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Old 08-22-2013, 03:14 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Sentimental mercenaries: the Marillion Story



Yup, I've decided to do it. My favourite prog rock band of all time is Genesis, but Marillion come a very close second, and in terms of their sound changing I feel they stayed truer to their original vision than Genesis did. Despite history repeating itself with Fish leaving, the band did not fall apart and in fact went on to record what I consider to be some of their finest work. They did change their style though, but I believe always remained true to their core sound and never betrayed their principles in the way Genesis did in the latter eighties and on.

This is a band I literally lived through: I got into them after hearing their debut single, bought their debut album and never really ever looked back. In this thread I'll be talking about my impression of the band as the years went on, what they meant to me, and why I think Fish leaving was not the end of everything, and why, shock-horror, I still bought and enjoyed his albums. I'll also be reviewing every Marillion album and possibly single (though probably not all of them) as well as all Fish's solo output and if I can get the time the other side projects like Transatlantic, Edison's Children and the H Band. Maybe.

So if you're a fan of Marillion, or you think you might be, then read on and see what you think. I will probably not include YouTubes, as much of Marillion's music is known already and I have reviewed some of their albums in my journal (plug, plug!) so you can always get the skinny on them there. I'd rather let my words do the talking, a feat which has never been a problem for ol' motormouth here, than bombard you with dozens of videos which, let's be honest, hardly anyone is likely to even click let alone listen to.

So that's the intro done. Now to check out the albums. I'm glad to say that I know these albums so well that I won't even have to play them, in most cases: they're all playing already in my head, and have been for years. Marillion for me emcompassed the very zenith of the progressive rock revival of the early eighties, and I honestly don't think without them there even would have been a revival. Pallas? IQ? Yeah, good bands but Marillion led the charge, and without their distinct imagery, style and lyricism, prog rock may have remained rooted in the seventies, where it had more or less languished until they burst onto the scene.

Feel free to comment, but please don't throw in comments about "prog rock sux" or anything. This is an appreciation thread. Debate certainly. Disagree if you feel you have to. But please bring with you two things when you cross the threshold into this thread: an open mind and a willingness to put your points across in a fair and reasoned way.

Now, what did I find at the end of my rainbow? Glad you asked...
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Old 08-22-2013, 05:21 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Market square heroes (1982) produced by David Hitchcock on the EMI label
Backed with: "Three boats down from the candy"/"Grendel"

To paraphrase Babylon 5 (what?), I was there, at the dawn of the second age of progressive rock. This is one time I can say I was right in there on the ground floor. Of course I am too young (at a mere fifty years!) to have been involved in the first wave of progressive rock, but I knew of the big bands --- Genesis, Rush, ELP, Yes etc --- and most of them I liked. Except for ELP. And Yes. Sort of. But this was new. This was vibrant. I had always assumed, up to this point, that prog rock was dead, buried under the ornate tombstones of the seventies. It was music you heard on albums that bore logos like The Famous Charisma Label and Mercury. They were old classics, certainly playable and listenable but, to be frank, they just didn't make them like this anymore. The bands I had grown up listening to, mostly Genesis ELO and Supertramp, had moved on. They had changed their sounds. By the early eighties Supertramp had abandoned their progressive rock roots for more slick, commerical rock/pop and Genesis were in the process of doing the same. ELO were coming near the end. There seemed nothing left.

Then I heard this. Well, to be honest I read about it first. One of the big staples of my teenage years and early twenties, like millions of other youths into music was "Kerrang!" and through their pages I discovered what was new, what was happening and what I could buy and be reasonably sure I would like, based on the reviewer's thoughts. Of course, that didn't always happen and an album praised to high heaven by the mag would end up getting the thumbs down from a disappointed me, but more often than not they were right in what they said. So when they started enthusing about this guy called Fish, whose band Marillion were wowing 'em across London and other parts of the UK playing what was being called a modern Genesis style of music, I was intrigued.

The very, very first thing you hear on this single is a hard, rock guitar and pounding drums, then after a few seconds Mark Kelly comes in with an upbeat, almost whimsical but powerful keyboard arpeggio that more or less carries the melody, before frontman and singer Derek W. Dick, who would forever after be known as Fish, comes in with the vocal. And what a vocal. The man makes no attempt to disguise his Scottish accent and it comes across gritty and angry, accusatory and dark as he growls "I found smog at the end of my rainbow", in one phrase dismissing certain politician's views that all was well, and going on to describe the plight of the unemployed, the dispossessed and the just plain downright angry.

Not that is to say that Fish was a Springsteen or a Dylan, fighting the cause of the common man, trying to right wrongs through music. He certainly tried this in many Marillion songs and there are few if any of the "keep rockin have a good time" style, most of them being motivated by investigations into the human condition and life in general, but Marillion would never be known for overtly political or topical lyrics. However, unlike the seventies prog rock giants from whom they more or less traced their musical ancestry, neither would their songs be all about fantasy elements. There would be few dragons, princesses, castles or magic in Marillion's music, except where they were used as metaphors for more mundane elements.

