Monday, 30 July 2007

No Such Thing


This one, I'm fairly certain, started life in an improvised jam session in the middle of the live performance of "This Strange Engine" at the 2003 Marillion Weekend; the line in question ("There's no such thing as a winnable war"") doesn't actually appear in this song's list of many things in which Hogarth reportedly does not believe, but nonetheless seems to have been the inspiration for the structure of this song.

To be perfectly honest, I'm really not sure why "winnable war" didn't make the cut; it's not an astonishingly profound sentiment, certainly, but... well, let's just say it wouldn't stick out for that. Some of the grim, atheistic statements ("no such thing as an ordered world", "no such thing as a perfect day") are reasonable enough if you don't have a problem with grim, atheistic statements in and of themselves, and I don't, but then you get head scratchers like "There's no such thing as the ozone layer". Science or religion, Steve, you've got to pick a side! Also, there is, apparently, "no such thing as a faithful wife", which is probably the most telling line here, as well as being patently ridiculous, however you're choosing to interpret the word 'faithful'.

If you're noticing a fairly repetitive tone here, it's not just you. The lyrical structure is extremely monotonous, and the music's not a great deal better; it mostly consists of one chilled out guitar groove repeated ad infinitum. Ian Mosley injects a little life into proceedings towards the end with some drumming that can't really be described as energetic, but is at least not totally devoid of vitality, but it's a pretty cursory gesture. I realise that it's meant to be lethargic, but when you're dealing with those kind of moods, there's such a thing as creating too authentic an atmosphere, and it's a pitfall that this song dives headfirst into. Wait, no, that's far too energetic a description. It's a pitfall this song wearily stumbles into without any particular enthusiasm, just because it was there.

Video: No Such Thing

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Punch & Judy


The first single from Fugazi, and the only one with a hint of commercial appeal. It's somewhat of a departure from the territory that Fugazi usually treads; it's still somewhat nightmarish, but it's a middle age, middle class, mid-life crisis nightmare rather than that of a drug fuelled rockstar. But perhaps it's the same thing; the rockstar fearing the mediocre life of ennui that could befall him if he doesn't press on with his hedonistic, self-destructive ways. Wherever the idea stemmed from, though, it's a pretty huge success. Not commercially -- it stalled at #29, which was a bit of a dip following "Garden Party", which hit the top twenty -- but artistically it's a pretty big triumph, at least as far as I'm concerned.

The song was first released in 1984, which shows how much some things don't change, because twenty three years later, the picture of a stereotypical suburban lifestyle painted by the verses sounds extremely familiar; "Found our nest in the Daily Express/Met the vicar in a holy vest/Brought up the children Church of E/Now I vegetate with a colour TV". It's all fairly lighthearted and dripping with satire, which leaves you wholly unprepared for the disarmingly earnest chorus that plainitevly wonders where it all went wrong, "Whatever happened to pillow fights?/Whatever happened to jeans so tight, Friday nights?". It's a surprisingly touching reminder that inside every miserable, balding, overweight office drone is a boy with real passions and dreams that somehow fell by the wayside.

Of course, much like the domestic abuse in the puppet show the song is named for, there's an unexpected sinister tone to it all; with Fish's frantic vocals dropping in and out of falsetto all over the place, it's pretty easy to miss the fact that the final verse ends with the line "Just slip her these pills and I'll be free". That's pretty bleak.

Video: Punch & Judy (and Assassing, but that's not what the link is for)
Way to flub the second verse there, Fish.

Saturday, 28 July 2007



Had the band bothered to release any singles from (or being more generous, perhaps that should read 'been in a position where single releases from would serve any purpose'), it's fairly safe to assume this would have been the first; it appears as an easter egg on the EMI Singles Collection DVD, and it's just generally one of the most instantly catchy songs they've ever recorded.

Lyrically, it's a fairly unimpressive piece of "you make your own happiness" life affirmation, with a little bit of vague anti-celebrity sentiment ("They sold their friends to get ahead/They do therapy instead"), directed at no one in particular and thrown in for no good reason that I can see. But the energy packed into every other aspect of the song gives the fairly trite words a lot more power than they reasonably seem like they ought to have. We get what we want if we really want it, and judging by their performance here, these guys really want it.

It's just a shame the total performance energy quota for .com wasn't greater, because evidently this one wonderful burst really cost the rest of the album dearly.

Video: Deserve
The DVD easter egg, which I guess makes it the official music video in the alternate universe where this was a top ten hit. It would seem a lot less out of place there than half of their actual top ten hits, that's for sure.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Story From A Thin Wall


One of the demos included on the bonus disc of the Clutching At Straws remaster that might have gone on to appear on the fifth album, had Fish stayed with the band. Parts of all of these demos were later scavenged by both parties, but I think this one came out least unscathed from it all; a pretty close approximation of the music later became "Berlin" from the Seasons End album, and the lyrics are almost word for word the same as "Family Business" from Fish's solo debut Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors, both of which I got to know pretty well before ever hearing this song.

As a result, it's pretty to tell whether the seemingly awkward fit between words and music here is a sign of the fracturing relationship between the band members, or if it just sounds off to me because I'm used to hearing both in different contexts. Either way, it makes for an interesting listen on an intellectual level, but impossible for me to really feel emotionally. I've only recently got hold of these, and have barely listened to the others as of yet, but it seems like the rest of them are different enough from the songs born out of their ashes that I won't end up writing six more entries that say the same thing. Let's hope so, anyway.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Fake Plastic Trees


I'm not going to write an entry for every song the band have ever covered live, or even the just the ones that have been released on live albums, because that would still require me to buy a whole bunch of those and I ain't made of money. But if they've been released on singles, whether they're the a or the b-side, they'll get an entry. So, "Fake Plastic Trees".

