, acerbic lyrics against which a backdrop of often sharp guitar and thumping drumming is laid down. Unlike its predecessor, Fugazi opens with a low rising synth and guitar in a kind of almost eastern chant phrasing with attendant moans from Fish, the music building very slowly, gradually bringing in the percussion, perhaps intentionally given the subject, and finally Fish yells a sort of unintelligible roar like “Sha!” or something before Steve Rothery takes off on a kind of funky guitar intro as “Assassing” begins.

I'm not quite sure of the circumstances surrounding the departure of original drummer and founder Mick Pointer, but it's clear it was not an amicable parting, as this song is “dedicated” to him, and it's very clear from the lyric that Fish (and presumably the rest of Marillion) are not impressed. When Fish sings (or rather, spits) ”On the sacrificial altar to success my friend/ Unleash a strange from a kiss my friend/ No incantations of remorse my friend/ Unsheath the blade within the voice, my friend?” you can get an idea of the depth of anger there is against the former drummer. There's a screeching solo from Rothery before it all settles down into a sort of low hum and builds slowly behind Fish as he goes all-out on the alliteration: “Venomous verbs”, "Adjectives of annihilation", “Apocalyptic alphabet”, “Syllables of slaughter”, they're all here and if Fish goes a little overboard making his point perhaps we can forgive him. It's a powerful opener though, and when compared to the more laidback, sombre tone of the opener of the previous album, something of a shock. Kind of like reaching out to pet a bunny rabbit who snaps off your finger.

Of course, at this point we've known that Marillion are capable of punching it up and injecting venom into their music: “Market square heroes”, although no ton the debut, was a searing indictment of unemployment and the policies of the Thatcher government, something Fish would revisit partially on his second solo album, Internal Exile, and “Garden party” dripped sarcastic satire and revulsion at the upper classes, while “He knows you know” was a stark warning against the misuse of drugs, perhaps a little two-faced given that Fish wrote the next album while “on a trip”, but the passion and simmering resentment in those songs can't be overlooked. This however was a totally different kind of anger, born of betrayal and disillusion. The last person you want to stab you in the back is one you believed your friend, and the constant, ironic use of this phrase throughout “Assassing” shows how deeply wounded Fish was by this treachery.

Another theme, as I say, that runs, perhaps worryingly, through this and subsequent albums is that of misogyny. There aren't that often females in the lyrics written by Fish, at least with Marillion, but when they're there they're almost invariably a negative influence, often blamed for the hero's woes, as the woman in the next track, which was actually selected as a single, oddly enough, has all the responsibility for a failed marriage and broken dreams thrust upon her. Kicking off on a sprightly arpeggio on the keys by Mark Kelly, “Punch and Judy” is a deceptively upbeat song which actually catalogues --- as do other songs on this album --- the breakdown of a relationship, in this case a marriage. I don't believe Fish was married at this point (not sure he even had a serious relationship going) so I doubt he's writing here from experience, but the venom in this track, and the one-sideness of the story, is cause for concern.

With his life now hopelessly in a rut, his chances of ever making anything of himself, the hero immediately blames his wife, Judy, as he sings ”Washing machine, pinstripe dream/ Strip the gloss from a beauty queen.” It's clear there that he's blaming Judy for losing her looks, as he plaintively asks ”What ever happened to pillow fights?/ What ever happened to jeans so tight, Friday nights?/ What ever happened to Lover's Lane?” Well, how can I put this? Life happened, mate. Everyone gets older and more boring and loses their looks and their sex drive. It happens. But “Punch” does not want to face that he might have some blame to shoulder here, and complains as he goes along about his wife's behaviour in the bedroom: ”Curling tongs, Mogadon/ Got a headache baby/ Don't take too long.” It's also obvious, reading between the lines just a little, that this is a story of domestic abuse, as Punch and Judy soon becomes Punches Judy, the anger and rage behind those words (”Punch! Punch! Punches Judy!”) giving them their own dark rhythm and power.

Even more disturbing is not just the idea that the hero is contemplating murdering his wife --- ”Just slip her these pills/ And I'll be free!” --- but that we, as the listeners, are being tricked into believing he is right; she deserves it. She has ruined his life, now if he kills her he can go on and make a new one for himself. I'm hesitant to call Fish a woman-hater, but if there's a clearer example of pure misogyny in his lyrics I don't know what it is. Of course, he may not believe any of these things and this may and probably is just a depiction of suburban life and how marriages fail, and yet, considering not only the subject matter of the next few tracks, but also the perspective from which they're viewed, it's hard to think that he's just making a point or playing Devil's Advocate.

“Punch and Judy” is one of the only, perhaps the only Marillion song I know of that has no discernible solo in it, other than the arpeggios that open and close it. There is no bridge, no real pause between verses and chorus --- indeed, no real chorus other than the title sung three or four times. It's a bit of an enigma: on the surface it's an almost poppy, breezy song that you could see playing on the radio, but what lies beneath is dark, twisted and very very distressing. Even the names of the two protagonists are carefully chosen, so as to reflect the undercurrent of marital violence running through the song. Definitely my least favourite on the album; I hated it when I first heard it, and while now, I can appreciate it more, mostly for its clever lyric, I still find it very repulsive in tone and content. The music, while good, is almost as offputting, like someone singing “Everything is beautiful” while kicking a child to death.

The marriage breakdown theme continues unabated as we hit the first ballad, and while “Jigsaw” is mostly driven on Kelly's rippling piano and keyboards, the tone of it is far more defeated, tired, fatalistic than the previous. Whereas “Punch and Judy” was characterised by anger, recrimination and a thirst for revenge, (as indeed is the next song after this) “Jigsaw” takes a more pragmatic approach. It's almost as if the guy in the song, unlike our friend Punch, has given yup, realising this is never going to work, but again unlike Punch he does not blame his version of Judy. He speaks of the futility of it all as he sings ”We are pilots of passion/ Sweating the flight on course/ To another summit conference/ Another breakfasttime divorce.” The vocal from Fish, in direct contrast to the manic, almost maniacal fervour of the previous song, is low, quiet, almost disinterested. It's the tale of two people reaching the end of the road, knowing it, and preparing to separate.