But back to "Market square heroes". It's certainly a bouncy, singalong, even dancealong song, and to some extent was perhaps a false representation of the band, as I would find when I purchased their debut album. In general, Marillion did not do uptempo, upbeat songs, and they would not really come back to this style until 1987, when "Incommunicado" would be another, not very successful, single. As a debut single this did nothing. Literally. It never even scraped into the charts. But it sounded a clarion call to those of us who had grown up with, and loved, prog rock, and we eagerly awaited the release of the album.

Despite what I just said above, this, Marillion's first single, has undoubted political overtones. The "market square hero" of the title is a revolutionary, an idealist, a fighter and a militant, who sadly has the anger and the frustration inside him but no clear idea where or how to channel that. You can view him perhaps as proudly marching at the head of a throng of followers, shouting into a megaphone "What do we want?" with his acolytes responding "We don't know!" and him carrying on, unfazed, yelling "When do we want it?" to the usual chorus of "NOW!" He's also not averse to letting people get hurt, or even die in his cause, even if he doesn't really know what he's fighting for.

There are some beautifully stark lines in the lyric: "I got a golden handshake that nearly broke my arm" and "Got rust upon my hands from the padlocked factory gates, where silent chimneys provide our silent steeples." It's certainly a song of protest, protest at the raw deal the ordinary worker received in Thatcher's Britain as factory after factory closed, people were let go and the jobless queues stretched to ridiculous lengths. In fact, Fish, as the lyricist for the band, addresses this in another line: "I left the ranks of shuffling graveyard people".

But it's when we get to the midsection that the "hero"'s impotence becomes apparent: "I am your antichrist!" he thunders. "Show me allegiance!" and then moments later "The time has come to conquer and I'll provide your end!" All through the song Kelly's keyboards keep up an almost farcical upbeat melody and Mick Pointer drives the song along with false enthusiasm, false hope and false promises from the title character. It's almost like a person who says "I hate the way the world is. I want to change it but I haven't a clue, but be damned if that'll stop me!" The sentiment is there, the plan is not.

Let's be honest here: you can NOT hear Genesis in this song. This is something new. It's short. It's snappy. It's cold, dark fun in its way. And it is in fact quite commercial, should have performed better than it did. This was not typical prog rock. The comparisons they would suffer to Collins, Gabriel, Banks and Rutherford for over five years and more would come when the debut album was released, and people began marking the similarities between the two bands. But before that, the other songs on this single would do them no favours in that respect, though one would certainly go on to be a fan favourite.

"Three boats down from the candy" (and I have never worked out what that's supposed to mean) is again keyboard driven but much harder, with an insistent opening that contains hard driving guitar and hammering drums that goes on for about thirty seconds, then settles into what could in all fairness be called a very Genesis sound, quite reminiscent really of songs like "The musical box" and "White mountain", the early, Gabriel-centric Genesis of the first half of the seventies. It seems to concern the singer reminsicing about an old love affair, and has some fine keyboard arpeggios as well as the first real chance to hear Steve Rothery's introspective side on the guitar. It's a decent song but I never took that much to it. However, in the next post I'll be talking about seventeen minutes plus of pure genius...
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Old 08-22-2013, 07:45 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Okay, there's no getting away from it. "Grendel" is Marillion's "Supper's ready". They must have known they were going to face comparisons to the Genesis epic when they wrote this. It's only slightly shorter (just over seventeen minutes compared to "Supper's ready"'s twenty-three), it deals with fantasy themes, it goes through time and signature changes over the length of its run, both songs start gently on acoustic guitar and end on a big triumphant instrumental. They were never going to escape the comparisons to what is considered one of Genesis' finest songs.

That much said, "Grendel" is also a much different animal to the Genesis song. Firstly, it doesn't deal with the esoteric themes that "Supper" does. This is a structured story, based around the ancient English poem "Beowulf", which for the first half of the song talks about the monster Grendel and the horror he wreaks on the countryside, with the second part being the situation as seen through the eyes of Grendel him or herself. Through Grendel's voice Fish rails against religion, human hubris, the destruction of natural resources, man's inhumanity to man, war and the fine line we tread between being human and being animal. He paints Grendel (in the monster's words) as a sympathetic creature, fighting back against what he sees as the injustices mankind have laid at his door.