Just to cement the Radiohead comparisons the album received, this was the b-side to the only single to come out of Radiation. It stays extremely faithful to the original, so I'm kind of at a loss for what to actually say about it. I don't know, Hogarth's vocal delivery is somewhat less slurred than Yorke's. That's a difference, I guess. I don't think it affects my enjoyment of the song one way or another, it's great either way.

I suppose if you want to play someone else's song live because you love it, without trying to put your own spin on it or whatever, that's probably OK from time to time, but it really shouldn't be b-side material.

Video: Fake Plastic Trees
There's no 'tube of the Marillion version, but the original's much the same, so that'll do. It's got a pretty nice video.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007



Fish's favourite song from his seven years with the band, apparently (or at least, it was in '97, and ten years of reflection time is probably enough to reach a fairly concrete conclusion). Not that I ever had any illusions otherwise, but this demonstrates that he and I are very different men; it's one of the Fugazi tracks that I absolutely cannot get my head around, for the most part.

It's got the same sort of Arabian vibe as "Assassing" going on, which I really dig. "No flower to place before this gravestone" is quite possibly the most fantastically poetic description of masturbation I have ever seen (and, trust me on this, in the context of the verse, that meaning is clear. A lot moreso than most of the lyrics in this song, at any rate). I love the tone of whatever instrument is whistling along in the background in the "You who wiped me from your memory like a greasepaint mask" bit, I think it might be a keyboard pretending to be a flute.

I have to talk about little snippets like that, because... that's all I've got. I really can't see the forest for the trees. The vast majority of this song is thoroughly impenetrable to me, and believe me, I have tried. To penetrate, I mean. No, that last sentence fragment was not necessary, and neither was this'n.

Video: Incubus (live)
"What the fuck? seriously is this even music its so fucking boring. those anybody know the meaning of music?"

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Marbles III


An interlude. Writing separate entries for all four of the Marbles title tracks is surely an exercise in redundancy, but nonetheless, the project would not feel truly complete without them. On the 1CD version of the album, they provide a narrative thread entwined throughout to tie the themes of it all together and give a greater sense of unity to the whole thing. On the 2CD version they're just spread far to thin to have any such effect, and end up seeming like rather pointless little vignettes.

This one's probably my favourite of the four, if that means anything much. The young Hogarth has, at this point, developed quite a sizeable collection of marbles, but alas, tragedy was about to strike; "There were almost four hundred until the black day/I discovered how high they would fly through the sky/If you used them for tennis instead of a ball". It is, as all songs about one's childhood inevitably turn out to be, a symbolic lament for a loss of innocence, in this case self inflicted. But that covers all four sections; the reason this one is my favourite is just the nice bouncy keyboard line it starts off with. Simple things, eh.

Monday, 23 July 2007

This Strange Engine


Where to start, where to start? I guess I'll use the word 'epic' because it will so inevitably come up at some point. "This Strange Engine", the eighth and final track on the album of the same name runs to thirty minutes and twenty four seconds. Now, half of that can be discounted, because it is silence leading up to the utterly pointless "secret track" that has been the fashionable way to end albums ever since CDs came to the fore. Ah how I will never understand the ways of fashion. Anyway, this nonetheless leaves us with a song that is over a quarter of an hour long. That's quite a lot. It makes it the third longest Marillion song, in fact. Well, by any reasonable measure.

That's not necessarily a particularly relevant fact, because it's not a competition; I don't get any sense from any of the real Marillion epics that their length is artificaially extended to break their own records, the song is exactly as long as it needs to be. And the reason "This Strange Engine" needs to be as long as it is is that that is how long it takes to tell the story it tells, which is the story of the life a young man by the name of Steve Hogarth. Hey, I just used the phrase "is is that that" in a sentence that I'm pretty sure is gramatically correct. I think that's pretty awesome. But I digress, of course.

It's about Hogarth's father as much as it is about himself; he sacrificed a lot for the boy growing up, and this is Steve trying to give something in return. None of this knowledge is or should be necessary to understanding or enjoyment of the track, of course. "Intentional fallacy", they call it. I like that, it has almost as much of a delightfully archaic ring to it as "This Strange Engine". But quite aside from the whole "the work should speak for itself" thing, you don't need to know that, because all the details of the story are laid out pretty clearly in the song. You don't need to know why Hogarth is so personally invested in the boy who came into this world at the hands of a holy woman, in a holy place (except to note 'oh dear, he's talking about himself in the third person. How pretentious.'); you need to know why you should be invested.

I'm talking in circles all over the place, and I don't know if I'm getting out what I want to say, because writing about something as huge in scope as this can be a little difficult. You can break this song into pretty clear sections, maybe that'll help. Divide and conquer.

So, section one. The boy comes into the world and lives out his childhood, while his father is out having seafaring adventures in far away lands. The music is mostly piano-led, and seems to display an air of hope, of possibility for what the boy could become.

After the childhood, of course, comes the inevitable teenage angst, of questioning his existence. "Ever since I was a boy/I never felt that I belonged/Like everything they did to me/Was an experiment to see/In which direction would I jump". The bass kicks in hardcore with a pretty fantastic funk groove for this part, which might just be my favourite section of the song. It's teenage angst, but some of us take a long time to grow out of that, maybe never do, and evidently Hogarth is one such example; "Thirty-five summers down the line/The wisdom of each passing year/Seems to serve only to confuse".

