Saturday, 30 June 2007

Built-In Bastard Radar


On our final leg of the iTunes Shuffle Opening Tour, we're moving as far away from the previous entry as possible, because there is absolutely no kind of deep, soul-searching emotion on display here. This song is just blisteringly stupid, quite possibly offensively so. Hogarth even admits as much in his sidenotes on the lyrics page, so why the band felt it deserved a place on any Marillion album, even their worst (and certainly is), I have no idea.

So the point of this song is this; women? Are attracted to bastards. Yes, all of them, always. There's no attempt to explore the idea any further than that. It may be obviously tongue-in-cheek, but I don't think that really excuses it in any way. Now, I am all for a bit of rampant stupidity in an anthemic rock song from time to time, and Marillion often do this pretty well but a) I have to draw a line somewhere, and it certainly comes well before actually spelling out the actual word in the line "Now doesn't God stand up for B-A-S-T-A-R-D-S", and b) that requires some actual anthemic qualities, and this one falls very far short of the mark. There's no real shout-along chorus (the word spelling-out only occurs once, which prevents it from becoming the "so bad it's good" version of one of those), no catchy hook; really, nothing at all to make it stand out for anything but its moronic lyrics.

It's just a bad, bad song. There's not really much more I can say about it than that.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Somewhere Else


I can't find the exact quote, but Steve Hogarth has said something along the lines of the latest Marillion album, and this title track in particular, being the most open and personal he's ever been in his songwriting. Now, he's certainly not one to shy away from hyperbole, but I think it's probably true. The song begins reasonably enough on that front, questioning the worth of his choice of career, "Better to be a doctor, or a man who walks the Earth", but soon descends into clichés like "Such a thin line between love and hate" and some sort of lunatic nursery rhyme riddle; "Mr. Taurus/Ate a thesaurus/Made the girls cry and skipped straight to the chorus". Honestly, what on Earth is that? I mean, minimal research reveals that Mr. Hogarth was indeed born on the cusp of Taurus, so I guess he is still talking about himself, but this is still pretty far removed from 'open and personal', as far as I can see.

Anyway, the song meanders along for a good six minutes in search of a purpose, with its vague strands of something that, if you were feeling generous, you might describe as 'narrative', all loosely tied together with a repeated refrain of "Look at myself, look at myself...". I've mentioned nothing about the other four members of the band yet, because the instrumentation here is really so sparse as to go unnoticed, and yet at the same time it manages to carry across a constant feeling just outside of your peripheral vision of building anticipation, like there's something big coming, and we're all just holding our breath, waiting for it to happen.

And then, of course, it does happen; Hogarth quietly slips in an echoing falsetto that's pretty hard to decipher if you don't know what you're listening for; "Everyone I love... lives somewhere else...". And that's the signal, the cue for Ian Mosley to crash in on the drums, and Steve Rothery to break out a classic Floydian guitar solo, and all the power they've been storing up throughout the song is finally unleashed. Hogarth completes the thought that had been Bad Wolfing it's way through the verses; "I have time to look at myself", and then twists it around and completes it again; "And I have seen enough." Because all the meandering, and the clichés and the nursery rhymes were really just Hogarth attempting to obfuscate this simple fact; trying to find a false song, a mask to wear or a character to play to avoid admitting the raw truth of it. I have time to look at myself and I have seen enough. Now, maybe we're talking literally, and everyone you love lives somewhere else geographically, or maybe we're talking metaphorically and everyone you know lives somewhere else spiritually, but either way, I think it's quite likely that you've been there too.

And then, as suddenly as it burst forth from the speakers, the climax is gone again, fading almost apologetically into an electronic beep, quite possibly that of an answerphone, as if embarrassed to have let out such raw and intense self-expression.

Video: Somehwere Else
The song, set to some live photography.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Childhood's End?


We'll begin in the most logical of a places; with an ending. This is what happens when you turn yourself over to the whims of a shuffle function. It's actually a surprisingly good place to start, though, all told. Firstly because Misplaced Childhood is where a whole lot of people first started on this band, and certainly comes early in my personal Marillion chronology, if not right at the start, and secondly because I have very recently turned 20, and am thus officially no longer a teenager, so a song called "Childhood's End?" seems fairly apropos right now. The iTunes shuffle function's eerily pertintent choice of songs has never let me down so far!