The music is again mostly dominated by keyboards from Mark Kelly, with some fine guitar work from Steve Rothery, and of course Fish's voice holds court over everything, from his gentler descriptions of the fear of the people --- "They place their faith in oaken doors, cower in candlelight. Their panic seeps through bloodstained floors as Grendel stalks the night." --- to the vitriolic, passionate and vengeful rant of the monster --- "So you thought that you bolts and your locks would keep me out? You shoulda known better after all this time! You're gonna pay in blood for all your vicious slander!" As the song winds on Grendel accuses mankind of hypocrisy (surely not!) --- "When you kill your own you feel no shame; you lust for gold with your sharpened knives. When your hordes are gathered together and your enemies left to rot you pray with your bloodstained hands at the feet of your pagan gods, then you try to place the killer's blade in MY hands!"

Seventeen minutes may seem a lot, and it is, but the beauty of "Grendel" is that it never lags. It goes, as I say, through various changes, and is broken up --- again like "Supper's ready" --- into sections, each of which describe a part of the story. There are some great solos on it, and yes, there is flute, so again Marillion were sort of hoist on their own petard in this respect. Far from staying away from the Genesis model they embraced it, and kind of reaped the rewards of that. But whether you see it as a "Supper's ready" rip-off or not --- and after them there were plenty of bands in the prog scene who wrote twenty-minute or more sagas --- it's still a great song and terrific value for money if you bought the twelve-inch single. Also, "Grendel" was not included on any Marillion album until 1984, and then only live, so if you wanted the song it was imperative you bought the twelve-inch.

And if you were getting into Marillion and prog, you wanted this song!

Next, the debut album and a true album that changed my life.
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Old 08-23-2013, 12:50 PM   #4 (permalink)
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But what of the band? Well this is the Marillion story and I suppose I should have spoken about them first. I suck at this! Anyhoo, Marillion got their name from the book by JRR Tolkien which is supposed to precede both "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings", and lays out the mythology used in both. It was called "The Silmarillion", under which name they played for two years, having formed in 1979 and changed the name to Marillion in 1981 to avoid any potential copyright infringements. Interestingly, the face and driving force of the band, vocalist lyricist and frontman Fish was not part of the original band, only joining in 1981. The original members were Steve Rothery on guitars, Mick Pointer on drums with Doug Irvine on bass and Brian Jelliman on keyboards. Irvine left the band in early '81 and was replaced by Diz Minnit, as well as a charismatic Scot called Derek Dick.

At the end of the year original keyboardist Jelliman had been replaced by Mark Kelly, and a year later Minnit departed to be replaced by Pete Trewavas. This, then, would be the Marillion lineup who would go on to record their debut, ground-breaking album and place progressive rock --- or "neo-progressive rock", as it would come to be called --- firmly back on the map if not back in the charts.

Script for a jester's tear (1983) produced by Nick Tauber on the EMI label

Everything about this album speaks of progressive rock at its finest, and still stands today as in my opinion not only one of Marillion's best albums, but one of the best debut albums I've heard. My first encounter with it was when a guy in work bought it, and I realised "Holy fuck! It's out!" I drooled over the lavish gatefold sleeve with that almost oil-painting texture, the calligraphic lettering, the song titles, the lyrics printed on the inner sleeve --- ah, the good old days, when vinyl was such a tactile experience! Of course, the drawback between that and today's digital format meant that Jim, the guy who had bought the album and brought it in for me to see, could not play any of it, as we rather inexplicably (!) didn't have a turntable in the office! Today, you could rip it in the CD drive and play it on the computer, but I think the wait heightened both the anticipation and the final payoff for me.

Needless to say, once I got a chance I was into town to buy the album, brought it home, drooled a little more over its sleeve (yeah, sounds disgusting: you know what I mean!) and then plopped it on the turntable, lay back on my bed and waited for my world to change. And it did.

The thing about "Script" is that it is a very dark album. Very dark. And after a single like "Market square heroes" to launch it I was a little confused by the doomy, forlorn tone of the album, the title notwithstanding. Even the cover is dark, literally: if you look at it there's not a whole lot of lighting, the idea being of course that the Jester, who would become Marillion's sigil and symbol for the next four years, is living in a dark, dank bedsit where the sun does not often shine. It's a feeling of oppression, claustrophobia even, the idea that the air is thick and hot and it's hard to breathe, and yet there is a note of hope of sorts, as there he is, playing his violin (on the fiddle?) and writing his mournful love songs.

So, track by track then:
Script for a jester's tear (8:44) --- The track that titles the album also starts it off, and it's a dour, inward-looking take on a love affair gone wrong, or possibly one that never began. A man is rebuking himself for not having had, perhaps, the courage to have declared his feelings: "Too late to say I love you, too late to restage the play" as he watches his lover get married. It's a slow opening with stark piano and flute, and Fish's voice comes almost as if out of a deep well or from a far distance before it takes hold of you, his sorrow and self-pity at once squeezing your heart and making you feel a little unsympathetic towards him. The song quickly ramps up on the back of heavy punching drumwork from Mick Pointer and keening, screeching guitar from Steve Rothery, as Fish repeats the opening verse with more passion and anger.