This breaks into a nice chaotic keyboard solo before a moment of calm. Backtracking a little; the father gives up his seafaring adventures and goes to work in a coal mine. "Took his dream underground/Buried his treasure in his faraway eyes". That's a pretty moving sacrifice, all told. There's a nice flair for seemingly irrelevant but nonetheless pretty wonderful detail displayed throughout the song, like the "magical purple glow in the chrome of the exhaust of his Triumph motorbike" here. It's all in the details; that's why, for the most part, I think Fish is a far better lyricist than Hogarth or Helmer; he's always putting things like that in. Sometimes a little too much, but I think that's the better side to err in this field.

This calm, naturally, precedes a storm; "a cloud of bees with no particular aim and no brain/Found the boy, decided that his time had come/Came down out of the sky/Stung him in the face/Again and again". There's a lot of contradiction in the lyrics in this part; on the one hand he's saying that the bees have "no particular aim and no brain" and "I can't explain" and yet on the other he describes it as "like being chosen" and claims that the bess "decided that his time had come". Evidently this is a fairly significant event in the boy's life, if it bears mention in this biography. I get the sense that this seemingly random attack and the huge pain it brought probably caused a pretty severe doubt to form in the boy's faith in a higher power.

Anyway, after expressing a longing plea for a return to his childhood innocence ("Oh Mummy, Daddy, won't you sit a while with me/Oh Mummy, Daddy will you jog my memory/Tell me tall tales of Montego Bay..."), Hogarth finally gets to answering the central question on all of our minds; what exactly is the secret of Monkey Island? No, wait, I mean 'What exactly is the "strange engine" in the title?' And, of course, the secret ingredient is love; it's the heart that defies Newton's laws of motion, again. What else could it be? And this strange engine does a lot of things; it puzzles, it knows no faith, it tries and fails and tries again, it bleeds and dies for you, it is to blame, and is ashamed, but above all else, it is true.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Pseudo Silk Kimono


Yesterday's entry was abducted by dark wizards. I was too late to recover it in time, but nonetheless, through strength and perseverance, they were defeated and shall not be darkening our path ever again.

Anyway, let's put away such childish things and talk about the introduction to an album about childish things. There's something incredibly sinister about the keyboard riff in this one, especially the little stop-start thing it does between the two verses. It's not helped by the lyrics, which appear to be detailing some sort of ritualistic summoning of Fish's inner child. I like some of the imagery, "bracelets of smoke" in particular, but damn, it's creepy.

It's basically just something weird as hell to throw you off initially so that the (hitherto unheard of in this band) smash pop hits that follow feel even more out of left field. And to set the general tone of the album and integrate said hits, because without this one, they'd feel totally jammed on all "Here's your radio shit, now can we get on with our wanky prog concept album please?". I mean, it doesn't totally take that feeling away, but it certainly does a good job of diluting it.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Three Minute Boy


A fun little story about a boy who hears the music on the radio, thinks "Hey, I could do that" and, just for a laff, he does. And somehow this turns him into a huge superstar all of a sudden, which is pretty bewildering, and then just as suddenly turns him into a washed-up old has-been, which is equally bewildering. A cautionary tale on the fleeting nature of fame. It's also A Brief History Of Rock Music, boiled down into six minutes, perhaps. Or just an indictment of the endless stream of bands, probably called "The [noun]", who are, as Hogarth puts it, "here today, gone this afternoon". If you're not feeling particularly generous to the band (it should probably come as no surprise that the vast majority of the time, this does not describe me) it could come off as rather petulant jealousy, in places.

But for every slight clunker in the lyrics, there's an excellent one-liner to make up for it ("She made a movie/He almost remembered") and musically it's just so... easy to enjoy. Laa la la la laa, la la la laa. It also owes a whole lot to "Hey Jude", which is tacitally acknowledged with a quick "Judy Judy Judy Judy!" in the anthemic breakdown at the end. That's actually just one of the many nods to the band's influences throughout this song, but it gets special mention for being by far the most striking. What's not so acknowledged is the spirit of "Kayleigh" that's certainly hanging around here; I'm not in any way saying the attack of the lyrics is directed at Fish, but "they named their children after him"? It's not a direct reference, obviously, but the sudden rise of popularity in that name circa 1985 had to be in Hogarth's mind writing this line, I'd say.

It really does end well, too. Before the breakdown at the end, we get a merry little punchline to the story; "She's going out with someone new/In this week at number two". (Also, DIRTY!. Tell me I'm not the only one thinking it.) The best part, though, comes in the actual ending; just as the chorus rabble is starting to die down, Steve Rothery limbers up to launch into one of his usual blistering guitar solos, but then a few seconds in just goes "fuck it" and peters out with everybody else. If this was on any other Marillion album, that never would have happened. I mean, I can fully appreciate the man's talents, but it is nice to be surprised sometimes.

Video: tocando bateria Three Minute Boy - Marillion
Some Spanish dude drumming along with it. Which is fairly intrusive, at times, but there are no other 'tubes of the song, so it'll have to do you.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

He Knows You Know


Again with the missing punctuation; The intonation of Fish's voice in the chorus suggests that there should be a comma in there, and doing away with it does change the meaning of the phrase rather. Oh lordy, I am so unnecessarily pedantic.

Anyway, comma or no, "He Knows You Know" is all about drug trip paranoia. (Side note here; typing that last word, I just got that paranoia you sometimes get whereby you are convinced that a word you have spelled correctly looks completely wrong, and accidentally tried to verify my spelling on "". That was a pretty fabulous double display of irony, I thought.)