There is of course some anger. When we reach the chorus Fish yells ”Stand straight!/ Look me in the eye/ And say goodbye/ Stand straight!/ We've drifted past the point/ Of reasons why.” The music swells with him as his patience boils over, then it all fades back down for the next verse. A searing solo from Rothery takes the midsection before it all drops back and Fish asks ”You must have known that I/ Was conceiving an escape?” Some of the lyric in this makes no sense to me, as I must admit is a failing in much of Fish's work. He uses very high concepts and esoteric themes, so that most of the time you don't know what the hell he's saying, but it sure sounds good. I mean, ”We are Renaissance children/ Becalmed beneath the Bridge of Sighs/ Forever throwing firebrands at the stonework”? What does that mean? And how about ”Are we trigger happy?/ Russian Roulette in a waiting room?/ Empty chambers embracing the end?” Lyrical nonsense aside though, it's a great song and it fades out as it began, with Fish's voice whispering almost as if he's disappearing into the darkness ”I'll be seeing you again/On the ricochet...”

After that, things explode with at first just a few little taps on the drum from new man (and still Marillion drummer to this day) Ian Mosley, then a full blown run on the skins as Rothery joins in on the guitar, before it all softens down on the harpsichord-like keys of Kelly and Fish comes in with a quiet, but bitter vocal, dropping to a sibilant whisper at one point. Even given the vitriol spewed out in “Punch and Judy”, this is the first time Marillion use the word “whore”, and it will be used again, sadly reinforcing the view I have of this album's slant against women in general. Fish does however put in a showstopping performance here as he grins and salivates and prances about, declaring ”Plundering your diaries/ I'll steal your thoughts/ Ravaging your letters/ Unearth your plots!”

It's actually one of my favourite, if not my absolute favourite tracks on the album, not because it's also the second-shortest, but really because it captures Marillion at their very best. We get the feeling that the wrong end of the stick has been taken here, that something written in private has been aired in public and a serious rift, an irreparable rift, has opened in this relationship. When Fish growls ”I trust you/ Trust in me/ To mistrust you!” he is almost echoing Francis Urquhart in Michael Dobbs's “House of cards” when the Prime Minister tells us “She trusts me. And I trust her, to be absolutely human.” In the end of course, the marriage is over --- ”And the coffee stains gather/ Till the pale kimono/ Sets the wedding rings dancing/ On the cold linoleum” --- though we can perhaps feel it is the man who leaves --- ”You pack your world within a suitcase/ Hot tears melt this icy palace” --- but either way, the relationship has been destroyed, perhaps by outside interfering forces with their own dark agenda.
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There is however nothing mysterious about the intentions of the “She chameleon”, as Kelly's winding, snaking, writhing keyboard lines undulate through the entire song, almost completely carrying it with a smoky, sensual and yet ultimately empty sense of promise, as Fish derides the groupies whom he also refers to as “vinyl whores”. Again, it's the women who are blamed for tempting him into sin, as he bemoans his lack of control: ”They know what you want/ They sing your name/ And glide between the sheets/ I never say no/ In chemical glow we let our bodies meet” but then wonders, and at the same time ensures this song would never get any airplay by mentioning the word six times as he wonders ”Was it just a fuck?” There is to be fair some semblance of responsibility taken here for his actions, and it's a dark and depressing song with a squalid, nasty ending as he cavorts in his bed of sin, recalling Matt Johnson who wrote "Our bed is empty/ The fire is out/ And all the love we had to give/ Has all squirted out.”

He has his revenge though in the next track, when “Incubus” apparently warns of the dangers of doing things in your youth that you may regret, and can be blackmailed for in later life,and of refusing to give other credit for putting you where you are. I would never have figured this out, other than that Fish told everyone onstage when I went to see Marillion for this tour exactly what the meaning of the song was. It opens with a sort of grunt and growl from Fish, with a loud, ringing guitar and powerful keys, and he grins ”You've played this scene before” to his aghast victim. A great solo from Kelly and then about midway he takes the tune in a kind of waltz direction, linking up with Rothery who performs a fine, evocative guitar line and solo. Fish references his own, at the time, predilection for wearing makeup on stage when he moans ”You who wiped me from your memory/ Like a greasepaint mask.”

His anger and bitterness, and his dark desire for revenge comes very strongly to the fore as the song reaches its climax, and then we move into the final act with the closing, and title track. Ushered in on a gentle, rolling piano from Mark Kelly, which would crop up again on future Marillion albums, “Fugazi” begins with a rather tired vocal from Fish, before it all stops for a few seconds and then comes back in on Rothery's chiming guitar. With sudden percussion underlining the change, the melody becomes a marching, romping uptempo number somewhat in the vein of “Market Square Heroes”, with such clever lines as ”Sheathed within the Walkman/ Wear the halo of distortion/ Aural contraceptive aborting/ Pregnant conversation.” In fact, there are two vocal lines, as the backing vocals (also sung by Fish) sing a separate part of the verse within the pauses as he reaches the end of a line, then fading back out as he comes back in.

With a general message, I think, of the world is completely fucked up, or fugazi as they say in Vietnam apparently, the closer pounds along listing the woes of the world: ”A Vietnamese flower, a docklands union/ A mistress of release from a magazine's thighs/ Magdalene contracts more than favours/ The feeding hands of western promise/ Hold her by the throat” and with racism and fascism raising its head, as it will again and again in Marillion's early music: ”A son of the swastika of '45/ Parading a peroxide standard/ Grafitti disciples conjure/ Testaments of hatred/ Aerosol wands whisper where the searchlights/ Trim the barbed-wire hedges/ This is Brixton chess!”