It slows down then on an introspective flute and soft bass as Fish recounts the sort of person he is, or has seen himself become: "I act the role in classic style of a martyr carved with twisted smile, to bleed the lyric for this song, to write the rites to right my wrongs: an epitaph to a broken dream". The three different meanings of the word "right" used in that line would become typical of the sort of wordsmith Fish was, using often normal phrases and occurrences to denote deep, psychological or mythological concepts, or indeed, doing the very reverse, in what I consider to be some of the very best songwriting in progressive rock in the last twenty years. When he screams "Promised wedding now a wake!" and it echoes off into the distance alongside Rothery's rising guitar he's taking the persona of a man pushed to his limits, ready to break.

But he'll do nothing as he sighs "I'll hold my peace forever when you wear your bridal gown", resigned to seeing his lover married off in front of his eyes, wanting to say something, wanting to scream that he loves her, has always loved her, but knowing that it is now too late. His last lines "But the game is over" almost jar with his final, almost desperate and presumably unsaid plea to the new bride: "Can you still say you love me?"

He knows you know (5:23) --- A much more uptempo if not upbeat song, this concerns the effect of drugs and deals with insanity, as Fish describes in graphic detail the hallucinations of a "bad trip". "Fast feed, crystal fever swarming through a fractured mind; chilling needles freeze emotion: the blind shall lead the blind." Rothery's guitar kicks and bites its way through this, showing he can rock out when he wants to, and Fish has changed --- if you want to link the two songs, something I don't think is intended but could be --- from a sad, dejected, defeated figure to a wild, crazy, borderline insane creature trying to survive in a world of drugs and seizures, and trying vainly to understand the world around him. Whereas Fish was sullen angry in "Script", he's crazy angry here.

The song builds to an almost dangerous climax and then stops abruptly. The sound of a phone ringing is interrupted as it's answered and a woman's voice says hello, with Fish snarling "Don't give me your problems!" (tying in with the lyric throughout the song "He knows you know but he's got problems!") and slamming down the phone. Indeed, the absence of a comma after "knows" in the title gives it a double meaning: is it read "he knows, you know" as in he's aware of this, you know, or should it be taken to mean "he knows you know", to say, he's aware that you know? I don't know, you know...

The Web (8:52) --- Another big epic song, this shifts the focus onto a woman, who is trying to recover from a bad or abusive relationship and has retreated to the safety of her apartment, fearing to face society. "I'm the cyclops in the tenement", sings Fish, "I'm the soul without a cause. Crying midst my rubber plants, ignoring beckoning walls." After a frenetic start and an angry vocal, the song settles down into quite a 70s Genesis vibe with more flute and soft guitar, before kicking up again and then slowing down into the second part, featuring some whispered vocals from Fish. This is the first time the jester is mentioned in the lyrics --- despite the title track there is no direct reference to any jester, or indeed a script --- but here Fish snarls "I only laughed away your tears but even jesters cry!" Soon enough though the character in the song faces the fact that she must make a break with the past and face the world again. "I realise I hold the key to freedom, I cannot let my life be ruled by threads. The time has come to make decisions."

The end part of the song almost mirrors the keyboard arpeggios from "Market square heroes", so much so that in live performances this ending part of "The Web" would often run into the single, causing much delight among the fans. The dour, dark tone of the song changes as the character stands up for herself, shakes off the past and steps into the light. It's one of the few times there's any good feeling on the album, in all honesty.

Garden party (7:19) --- If there's a more cutting song written against entitlement and the upper classes I've yet to hear it. Again uptempo but with a false kind of merriment, it's almost the idea of someone not invited to an event scaling a wall and looking over at all the people they can't join, and hating them for it. But "Garden party" is not about envy; Fish does not want to be like these people. In fact, he despises their sycophantism. It's a searing indictment of the sort of people who have to be with the in-crowd, who think a royal title or being Lord or Lady this or that, or having Sir before your name makes you a better person, above everyone else, looking down on the "ordinaries".

Through the lyric Fish pours scorn on the "toffs" as "Social climbers polish ladders, wayward sons again have fathers," and makes no bones of his disgust at the plasticity and insincerity of such people. Surprisingly, this was released as a single from the album, and got into the top twenty! The line "I'm rucking, I'm fucking" had of course to be changed for the single release, with the offending word rather cleverly and sarcastically changed to "miming".