As such, it would probably be a much fit much better on Fugazi than Script For A Jester's Tear, where it feels a mite out of place, although not so much as to be particularly offputting. Had they, say, replaced it with "Market Square Heroes" on the debut and held it over for Fugazi, I think both albums would be improved, and it would have the added effect of giving the latter an actual viable single. Because, in spite of the decidedly non-universal lyrical theme and the rather claustrophobic tone of the song, it has a very basic verse-chorus-verse structure, and the repetition of the title and Rothery's guitar work gives it some pretty good hooks, all of which served to make this the band's very first appearance in the top 40 singles chart way back in '83 (at #35, lower than every one of their fairly numerous following appearances, fact fans).

Video: He Knows You Know
The official music video, which is rather wonderful, if perhaps a little derivative of The Wall. And lacking in the best moment of the album version of the song, where Fish finishes by calling someone up purely to yell "DON'T GIVE ME YOUR PROBLEMS!" and then hang up.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill


The point of the title being that the heart defies the laws of physics. So, you know, if we're being technically correct (the best kind of correct) it should be something like "If My Heart Were A Ball (Assumed Spherical) It Would, From Rest, Roll Uphill Without Required Force Applied Towards Slope". And, I mean, it's not like the song doesn't already have the most unweildy title of any in the band's catalogue, so really, that lack of attention to detail is just sloppy.

'Love can do the impossible' is the point. Like, say, a band of unfashionable forty-something prog-rockers getting an album's writing, recording, production and release funded entirely by fans' pre-orders through the internet. And this was in 2001, well before the age of Myspace. Or, y'know, the fans of an unexpectedly and unjustly cancelled TV show rallying against the decision strongly enough to get a wrapup miniseries filmed, and through their continued love, keeping it in the public conciousness enough to get further additions to the series made years later. Or, y'know, the kind of love that has nothing to do with fandom, but... that's not really what this song's about. No reason it couldn't be, no reason it shouldn't be, but it isn't.

"If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill" is the final track on Anaraknophobia and it is a decidedly climactic affair. It rocks like a mother for a good long while, and Hogarth's vocals become increasingly frenzied, culminating in a loss of the ability to form sentences.

hard ball dream love now roll
fall clown stain truth space time
race give black white all one
church state god fast as I could cry
laugh hide feel no clouds will
to win sweet seed you me
hard ball dream love now roll
fall clown stain truth space time
never do that, never do that
will to win, will to win, never do that
give black white all one wild
church state now roll
fall clown stain truth space time
race fruit
never do that
If my heart were a ball it would roll uphill
All one insane wild sweet heart
Wild rose

I really, really love the stream of conciousness chanting. It's chock full of little callbacks to the rest of the album, and further, and it's all layered over the top of itself so you have many voices all chanting at you from all different directions. That is always a good idea. Trust me.

Video: If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill (Live in Amsterdam, 2001, again)
Did you ever fall in love?

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Torch Song


Torch is, supposedly, the name of the character around which Clutching At Straws centres. He's a writer suffering from writer's block who turns to alcohol in hopes of finding inspiration at the bottom of a bottle. He's also such a thinly veiled attempt by Fish at hiding behind a character rather than admitting that he is totally talking about himself that the whole thing would be absolutely laughable if it wasn't so sad. As if the public persona of "Fish" wasn't a character for Derek W. Dick to hide behind in itself. As if that wasn't the whole point of the image of the jester from all the pre-Misplaced Childhood artwork.

This song is the beginning of the quiet, reflective section towards the end of the night; we've got through the haze of drunken antics, the self-aggrandising and political posturing, and "Torch" is now starting to sober up. It's not a phase he enjoys, because with it comes the memory of all the problems in life that led him to start drinking in the first place, and will no doubt lead him to drinking again in the near future. It's rather a vicious cycle.

It doesn't appear to be a "torch song" in the traditional sense ("a sentimental love song, typically one in which the singer laments an unrequited or lost love, where one party is either oblivious to the existence of the other, or where one party has moved on", as Wikipedia describes it), or at least not one adressed to an actual human lover, but one could make a case for the song being a torch song for Torch's lost love of his craft.

Perhaps, though, it's just called "Torch Song" because it's the only one on the album that even bothers to try to hold up the pretense of the Torch character, with it's repeated refrain of "burn a little brighter now" and the little spoken word interlude between Torch and his doctor. "Christ - it's a romantic way to go really, it's part of the heritage, it's your round i'n'it?" Again, it'd be laughable if it wasn't so sad.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Holidays In Eden


This track starts with a really, really long bit of almost silence (there's some bird sounds in there, but those usually tend to blend into the background noise of wherever I happen to be listening pretty darn well) and no matter how many times I listen to the album, it always, always makes me think iTunes has gone wrong. Unless I am not listening on iTunes, but that's fairly unusual. I don't know what is wrong with my brain that I can never, ever learn this fairly simple fact, but there it is.

Anyway, since I find that fairly annoying, I find myself predisposed to dislike this song, and it never really does anything to convince me that my first impressions are wrong. Maybe it would also help if I could relate to the whole experience the song describes, but... not really. I could slip into TV geek mode and say the "Old friends are acting strange/No one wants to know you now/People say you've changed" verse puts me in mind of John Crichton's exceptionally moving return to Earth after four years of trying, but that kind of indirectness is going to limit the song's ability to be particularly affecting, not that that's really what it's aiming for anyway.

I don't actively dislike the song, I just don't tend to think about it much unless I'm actually in the process of listening to it, and those kinds of ones are going to be the hardest to write anything much about. That's also probably the reason I never remember that blasted silence at the start.

This is the title track from its album, so it seems as good a place as any to mention that it has maybe my favourite cover art of Hogarth's tenure (the original one, not the crazy American version). It's nice and understated, and I really like the midnight blue.

