REVIEW: Marillion – Script For a Jester’s Tear (2 CD remaster)

Hey Uncle Meat! Who’s your favourite lyricist?

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MARILLION – Script For a Jester’s Tear (EMI 2 CD remaster, originally 1983)

“So here I am once more, in the playground of the broken hearts.”

So let it be written, the first words on the first full length album by the singer Fish and the band Marillion. Indeed, early Marillion is so heavily associated with their original singer that it is futile to try to separate them. Early Marillion, meaning the first four crucial albums, is revered for their lyrics as much or even more than their music. Layers upon layers of meanings, tongue-twisting words, symbolism galore, it’s all here for the poetry lover in you. I especially like Fish’s use of homophones for that extra touch of wonder.

Musically, early Marillion were very much in Genesis worship mode, even if they don’t like to talk about it. “Grendel” (appearing here in an awesome alternate take) is essentially “Supper’s Ready”. Many people in my own record store have confused Fish’s voice for Peter Gabriel’s and even Phil Collins from time to time. This is progressive rock for the dudes who love progressive rock. Do you like 8 minute songs with time changes, and ample keyboard & guitar solos? Early Marillion is the band for you.

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Highlights on this album include the broken-hearted and angry title track, and the drug-induced “He Knows You Know”. Part of the appeal of Fish’s lyrics is how he alternately caresses them and then spits them out at appropriate moments. “He Knows You Know” is a great example of this. From high pitched emphasis to mid-range melody, Fish knew how he wanted to express his words.  “Don’t give me your problems!”

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“Garden Party” is, of course, a wry stab at the English class system. These lyrics could only have come from the man known as Fish, and this is one of his most sarcastic and humourous achievements.  It is also one of Marillion’s bounciest songs, one that still creates euphoria in audiences today.

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The bonus disc here is loaded with greatness. Their first single “Market Square Heroes” is present in alternate versions. One of these is the “Battle Priest” version. Fish was forced to change the lyrics from “I am your antichrist,” to “I am your battle priest” (???) and that version is available here. Fear not, collectors, as the original is available on the singles box set, and other compilations as well. “Grendel”, all 20 minutes of it, is also present in an alternate take. It is simply stunning that an alternate take of a 20 minute song even exists. Again, the original is available on the box set as well as the album B’Sides Ourselves. The original take of “Three Boats Down From The Candy” is here, slightly different from the version that would turn up later. Here, there is a slight reggae vibe in the final verses. Fill out the bonus disc with some well fleshed out demos, and you have a very solid listening experience.

Liner notes, by Fish and the others, are of course essential, brilliant, and engrossing. Ample photos and artwork from Mark Wilkinson are also included.

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For the die hard collector who just can’t get enough, there were two singles (“He Knows You Know” and “Garden Party”) plus the debut  “Market Square Heroes” with additional material to enjoy.  As far as live material goes, the six CD box set Early Stages has four discs from this period alone, including not one but two live versions of “Grendel”!  Finally, the beautiful Curtain Call box set included a live album from October 1983 in Germany, featuring new (short tenured) drummer Jonathan Mover.

Script For a Jester’s Tear is an essential Marillion album, but it is not for beginners. Beginners may find such progressive fare as “Forgotten Sons” or “Chelsea Monday” to be a bit impenetrable on first listen. They would be advised to pick up the magnum opus Misplaced Childhood first. Once you are addicted to that music, come back here and feast of the bones of “Grendel”.

4.9/5 stars. A near-masterpiece for this band.

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21 comments

    1. Meat is the biggest Marillion fan that I know. I hope he turns up here to comment. I know he has dug deep into Fish’s lyrics and knows them intimately.

      All the Marillion reissues are great. Some more than others, but you can’t deny the value of the packaging and bonus discs.

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  1. Another great review, Mike. I’ve always avoided delving into Fish’s (and Hogarth’s) lyrics, much like I’ve avoided the mostly inpenetrable Gabriel lyrics from the majority of his Genesis songs, since I’m more interested in the sound of their voices, their phrasing, and how they blend into the music. With that said, I love pretty much everything Marillion did during the Fish era (and beyond), and this album is as good as anything they’ve released. Depending on my mood, any of their albums could be my favorite on a particular day. I was very pleased with all of the 2-CD remasters, but I know a lot of audiophile fans who think they’re too shrill-sounding. To my ears they sound fantastic, and between the packaging & the bonus tracks, you really get a lot for your money.

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    1. Thanks Rich! For me, Marillion hit me during my single morose years. Fish really spoke to me then. “Jigsaw” and “Cinderella Search”, and more.

      But today I’m a happier man and much more about the music. To me, they don’t sound shrill, but I never heard the original LP’s either. Isn’t that why they put EQ on stereo systems?

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        1. I’ve always thought so. I have a crappy stereo in my bedroom that always sounds bad, but everything else I own has some sort of tone adjustments. I always felt some of the old WASP albums were a little bass heavy so even when I was a kid with a ghetto blaster I’d be playing with the EQ.

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  2. I owned the vinyl and the original CD from this album. I decided to download the remastered version from the iTunes Store. Although the album sounds definitely brighter, there is way too much bass now. After a few listens a decided to remove the remaster and to add the original version to my iTunes library aging. I’m just too used to the “shrill” sound :-)

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    1. Hey Jan thanks for the comment! Question for you — were the iTunes tracks “mastered for iTunes”? I know sometimes they sell tracks that are specially mastered for the, although I’m not sure what the different is exactly.

      And hey, nothing wrong with liking what you like! On a physical CD, this is worth it for the packaging and bonus tracks in my opinion.

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        1. Cool, iTunes even have the bonus tracks. I didn’t know that. For some of these Fish-era Marillion remasters, EMI later released budget-priced single disc versions without the bonus tracks. But that’s great to have, for Grendel!

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        2. I have a promo single of “Forgotten Sons”. (the track is split in two to cover both sides). Sleeve is black and white drawing of a man who appears dead. Is it anything worth?

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  3. Yep. That’s the one! Didn’t know it was worth that much! Found it at an auction years ago in the Netherlands. I always thought my beautiful 12 inches of Marillion were worth a lot which isn’t true. My most valuable Marillion-items are my two concert T-shirts of the Misplaced Childhood tour and the “Clutching”-tour :D

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