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Old 09-01-2013, 03:56 AM   #21 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
You're always welcome in my threads, Lee. I know you're a big Marillion fan too, so great to have you along!

TBH I don't rate Marillion albums as I think I would find it hard just to give them a simple X out of 10: they're more complex than that, and I would prefer just to drone on and on about them. Also, if someone were to see I'd given, say, "Radiation" a five, they might decide the album was not worth reading about/listening to, which would certainly be wrong. I think to get the best appreciation of these albums you need to dig deep, which is what I'm trying to do here.

But if you want a simple "best of" thing, well, if you twisted my arm I'd say


Ouch!

and then tell you that this would be my order:

1. Script for a jester's tear
2. Brave
3. Misplaced childhood
4. Fugazi
5. Clutching at straws
6. Marbles
7. Happiness is the road
8. Season's end
9. Afraid of sunlight
10. This strange engine

But that's just thrown together on the spur. Certainly the top 3 would never change but the rest could be quite fluid. There's only one Marillion album I don't like, and that's "Somewhere else"; the rest are all favourites of mine and it's really hard to rate them.

Also, what makes you think anyone else is reading this?
I always thought of This Strange Engine as being a good album, but then again I haven't heard it or any of the Steve Hogarth albums in a number of years. Good to see that Fugazi is in your top 4.

Even though I know Misplaced Childhood is an accomplished album, it was another album that never ever got me all excited.
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If you can't deal with the fact that there are 6+ billion people in the world and none of them think exactly the same that's not my problem. Just deal with it yourself or make actual conversation. This isn't a court and I'm not some poet or prophet that needs everything I say to be analytically critiqued.
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Old 09-01-2013, 09:13 AM   #22 (permalink)
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See, that's what I mean. TSE IS a great album, but sometimes AoS comes out on top before it, other days they might be switched around. The only thing I'd say about TSE is that there are only eight tracks on it, even if one is over fifteen minutes long. But yeah, it's a great album.
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Old 09-01-2013, 10:04 AM   #23 (permalink)
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Again TH, you've done something I would never think to do. You've reviewed/are reviewing Marillion with a very grabbing tone that makes me excited for more. I wish you good luck on this endeavor as I've seen a lot of Marillion reviews and its not an easy feat as they are a universally well rounded band with loads upon loads of deserving respect.
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Old 09-01-2013, 11:45 AM   #24 (permalink)
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Again TH, you've done something I would never think to do. You've reviewed/are reviewing Marillion with a very grabbing tone that makes me excited for more. I wish you good luck on this endeavor as I've seen a lot of Marillion reviews and its not an easy feat as they are a universally well rounded band with loads upon loads of deserving respect.
Thanks Ki! Nice to know you're reading. We're about to do the last Fish album and then it's off into the unknown... some great stuff there though. See, I wanted to do this without coming across as a total Marillion fanboy (even if I am one) and also do not only the reviews but also the story of the band, so that's what I'm attempting to do here. Whether or not I'm succeeding is another story! But as long as people are reading...
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Old 09-01-2013, 03:26 PM   #25 (permalink)
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CanNOT believe I'm new to Marillion fandome - obviously have been living under a rock! Speaking of which, there are some really weird ones around here. Would post a pic if I knew how.

That being said, have ended my evening with CSN and Daylight Again which is nowhere near the abovementioned, but is a perfect LP played lovingly on my little B&O from way back when and which still sounds absolutely divine.
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Old 09-01-2013, 05:17 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Welcome to the wonderful world of Marillion! What albums have you heard? Need any recs?
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Old 09-08-2013, 01:04 PM   #27 (permalink)
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Clutching at straws (1987) Produced by Chris Kimsey on the EMI Label


An album of endings, many bittersweet. With the completion of the trilogy of their first three albums and the chart success they had not hunted but achieved almost accidentally it seemed under their belt, Marillion had to face the growing tensions within their unit. Fish, disheartened by the treadmill of touring and concerned about the costs, was drinking heavily and this album reflects his thoughts on the eventual slide into oblivion the title character experiences, and which he feared might become also his fate. The album would soon be followed by his own departure from the band, a hammerblow to us Marillion fanatics (or Freaks if you prefer) that we somehow got over.

"Clutching at straws" also marked the second and final outing with producer Chris Kimsey, who had taken charge of what is still their most commercially successful album, "Misplaced childhood". The title is of course subtle as a sledgehammer and demonstrates Fish's frustration with the direction Marillion were heading in, as well as his own problems. With the departure of the Jester on the previous album, the only remnant left of him --- and it would be the last --- is shown on the front cover, where Torch, the main character, has a jester's cap stuffed into his pocket. Perhaps a belief that it was time to put childish things away, which would have totally dovetailed had "Childhood's end?" been the final track on "Misplaced childhood". Oh well.

The album is again a concept, centred, as you might not be too surprised to learn, around the idea of alcoholism and the damage it can do. As already mentioned the protagonist is Torch, an out-of work man who rants and raves against society and the injustices he sees perpetrated against him, in a drunken haze. Once again, it's a dark album, returning somewhat to the concepts explored in "Script for a jester's tear" and "Fugazi", and indeed some of the heavier parts on "Misplaced childhood". There's little doubt that Torch is at least semi-autobiographical of Fish himself, and his dissatisfaction with many things in his life, including his time with Marillion.

1. Hotel hobbies (3:35) --- Beginning on a low, muted synth and soft stummed guitar then almost marimba-style rapid keyboards, the song describes Torch's efforts to write music while staying at a hotel, possibly on the road with his band. Fish's voice at first comes relatively quiet as he introduces the vocal before Mosley's drums crash in and the whole thing goes off at full tilt, Fish now raving as he declares angrily "The only sign of life is the ticking of the pen, introducing characters to memory like old friends, frantic as a cardiograph, scratching out the lines." After a guitar solo it then falls back to a quieter, more reserved tone, rather like the opening part and this, like much of the album, slides directly into the next track.