Sunday, 15 July 2007


I am feeling pretty frakkin' ill, so no post today, sorry. I'll try to get two done tomorrow to make up for it, if I am feeling better by then.

EDIT: Didn't quite get the "Torch Song" entry finished before midnight, so I'm going to leave Sunday as a day off.

Saturday, 14 July 2007



Definitely another one for the "Successful Experiments" pile. It's about how much of a fool's errand it can be to try to remain friends with someone after a failed relationship, as quite aptly demonstrated by Big Brother contestants Ziggy and Chanelle this last week. I apologise for that reference to anyone who is not a fan of the show, but they've been my inspiration for picking this song to write about right now, so I felt I ought to give them a mention. Really though, they do fit the subject matter extremely well.

"Quartz" uses an extended metaphor centred around the line "I'm clockwork and you're quartz". (As in "quartz clock". Wikipedia to the rescue, as usual). Hogarth gets a pretty amazing amount of mileage out of this metaphor, and it's pretty much uniformly good mileage too; there's barely anything that's really stretched to accomodate the point, and so very many gems; "You're only happy when you wind me up/And I know you're so reliable it isn't true/And it's so easy for me to break down" is particularly brilliant, but there are so many lines I could be listing here. It's definitely one of the best sets of lyrics Hogarth has ever penned.

And then they take all that and couple it with some truly exemplary instrumentation; Pete Trewavas' mechanical walking bassline, regular as clockwork, is not only a perfect fit for the song, it also gives a pretty unique sound. And not just among Marillion songs; I don't think I know any other song that sounds quite like this, though obviously there is a fairly large library of songs out there that I have never heard, and never will.

It also ends with a couple of my favourite song ending tropes; everything suddenly cutting out with a "One of these days/You're just gonna STOP!", and then that being a fake ending, because whoever the song is adressed to is the quartz and Hogarth is the clockwork in the analogy, and as such needs to take a minute to slowly wind down. I actually never got that until seeing Hogarth's clockwork dance in the video below. I hope this project will continue to increase my appreciation for some of the songs like that.

Video: Quartz (live in Amsterdam, 2001)
Yes, that is a cricket bat.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Costa Del Slough


The opening track from Radiation, it's not so much a song as a warning to fans to say "This is not your usual Marillion album". I mean, sure, they all have their own individual sound, but it's usually a pretty subtle distinction, which is really not the case here. Radiation came out in 1998, a year after OK Computer, which certainly a fairly large impact on it, and the usual glossy sheen of the production is replaced by something a lot more muddy and raw. That second point is something a lot of fans have trouble getting past, and it's frequently rated as one of their worst, which is fair enough, but it is one of my favourites. Clutching At Straws and Brave are kind of in a league of their own, and it's not quite on the level of Afraid Of Sunlight, but it's definitely up there. It's like what I was saying in the last entry; this album is one of the successful experiments as far as I'm concerned, and an end result like this is why I'll forgive a few "Hope For The Future"s along the way.

Anyway, somewhere amidst the noise and the feedback and distortion at the album's beginning, there is a merry little ditty about global warming, which is obviously a joke, and not a particularly good one, but since it's nicely hidden behind all the aforementioned stuff, it's not really a bother, and it does lead in very nicely to the first real song, which is quite a belter.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Hope For The Future


Yeah, something really went wrong here. OK, it starts off innocuously enough, with a nice bit of ominous bass and guitar funk. Steve H comes in with "I've been feeling kind of down and loose/Like a Rosicrucian pope", and if this was any other song, I might look that up and try to figure out what the heck he's talking about, but here, THE HORNS. OH GOD, THE HORNS. Really, they remind me of nothing so much as the song "Can't Wait To Be King" from The Lion King, so... there's your first ever Marillion/Disney comparison. Enjoy. And, well, this is not a good fit for the band, at all. It creates a system error in my brain. I actually cannot handle these disparate elements. I just can't listen to this. I never, never skip tracks when I'm listening to albums, as a rule, but I often have to break that rule in this case, because this actually is sort of painful.

Maybe there's something salvagable in there, but I can't find it due to extreme aversion to actually hearing this track, and, well the lyrics don't exactly give me great hope (for the future! Eh? Eh?). I mean, "Madam, I'm Adam, I'm a palindrome"? Really, Steve?

However, while on a purely visceral level, I find this song less pleasant to listen to than any other Marillion song, ever, I am far more willing to forgive them for this than something like "Built-In Bastard Radar". Reason being as follows. "Hope For The Future" is the very definition of a failed experiment, and if you don't risk a few of those, you'll never make the succesful experiments either, and those are pretty essential for sustaining a career for as long as this band have without becoming completely stale. "Built-In Bastard Radar" is just lazy, unimaginative crap .

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Seasons End


No apostrophe, note. Now, that's perfectly reasonable; "seasons end" makes sense as a statement of fact. Seasons do indeed end. However, the lyric is "Say goodbye to seasons end", which is absolute nonsense, from a gramatical standpoint. THERE SHOULD BE AN APOSTROPHE. Well, "Say goodbye to seasons, end" would work as a set of two instructions, I guess, but there's definitely some punctuation gone astray here.

Onto less pedantic points; this is the title track from Marillion's fifth album, the first with Hogarth at the helm. It's very much a bridge between the two eras; the keyboards that would later fade into the background are very much in centre stage here, in part because a lot of the music was recorded for a totally different set of lyrics before Fish left the band. It's an intriguingly disjointed way to make an album, but perhaps surprisingly, it really doesn't show. It's actually among the most slick sounding of their albums, possibly as a result of overcompensating for its odd origins.