Chelsea Monday (8:17) --- If you consider "Garden party" as a "happy" song (it's not really, but tempowise, ok) then everything slams right back down to earth with the penultimate track. Lead in on the call of a newspaper vendor then Pete Trewavas's hypnotic bassline, it's the tragic story of a young girl who is studying to be an actress, or wants to be one, but ends up dying in a housefire. I'm not sure whether she commits suicide or if it's an accident, but the song is accompanied both by pathetic images --- "She's playing the actress in bedroom scenes, learning her lines from glossy magazines; stringing all the pearls from her childhood dreams, auditioning for the leading role on the silver screen" --- and sad, mounrful music, typified by violin-like synth and rumbling guitar. Echoey drums from Pointer add to the lonely, hopeless, tragic atmosphere and well let's just say it's not a song to play when you need cheering up.

Forgotten sons (8:23) --- One of the most powerful anti-war songs even today, this targets specifically the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, and though thankfully they are mostly just part of history now, the sentiments expressed here could really be transplanted to Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada or a hundred other countries where an unwanted occupying force struggles against what it sees as terrorists or insurgents. "Forgotten sons" is propelled at a fine clip by the frothy keyboard of Kelly, again similar to "Market square heroes" but with a darker tone. The song is told through the eyes of British servicemen posted to Northern Ireland, and references back the power that sent them there in Fish's gloriously macabre rewriting of The Lord's Prayer: "Minister, minister, care for your children! Order them not into damnation to eliminate those who would trespass against you. For whose is the kingdom, the power, the glory, for ever and ever, amen."

The music then stops, and on nothing more than a single, repeated bassnote, presumably meant to represent a heartbeat a soldier cries "Halt! Who goes there!" while a hissing reply comes "Death!" The soldier returns "Approach... friend." There's a big guitar and keyboard ending then as Fish bemoans the plight of those who have only enlisted to have a job --- "From the dole queue to the regiment --- a profession in a flash! But remember Monday signings when from door to door you dash." Stirring stuff, and a powerful and dark ending to a very powerful and profoundly dark album.

I found, indeed find it odd that given that "Market square heroes" was the lead-in single, it's not on the album, nor indeed are either of the two tracks that backed it. From a value for money point of view, "Script" possibly does not provide the best, having only six tracks in total, but then again four of those are over eight minutes, so that can't be bad. The album was re-released in 1997 as a two-disc special edition which included all three songs (though the versions of "Market square heroes" and "Grendel" were different to the ones on the single) and some demos of other tracks on the album. Nonetheless, as far as "Grendel" is concerned, if you wanted the original version you had to buy the twelve-inch single of "Market square heroes", which thankfully I did!
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Old 08-26-2013, 05:39 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Speaking of singles, as I mentioned two were released from the album, the first being "He knows you know." Around the time of their first three albums Marillion became somewhat known for including interesting and often unavailable elsewhere tracks on their twelve-inch singles, however this was not one. Backed with the interesting (and not available anywhere else) "Charting the single", the 12-inch simply added the single edit of the A-side and so was not good value for money. Didn't stop me buying it at the time of course!

You would think, as I did, that with a single suddenly and perhaps unexpectedly in the charts, Marillion would have just written an instrumental and called it "Charting the single", in an effort to allude to their efforts to push the song up the charts. But no. As a matter of fact, Marillion would not record an instrumental track at all until twenty-five years later, and it would turn out, so far, to be their only one. So the song "Charting the single" was actually a very clever one, with lyrics that referred to various European cities as a lothario travelled around Europe leaving a trail of broken hearts behind him.

Fish's love of wordplay could not be better demonstrated here: lines like "Schnapping my fingers on an alcoholiday, sniff round a fraulein when I'm scent to Cologne" and "Plastered in Paris, I've had an eiffel" show how well he used words to mean more than one thing. The title itself is a double meaning, referring certainly on the surface to the pop charts but underneath it, and supported by the lyric, it's a song about the joys of being single and how you only have to look out for number one. Not a terribly sensitive song, but then, as he sings "I got no claws in my contract, got no shares in my name, I'm just charting the single in a bachelor's game", who could sheepishly say they hadn't either been there or had those thoughts?

Despite all the clever wordplay on the B-side and despite --- or more likely, because of --- the mature themes of the A-side, "He knows you know" did poorly in the charts, making a paltry showing of only thirty-five in the UK --- none of Marillion's singles have ever charted at all in the US --- while its followup, the equally risque but perhaps easier to take in jest "Garden party" was fated to do much better, even leading to the video being played on "Top of the Pops". Yeah, cool man!

The twelve-inch version of this single is much better value for money. Not only do you get the full versions of both "Garden party" (the seven-inch has a shorter edited version that cuts down the synth solo and I think also removes a verse, or part of one) and a live version of "Charting the single" --- odd choice, since those who had bought the twelve-inch of "He knows you know" would possibly be the only ones who would know of the song --- but also a twelve-minute live recording of a song they called "Margaret", in which Fish paid tribute to his Scottish roots, basically rewriting the song "Loch Loman" and jazzing it up. The shorter, edited version appeared on the seven-inch but to get the real sense of fun in this song you had to hear the full version.