It all slows down then on a sort of bubbling synth and a stark guitar and bass, the tempo dropping as Fish declares ”Son watches father scan obituary columns/ In search of absent schoolfriends/ While his generation digests/ High fibre ignorance” and has a stark warning for humanity of its impending doom: ”The penultimate migration!/ Radioactive perfumes/ For the fashionably/ For the terminally insane.” There is some hope though, as he asks [i]”Where are the prophets// Where are the visionaries?/ Where are the poets/ To preach the dawn of the sentimental mercenary?” The song then rides out on an almost triumphant, celtic-tinged stomp, with whistles and flutes, something that would be revisited to a degree in the closing of the next album.


1. Assassing
2. Punch and Judy
3. Jigsaw
4. Emerald lies
5. She chameleon
6. Incubus
7. Fugazi

There are certainly parallels to be drawn between this album and Script for a jester's tear: both are dark, moody, morose and with little real hope that the problems within their songs will be sorted. Both albums begin with an accusatory song, though in the case of the debut it is a jilted lover while here it is a former bandmate seen to be treacherous. Both close on songs bemoaning the state of the world, though again “Forgotten sons” concentrates on the situation that existed at the time in Northern Ireland. Rearrange the lyric though, change a few words and it could refer to any conflict really. Both albums had two singles taken from them, none of which did terribly well. But whereas Script tends to focus, in the main, on one character, Fugazi widens that into couples, relationships, even to the point of taking in the world's ills in the closer.

The songs on this album are shorter, though not that much: we're still looking at three songs at seven minutes long and two over eight, give or take a few seconds, out of seven tracks in total. While Marillion were learning to hone and perfect their craft, they were still a long way from any real chart success, and it is perhaps ironic that their next album, a concept with most of its tracks in the double digits in terms of length, was to give them their two biggest ever hit singles.

This album however, shows a band growing, maturing and expanding their talent somewhat, while still retaining that which had made them, at this point, the darlings of the neo-prog movement. Their next effort, though, would establish them as true living legends, and go down in the annals of prog rock as a true classic, and paradoxically begin to lead to their breakup with lead singer Fish.
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Ah, the concept album: staple of seventies progressive rock bands like Yes, Genesis and ELP, but by the time Marillion had come to release their third album, the idea of the concept album had lost much of its traction. In a world where people bought singles more than albums and where chart success was, and mostly still is even today, the barometer of success, concept albums were seen as a poisoned chalice. Most concept albums tended, if not to actually flow track to track like much of Pink Floyd's The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon, to have each track refer back to the previous and on to the next, linking each song or piece of music so often inextricably that it was hard to take one out of context and still understand and appreciate it. Of course, the aforementioned Floyd did it with singles taken from both those albums, but in general the songs work better within the structure of the album proper, becoming part of the narrative and fitting into the storyline.

So record labels tended to frown, as the eighties hit their mid period, on any album proposed as being a concept. Which makes it perhaps the more odd that not only did Marillion make their third offering exactly that, but that it also yielded them their highest chart placing and almost got them a number one single, a feat they would never again even come close to achieving. For many people now, the only Marillion song they know, if any, is “Kayleigh”, though few if any could tell you what album it was off. This would have to then be seen as the pinnacle of early Marillion, and certainly their best and most complete work with Fish. It would also be quite a personal album, concentrating on or at least signposting and referring to events in the singer's life, sometimes obliquely, sometimes blatantly.

Misplaced Childhood (1985)

As a vinyl album, this runs as two single tracks, with neither side one nor side two containing any gaps or stops, and on CD there is a small pause after what would be the end of side one of the album, then taken back up on side two. The story behind the album concerns mostly, as you might expect, childhood, experiences, lives lived and loves lost, regrets, promises, dreams, the future and the past. As you would also expect at this stage, much of the lyrical material is couched in the sort of poetic, flowery language and rhetoric that often made Fish's work so hard to comprehend or translate. But you can certainly get the basic idea.

The album opens on “The psuedo-silk kimono”, with a big booming synth from Mark Kelly, a squealing guitar from Steve Rothery and a soft, almost muttered vocal from Fish. It seems to describe the beginning of an acid trip, under the influence of which Fish is said to have composed this opus. It's a short piece and really serves as an introduction to the album, the storyteller setting the scene as he intones ”The spirit of a misplaced childhood/ Is rising to speak his mind/ To this orphan of heartbreak/ Disillusioned and torn/ A refugee...” The swirling synth slides directly into the guitar notes that open “Kayleigh”, a song of love and regret which was to become their biggest ever hit. Perhaps because it is, on the surface, a jaunty, upbeat song and quite a short one, it somehow fired the attention and caught the interest of those outside of the Marillion/prog rock camp, and scaled to the dizzy heights of number two in the UK charts, only falling at the final fence because a charity record held on to the top spot.

“Kayleigh” uses much of that descriptive imagery so beloved of the Marillion wordsmith --- ”Chalk hearts melting on a playground wall”, ”Barefoot on the lawn with shooting stars” and so on, and as has been mentioned in its Wiki page, the entire album borrows freely from what we can only assume are some of the big Scot's musical influences --- Clifford T. Ward, The Doors, The Who and of course VDGG, and he even has no compunction in stealing a line from his own earlier work when he mentions ”Kayleigh, I'm still trying/ To write that love song”. But at its heart (and I guess again this is why it sold so well and was so popular) it's a love song, as well as an apology and a wish that things had turned out better. It's quite a frank and honest exposure of some very personal stuff here, as Fish did have a girlfriend called Kay Lee, so you have to give him props, whether he's embellishing and over-romanticising their relationship or not. The song features a super little solo by Rothery which is sadly truncated in the single version.

It flows directly then into a lovely piano from Kelly, nodding back to the title track on the previous album (and this will not be the last time he uses such a motif) as at the time Marillion's shortest ever song at only two minutes and twenty-eight seconds slides in. Also the first ballad, “Lavender” is based on the old folk song/nursery rhyme “Lavender blue”, and is perhaps unique in that it is the only album track that I know of where, to make it a single, the band actually had to make it longer! With an added verse and a longer guitar solo (which must have pleased Rothery after the hatchet job performed on the other single) and a full piano stop, the song was lengthened to three minutes and forty seconds. Almost entirely riding on the solo piano of Kelly until the chorus kicks in, it's a simple little song and I have a small personal anectdote about it, if you'll bear with me.