There is something decidedly wintery about the tone of the keyboards on this album (and I don't particularly expect that to make any actual sense), it's especially evident when they break out into solos, each note a unique snowflake. Yeah, even the ones that are identical. This song has the second best example, five minutes in, just after it appears to have ended. It's probably the best moment in a song that wants to make some grand, impressive statement about global warming and change and what have you, but is really just an overly drawn out and pompous version of JJ72's Snow. Season's end, but bloody hell, they take their sweet time about it.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Going Under


This one was dropped from the vinyl release of Clutching At Straws, and I can kind of see why. It's not an album I'd say has a weak link, as such, but if it did, I suppose this would be it. It's not intrusive, it fits the album thematically and musically, but it adds nothing in particular to the experience either; it's just the band catching a breather after the loosely formed trilogy of the first three tracks before launching into the frantic midsection. It's very much a 'treading water' kind of affair, which I guess is kind of ironic, given the title.

The subject matter is fairly depressing; a resigned acceptance of a life that will never amount to anything worthwhile, and a resultant descent into alcoholism as something to pass the time, but it's a subject that's well covered elsewhere on the album, alternately bigger, louder, quieter deeper, more gracefully, and just generally more than it is here, so this one is left feeling a little redundant.

Nonetheless, taken on its own merits, it's rather a sadly beautiful examination of a broken man's psyche. The part that gets to me in particular is the way he starts off trying to find something to blame for his situation; "Can't you understand that the way things were planned/It never worked out so I just went crazy", but just two lines later he gives up on even that thin shred of dignity and admits "I ain't got no excuse and that's really the news". There's no rhyme or reason to it, sometimes people just stop caring. Sometimes people just stop.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Market Square Heroes


The debut single and, aside from the obvious, probably the most radio friendly song of all of the Fish era (at least after the hideously inappropriate word 'antichrist' was replaced with 'battle priest'. I do love radio edits sometimes).

It's a pretty exemplary piece of rabble rousing; it's pretty well calculated, musically, to angry up the blood and get you really fired up to march on down to those pen-pushers at City Hall and... well, what happens next isn't really clear. It's dripping with anger and rebellion, but it's really not directed anywhere in particular; all we're told to do is "suffer my pretty warriors, and follow me".

It is, I think, a pretty clever indictment of the kind of people who'll blindly follow a popular cause just for the sake of rebellion, all trussed up as a regular protest song. Which makes it a lot more timeless than most of Fish's politically charged lyrics; when the whole point is that the actual issues are irrelevant, there's no outdated references to be found, just the kind of clever wordplay that Fish is quite rightly celebrated for among his fanbase. As far as kickoff points go, your career could certainly do a lot worse.

Video: Market Square Heroes
The "battle priest" version, which is different to the version I'm most familiar with (from B'Sides Themselves; I'm pretty sure it's the one from the original EP release) in more than just the lyrics; apart from the guitar solo and "HEY!" section, it doesn't have quite the same energy, somehow.
Neither of these versions contain the "I give piece signs..." verse listed on the website, which I believe was a later addition to live versions of the song. "Antisocial insecurity" is probably a better piece of concept-flipping than anything else in the song, but I don't know how well the verse fits sonically.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Out Of This World


On January 4th 1967, Donald Campbell set out on his final attempt to set a new water speed record; his craft, Bluebird K7 flipped at a speed in excess of 300 mph and crash landed in the water, killing him instantly.

This song is about him, which is made explicitly clear in the opening section; it refers to the Bluebird by name and the lines "Three hundred miles an hour on water/In your purpose built machine" couldn't really be about anyone else. But that's really just a reference point from which to examine the desire we all have to constantly stretch ourselves further than we've ever been, to stretch ourselves to breaking point. To boldly go where no man has gone before.

It's when we move away from the specific and into the general that this song really shines; "Only love will turn you round". It's one of the most sublime moments they've ever put to record, the way the piano, Hogarth's voice, everything just steps up a gear at the same time; the sun breaks through the clouds right there, for a little while.

But it's never enough, you can always be more, reach higher, always give in to the fire that burns and consumes until there's nothing left. Some of us can supress that urge; Donald Campbell never could, and it killed him. Steve Hogerth fears that it will do the same to him throughout Afraid Of Sunlight. This is the centrepiece of the album, which hits straight to core and examines the burning desire, rather than its effects.

The opening could stand to be a little more broad in its evokation of Campbell's memory, I think; the opening lines don't quite flow as well as they ought to, and the denoument perhaps lasts a little longer than it needs to. But the centre point, the lynchpin holding everything together, the sun around which everything else revolves, fearfully? It's just perfect. Only love will turn you round.

This song was also the inspiration for a project to recover the hull of the Bluebird from Coniston lake, because it might be terrifying, and maybe it will even kill you, but if you don't listen to that voice, that urge to jump; well, you'll never get anything done. All things in moderation.

Video: Out Of This World
The song, set to footage from a 1988 BBC dramatisation of Campbell's crash, starring Anthony Hopkins. You really couldn't find a better visual accompaniment to this song.

Saturday, 7 July 2007



From the band's sophomore album, Fugazi, which is not named for the band, who formed a few years after the album was released, or vice versa; both took the word from the Vietnam war, it stands for "Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In". It's by far their least accessible album, with Fish taking his lyrical cryptography to the extreme and the band pairing it with some decidedly unsettling music.