2. Warm wet circles (4:25) --- Depicting the innocence of youth lost, this track rides mostly on a jangly guitar sound from Rothery, the initial vocal again relatively reserved as Fish sings about "Chalking up a name in your home town, standing all your mates to another round." The title is used to represent various things, from a bullet hole to a kiss, and from rings on a bar counter to, um, something a little more sexual. Very clever and again great examples of Fish's songwriting talent. Another great line is "As the glancing headlights of the last bus kiss adolescence goodbye", as the young girl decides to let the bus home go and heads off to have her first sexual encounter. The vocal gets more intense and angry in the closing minutes, Fish growling out the lyric as the girl realises she is perhaps just "Giving it away before it's too late".

3. That time of the night (The short straw)
(6:00) --- A great little bassline introduces the opening lyric, "It was a wedding ring, destined to be found in a cheap hotel; lost in the kitchen sink or thrown in a wishing well", which really brings home the stark nature of the encounter he describes. It also refers back a little to the "wedding rings dancing on the cold linoleum" from "Emerald lies" off "Fugazi", perhaps. An emotional solo from Steve Rothery eventually breaks down and the main melody comes in on guitar and keys, mid-paced and low-key. For the chorus it all ramps up as Fish again spits out the lyric angrily, declaring "If my owners let me have some free time some day with all good intentions, I would probably run away." The final lyric screams the title of the previous track, bringing it somewhat full circle.

4. Going under (2:47) --- When I bought the album originally this was not on it, as it was vinyl, and I only came across it on the twelve-inch single of "Incommunicado", but it's part of the CD issue so I'll include it here. It's a very introspective song, wherein Torch realises that he is sinking further and further down into alcohol-fuelled dementia but sees himself unable to do anything about it. "Is it wrong to talk to myself even when there's nobody else?" He asks. The song is carried on a soft jingly guitar backed by a dark, moody synth with the same basic melody all the way through. At the end Torch sighs "Am I so crazy?" probably knowing the answer but not wanting to face it.

5. Just for the record (3:09) --- Fully under the influence now, Torch tries to excuse his drinking, the tempo seriously kicked up and driven on squealing guitar from Rothery and high trumpeting keyboard from Kelly, with punching drums from Mosley. "Just finding inspiration, that's my excuse!" he snaps. Another great line in "Too late! I found it's too far! I'm in two minds and both of them are out of it at the bar!" Super little keyboard solo from Kelly almost reminiscent of parts of "Grendel" then the song ends abruptly. Torch kids himself "Just for the record: it's just a passing phase. Just for the record: I can stop any day!"

6. White Russian (6:27) --- Opening on a muttered "Where do we go from here?" from Fish, this is a much slower song, almost the comedown after Torch's drink-fuelled rant, and contains hard punchy guitar as Torch rails against everything from censorship --- "The DJ resigned today: they wouldn't let him have his say" --- to bigotry and racism --- "Burning down the synagogues, Uzis on a street corner" and asks repeatedly "Where do we go from here?" In the middle the song breaks down into a sort of reprise of the piano theme from "Fugazi" as Torch laments "We buy fresh bagels from the corner store, where swastikas are spat from aerosols." and asks "Are we sitting on a barbed-wire fence, racing the clouds home?" one of my favourite of Fish's lyrics, so evocative.

7. Incommunicado (5:16) --- The most commercial and radio-friendly track on the album, basically its "Punch and Judy", this was of course chosen as a single and is upbeat and uptempo, though with dark messages in the lyric as Torch grins "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!" It's almost "Market Square Heroes" in its rhythm, with big boppy bubbling synth from Kelly and snappy guitar from Rothery. Torch however is not doing as well as he could with his band, as he admits "I don't want to be the back page interview ... currently residing in the Where are they now? file, toupee on the cabaret scene." Another great keys solo from Kelly then everything slows down for the next track.

8. Torch song
(4:05) --- Torch examines his life in a rare moment of sobriety perhaps, and muses on all the things he has lost, all the mistakes he has made in his life, and what alcohol has taken from him, what he has allowed it to take from him. On a sombre guitar melody, the vocal is more restrained, contemplative as Torch sings "Doctor says my liver looks like leaving with my lover" and is warned by his doctor that he may not reach the age of thirty if he continues drinking the way he is. But he admits "It's getting late in the game to show any pride or shame". And he philosophically ruminates, "It's a romantic way to go really, isn't it? Part of the heritage." He muses too on the women he picks up, possibly groupies: "Pullin' seventeen with experience and dreams, sweatin' out a Happy Hour, when you're hidin' twenty-nine, you know it ain't a crime."

9. "Slainte mhath" (4:44) --- Pronounced "slawn-cha vaw", it's the old Irish toast, "good health", and this track tries to celebrate the role of alcohol in the music industry. Torch is being interviewed and can't really find anything to tell the reporter, bit like the one who accosted Fish in "Mylo" on the previous album. Nice upbeat guitar riff running through this which then turns into a powerful chorus. Torch explains (perhaps to himself) that alcohol takes him away from all the nasty things in his life he does not want to remember, "From the realisation that all we've been left behind is to stand like our fathers before us in the firing line."

10. Sugar mice (5:46) --- Most people will know this one. It was a minor hit for Marillion and is the main ballad on the album, as Torch sits in a hotel room and thinks about the family he has deserted, left behind. Again Rothery's guitar informs the main melody, though more laidback this time. Torch thinks back over his life "Trying to find out where to lay the blame. But when it gets right down to it there's no use trying to pretend. When it gets right down to it there's no-one left to take the blame. Blame it on me." He realises everything that he has done is his own fault and others have paid the price for his excessive drinking. Great emotional guitar solo and a powerful vocal performance from Fish as Torch yells "I know what I feel, know what I want, I know what I am..." When he phones his wife to try to explain he is heartsick at the sound of his children in the background and realising how much he has let them all down. Another great line is "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."