Having reached the heady heights of number five (their second best ever chart placing), “Lavender” was slated for a play on BBC TV pop show “Top of the Pops” and the band were due to play “live”. Suffering from laryngitis, and perhaps as something of a cutting comment on the fact that at the time, performers were not allowed play live for contractual and legal reasons and had to mime to their records, Fish appeared onstage with the lyric written out, and as the song progressed he pointed out the words, with the studio audience doing their best to sing them. Yeah I know, it's not that funny nor original but it's something I remember and if it was a silent commentary on the BBC policy of the time, a wordless protest, well he couldn't have chosen a better time or manner to make it. At any rate, the song recalls childhood infatuation, and does contain what I believe to be a clever line: ”A penny for your thoughts, my dear/ IOU for your love.”

As I say, on the album it doesn't stop but dovetails with the opening of the next track on a dark synth that drowns out the tinkling piano and takes us into one of the two multi-part suites that take up the bulk of the album. This first one is called “Bitter Suite”, with again typical fish wordplay which allows one phrase to mean three things, and is the shorter of the two at just under eight minutes in total. It opens on as already mentioned a dark synth which is quickly joined by a crying guitar and ominous, rolling drums from Mosley before Fish's voice comes in, speaking rather than singing the lines and really either betraying or displaying his thick Scottish accent. The opening section is called “Brief encounter” and driven both by Mosley's thunderous drumming and Pete Trewavas's pulsing bass, lasting a mere two minutes before Fish changes to singing against the dark synth of Kelly as we move into “Lost weekend” and a train driver seems to want to forget he has an ugly daughter --- ”She was a wallflower at sixteen/ She'll be a wallflower at thirty-four/ Her mother calls her beautiful/ Her daddy said, a whore” --- and suddenly Mosley's drums crash all over the place with Rothery ripping off some fine solos as we move into “Blue angel”, reprising the main melody from “Lavender”. This is just a guess, but when Fish sings ”It was bible black in Lyon/ When I met the Magdalene” I think he may be talking about the “wallflower” referred to in the previous section. This piece contains the extra part added to the single version of “Lavender”: the guitar solo and the closing piano piece, which does in a way bring this three-part section to a close, if only for a moment.

“Misplaced rendezvous” then opens on a guitar line very similar to “Script for a jester's tear”, a short, bleak piece that runs into the final section, “Windswept thumb”, which opens on the piano riff from “Fugazi”, after which the tempo increases on a chanted “Don't stop the rain” and then piles directly into the final song on side one, “Heart of Lothian”, where the boys get to have fun as Rothery screeches away on the guitar, Fish sings about life growing up in Scotland and sprightly synth from Kelly. This song is in fact broken itself into two parts, the first being titled “Wide boy” and I guess the “up” side of the song, slowing down into a sort of stately march before it slides down into the comedown, as “Curtain call” winds things up on a droning synth line from Mark Kelly, mournful guitar and thick bass and Fish's hurt vocal, wanting nothing more than to sleep but having to record, as he reflects (hah) ”And the man in the mirror had sad eyes.”

From here things take an upswing tempo-wise, though the lyrics turn even more bitter as “Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)” gives Ian Mosley his chance to shine, directing the tune with his native rhythms while Fish declaims the downfalls of a rock star, snarling ”The heroes never show” and taking everything down a slight notch with “Lords of the backstage”, further depiction of the life of a rock star in all its depravity. Actually, a line from the previous song really underlines this: ”Funeral hearses court the death of virginity”. Indeed. “Lords of the backstage” gives a definite idea of building towards something, as if the singer is reaching the end of his tether, and in fact the second suite, “Blind Curve”, swinging in on wailing guitar, has Fish sitting deploring the state of his love life, eventually declaring ”I just want to be free/ I'm happy to be lonely/ Can't you stay away?/ Just leave me alone with my thoughts.” That's the first part, “Vocal under a bloodlight”, and Rothery's chiming guitar drives “Passing strangers”, with a tired vocal from Fish and a rather sublime solo from Steve.

I must admit, I have no idea what the third section is about. It's titled “Mylo”, and seems to refer to some tragedy in Canada as Fish cries ”I remember Toronto when Mylo went down/ And we sat and we cried on the phone/ I never felt so alone/ He was the first of our own.” I don't know who Mylo is (Chula, I assume you're the only one reading this, so if you know, maybe you'd let me know?) The music is mostly driven on a soft chimy guitar from Rothery with some nice piano added in as Fish recalls one of the many interviews he had to suffer through while perhaps not being in the best of sobre health. ”Another Holiday Inn, another temporary home/ And an interviewer threatened me with a microphone/ 'Talk to me, won't you tell me your story?'”

Everything takes a much darker turn then as presumably Fish spirals down into addiction-fuelled visions, thinking about his childhood while Rothery leads “Perimeter walk” in on a solo acoustic guitar, then muffled, sombre drums as Fish speaks the vocal again, in a distant voice, as if in a trance, Rothery shadowing him with his trusty guitar, crying for his friend's slowly-disappearing sanity. It's here that the title of the album is finally used, as Fish, getting more angry and direct as the piece goes on, growls ”There's a presence/ A child/ My childhood/ Misplaced childhood/ Give it back to me” and this swells and pours out into “Threshold”, where he deplores the state of the world, much as he did in “Fugazi”, growling about ”Priests, politicians/ Heroes in black plastic bodybags/ Under nation's flags” and ”Convoys kerbcrawling West German autobahns (remember, at the time this was recorded Germany was still two divided nations: the Wall had yet to fall) Trying to pick up a war/ They're gonna even the score” and the constant theme throughout this is “I can't take anymore”.