"Assassing" (says Fish: "Why I put the ‘g' on the end remains a mystery to me!") is the opening track, and sets the mood quite nicely with some arrythmic sitar twangs before marching forth inexorably forward in the general direction of nightmares. It'll take a couple of tracks to reach the really good ones, so I hope you're well packed. Much like the rest of Fugazi, I'm pretty much clinging to whatever floatsom of comprehensibility I can find in the sea of fever dreams and LSD; the venomously spat "my friend"s at the end of every line are my main handholds here. If you can find them and grip on tight Fugazi is a hell of a ride, but chances are you'll get lost along the way.

Hilariously, this song was released as a single, which hilariously reached number 22, and was, most hilariously of all, accompanied by the following video. Nothing else in the world could possibly have dated as badly as this.

Video: Assassing
"Tonight's winner is Derek W. Dick, with a Krypton Factor of 45!"

Friday, 6 July 2007

80 Days


After four albums, Fish left the band. After another four albums, they were dropped from EMI and left to fend for themselves, which is a challenge they rose to more than anyone could have imagined. After another four albums, they had their first top ten hit since the end of the first era, and first top forty since the end of the second. This last one is obviously less significant than the previous two, but I've got to find patterns where I can. Human nature, right?

Anyway, This Strange Engine was the first album without the big record company bucks; a time of change, of revolution, of renaissance. It's reflected in the musical experimentation going on here, and in the strange engineering of the album artwork; "steampunk" is the word that comes to mind for me, and here we have a nice obvious reference to Jules Verne, and if you can find me a man more steampunk than he, then I will... be surprised. It's also an exceedingly maddening album, possibly the one I listen to the least, because it's arranged almost exactly right so that the tracks alternate between being awesome and being terrible.

"80 Days" falls in the awesome half, although it's decidedly at the lower end of the scale. It's a thoroughly pleasant one of their increasingly hopeless grabs for mainstream attention since being dropped from EMI, but at this point they were entering a brave new world and not actually caring too much about that, so this one flows out pretty naturally.

Man, I do feel like I ought to be in, like, a hot air balloon when I'm listening to it, though. That'd be swell. It's the trumpets, pretty much. Those things are heralding the return of some great explorer. Which is, I'm sure, exactly what they are meant to evoke, so I guess this song was a succes.

Thursday, 5 July 2007



It sounds extremely incomplete, (which may well be because it actually is, since it was rejected from inclusion on Afraid Of Sunlight by everyone but Hogarth, and relegated to a b-side to "Beautiful" instead - I don't know if they bothered to clean it up any for that, the band have tended to take a pretty lazy attitude with b-sides, I think) but I find that that actually works in its favour. It always gives me the feeling of drifting in and out of sleep, with that endlessly repeating flute and bass acting as the song that's stuck in your head that night, and Steve Hogarth's mumbled lyrics as the thoughts running around your head.

Some of those thoughts are pretty good ones, and hence bear repeating; "Even if the good old days were good/The past is a terrible place to live", others not so much; "A trick of dry ice/a trick of the dry eyes"? But I can forgive those, because they make for authentic stream of conciousness; not all of your thoughts can be winners. I like toast.

Personally, I think I'd have voted for inclusion on the album, I think it could slot in nicely between "Afraid Of Sunlight" and "Beyond You" without interrupting the album's flow, and the line from which the song gets its title, "Icon therefore I am", may not be quite as clever as it wants to be, but it does fit in pretty fabulously with the album's theme. Afraid Of Sunlight is all about the trappings of fame and success and how they inevitably seem to lead to self-destruction in one form or another. Icon therefore I am, I think, leads into the disillusionment represented in "King" - it's the realisation that your heart's not in your work any more, that you're just going through the motions because that's what people expect of you, because that is what made you an icon.

But on the other hand, while including "Icon" certainly wouldn't detract from the quality of the album, I'm not sure that it'd add anything that isn't already well covered by the eight songs that did make the cut either, and I am absolutely in favour of erring on the side of caution in these matters.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

The Only Unforgivable Thing


One of the four Lost Marbles, as I call them; the songs from the proper double CD version of Marbles that weren't included on the streamlined, stripped down single CD version released out in the real world because "record shops generally don't like to sell double albums".

What's the worst thing you've ever done? Whatever your answer, whatever criteria you're defining it by, you know what it is, because, well... that sticks with you. It'll stay with you forever, no matter how you try to leave it at the bottom of a bottle, or focus on happier things. There will always be that voice that will remind you, in your darkest times, you are capable of this.

And so it is with the only unforgivable thing that Steve Hogarth has ever done, whatever that might be. It's left pretty open to interpretation throughout. And, uh, that's a lot of out to keep it through; "The Only Unforgivable Thing" opens and closes with some lovely church organ sounds, and the bit in between is pleasantly melancholy, but man does it go on a bit, without ever really changing much. It's not the worst offender for this on Marbles, but still probably the most deservedly absent of the four omissions they made in condensing the sprawling double album down to the one CD that was released to the unenlightened plebians who have not yet found a better way of life.

Other people have said this before me, but I'll repeat, because it is definitely true: There is a fantastic single album somewhere in Marbles, it's just not quite the one they actually released. This song, however, doesn't appear on the real or the ideal.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Thank God For The Internet

Inspired by another fine oeuvreblog, Paraguay And Laos (Nepotism at work!!!), I've gone back and added video links wherever I could find them (strangely, nothing turned up for Built-In Bastard Radar...), and will be continuing to do so with future posts. Quite why it took me a week into this project to have this thought is entirely beyond me.

So, anyway, enjoy. If you want. I'll be back soon with (probably) "The Only Unforgivable Thing".



Yeah, OK, so they did technically release a live version as a single in the interim period between Fish's departure and Hogarth's arrival, but it was a b-side first, and thus it still fulfills my promise. Look, this one has to go hand-in-hand with "Separated Out", because it's basically the Fish-era version of the same song, and a comparison of the two makes a nice microcosmic comparison between the two eras, which seems like something I ought to do, right?