11. The last straw (5:58) --- The pwoerful conclusion to the album, with a marching beat and almost triumphant sound but it signals Torch's final slide into oblivion as he (presumably) takes his own life, as well as Fish's almost-final sermon with Marillion. Torch groans "We live our lives in a private shell, ignoring our senses and fool ourselves into thinking that out there someone cares, someone to answer all our prayers." He muses that "We're terminal cases who keep taking medicine, pretending the end isn't quite that near." Again it's quite "Fugazi", both in its melody and rhythm and its lyrical themes. There's a dark undercurrent in the synth that comes in near the end, and the title is again repeated here, though there is in fact no title track. Torch snarls as he prepares either to end it all or stagger off in another drunken haze "If you ever come across us don't give us your sympathy! You can buy us a drink or just shake our hands. And you'll recognise by the reflection in our eyes that deep down inside we're all one and the same: we're clutching at straws, we're still drowning!"

It's a dark end to a dark album, but it's realistic. Unless you seek help and want to change, if you're an alcoholic there is only one path left to you. There's a final macabre joke from Fish at the end, with the "last track" called "Happy ending". It lasts precisely no seconds, and is merely Fish yelling "NO!" and then laughing off into the distance. An indication, perhaps, that he'd had enough and would not be with Marillion for much longer? Or just Torch losing the last battle with his inner demons and ending his life? Whichever, "Clutching at straws" helped make his mind up and a few short months later he had split with the band, leading to cries of despair, hand-wringing and predictions of the band's demise the length and breadth of the land.

"Clutching at straws" stands as one of not only the fans' favourite Fish-era Marillion album, but his own favourite too. It spawned a hit single, though nothing like "Kayleigh" or "Lavender", and laid to rest forever the ghost of the Jester, who never again featured nor was even mentioned or referred to in future Marillion albums. Fish would go on to have a moderately successful solo career, which I will delve into soon, and Marillion? Well, they would survive, but by adapting and changing their sound, often to a degree that was close to unrecognisable. The split would of course divide fans, some of whom would see Fish as a traitor for "abandoning" the band, others who would refuse to listen to the Fishless Marillion. But it never bothered me. To my mind, it just meant twice as much Marillion to listen to.

Coming up next: "Seasons end" and a new beginning with the rebirth of Marillion, while Fish finds his own voice in a rather reflective wilderness...
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Old 09-20-2013, 11:46 AM   #28 (permalink)
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The end of one era, and the birth of a new one. After too much pressure took its toll in the punishing touring schedules, and forseeing a bleak dark future ahead, for the band and for himself, Fish came to a decision. It was time to leave. Of course, it wasn't that easy. He talked about it, discussed it with the band and even asked them to dump the label and come with him into the Unknown. They declined, and so a partnership that had begun in 1982 and carried them through four albums was dissolved, and though they reconciled to a degree in a Gabriel/Genesis way they would never again officially play together, and constant rumours of a reunion have continually been scotched (sorry) by both Fish and the remaining members of Marillion.

You have to feel sorry for them. After seven years of having been compared to Genesis, they ended up mirroring that progressive rock giant's fate, with their charismatic vocalist, frontman and lyricist leaving before the first decade of their career was out, and fans left to wonder what would happen now? Fish=Gabriel had become the final, inevitable equation it had always threatened to be. But Fish was determined, as he had sung on their last album, not to be a note in the "Where are they now?" file, and had big plans of his own, of which more later.

But what for Marillion? With the departure of Fish they lost not only their leading light but also all his lyrics. Taking the decision to start his own solo career, and having been the writer for the band, it was not unexpected nor indeed selfish of the man to want to use the lyrics he had written for his own work. Many of these had been embryonic Marillion songs, due to be released on the next album. Marillion as a band had always had control and ownership of the music, but the words had always been Fish's property, and now they were gone, leaving the guys with songs without words.

But worse than that dilemma was that they now no longer had a singer. It was unlikely they would continue as an instrumental group; while the talent was certainly there, Marillion had built their reputation on a solid grounding in progressive rock lyrics, and their songs meant something. Fans might pay to hear Steve Rothery's solos or Mark Kelly's ebullient keyboard runs, but they would not listen to that forever. Also, what about the songs they already had? Surely they couldn't "instrumentalise" those? Plus, they had never even attempted a full instrumental.

No, they needed a singer. They were recognised as a band with a vocalist and this was what they had built their fanbase on. None of the four remaining members were interested: this was no "Phil Collins" moment when someone suddenly stepped up and said "Hey I'll do it!" Apart from backing vocals, none of the quartet had ever even taken one song solo during the to-date seven years of their tenure, unlike Collins, who had tried his hand for the first time on "Selling England by the pound", and so was not walking blindly into something he underestimated, nor were the fans totally unfamiliar with his singing. But nobody had heard Steve, Mark, Pete or Ian sing. Nobody knew if they could sing. Perhaps they can't. Certainly, based on the few examples of at least Pete's singing on the Edison's Children album, I would concur with that supposition.

But whatever the reason, nobody stepped up; cometh the hour, cometh not the man, until Marillion began auditioning and rather surprisingly at the time settled on a new-wave/electronic keyboard player and occasional vocalist, who was to take Marillion into a whole new style of music and earn them new fans, while hopefully keeping the old faithful ones too. In time, Steve Hogarth would be so synoymous with Marillion that listeners of a younger age would wonder who this Fish was that the older fans talked about, something, again, like those who heard "Abacab" and "Duke" pondered who Gabriel had been. But initially for the fans it was a bumpy start, and I for one, wondered how any one --- any one --- could replace the towering powerhouse of Fish, who cast, even a year after his departure, a very long and imposing shadow.

Seasons end (1989) produced by Nick Davis on the EMI label (Capitol in USA)


To be honest, after I heard that Fish had split from the band I thought Marillion were done, so it was with wild exultation that I noticed the -- very un-Marillionlike --- album cover in my local record store and grabbed it. Mark Wilksinson, who had up to then created all the album sleeves, had departed, siding with Fish. And to be fair, it's likely that, this being seen as something of a rebirth for the band, Marillion wanted a break with the past and a totally new style of album cover. In truth, I didn't care all that much who was singing, as long as he didn't ruin the band I had loved now for seven years. I pushed play (yes, it was my first pure CD Marillion purchase) and sat back to listen, wait and hope.