Finally, his trip (I assume) ends, he spins down, crashes and comes to his senses, with a new understanding dawning, as we ease into “Childhood's end?” on a sort of bubbling guitar from Rothery. This has always been one of my favourite tracks on the album. Separate in a sense from the main suites, it would in fact I believe have made a good single; it certainly has the hook in it and a great melody. Thematically, it's the “morning after the night before” as Fish realises what he has to do, what he has been missing all along, that you can't recapture your memories or change the past, and you have to move forward and do the best you can. Nice little keyboard line from Kelly helping to drive this, as Fish sings ”Do you realise/ That you could have gone back to her/ But that would only be retracing/ All the problems that you ever knew, so untrue/ For she's got to carry on with her life/ And you've got to carry on with yours.”

I would have preferred the album end there, to be honest, as I don't really feel “White feather” adds much to the story, but I guess it then refers to Fish getting the band together and going out on the road to bring the gospel of prog and his own lyrical poetry to the world. ”I hit the streets back in '81” he sings ”I found a heart in the gutter and a poet's crown/ Felt barbed wire kisses/ And icicle tears/ Where had I been for all of these years?” The bridge between the two songs is very Genesis, a real Banksesque keyboard flurry, then it goes all marching and military as the album strides confidently to its conclusion. A final defiant promise from Fish: ”I can't walk away no more!” and we're out.


1. The pseduo-silk kimono
2. Kayleigh
3. Lavender
4. Bitter Suite
(i) Brief encounter
(ii) Lost weekend
(iii) Blue angel
(iv) Misplaced rendezvous
(v) Windswept thumb
5. Heart of Lothian
(i) Wide boy
(ii) Curtain call

6. Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)
7. Lords of the backstage
8. Blind Curve
(i)Vocal under a bloodlight
(ii) Passing strangers
(iii) Mylo
(iv) Perimeter walk
(v) Threshold
9. Childhood's end?

10. White feather

This is an intensely personal album. Of course, Fish put some of himself into Script for a jester's tear too, and what songwriter doesn't draw on his or her own experiences for their music, but Misplaced Childhood almost reads like a musical autobiography of Fish. He confirms on the Marillion website that much of it is indeed taken from his own life, though of course as is known it was almost all written under the influence of acid, so some of it may be more than a little embellished.

Written under the frowning shadow of the same dark barrier that had inspired Bowie to write Heroes, and which would fall less than five years later, there's quite a sense of impending doom and oppression about much of this album. A lot of that is the pressures of addictions, work, relationships and decisions pulling at the writer, but some of it is no doubt attributable to the realisation that, while Marillion were writing and singing lines like ”I just want to be free” thousands of people behind the Berlin Wall were crying and thinking the same thing in a very real way.

Of course Marillion didn't contribute in any way to the fall of that iconic, hated wall, but it must nevretheless have been gratifying to know that in less than half a decade, and as they set out to write an album that would return them to the dark prog of Script, the constant presence during these recording sessions would be no more, and Germany would be one nation, free and undivided, perhaps a metaphor for the spiritual healing undergone by Fish on this album.

Commercially, they would never have another successful album. After the initial euphoria of two hit singles and a number one album, Fish would begin to grow concerned about the direction the band was going in, and the rising expense of tours, and would eventually leave after the next album, bringing to a close one chapter in the life of Marillion, and opening another, quite different one.

But this album always would, and always will, have a special and treasured place in the hearts of all Marillion fans. It was the point at which the band reached their creative peak, and there would never be another album like it. Years later, Fish, now a solo artist, would return to record and perform the entire thing live, in his “Return to Childhood” tour. That's the power of this extraordinary album.
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Old 07-13-2015, 01:38 PM   #2729 (permalink)
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The problem with having a number one album is (anyone?) you have to follow it up. Not just musically but commercially. Despite the fact that Marillion just happened to catch the zeitgeist at the right time with Misplaced Childhood, despite the fact that nobody --- no-body! --- could have predicted it would have the success it had, try telling the record label that. EMI were in some sort of denial, a fantasy land where they suddenly saw all the money and time they had invested in this prog rock band come back to them; hit singles, number one album, sellout tours: fuck yeah! THIS was why they had got into the business, not to push dowdy acoustic solo albums by has-beens that were likely to shift less than a few thousand units. Give them Gold, give them Platinum! Give them glory and prestige and chart placings, but above all give them financial returns the like of which had never been ....

Yeah. It was never going to happen. Not in anyone's wildest dreams. The band knew it, the producers knew it, hell, probably the sound engineers and the lady who brought in the tea and cakes knew it. You have an album like that once in your career, unless you're extremely lucky or a real sell-out. Steve Rothery had said at the time of writing that “EMI wanted another “Kayleigh”, but I knew it was never going to happen. Hell, the first time had been an accident!” And so it had. Explaining to his wife how he composed songs on his guitar, Rothery had hit upon the main riff for the single that would almost take them to number one, and while he was and is a great guitarist and songwriter, he knew in his heart of hearts that that kind of inspiration only really ever strikes once. He's written some phenomenal songs, certainly, but never anything again that was so commercially attractive to the non-Marillion audience. And he never will.

Add to this the fact that Fish was going through his own personal crisis, both with his new wife and with life on the road and battling his addictions (unsuccessfully, and he was well aware of that) and considering a departure from the band, and you can see why the magic that surrounded and suffused the recording of the previous album was going to be markedly absent from this one. Straining relationships, massive pressure from EMI to come up with basically Misplaced Childhood II, differences over how the music was to be written and far too many wild and drunken, drug-fuelled nights all meant that the chances of this new album even getting finished, never mind hitting the top of the charts again, a mere two years later, were remote to say the least.

Clutching at Straws (1987)
It's an appropriate title in several ways. Firstly of course, the band dynamic was such that there was almost two camps developing, one with Fish in it and one with everyone else. Fish was against the new manager who had been hired and wanted to dispense with his services, but the boys refused, thereby turning a loaded gun back on the frontman himself and leaving him staring down the barrel of an irreversible decision. Clutching at straws, indeed. The idea of recapturing the spirit of (a) Misplaced Childhood () for the new album was similarly desperate, and of course the whole thing revolved around an alcoholic, Fish thinly disguised, where straws poking out of his current drink would no doubt give him the feeling he was sinking, or as one of the tracks had it, going under.