The most immediately striking thing is that the keyboards are far, far more prominent here than they are in "Separated Out", despite that actually having one of the more noticable keyboard parts of any post-EMI Marillion album. Mark Kelly doesn't get to stand out a whole lot in more recent albums, which is not to say he isn't still a totally essential member of the band, of course.

Another obvious difference (which you can see for yourself with my handy lyrics links, aren't I great) is that there are a lot more words used here to bring across the same basic point. Not to say that Hogarth (and Helmer, from time to time) don't get very wordy sometimes, but Fish will never, ever use one word when he can use twenty five. Sometimes this interferes considerably with the clarity of the point he's trying to make, sometimes it makes for fabulously erudite poetry. This particular case falls somewhere between the two, I think.

Further to that, there's a contrast in the tone of the lyrics; while "Separated Out" is all questioning; "Am I enough of a freak to be worth paying to see?, "Freaks" just comes straight out and cries "Please stop staring at me". Either way, they both refuse to sit straight and shut up and become accountants, as would be the sensible option if you wanted to avoid the stares, but the difference is telling; Hogarth-era is definitely characterised by a much greater openness to positivity, even if it doesn't always fully embrace it.

Of the two, I think I enjoy "Separated Out" more, but I may be biased towards it having seen it live; I imagine "Freaks" would have much the same improvement. That last sentence pretty much still works as microcosm, by the way.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Separated Out


I guess you could sort of count this one as "important" too, and so I shouldn't be doing it already, but whatever. I stole its name, I thought I should give it the courtesy of early admission too. I'll make up for it by doing a b-side or something tomorrow, OK?

"Separated Out" is all about celebrating the life of the outsider, the freak, the anorak. The Marillion fan. It illustrates this point by featuring a few samples from cult 1930's film Freaks (I know, I know, you can read the sidenotes on the lyrics page too) and such stellar lines as "Am I enough of a freak/To be worth paying to see?" and, my personal favourite, "Everything I told you, including this/I already forgot". It's another one of those big, dumb rock songs we talked about earlier, but unlike that one, this one's pretty fun to listen to, if you're in the right mood. I speak from experience when I say that being in a room full of hundreds of other freaks certainly helps you get into that mood, which is why this is one of their live staples, despite not actually being all that great on record.

And then there's "If you like I'll tell you about it/You wouldn't want to know" which quite excellently encapsulates the dilemma that I'm sure anyone who is a fan of anything at all has faced at some point in there lives; you want to shout your love out from the rooftops, you want everyone in the world to know about this wonderful thing that you have discovered, but in all likelihood, they won't understand and all you'll get is funny looks. Which is where yesterday's entry comes in: "They'll laugh at you anyway/So why don't you stand up and be beautiful?" See, there is a plan here. Yeah, right.

We accept her one of us, we accept her one of us, gooble gobble, gooble gobble, WE ACCEPT HER WE ACCEPT HER

Video: Separated Out (Live from Forum, London, 5/12/2005)
Poor quality, and only the first two minutes, but dude! I was THERE!

Sunday, 1 July 2007



I'm going to be staggering the really important (whether that's in the personal sense or the "Kayleigh" sense will depend) songs throughout the run, because that's one of the as-yet unwritten rules of oeuvreblogging, and I imagine it will make the whole project easier to handle. Those two reasons are fairly intrinsicly linked, I guess.

Anyway, "Beautiful" is important because it's pretty much my point of no return, I think. I discovered the existence of the band with Marbles, and I bought that and liked it, but it wasn't until I happened upon an exceedingly cheap copy of live acoustic album Unplugged At The Walls that I totally fell in love, and it was this song that did it. There was no slowly easing me into it either, it's just crowd noise, "WOOOOOOO!" and then straight into what may be the closest thing to the quintessential three and a half minute pop song this band has ever recorded. And, given that they're... y'know, Marillion, they've made a surprising number of attempts at that. Of course, given that they're... y'know, Marillion, you'd be lucky to find one that's actually under five minutes, but... the three-and-a-half-minute spirit's still there, OK?

Note again that I said "live acoustic album". If you're anything like me, that word would not inspire a great deal of confidence in you. I think I probably wouldn't have even bought Unplugged At The Walls if I'd actually realised it was a live acoustic album, which I would have done if I'd paid any attention whatsoever to any other part of the packaging than the price sticker, and then maybe I'd be writing an entry about "Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)" right now.

But, whatever, the acoustic version of this song, and pretty much this song only, at least as far as Unplugged At The Walls is concerned, works perfectly, because "Beautiful" is pretty bare bones on record already, so the acoustic version's only particularly noticable difference is the lack of a fade-out ending, which is always something I could do without anyway.

What's more important, of course, is that the actual song, in any form, is just wonderful; it's naive and idealistic to a pretty absurd degree, and you'd think that being so utterly convinced in the absolute truth of its simplistic message would be annoyingly preachy, but somehow it's unassuming enough to all come out incredibly charming. I think it pretty much comes down to this; it's not "Stand up and be beautiful", it's "Why don't you stand up and be beautiful?" Like, "if you can come up with a good reason not to stand up and be beautiful, that's totally cool with us, dude, you just keep doing your thing."

Plus, that keyboard riff? RAAAWWR.

Video: Beautiful
The official music video. It's one of the better ones of the Hogarth era, outside of Brave. These are really not their forte.
Video: Beautiful (performed by Jessica Culligan)
Some poor girl, evidently cursed with a Marillion fan for a dad, singing the song at a school concert.