1. The King of Sunset Town (8:04) --- Like "Fugazi" and "Clutching at straws", this one starts low in the mix and fades in, gaining in power and volume as it opens up. Riding on Mark Kelly's familiar keyboard arpeggios it suddenly bursts into life with a blast of guitar from Rothery before it settles down again into soft lush keys and it's minutes before we hear the new Voice of Marillion. Fish Mark II? No. There's no Scottish accent --- though Hogarth's voice is unmistakably English; thank God they didn't try to Americanise the sound that had been so quintessentially British like (go on, go on) Genesis and later Big Big Train. One thing I noticed early on about Hogarth's voice too is that it's far gentler than his predecessor. Whereas Fish always came across as slightly angry, like a strict father or slightly feared uncle, Hogarth is more the older brother type. He just seems happier, more relaxed.

Anyway, back to the song. Marillion would continue this practice of fading in the opening track slowly over the next at least four albums, and on through others with some gaps in the discography. It becomes almost like the prelude to the album in ways. With the departure of Fish you might have thought the more esoteric, obscure lyrics would have disappeared but no. Marillion have always had a certain duality about their songs; it's often hard to figure out exactly what they're singing about, or what Fish was singing about. This song is apparently about poverty, with a reference to the massacre in Tianamen Square as well. It's a good mid-paced song, with some fine guitar work from Rothery, but of course it's Hogarth we're listening to, as this is his first, perhaps only, chance, to impress. And he does.

Easter (5:58) --- Not so much a ballad but definitely a more laidback track, this references "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, much as Fish did on the debut with "Forgotten sons", but whereas that song was a dark, gritty, almost doom-laden and fatalistic indictment of the conflict, "Easter" has a more hopeful, uplifting sound about it, both in the music and the lyric. With a soft, almost folky acoustic guitar and a gentle vocal, the song describes rural life in Ireland, the lines "Easter in the west, a time for the blind to see. Easter: surely now can all of your hearts be free?" speaks volumes about the optimism of the song in contrast to the doomsaying of "Forgotten sons". Of course, it's written at a different time, as the peace process was finally beginning to make headway in Ireland, and we would soon see a lasting peace brokered. The final section of the song throws up a challenge to the "men of violence" as Hogarth asks matter-of-factly "What will you do with the stone of your heart? Will you set things right? Will you tear them apart? Will you sleep at night with the plough and stars alight? What will you do with the wire and the gun that will set things straight, when it's said and done? Will you sleep at night? Is there so much love to hide?"

The Univited Guest (3:52) --- Not, I have to say, one of my favourite tracks on the album, this seems to concern regret and mistakes made that follow you no matter where you go, and how the past can't be changed. It's a boppy, uptempo song with militaristic drumming that reminds me of "Misplaced childhood", and gives Hogarth a chance to vent a little vitriol, though to be fair you can expect that Fish would have poured much more ice and sarcasm onto the vocal. It's still nothing like a fast song, marching along with purpose and clarity. When Hogarth sings "You can fly to the other side of the world but you know you'll only find I've reserved the seat behind you --- we can talk about old times!" it's clear he has, or is singing about, skeletons in the closet which will never be fully banished, secrets that will always be there, mistakes that can't be corrected, and that the past is immutable. We'd all like to turn the clock back, but it can't be done.

Seasons end (8:10) --- The title track does not let the album down. An aching, downbeat plea for ecological awareness driven on slow, mournful keyboard and echoey jingly guitar, it's one of Hogarth's most passionate vocal performances on the album. You can hear his fear for the future when he cries "We'll tell our children's children why we grew so tall and reached so high, left our footprints in the earth and punched a hole right through the sky. We'll tell them how we changed the world, how we tamed the seas, and seasons they will never know in England." Rothery tears off a heartfelt and moving solo as Hogarth wails "Say goodbye, say goodbye!" The song features a sort of reprise, as it ends but then fades back slowly in on chugging guitar taking with it Hogarth's fading-in voice repeating the chorus and then fading out again. Very effective. "You'll never miss it till it's gone", warns Hogarth prophetically. Sobering words, if we'd only heed them.

Holloway girl (4:30) --- Another political song, this time questioning the wisdom of locking up a woman for a bombing she had confessed to, after the conviction proved unsound due to her mental instability, and who was released eventually after serving eighteen years for a crime she did not commit. The woman in question was released in 1992, and Hogarth again prophesies, or hopes, justice will prevail when he sings "One day freedom will unlock your door, so hold on, believe on..." It's a pretty grim song with hard guitar and lush keyboard, punchy percussion and hard words from Hogarth --- "Like a needle in a haystack, the truth gets so disguised in a kingdom built on madness and on lies."

Berlin (7:48) --- And yet another prediction that came true. Not surprisingly, the song is written about the east/west divide that existed until the Berlin Wall fell in 1990. Only months after this was written history was made and the hated wall collapsed, reunited East and West Berlin. This song was originally written with different lyrics --- Fish's original --- as "Story from a thin wall" and it's weird to listen to that original song now and hear not only the music for this song but what would later become the lyric to Fish's "Family business". A real masterpiece, it encapsulates a frozen moment in time as Hogarth sings about the "spotlight dancer", which I assume is meant to refer to a would-be escapee caught in the glare of the searchlight and then shot.

For the first time that I can remember Marillion use the services of a saxaphonist here, and it certainly adds a sense of bleakness and tragedy to the song. The second half of the song, bridged by again a section almost taken right out of "Misplaced childhood", runs in a sort of buildup, getting more and more intense, more military drumming from Mosley reinforcing the idea of living in, being trapped in, a police state, with no hope of ever getting out other than a mad dash to the wall, braving the guards' machine-guns on the sentry posts. I can almost hear the ghost of Fish here, and Hogarth fills his shoes admirably, though he has not, to my mind, quite made them his own yet. Perhaps there is a tiny part of the remaining members of Marillion that miss the big Scot, given that they had worked on this song together in that city, reflected in the lines "We wake up without you, with a hole in our hearts"?