They did try though. Misplaced Childhood had been such a success that it was almost a foregone conclusion that the new album would again be a concept. I love Clutching At Straws, but I think the reasoning here is flawed. Marillion had come out with a concept album in a time when such things were frowned upon, as I noted in the previous review, and while it had undoubtedly been wildly successful, the idea of the new album being a concept too was I think pushing it. I can't think of many bands who released concept album after concept album; I think it's an event when a band does release one, and after that it should be more or less back to basics for the next album, otherwise you risk either cheapening the original idea or trying to ride its coattails to another unlikely success. (Another summit conference, another breakfast time divorce?)

But the decision was made, and against major deadlines the band sat down to write, though it came slowly. In the end, they did manage another top ten hit single and the album went to number two (second comes right after first!) so they certainly did not write a flop, commercially or stylistically. In fact, if any album were to be Fish's swan song, then they could not have written a better epitaph.

In a move that would become something of a trademark after Fish had departed, the album opens low and muted, with the sounds very quiet and slowly swelling , though not as much as they would on later albums like Seasons End and Holidays in Eden, and to an extent, Afraid of Sunlight. We're introduced to Torch, the central figure in the concept. He's a failed writer, musician and poet, who drowns his sorrows in alcohol and meaningless sex, having left his wife and children behind him, as well as his responsibilities. “Hotel hobbies” is a short song, opening with a low synth, quietly strummed guitar and a descending keyboard line that pays brief homage to Floyd on the opening bars of “Shine on you crazy diamond”, then a rippling synthy vibes line from Kelly and a muted vocal from Fish, before percussion from Mosley and Rothery punch through and the vocal gets sharper, more angry as Torch tries to write. ”The only sign of life is the ticking of the pen” he snarls ”Introducing characters to memory like old friends/ Frantic as a cardiograph/ Scratching out the lines”.

Note: you're probably going to notice more references to the lyrics in this album than I have up to now, or possibly will again. This is because I consider CAS to be Fish's finest moment lyrically, possibly because the subject matter was so close to his heart, and at times you really can hear his own voice and experience in the lines. It's therefore his most personal album, and considering that he was already entertaining thoughts of leaving, he may have, consciously or unconsciously, gone to great lengths to put as much of himself into this final effort than he had on previous albums, which despite their greatness never felt as personal as this one does. In many ways, I feel like this is Fish, looking in a mirror and not liking what he sees, as in the spoken part of “Torch song” later, when he listens but doesn't listen to his doctor's advice, and also it's him staring out of the music and the lines of lyrics at us, with his bleary eyes and slurred voice, a shaking finger pointing and saying “This could be you!” He could also, of course, be saying this to himself, and making a further and almost undeniable case for his expedited departure before the hedonistic lifestyle coupled with his own problems dragged him under for the last time.

Nowhere does this come through more powerfully than in his descriptions of the boardwalk as we move into “Warm wet circles”, with a perfect segue from the previous track on yet another wonderfully evocative line in ”When the sunlight flares/ Through a curtain's tear/ Shuffling its beams as if in nervous anticipation/ Of another day”. With a very “Script” guitar line leading it, the metaphors just pile up here: ”On the promenade” sings Fish, ”Where drunks propose to/ Lonely arcade mannequins” --- does any other phrase sum up more succinctly and, at once pathetic and sympathetic, the idea of the hopeless, homeless, futureless people who haunt the city's darker corners and hide from the light, as in the best of Waits's lyrics?

I could go on for pages about the lyric just in this song: ”A honeymoon gambled on a ricochet/ She's staring at the brochures/ At the holidays” and the last farewell from two young, probably underage lovers as ”She faithfully traces his name/ With quick thin fingers/ Through the tears of condensation/ That'll cry through the night/ As the glancing headlights of the last bus/ Kiss adolesence goodbye.” I love, too, how Fish uses the title to mean so many different things: ”A mother's kiss on your first broken heart/ A bullet-hole in Central Park” and of course the rings left behind by the glasses on the bar, as well as more, um, sexual interpetations of the word. But let's leave the lyric for now and concentrate on the music, which is driven by a dour and then lighter piano from Mark Kelly, allied to the breezy guitar of Rothery, giving the song a somehow lighter feel than is betrayed by the lyric. There's a sense again of “Fugazi” in the piano here, harder but it's still there.

Great solo from Steve and then Fish's vocal becomes accordingly harsher and more bitter as the adolescent girl surrenders her virginity in the dark --- ”Givin' it all away/ Before it's too late” and as the whole thing shudders to a halt on Kelly's piano it again merges seamlessly with the next song, led in by Fish singing in what sounds like a distant echo ”It was a wedding ring/ Destined to be found in a cheap hotel/ Lost in a kitchen sink/ Or thrown in a wishing well” and then taken in on a sublime little passage from Rothery before he changes up into a more upbeat, lighter tone and Kelly's piano joins him, Trewavas's dependable bass muttering away in the background, and Fish's lyric gets a little more political as he sings ”Paranoia roams where the shadows reign” and the chorus tells us a lot about Fish the man in reality. ”If you ask me” he admits ”How do I feel inside/ I could honestly tell you/ We've been taken on a very long ride/ And if my owners let me have/ Some free time some day/ With all good intentions/ I would probably run away.” Not hard to see that his “owners” would be seen as EMI, or even the band themselves, and that at its heart this song is a plea for release, for resolution, for breathing space and ultimately, as he says in the final line above, for escape.

It expectedly gets very harsh and angry in the closing section as, against pounding percussion and whirling piano he roars ”If some kind soul could please pick up my tab/ And while they're at it/ If they could pick up my broken heart” and the song then ends on a powerful repeat of the title of the previous song, eventually ending on female vocals from Tessa Niles, who has worked with such luminaries as Tina Turner, Gary Numan, Jaki Graham and ABC. The addition of the female vox is interesting, as it puts a very slight slant on the idea, but I'm not totally sure it works. Maybe it's meant to be the lamenting voice of the basically abandoned wife, I don't know. Odd.