"Garden party" got to number sixteen in the charts, making some people for the first time aware of Marillion, and setting the scene for their biggest commercial success, two years later. More to the point, their somewhat controversial video was not banned or edited by the BBC, though they had to, as already mentioned, change the word "fucking" in the bridge to "miming". Onstage at TOTP, Fish did not mime the word, but just pointed at his lips as it played in the lipsynch, making his feelings quite clear on the subject of censorship and the Nanny State.

It's not surprising that there were no other singles off "Script for a jester's tear". In fact, it's almost amazing there were any, given the length of most of the tracks. However, Marillion had quickly established themselves as a band who were not chasing chart success, didn't really care about singles and even despite their inability to crack the charts in any appreciable way, fans flocked to their shows and bought their albums, "Script" going to number seven in the UK album charts. Not a bad showing for a debut album from a band nobody had heard of.
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Old 08-26-2013, 05:50 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I've just got around to reading this thread and to be fair they did lead the progressive charge/revival in the 1980s, but to be fair it was really a charge of one, as Marillion were well known especially in the UK with a string of successes, but unlike most revivals to a genre, the rest of the bands like IQ, Pallas and Pendragon hardly had any success and just scraped by.

Anyway you've now given me the desire to listen to the whole discography with you (in an internet way of course and not sat on your lap) so I'll be listening and correcting your assessments where needed for each album
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Old 08-26-2013, 07:13 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Cool! Glad someone is reading! I always meant to do this, but I thought my journal would be the place. Now that I've reviewed a few of their albums that didn't really seem like it would work, so I thought out here in the wilds of the prog subforum might be a better place. It's certainly taking me back I can tell you!

Yeah you're right about Marillion being a charge of one, but then again without their pushing prog rock the likes of Big Big Train, It Bites, Spock's Beard, Arena and others might never have got off the ground, so whereas it wasnt exactly the NWOBPR, it was a movement that got people thinking about that genre in a way most of us had not up to then; ie that it wasn't only classic or archive material, but was having something of a rebirth...

Anyway, welcome to the ride and hope you enjoy!
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Old 08-26-2013, 05:03 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unknown Soldier View Post
not sat on your lap)
If there's anyone I'd like to be sitting on my lap listening to Marillion with me it's Vanilla! Not very likely to happen though sadly...
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Old 08-26-2013, 05:37 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I've never quite understood what happened but shortly after the recording of the debut album Mick Pointer was fired by the band. Given that he had been a founder member of Marillion this must have stung, though he went on to found one of my other favourite prog rock bands, Arena. He was replaced by Ian Mosley, and when Marillion released their second, long-awaited album (yes I know it was only a year later but to us Marillon fans it may as well have been ten! There are only so many times you can play "Script" you know!) his departure, and the effect it had taken on the band, took centre stage on the opening track.

Fugazi (1984) produced by Nick Tauber on the EMI label

One thing Marillion seem to have learned from their debut is that songs can be too long, and they address this in their second outing. Sort of. There are two eight-minute songs and two that run to, or over, seven, but there is also one that is five minutes and one three, at that point the shortest Marillion album track to date. The darker themes are still there, and again this is not an album to cheer you up. You can see that from the cover again, where we come across our friend the Jester from the debut album, but instead of writing love songs in a bedsit this time he's stretched out on a bed, looking unwell and sad, while various items are scattered around him. A spilling glass of wine in his hand would seem to indicate he is drunk or drugged --- maybe both --- while behind him on the mirror someone has scrawled, either in blood or more likely lipstick, the title of the album.

Ah yes, the title. There is of course a band called Fugazi, but at the time we were told that it was an expression from Vietnam, equivalent to "all fucked up", which certainly seems appropriate, both given the state of the Jester on the sleeve and the state of the world as portrayed through Fish's sharp lyrics. All is most certainly not well here.

This album would yield two more singles, neither doing as well as "Garden party" but both easily eclipsing "He knows you know".

Assassing (7:02) --- Although this album starts with almost the same gradual beginning that its predecessor did, it quickly builds up to a crescendo as Fish screams something like "Sha!" and then launches into the lyric as the song is driven on bouncy tough guitar from Rothery and militaristic drumming from new boy Ian Mosley. The song is said to refer to the acrimony that attended Mick Pointer's departure from the band, and there's a lot of sarcasm and criticism in the lyric --- "On the sacrificial altar to success (my friend) unleash a stranger from a kiss (my friend); no incantations of remorse (my friend) --- unsheath the blade within the voice." The leadup to the chorus features the two words "my friend" repeated angrily, and it's obvious that the sentiment is not genuine. This is a song about betrayal and disappointment in someone's behaviour.