After me (3:20) --- A simple acoustic ballad, nothing more than a love song, and something Marillion have not done up to now. This shows a new side to them; there are no clever political or fantasy lyrics, no lengthy keyboard solos, no complicated imagery, and yet the pictures evoked are amazing. The dog the girl keeps, who despite loving her will not stay in with her after dark --- "He claws at the door to be let out at night; and she makes do without him, she worries about him." It kicks up a little near the end, and there's a fine solo to end from Rothery, but generally you could only call it a ballad, a love song, though given a Marillion twist.

Hooks in you (2:57) --- Shortest song on the album, and of course a single taken from it, it's their return to the style of "Incommunicado", "Kayleigh" and even "Market square heroes", with a boppy, commercial sound driven on Kelly's bubbly synth, squealing guitar from Rothery, the melody so close to "Incommunicado" that it's almost funny. If any song ever foreshadowed a change in Marillion's music direction, then this is it. I could not imagine Fish ever singing this, nor indeed the previous song. A seachange, a sharp left turn and a whole new world was opening to the old progressive rockers. It's telling that Wiki characterises this album as not only progressive rock but pop rock, as that was, to an extent, the direction Marillion were heading in.

The space... (6:14) --- But just in case you thought they were headed for Top of the Pops and Smash Hits, the album closes on an ambient, expressionist prog rock tune right out of their catalogue from the early eighties. Fading in on strings-like keyboards, almost bookending with the opener, "The space..." is one of those songs that it's hard to work out what it's about. Reflections, perhaps, on a life, on a new career, on the past, on the future? It's a powerful song, and the orchestral style keyboard keeps up through most of it, forming the backbone of the song. Oddly enough, there are three extra writers credited on it, none of whom I recognise, and I wonder if it's a song from Hogarth's old band that he rewrote or fine-tuned?

Either way it's a powerful closer and in the middle it drops back to allow Rothery his showcase before pulling back up on the back of Hogarth's solo vocal with simple synth lines from Kelly before Mosley thunders in and Rothery and Trewavas add their own punch to the explosive ending, a dramatic, yearning conclusion finishing with one single muted drumbeat.

Having heard "Seasons end" any doubts I had had about Marillion continuing on without Fish were instantly dispelled. All right, there was shorter songs and some of them were even what I'd have to call poppier than I would have expected from my second-favourite band, but they had definitely not sold out. And Steve Hogarth (who would soon be referred to only as "H") was a great successor to, if not replacement for Fish. His style was different yes, but did we really want another Fish clone? That chapter of Marillion's story was closed, no point in rewriting it. Time for a new volume. You ca hear from this album that Fish's legacy was in safe hands. The torch (almost literally, given the last album) had been passed, and new blood was flowing into the band. And Hogarth would take Marillion into hitherto uncharted waters, as their progressive roots, never denied or ignored, would nevertheless be pared back very slightly over the next few albums to allow more mainstream rock and even pop shoots to poke their heads out into the embrace of the newly-risen sun.

Seasons end? Nah: seasons change, but they always come round.

Coming up: what Fish did next.
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Old 09-20-2013, 05:18 PM   #29 (permalink)
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Much has been, or had been, made of the departure of lead singer and frontman Fish, but there seems to have been little actually acimony in his leaving. After a growing dissatisfaction with how things were progressing with Marillion he decided to leave, and as related in the previous posts there doesn't seem to have been any bad feeling involved. He even has words of praise for his replacement, which many --- mostly younger --- fans now see as the voice of Marillion. But Fish did not leave without a plan, and as early as 1989 he was writing for his first solo album, which would be released the following year. It was actually ready in '89 but EMI feared to lose sales on it by clashing with the release of "Seasons end", and so held it back till 1990.

Initially, Fish faced an uphill struggle. His leaving polarised Marillion fans: many thought him a traitor for "abandoning" the band, and would refuse to listen to anything he put out solo. Others would rabidly follow their hero, eschewing the material of the band whom they had seen as betraying him. Me, I fell between the two. I didn't know the full story at the time but I did remember an article which ran in "Kerrang!" at the time Marillion were just getting popular, prior to or just after "Script for a jester's tear" hit the shops, which said that a label (don't know if it was EMI or another one) offered Fish a solo contract. He had turned that down, so I knew that he was no glory-hunter. Besides, it didn't bother me that he had left --- well, it did, but I wasn't among those wanting to hang him from the nearest lamp post! --- to my mind, there was no dilemma, no choice. His departure simply meant that on the most basic level I would get two Marillion albums for the price of one. As long as Fish didn't start playing hardcore trance or Italian discopop or black metal, I was eager to hear what he had to say without the band behind him.

Truth to tell, I probably would have been very disappointed if the solo albums had sounded completely different to Marillion's --- I wasn't looking for a Freddie Mercury moment here. More a case of that man again, Peter Gabriel. Yeah. Less Collins, more Gabriel please. So how did it turn out? Glad you asked.

Vigil in a wilderness of Mirrors (1990) (Fish solo album) --- produced by Jon Kelly on the EMI label

It must, in fairness, have been a pretty daunting task, going it alone. In the band Fish may have written all the lyrics but he had the other guys to bounce ideas off, and besides that, he wrote lyrics, not music. Marillion as a unit took care of that. After all, let's not forget that great singer and composer though he is, Fish didn't play any instrument in the band. He was purely, first and foremost, a vocalist. So he had to turn to some of his famous mates for help, and his first solo album contains contributions from, among others, Mickey Simmonds and Iron Maiden's Janick Gers. He also used a wealth of talent from uileann pipes expert Davy Spillane to bassist John Giblin and drummer Mark Brzezicki, best known for his work with Big Country.