Here's where I have something of a quandary. Being an old fart, I bought this album when it was new and on vinyl, and it did not have (nor will it ever have: the reissue on vinyl is the same) this next track. I only got to hear it as a B-side of a twelve-inch single (ask your parents or some old guy on the street) but apparently it is part of the story. It was included on the CD and it does fit in overall very well into the narrative. So, although I'm used to going from “That time of the night” right into “Just for the record”, I'm going to break with tradition and feature this song, as I think it deserves to be included. “Going under” begins on spacey, slow jangly guitar and dark brooding synth, and is the obvious thoughts of Torch/Fish as he contemplates what alcoholism is doing to him, the toll it is taking on his body, his mind and his soul. The lyric, for once, and considering the subject, is in fact one I consider one of the weakest, with lines like ”I ain't got no excuse/ And that's really the news/ Got nothing to say/ But it's my way, always my way/ Seem to be running away so often”, but it's really more the swirling, mesmerising, almost hypnotic nature of the music and the somewhat echoing fade of Fish's voice that really nails the song for me. You definitely get the idea of someone staring over a precipice, trying to hang on, or taking another breath before being dragged below the waves, and wondering if they'll even resurface. There's a lot of despair, fatalism and even a sense of loss and surrender in the song, especially when he asks at the end ”Am I so crazy?”

If that was Torch's long dark night of the soul, so to speak, he seems to face the next day with gleeful abandon and revel in his addiction, as “Just for the record” is an exercise in denial. A much more uptempo, upbeat song with squealing synth and tripping percussion, the opening line really setting the tone: ”Many's the time I been thinking/ About changing my ways/ But when it comes right down to it/ It's the same drunken haze.” At this point it would seem Torch has realised he is never going to kick this addiction, knows it's destroying him but is equally aware (or believes at any rate) that he can do nothing to kick it and so decides to wallow in his crapulence, to quote Mister Burns. He makes many excuses for what he does --- ”Just a revolutionary with a pseudonym/ Just a bar romancer on my final fling/ Just another writer paying off my dues/ Just finding inspiration, well, that's my excuse” --- but they are all excuses, and he knows this.

There's a great line in the middle eighth, when he snarls ”Too late! I've fallen too far!/ I'm in two minds and both of them are out of it at the bar!” He realises his problem lies in the fact that ”I got no discipline/ Got no self-control” and if Fish were ever speaking in the voice of Torch on this album, it's here, and it's at his most honest and naked. Nevertheless, the song ends with the grinning claim ”Just for the record/ I can stop any day!” The cry of the alcoholic the world over.

The big epic is “White Russian”, and here Fish's lyrics turn back to the poliical bent we saw on Fugazi and in parts of Misplaced Childhood, particularly on the “Threshold” section of “Blind Curve”, as he ponders and worries about the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe, something he has seen first hand when recording and touring. With a cold wind blowing in (to blow away the cobwebs clinging to Torch's brain after “Just for the record”?) and a wailing guitar, Fish mutters “Where do we go from here?” which will become the motif, perhaps not even for just the song (though it certainly is) or even for the remainder of the album, or even for Torch's future, but for the future of the man writing these lyrics as he agonises over where his own career, and life, is headed.

The rage against anti-semitism could not be plainer from the opening lines --- ”They're burning down the synagogues/ Uzis on a street corner” with the plaintive cry of ”Where do we go from here?” permeating every verse and in fact becoming the chorus, such as it is. The music is angry and harsh to match Fish's vocals, but calms down in the middle with a very “Fugazi”-like soft piano from Mark Kelly as Fish revisits almost some of the lyric from that song when he sings ”We buy fresh bagels from the corner store/ Where swastikas are spat from aerosols”, the mood, though still angry, perhaps a little resigned now, a little tired, the music reflecting this until it swells again as Fish gets his second wind and begins singing about gulags and red tape, and unless he's just railing in general against the injustices in the world I'm not entirely sure what he's getting at here, but I get even more confused when the closing tag line is used.

Cleverly he asks ”Are we sitting on a barbed-wire fence?” which really gives the impression of staring across into No-Man's Land, deploring the slaughter but unwilling to actually get up off your arse and do anything about it, then he uses that tagline: ”Racing the clouds home”. Maybe he means running to try to outdistance the terror and horror that is to come down upon us all, or maybe it's a metaphor for a pointless exercise --- running to stand still? I honestly don't know, but it brings the whole thing to a powerful close and his warning ”You can shut your eyes/ You can hide away/ It's gonna come back another day” is telling in the extreme, and when taken out of context and used for his own situation works just as well. You can get drunk, high or both, but when you sober up or come down you still have to face the world around you. Just to underline the motif then, Kelly finishes off the song with single-note runs on the piano that traces the phrase and stops midway, a clear indication if ever there was one that nobody in Marillion had really any idea where they were going from here.
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Old 07-13-2015, 01:52 PM   #2730 (permalink)
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From here the album goes into something of a Jeckyll and Hyde format, with the next track an uptempo, boppy song followed by a real comedown, another attempt at rocking out and growling into the wind before the final track has everything collapse in despair and defeat. “Incommunicado”, the only single from the album that could reasonably be said to have made any sort of headway in the charts, hitting the number six spot, recalls the exuberant keyboard arpeggios and joyful guitar runs of the likes of “Market Square Heroes” and parts of “The Web”, but it was never going to be another “Kayleigh”. It's fast, powerful, upbeat and catchy, but with a lyric that, if examined, shows a man drowning in the trappings of fame as he admits ”I'd be really pleased to meet you/ If only I could remember your name/ But I got problems with my memory/ Ever since I got a winner in the fame game.”