There's a great guitar solo from Rothery and it's really a rocking way to start the album, the energy and anger in the song actually leading to its choice as the lead single from "Fugazi", with most DJs mispronouncing the title as "Assassin", or some, confusing it with the Gary Numan song, "I, assassin." DIdn't matter: Marillion fans knew the truth and while it was great to hear and see our guys on TV, the cut-down single version kind of castrated the song. This is a track that needs its whole seven minutes and two seconds to run; anything else is just not acceptable.

Punch and Judy (3:21) --- This, on the other hand, which would be the second single from the album, is very much keyboard driven, starting off with a lively arpeggio from Kelly with Rothery joining in with hard, thumping guitar. It's a tale of domestic bliss gone wrong, as the singer wonders how he ended up in this trapped doomed relationship --- "Brought up the children Church of E, now I'm entertained by a colour TV. Worst ever thing that ever happened to me!" --- and plots her murder.

You can see how it was chosen as a single. It's short --- as I say, the shortest Marillion album song to that point --- boppy, uptempo and even though it deals with both a dysfunctional marriage and the idea of murder it manages to just skim these in the lyric as Fish sings almost nonchalantly about them, the threat tripping almost unnoticed off his tongue --- "Just slip her these pills and I'll be free!" It's not my favourite track on the album, in fact it's my least favourite and it comes close enough to being one of my least favourite Marillion tracks.

Jigsaw (6:49) --- Marillion's first real effort at a ballad, although it doesn't stay that way for long. Opening on a tinkling piano and soft guitar with a gentle vocal from Fish it's not long before both the music and the vocal punch up into the mix, and in ways lyrically it's a kind of carryover from the previous track, as again a couple try to work out where things have gone wrong. "Are we trigger-happy?" Fish asks. "Russian Roulette in a waiting room? Empty chambers embracing the moon?" Again you can see Fish's use of double meanings, where "empty chambers" can refer to rooms that are lonely because nobody is in them, or indeed the empty chamber of a gun, linking back to the line about Russian Roulette. Another searing, heartfelt solo from Steve Rothery and the song fades out as it began, Fish's voice fading to a despairing whisper.

Emerald lies
(5:08) --- I guess in some ways that I've never quite realised before, these three songs form a trilogy of sorts, a kind of kitchen-sink-drama that looks at the disintegration of a relationship. If so, then this is the final act, the powerful conclusion, and my favourite track on the album. Lyrics are often open to interpretation, especially obscure or metaphorical ones, and so I don't know for sure but this track seems to concern a diary being found, as Fish sings "Plundering your diaries, I'll steal your thoughts. Ravaging your letter, unearth your plots." The evidence is then brought to the guilty party in the marriage --- "A forty-watt sun on a costume drama" --- while the trial begins --- "To don the robes of Torquemada, resurrect the Inquisition and in a couched and subtle manner phrasing questions within questions."

The music is sort of staccato, urgent and insistent with a big keening guitar finish, as the relationship ends and Fish sings "The coffee stains gather till the pale kimono sets the wedding rings dancing on the cold linoleum" and there is no way back now. "You pack your world within a suitcase, hot tears melt this icy palace." There is the suggestion though that either this is a setup or that the diary has been misinterpreted, as the term "innocence" is used throughout the song. Nevertheless it's a powerful conclusion, if such it is, to the trilogy and indeed ends the first side of the vinyl album in fine style.

She chameleon (6:52) --- After the frenzy and passion of "Emerald lies", side two opens with a sinuous, snaky synth line from Mark Kelly, very low-key, almost arabic as Fish spits his venom at groupies who use people. This was never released as a single, but if it had it would have been hard to have censored or changed the lines "Was it just a fuck, was it just a fuck, just another fuck I said?" And the line is repeated, altered slightly, plus there's another line that goes "Degraded and alone, raped and still forlorn", so this was never getting any radio airplay! Mind you, it wouldn't have been expected to. It's a very dark song, very mature themes and nothing really that would lend itself to radio airplay.

It's pretty much Kelly and Fish's baby for much of the song as it winds its way along like a reptile itself, Fish's scorn and contempt carrying the track along the undulating curve of Kelly's almost hypnotic keyboard line, rising up and down like some dark wave, and it only really breaks into hard percussion and allows in some guitar work for a short while in the middle, then ends as it began, fading out. Quite a nasty and unsettling little song; if it's written, as we suppose it must be, from experience then there must have been some very unpleasant women following Marillion about at this time.

Incubus (8:30) --- One of the epics, as it were, on the album, it starts off bouncy enough with the main character facing her (yes, her again) retribution as a photograph taken which puts her in a compromising position is dredged up presumably by a jilted lover and used against her. A classic case of youthful indiscretion coming back to ruin someone's life. Fish has fun in this, referring to himself as he wails "You who wiped me from your memory like a greasepaint mask", obviously referring to the outlandish makeup he used to wear which gave him his persona and which, like his progentior Gene Simmons, he later ditched lest it overshadow his singing and he be seen as just "a guy in makeup".