Misplaced Childhood isn't an album I connect with as well as I wish I could, given its importance in the bands history; I tend to lose track of its thread somewhere after the commercially viable opening, and never really manage to grasp it again until the end, when this one comes along. It's almost certainly the brightest and most hopeful song the band recorded prior to Fish's departure, the bouncy intertwining bass and guitar lines would almost be infectious enough to make it so even without the lyrical content and the way this song rises from the murky ashes of the rest of the album. But, as with almost all of Fish's oeuvre, the lyrics are the driving force of the song, and these do not disappoint. Misplaced Childhood has a pretty Ronseal theme, and "Childhood's End?" brings it to an extremely satisfying conclusion, answering the question posed in its own title with a definite 'no': "the only thing misplaced was direction/and I found direction/There is no childhood's end", Fish decides after some pondering on the subject.

When he's on, though, what makes Fish's lyrics really great is more often in the ostensibly less significant details than the grand gestures; here there are a couple of phrases that I'm particularly taken by; A line I'm convinced they have wrong on the official website, which I can't hear as anything but "Do you realise that you could have gone back to her?/But that would only be retracing all the problems that you ever knew/So untrue", which I find gives it far more resonance for a few reasons, not least of which being that it actually makes any sense whatsoever; and the pronoun-mixing "You, the child that once loved/The child before they broke his heart/Our heart, the heart that I believed was lost", which has the double effect of bridging the gap between Fish's misplaced childhood and the adult writing the song, and equally the gap between Fish and the listener, giving a quite astonishingly effective sense of sharing his lifting of a great burden.

Sadly, however, in an extreme lapse of logic, this song is not actually the last track on Misplaced Childhood, meaning that listening to it requires either giving it a jarringly abrupt ending (as the album has no gaps between tracks, other than the switch from Side 1 to Side 2), or listening to what follows, neither of which I'm ever particularly eager to do, so the uplifting feeling it gives me is always tempered with a sense of sadness at the lost potential of what could have been a truly beautiful closer.

Video: Childhood's End?
The song, set to various Fish-y images, including some of Mark Wilkinson's fabulous album artwork, which quite possibly deserves an oeuvreblog all to itself.

If You Like I'll Tell You About It

Herein I shall attempt to explain what in the hell is going on here; I can't resist a good bandwagon, and the concept of the oeuvereblog is a truly exemplary one. In case you're reading this out of love for Marillion, rather than love for oeuvreblogs (I assume it has to be one or the other), the concept is simple; take a band that you love, and write a blog entry about every single song they have ever recorded. In this case, that adds up to 159, by my count (you might come out with a very different number depending on which unfinished demos and aimless jazz noodlings and the like you actually class as 'songs'), at least as of now. I'm aiming for one song per day, no more, no less, and Marillion are claiming album 15 will be released in Spring 2008, so it may be a close run thing as to whether or not I finish before that happens.

Anyway, the next question after "What the hell is an oeuvreblog?" is, of course, "Why the hell would you choose Marillion?" Well. There are three bands; Pulp, James and, obviously, Marillion, that I would call my favourites. I love a lot of other bands, but for a while now, these three have been a level above, and I can't see that changing any time soon. I can't really explain why exactly that is, although I guess that somewhere in the following 159 entries I'll be giving it a pretty good attempt, but that is the way things stand.

Once I'd committed myself to writing an oeuvreblog (which basically took a conversation consisting of "Hey, have you heard about oeuvreblogs?" "No, what's an oeuvreblog?" "It's where someone writes a blog entry about every single song a certain band has ever recorded. You should do one!"), I did actually consider other bands than the Big Three, but I think somewhere inside I knew I'd always end up settling on one of them. Pulp were discounted from the running first, because while I love pretty much everything from Separations onwards, they have a whole lot of early stuff that I mostly think is kind of terrible. Plus someone else beat me to that one. Deciding between James and Marillion I found more difficult; I actually set iTunes to shuffle me three songs from each band to test which I found the writing flowed easier for to make that decision; the result of that test should be obvious. And a couple of totally trivial things that sealed the deal; the lyrics to every Marillion song, even the ridiculously obscure, are a lot more easily accessible, which I'm sure will be an enormous help, and I'll be linking to the appropriate page at the beginning of every entry; and "Separated Out" makes for a far more appropriate title than anything I could come up with for James, even if it has already been used as the title of a Marillion biography.

If you want to know more about Marillion, their official website is absolutely full to the brim with information (including the aforementioned database of lyrics), all flavoured with a delightful tinge of pomposity. Enjoy!