1. Vigil (8:43) --- Although this is a long song (the longest on the album) it would seem Fish had taken some lessons away from his time with Marillion, one of these being that songs that are too long get no radio airplay, and as a solo artist you want as much exposure as you can get. Fish knew, or hoped, that many Marillion and ex-Marillion fans would buy his music, if only to hear the difference to what he had been doing with the band, but he knew too that he could not rely only on the "old guard", and must write songs with one eye fixed on if not the charts then at least radio time. So as an introductory song this is necessarily long, almost an old Marillion song that could have worked on "Script", but the rest of the songs are relatively short. As there was no acrimonious split with Marillion there's no need for an angry, "Assassing"-style opening shot at the band, and Fish instead blasts consumerism as he pictures himself lost in a "wilderness of mirrors".

It's interesting that his first words as a solo artist are "Listen to me, just hear me out: if I could have your attention?" almost as if he's pleading with that section of Marillion fandom who have cursed his name. Probably not, but it's still a good idea. The song opens on atmospheric keyboard but soon kicks up on the basis of thick percussion and when it really gets going it takes on something of a celtic feel, reflecting of course his Scottish roots. He talks about learning that all his childhood beliefs were wrong --- "When I was young my father told me just bad guys died, at the time just a little white lie. It was one of the first but it hurt me the most and the truth stung like tears in my eyes that even the good guys must die. There's no reason, no rhyme and I never knew why: even now it still makes me cry."

Further celtic inspiration is supplied by the appearance of the great Davy Spillane on pipes and whistle, and great guitar screams courtesy of ex-Dire Straits man Hal Lindes as Fish is back to the angry man we knew on albums like "Fugazi" and "Script". The feeling of loss and helplessness runs through the album, and the idea of "the Hill" is first broached here. This is a metaphor for the accumulation of wealth and power, the idea that if you're on "the Hill" you can look down on your neighbours and feel that you're better than they are.

Big wedge (5:19) --- An obvious push for the charts, this single was never going to do much in the USA --- truth be told it didn't exactly shake up the charts here either --- as Fish decries the idea of capitalism and specifically American capitalism. It's upbeat and rocky as Fish sings "A priest got in his Cadillac, the shoe-shine boy sang gospel as God and His accountant drove away!" Showing he was determined also to move a step away from the Marillion music, Fish calls in the talents of a brass section which really "souls" up this track. If there was any doubt about his views on the US of A they're dispelled as he roars "America! America the big wedge! Am I buying your tomorrow out today?" No US stadium shows for you, Mr. Dick!

State of mind (4:42) --- Another single, this is far more restrained and more in the Marillion mode, as Fish fumes about the grip of Thatcher's government over Britain, and foresees a revolution. Driven on a thick bassline from Giblin the vocal is downbeat and restrained, menacing and somewhat paranoid, rising to a hopeful rallying call as he sings "We the people are gettin' tired of your lies, we the people believe that it's time. We're demanding our right to the answers: we'll elect a president to a state of mind." Another example of Fish's talent in making a phrase mean two things, or changing the meaning of a word to fit in with his vision. The title of the album is also mentioned here for the second time. Great crashing guitar and what could be sitar but probably is not.

The company (4:04) --- Perhaps a slight throwback to "Clutching at straws", this is a folky tune that sways along with the happy abandon of the drunk but soon turns angry as Fish snarls "You buy me a drink then you think that you've got the right to crawl into my head and rifle my soul." Again "the Hill" is mentioned, quite a lot actually as he says "Here on the Hill, halfway up, halfway down." Nice bit of celtic violin and flute with an almost orchestral keyboard passage.

A gentleman's excuse-me (4:15) --- The first ever Fish ballad, and I have to say right up there with the likes of "Lavender" and "Sugar mice", the imagery goes right back to Chelsea Monday as Fish asks, against a lone piano melody, "Do you still keep paper flowers in the bottom drawer with your Belgian lace, taking them out every year to watch the colours fade away?" It's an inspired and effective depiction of a life, and the chance of a relationship, wasting away, the more so when he sneers "Do you still believe in Santa Claus? There's a millionaire looking for your front door with the keys to a life that you'd never understand" but then admits "All I have to offer is the love I have, it's freely given." Sumptuous orchestral arrangements lift this song right up to the status of instant classic, and if there was a time when you realised Fish --- the solo artist, not Fish the ex-Marillion singer or even Fish the Marillion singer --- had arrived, this is it.

All through the song Fish tries to compare his real charms, his true love to the fantasies and dreams of the girl, who is waiting for a white knight to sweep her off her feet, and can't see what's under her nose. But in the end, frustration gives way to cold anger and then resignation and acceptance as he tells the object of affection "Can't you get it inside your head I'm tired of dancin'? We're finished dancing."

The voyeur (I like to watch) (4:49) --- Probably one of the most uptempo tracks on the album but with a very Europop feel, almost Madonna's "True blue"! Not the most original of lyrics I have to say, with the television and particularly the news seen as a voyeuristic activity as Fish declares gleefully "I like to watch plausible pledges of black politicians" and then references shows like Jerry Springer: "Private lives are up for auction and a cupboard full of skeletons are coming out to play!" Again, not one of my favourite songs, though there is a nice Marillion-style keyboard passage in the middle eighth. This was not included on the original vinyl album and to be honest, I wouldn't have missed it on the CD. Oh well, not a terrible song but I guess you can't have a flawless solo debut.

Family business (5:14) --- Much more like it. As already mentioned in the previous post, the actual lyric for this was used on a song to have been recorded by Marillion for their then fifth album, which was of course never recorded, "Seasons end" being released instead after Fish's departure. The lyric was in the song then called "Story from a thin wall" and used as "Berlin", but here it has different music, the story of domestic violence, as Fish listens to the nightly goings-on next door and wishes he could help. "Every night when I hear you I dream of breaking down your door, an avenging knight in shining armour". It's a slow, plodding song with crying violin and stark piano, bitter and recriminatory. It ramps up for the bridge as the unnamed husband warns his battered wife "If anyone from the Social asks, you fell down the stairs!"