The first part of the song is hard, harsh, unremitting, with tough guitar, clashing drums and an angry vocal from Fish, then in the second part it slows down on the back of soft piano from Kelly into an almost waltz, with Rothery's guitar joining in and taking it along until the denouement brings the song almost full circle as Fish revels in his triumph, the woman in his power as he gloats "The producer of your nightmare, and the performance has just begun!" Leaving the poor unfortunate young starlet no option but to follow his instructions as "You'll wait in silent solitude waiting for the prompt ... you've played this scene before!"

Fugazi (8:12) --- Well, "Script" had a seriously powerful end track so "Fugazi" was looking to fill some very big shoes already. I'm not sure that the title track here is really on a par with "Forgotten sons", but it's a decent closer and goes through some changes over its eight minutes and change length. Kelly takes centre stage for the first minute or so as he backs Fish's forlorn vocal on just piano, then the music stops for about a second, Rothery chimes his way in then gets angry on the frets in conjunction with Fish's more rabid vocal as he rails against the injustices in the world. Again we have great lines --- "Sheathed within the Walkman, wear the halo of distortion: aural contraceptive aborting pregnant conversation" --- a line I consider to be one of Fish's best, while he also keeps up a second vocal slightly time-delayed behind the main one, with a separate narrative.

When the song really gets going you can see where the crowd would start pumping their fists and roaring and shaking their heads, urged on by Kelly's sparkling keyboard lines and Mosley's thumping drumbeats. It's almost a march, then for the third part of the song again it's Kelly who takes control but this time with a zinging, swirling little synth run while Rothery makes weird sounds on his guitar and the tempo slows down, Fish's vocal returning somewhat to the manner of the opening section, and the end section features flutey keyboard and again marching drum as the chorus, almost triumphant in a hopeless way, fades out with Fish asking the question "Where are the prophets? Where are the visionaries?" and recalling the term I used for this thread, and which was first heard in "Assassing", tying the whole thing up nicely and bringing the album full circle.

Surprisingly, I never noticed it until now, but I see now that "Fugazi" the album is actually very misogynistic, whether intentionally or not. Look at the songs. Apart from the opener which is clearly aimed at their ex-sticksman, "Punch and Judy" basically blames the wife for the failure of the marriage, "Jigsaw" is a little more forgiving but still apportions some blame, while "Emerald lies" savages the woman's reputation, something that is continued with almost glee in "She chameleon" and even "Incubus", wherein the woman is the victim, alludes to it being her own fault she was caught, and is angry at her for dumping the protagonist after all he did for her.

So not the best of albums to play down the local chapter of the WI then! Also, continuing in "Script"'s footsteps, it's still a very dark album. In fact, in some ways it's darker. At least the debut had "Garden party" to somewhat lighten the mood: nothing on "Fugazi" could be considered light or comic relief in any way. They're all very serious, in ways macabre, unsettling songs, and the whole album seems --- perhaps not surprisingly given the Pointer affair --- concerned with the idea of revenge and/or retribution. Only the title track and "Jigsaw" stay away from this concept.

So again a dark album, at times a hard album to listen to, and yet it did better in the charts when released than "Script" did, and its singles performed better too. I suppose to some degree Marillion fans or fans-in-the-making weren't all that bothered about the subtexts in the second --- or the first --- album. I know I wasn't. I was just glad Marillion had come out with a new album so soon. But looking at it through the eyes of experience and age now, this was not a happy album, and their third would not be much better. Nor their fourth. In fact, looking through the Marillion catalogue, I don't really see any album I would class as "happy" or at least "not sad, or dark" until 1995's "Afraid of sunlight", and that was eight years after the departure of Fish, and four years following their darkest ever album, "Brave".

Not gothic in any sense, I still wonder if instead of neo-prog Marillion's music might have been better categorised and described as Dark Prog?
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Old 08-27-2013, 05:50 PM   #10 (permalink)
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In my enthusiasm I sometimes get some small facts wrong. I know nobody cares or even noticed probably, but I'd like to correct these two small points I made

1. I mentioned in the review of "Script for a jester's tear" that the first time we hear the jester being mentioned is in "The Web". Of course it isn't. In the title track Fish sings "Remember the jester who showed you tears". So my bad on that one.

2. I think I said "Assassing" was the first single released from "Fugazi", but Wiki shows me up there, telling me it was in fact "Punch and Judy".

Apologies to the one or two (literally) of you who may have read those and realised they were wrong. I'll try to be more careful in future. Hello? Hello? Anybody out there? Am I talking to myself? Wouldn't be the first time...
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