The idea of being pulled to this gig and that gig, this signing and that session, from pub to club to party, from concert to lig to interview, comes through very strongly in this and you really get the idea of everything spinning out of control and the singer being unable to do anything to stop it. Talk about events taking on a life of their own! It's abundantly clear from this that Fish is fed-up of the constant grind, the push to get a hit single, the treadmill of recording and touring, touring and recording, and somewhere in the middle of all this his marriage is slowly breaking apart under the immense pressure, like a paper cup in a spin dryer. But if any track on the album can be said to be a poppy prog song, this is it and it recalls the best of mid-eighties Genesis as it hammers along, blindly charging ahead regardless of the consequences.

Those consequences, though, are exactly what Torch is worried about, as he declares ”I don't want to be the back page interview/ Currently residing in the “Where are they now?” file” and it pushes him into a spiral of depression and despair as we slide from the somewhat simplistic joy of “Incommunicado” into the dark, dismal, dreary world of reality. “Torch song” rides on an expressive little guitar line from Rothery, almost ringing, as Torch examines his life and wonders if there is any way out? His doctor warns him ”If you don't stop this lifestyle/ You won't reach thirty.” to which the inebriated Torch philosophically grins ”Christ! Still, it's a kinda romantic way to go, innit?/ It's part of the heritage.” then coughing and archly adding, ”It's your round, isn't it?”

Torch takes his inspiration from Jack Kerouac here as he says he has ”Found a strange infatuation/ With a liquid fixation/ Alcohol can thrill me now” and admits "It's getting late in the game/ To show any pride or shame”. There is however time to rage, and this comes next as we move into “Slainte mhath” (slawn-cha vaw) with a big guitar intro that turns into a rippling guitar line as Fish sings about, again, all the ills in the world, and how life lies to us. ”They promised us miracles!” he bellows, shaking his head. There's a lot of reference to World War I here, and when he screams ”Take me away!” you can feel his pain and his panic almost.

There is one ballad on the album, and again it was a single but again it did very poorly, which is odd because I regard “Sugar mice” to be one of, not only the best tracks on the album, but one of Marillion's best songs. Stuck in a hotel in Wisconsin, far from his home, far from his family, Torch reflects on the last conversation he had with his wife by phone while on the road, groaning "The toughest thing I ever did/ Was talk to the kids on the phone/ When I heard them asking questions/ I knew that you were all alone.” He does at least take responsibility finally for his life when he admits ”When it comes right down to it/ There's no use trying to pretend/ When it gets right down to it/ There's only me that's left to blame/ Blame it on me.”

It's a soft, sad song with a really emotional guitar solo in the middle leading into an impassioned plea from Torch to his kids --- ”Daddy took a raincheck” --- which finally breaks down, literally, to show us the man slumped over a drink, quite possibly with his hand on the telephone, wanting to call his wife, but too afraid or too drunk, or both, to complete the call, and finally and unremittingly totally alone in his alcohol-hazed world. He realises with mounting despair that this is where he belongs; there is no home for him and there never will be. He sadly tells his wife ”If you want my address/ It's Number One at the End of the Bar/ Where I sit with the broken angels/ Clutching at straws and nursing our scars.” Everything has been taken from him, and he knows he has let this happen, and there is now no other solution for his life as we head into the final track.

With a big, booming percussion and an almost defiant finger to fate, “The last straw” opens with an almost reprise of the first track as Fish sings again about hotel hobbies, but with an acerbic, angry and almost mocking flavour now. A powerful marching beat drives the song, punctuated by little soft keyboard flurries from Kelly, perhaps representative of possible hope quickly snatched away. He sings ”We're terminal cases that keep taking medicine/ Pretending the end isn't quite that near.” There's no question as to where this song is going, and where Torch's future lies, and after an evocative guitar passage from Rothery which then builds back up he moans ”Just when you thought it was safe/ To go back to the water/ Those problems seemed to arise/ The ones you never really thought of.”

Though the previous song mentions the album title and there is no actual title track, this is as close as it really gets, both in terms of lyrics and meaning, as Torch finally surrenders to the inevitable, unable to turn his life around and believing the world, his family would be better off without him. ”Clutching at straws, but still drowning” he moans, as Tessa Niles, again for some unknown reason, comes in with a backing vocal which makes no sense.

There is a final coda, shown as a track called “Happy ending”, but all it is is the voice of Torch yelling “NO!” and then dark laughter fading away. Has Torch ended up in Hell? Was he in Hell all along?


1. Hotel hobbies
2. Warm wet circles
3. That time of the night (The Short Straw)
4. Going under

5. Just for the record
6. White Russian
7. Incommunicado
8. Torch song
9. Slainte mhath
10. Sugar mice
11. The last straw

12. Happy ending

If Script for a jester's tear was a dark album --- and it was --- then this is probably even darker, perhaps the darkest Marillion would produce before the unnerving Brave, already reviewed. But thought that later album probably beats Clutching at Straws out in terms of darkness and horror, Hogarth writes that based on a true story but essentially about someone else, nothing personal. CAS is rife with the personal demons of Fish, his fears about leaving the band, his fears about staying. His fears about his addictions and his fears for his marriage. His worry that if he goes out solo he might not make it, and his concern that he may be losing the friendship of these four other people with whom he has lived for so long now they seem like family.

It's an incredibly revealing album, and one that does not seek to excuse his alcoholism, or even explain it. It has no (despite the ironic title of the last track) happy ending, and could possibly stand as a cautionary tale for anyone in a similar situation. But at its heart, it marks very clearly the point where Fish has decided enough is enough: this merry-go-round must stop, at least for him, before he is thrown from it or trampled by the horses.

During the recording of the album many tempers flared, and in some ways it's a wonder it was ever even completed. The band seem to have had more fun and been more creatively inspired while labouring under the looming presence of the Berlin Wall than they had while writing this in the various locations at which they recorded and wrote.

But in the end they did manage to achieve, if not what the record label wanted, ie another smash album with a hit single (though they came damn close), at least a definitely worthy successor to their most successful effort, and an album that stands as a fitting tribute to, and swansong for, their charismatic frontman.
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