It's a shocking indictment not only of domestic and family abuse, but of how it's tactitly accepted, mostly because people just don't want to get involved, or are afraid of being pulled into what's seen as "family business". The same reason cops don't intervene in domestic disputes. The pathetic figure of the wife as "She's waiting at a bus stop at the bottom of the hill. She knows she'll never catch it" is heart-rending, and so typical of women who fail to break out of their abusive relationships. But something will have to be done, she realises, "Cause when daddy tucks the kids in it's taking longer every night."

View from the Hill (6:38) --- The Hill finally comes into view, as Fish teams up with Maiden's Janick Gers for a searing look at the things people will do to get to the top. Fish snarls "They sold you the view from the Hill, they told you the view from the Hill would be further than you had ever seen before!" It's the old story of the grass being greener on the other side, and the song could be misinterpreted to mean that Fish was regretting his solo move, but that's not the case at all. Gers himself guests on guitar and really rocks the track up, Fish's vocal burning with anger and accusation, almost as if the impotent rage of "Family business" has exploded out of him in a towering wave, directed at those who sell unattainable dreams. Of course there's a great solo from Gers, and the song is definitely the heaviest on the album, not quite metal but coming reasonably close. It fades out on single chords from Gers and takes us to the closer.

Cliche (7:01) --- Starting out pretty much like the opener did it's the second ballad, though it ramps up near the end. It's carried mostly on piano and synth, with Fish wrestling with how to get across how he loves his lady without resorting to hackneyed lines and methods. With perhaps a lack of humility he declares "I've got a reputation of being a man with the gift of words: romantic, poetic type, or so they say." The fact that it's true makes it a little easier to take, and the guitar moaning in the background adds a sense of power to the song, with backing vocals from among others, Heaven 17's Carol Kenyon giving it a feel of Pink Floyd.

A slick bass line from Giblin runs throughout the tune, and a fiery guitar solo from Frank Usher lays the final polish on a great closer. As I say, a ballad but a song that changes as it goes along and ends up being quite a punchy, emotional and stirring final track.

As a debut solo album, even for someone already well known in progressive rock circles, this stands as one of the best, and certainly among Fish's catalogue I'd rank it among the big three, with "Raingods and Zippos" and the followup to this, "Internal exile". If nothing else, it does partially exorcise the ghost of Marillion and the breakup, and shows that Fish was able to stand unaided as a performer in his own right. Of course, that same ghost was not completely gone, and in the subject matter and Mark Wilkinson's Marillionesque album covers, the Jester was always looking over Fish's shoulder.

But then, he had always been synonymous with the big Scot, anyway.
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Old 10-06-2013, 05:26 AM   #30 (permalink)
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1991 was an interesting time in Marillionland, and for those who had taken a side in the Fish/Marillion war, a difficult one, as both released their second album. Technically, of course, "Holidays in Eden" was Marillion's sixth album overall, but it was their second with new vocalist Steve Hogarth, while Fish put out his own followup to "Vigil in a wilderness of mirrors", his album hitting the shelves in October while his ex-band got theirs out four months earlier, and so the Marillion album is the one I'm going to look at first.

With Hogarth still really settling in at this point and the ghost of the departed Fish still howling around the corridors, cursing in Gaelic and singing drunken snatches of songs he had written before leaving the band, Marillion were still in a situation where they were looking for new material and trying not to use old Fish music, he having taken all lyrics with him. They turned to Hogarth, who provided them with the title track to the only album his own band --- well, spinoff from his main band --- released, which was called "Dry land", and also the melody to another song off that album, which became "Cover my eyes (Pain and Heaven)".

The album therefore features mostly shorter, more commercial and even poppy songs, which helped it to scale its way into the top ten, the last time the band would populate the upper echelons of the charts. They would never make any impact in the USA chartswise; after a brief heady rise into the top fifty for "Misplaced childhood", the album from which their biggest ever single successes came, "Clutching at straws" would barely make it into the top one hundred and after that no Marillion album would chart in the US. Over here, their relationship with the charts would be shaky at best, the next two albums scraping into the top twenty but after that they would rarely if ever trouble the charts again.

Nevertheless, their sound was changing. We had heard its beginnings on "Seasons end", though in fairness on that album the ghost of Fish was moaning loudly and still cast a very long shadow (what do you mean: ghosts can't cast shadows? Allow me some artistic licence, why don't ya?) and so it sounded in essence quite like the previous album, even some of the melodies similar, as well as the themes. But this was a new Marillion and they intended not to rest on the glories of the past but fashion a whole new mythology with their new vocalist, frontman and composer. And so they did.

Holidays in Eden, 1991 Produced by Christopher Neil, on the EMI label (IRS in the USA)

There are some echoes of the old Marillion to a degree, but you have to look for them and they're quite scarce. The album, like the last two, starts on a slow, fading-in introduction, and though there are no epics on it, the closing three tracks more or less make up a loose suite which runs for almost thirteen minutes, paradoxically making it (if you take the three songs together) the longest composition on a Marillion studio album up to that point, and one which would not be surpassed until 1997's "This strange engine".

Beyond that though, there's not too much progressive rock about this. There are three ballads on the album --- the most of any Marillion album up to then --- three singles released from it and almost half of the tracks on the album are less than five minutes long, a practice that had begun with "Seasons end" and would continue through subsequent albums. In fact, leaving aside the opener and maybe one other, someone coming new to Marillion and picking up this album would be hard-pressed to recognise it as progressive rock. They certainly wouldn't compare it to the earlier Fish-era albums.

1. Splintering heart (6:54) --- Opening on a quiet but rising synth and guitar line, the vocal comes in at about the fortieth second but it's very quiet and downbeat as the song builds with a soft keyboard riff being laid down by Mark Kelly. It's not until almost the second minute that we even hear a drumbeat, and then in the third minute Rothery kicks in with guitar and Mosley takes the percussion full tilt, but even then it cuts back and running on a guitar section we last heard in "The web", it slows down again and doesn't really pick up again at all, tempowise. There's a lovely laidback guitar solo which then breaks out into a powerful emotional soaraway as Kelly's keys join in, organ-like, to take the song towards its conclusion. Hogarth's voice comes back powerfully after this and then everything drops back to reprise the opening as it fades away to end.

2. Cover my eyes (Pain and Heaven) (3:54) --- With the first song to really move away from the true progressive rock direction Marillion had been heading in since 1981, this is a true rock song. There's an uptempo guitar, strong keyboards and a song about, well, basically falling in love, like most of the songs on this album would be. In fact, if there is a theme running through this it's not social injustice or wars or politics or even childhood revisited, it's simply love. Love seen through the eyes of youth, the eyes of age, the eyes of experience and the eyes of innocence. But generally, that's it: it's a love album.

This song, like many others on the album, you could hear playing on radio while dyed-in-the-wool, hardened Marillion fanatics, weaned on "Script for a jester's tear" and "Fugazi" who thought that "Kayleigh" was taking things a step too far shake their heads and mutter into their pints. It's a breezy, upbeat song and it shows the change Marillion were going through, the metamorphosis into something far different than the market square heroes we had come to know and love them as.

3. The party (5:36) --- Mostly downtempo, downbeat and very laidback, it's not surprisingly the story of a party, the first "proper" party the girl in the song goes to. And perhaps it could be taken as a warning about giving in to peer pressure, but perhaps not. Perhaps it's just a song about a party. But it's also a coming-of-age song, a tale of losing your virginity and finding out what the world really is like. When Hogarth sings "Some of the people that she thought she knew were never like this when she saw them at school", it's clear the girl in the story is learning some shocking and harsh lessons. It's driven mostly initially on Kelly's doleful piano, later joined by guitar as Hogarth mourns her loss of innocence. The song picks up power and intensity, as presumably the party does too, and the girl is left with a mixture of fear and anticipation: "Then it's twelve o'clock and the last bus is gone; they're gonna go crazy when they hear what she's done."

4. No one can (4:41) --- A nice little poppy ballad, and yes, one of my favourite post-Fish songs, though there are many. Best on the album? No. I'd probably go for "Splintering heart" or maybe "Dry land" or possibly "Waiting to happen". It's pleasant enough, a mid-paced tempo with a nice relaxed guitar line leading the melody and a mellifluous (look it up) vocal from Hogarth leaving you in no doubt that this would be one of the singles selected from the album. And it was.

5. Holidays in Eden (5:38) --- Sort of the first really uptempo song on the album, starting off with the sound of a jet airliner taking off, kicking into a fast rhythm on guitar, very rocky as opposed to poppy, but not proggy. A chance for Hogarth to exercise the strength of his vocal chords, and in fairness Kelly's keyboard lines are almost Fish-era, though more reminscent of "Incommunicado" or "Just for the record" than "Forgotten sons". It's a decent enough track this, but again shows the guys heading further off the prog path they had been almost steadily abandoning since "Seasons end."

6. Dry land (4:43) --- And another ballad, as if all that jumping about and keyboard arpeggios and guitar solos was too much for them. This is the song that began life with Hogarth's ex-band-project, How We Live. It's a great, beautiful, fragile ballad with a lovely line in guitar and a stellar vocal from Hogarth, and I love it very much. It just unfortunately pushes Marillion further along that road that's taking them inexorably into pop territory and acceptability by the mainstream.

7. Waiting to happen (5:01) --- One of Hogarth's premier vocal performances on the album. Yes, it's another ballad --- two in a row, guys, two in a row? --- but it has a nice almost acoustic simplicity that makes it kind of stand out among the others. Decent guitar solo too.

8. This town (3:18) --- The other fast track, driven by chunky guitar and a low organ sound, quite rocky and really it leads into the next track, making of the three closing ones something of a suite, as I said at the beginning. Good drum work from Mosley and some nice uptempo piano from Kelly.

9. The rake's progress (1:54) --- At this point, the shortest ever Marillion track, more or less a lead-in to the closer, it's carried on a mournful synth line and some downbeat guitar and bass, a forlorn vocal from Hogarth and a melody that then starts to pick up slowly on the back of thick bass from Trewavas and chimy guitar from Rothery. A rolling drumbeat reminiscent of the opening to "Assassing" takes it towards its fade into the next, and final track.

10. 100 nights (6:41) --- The story of a lothario who grins to the unseen husbands and boyfriends "You didn't notice me as I passed you on the stairs. How could you ever guess?"It has a nice proggy keyboard line and a solid beat from Mosley, it's slow but somewhat threatening in its way as the singer smirks "They seem attracted to my indifference; the irony just knocks me out." Superb guitar solo from Rothery that almost takes the song to its conclusion as the lothario exults "While you're out there playing you see, there's something you should know: she spends your money on me!"

With a nice little reprise from "The rake's progress" and a repeated line from "This town" we're out of here.

This is not by any means a pop album, nor even just a standard rock one. The Marillion sound is there, and always would be, but there are definite overtures towards a more commercial, radio-friendly direction and much shorter songs with subjects not generally explored by the band. Of course, none of this is particularly surprising: Fish was their main (only) lyricist, and with his departure it was always likely that the new guy coming in, with the band, would put his own stamp on "Marillion Mark II" and try to drive the songwriting away from the more overtly political or fantasy-rooted lyrics favoured by Fish.

Interestingly, as we will see in the next post, Fish himself had moved on to more edgy and hard-hitting subject matter for his second solo album, though his music would always remain entrenched in the progressive rock with which he had made his name with Marillion. Fish was not about to take the pop route, the chart route, and would never have anything close to a hit single. Which probably suited him just fine.

Marillion, on the other hand, would confuse and delight their fans by coming back three years later with their darkest and indeed most progressive rock album ever, making "Script" seem almost cheerful by comparison. It would go on to rank second in my top Marillion albums and be in many ways a hard listen, at times almost like drowning in a dark sea. There would continue to be a fractured and fraught relationship between the band and prog rock, but "Brave" would be hugely significant in being their last full prog rock album, very similar to something they might have attempted with Fish, though it was pretty much Steve Hogarth's creation.

But before that, Fish was anxious to show the world how he had grown outside the confines of his parent band, and his second solo album certainly would do that. It's up next.
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