I thought these six CDs had been lost in the mail. I am so, so glad to be wrong.
Fugazi: Military slang meaning “fucked up situation”, coined during the Vietnam war.
Or: The making of Marillion’s second album.
After rolling through a couple drummers including Jonathan Mover, Marillion finally settled on Ian Mosely, the British veteran who is still in the band today. They settled in to record the “difficult” second album, which was dubbed Fugazi. It is a challenging listen, probably the most challenging of the original four. As such it tends to fall by the wayside today, despite the inclusion of the excellent single “Assassing”.
“I am the assassin, with tongue forged in eloquence. I am the assassin, providing your nemesis.”
It was a pointed statement at the ex-drummer Mick Pointer, from his former friend, lead vocalist Fish.
Lyrically, Fugazi represents the very best of Marillion of any era. Both “Jigsaw” and the included B-side track “Cinderella Search” contain lyrics of great depth, beauty, emotion, and layers upon layers of interpretation. I like Fish’s use of homonyms, such as “Swam through the nicotine seize”.
Musically, this is a dense album that takes multiple listens to appreciate. Side one of the original album was catchier, with the two singles (“Punch & Judy” being the second) and the lullaby-like “Jigsaw”. Side two was more challenging, with longer heavier songs: “She Chameleon” and “Incubus” are good examples. Incidentally, Fish considered “Incubus” to be his greatest lyrical achievement, once again using homonyms. “I, the mote in your eye.”
The bonus disc contains the stellar B-side “Cinderella Search”, a song that goes through multiple sections before culminating with its powerful ending. “I always use the cue sheets but never the nets, never the nets, nevertheless.” Other B-sides include a remix of “Assassing” and the re-recorded version of “Three Boats Down From The Candy”. (I prefer the original.) This disc is rounded out by four demos of some of the more challenging songs.
The cover art is loaded with brilliance courtesy of Mark Wilkinson. He put just as much thought into the art as Fish did into the lyrics. Wilkinson and the band provide enlightening liner notes. You’ll want to make sure you read them. Did Mark Kelly really see a ghost? Find out inside.
Fugazi is expected to be upgraded to a multidisc deluxe edition including 5.1 mix this summer- 2021.
Kettle of Fish, the “best of” Derek W. Dick, is the first and only CD I’ve ever had stolen from me.
I got it cheap, something like $7 brand new, from one of our stores. Then a year later, someone stole the CD player from my car, with the Fish CD inside. Emotionally distraught, I sought to replace it right away. The best I could do was $30 for a replacement copy shipped from Fish’s official site. How crushing. I wondered with bemusement what the thieves thought of Fish’s progressive rock poetry. I imagine they tossed the disc into a snowbank.
While Kettle of Fish is no replacement for Fish’s debut solo album Vigil In a Wilderness of Mirrors, it is a fine collection of the man’s first decade as a solo artist and an enjoyable listen through. It also boasts a nice colourful booklet with all the relevant singles covers, photos, lyrics and liner notes by Derek W. Dick. Incidentally my original copy was missing pages. I wonder if that is how it ended up in our store? A defective run, sent off to a clearance somewhere, that eventually found its way into one of our warehouses. Missing pages notwithstanding, it’s an excellent packaging job.
Since the album is made up of singles (and two new songs that we’ll get to), you will always find that critical deep album cuts are missing. “Vigil” was not a single, but it’s one of Fish’s greatest achievements. There’s no “The Company”. “I Like to Watch” is missing in action. Instead the CD is arranged to give roughly equal time to all of Fish’s output to date. Tracks from Internal Exile, Suits, Yin, Yang and Sunsets On Empire are given fair representation.
Some of the best tracks are the lesser known variety. “Brother 52” is hip and modern, yet still obviously Fish. The loopy drums are perfect for the track, lending it a 90’s groove with a rock integrity throughout. The spoken word parts of “Brother 52” are sometimes distracting, but are by and large incorporated as part of the song. A vibrant violin solo goes for the kill and that’s all she wrote. The Celtic jig “Internal Exile” is another immediate favourite. The lyrics evolved from a song Marillion were working on for their unfinished fifth LP called “Exile on Princess Street”. It was the kind of stuff Marillion were getting sick of. According to Dick, “The lyrics started to follow a more political lean with a distinctly Scottish nationalist tone. The band weren’t happy.”
I saw a blue umbrella in Princes Street Gardens,
Heading out west for the Lothian Road,
An Evening News stuffed deep in his pocket,
Wrapped up in his problems to keep away the cold.
Grierson’s spirit haunts the dockyards,
Where the only men working are on the documentary crews,
Shooting film as the lines get longer,
As the seams run out, as the oil runs dry.
The finished lyrics make you feel it. Yes the music for “Internal Exile” is bright and chipper, with a tin whistle to take your worry away. It sounds nothing like the morose music Marillion coupled it with. Maybe that’s what made all the difference.
Tracks including “Credo”, “Big Wedge” and “State of Mind” are varied and of very high quality. You might think you put on an unknown 80s Phil Collins single if you play “Big Wedge” unannounced. Of the two new songs recorded for the album, “Chasing Miss Pretty” is the most enjoyable. It’s simple silly light rock for the summer time. Fish seems to have dropped the ball a little bit on the lyrics, but “Chasing Miss Pretty” is still far more poetic than anything Jon Bon Jovi has ever written.
First of all, I caught her reflection in the window of the pharmacy store,
There I was locked up in my pick-up in the rush hour on the Delaware road.
It must have been the scent of her perfume or the glimpse of that French lingerie,
A product of my imagination, I blame it all on a hot summer’s day.
Unfortunately the other new song “Mr. Buttons” is forgettable musically and lyrically. A song about hackers and e-crime in 1998 is going to sound quaint in 2017.
The weight of Fish’s early career casts a large shadow on everything the man has done since. Vigil was a triumph in every way for the singer. The early songs generally outshine the later songs. You will find favourites in the later material, but the early stuff will probably keep you coming back for another listen. The new songs are a nice add-on, and the packaging makes it worth a go, especially if you don’t own any Fish. Proceed!
RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#413: Just for the record, Meat’s gonna put it down
By special request of Aaron at the KMA, yesterday I ranked all the Marillion studio albums in order of preference (see #412: Just for the record, I’m gonna put it down). It’s not an easy thing to do, because any band with two distinct phases (and lead singers) is going to have lovers and haters of both, as well as fans who can accept both equally.
During Sausagefest weekend 2015, I discussed my already-completed list with Uncle Meat, who also wanted to take part. He has his own feelings about Marillion’s discography. In fact he only listed six albums. Meat is very much a “Phase One” fan, a follower of Fish who had a hard time accepting the changes that occurred after Seasons End. It’s important to note that Seasons End was mostly written (musically) with Fish. After that album, the band had to come up with new material for the new singer, and that is when they started to write very differently from before. It’s not Steve Hogarth’s fault, in Meat’s eyes, just the way the band wrote for and with him.
Here are Uncle Meat’s top Marillion albums, without commentary. He’s going top down:
How’s that for a “Big Wedge”? More Marillion tomorrow!
RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#412: Just for the record, I’m gonna put it down
By special request of Aaron at the KMA.
Marillion have 16 studio albums: Four with original poet and singer Fish, and 12 (going on 13) with Steve “H” Hogarth. (I’m not counting the album of acoustic versions called Less Is More.) Like any band who have had more than one beloved singer, it is very difficult to try to arrange their albums in any sort of rated order. How can you compare an album like Brave to Fugazi? They are nothing alike. They share similar DNA, and the ambition to play intelligent rock music, but to say one is better than the other? I wouldn’t want to do that.
But I must. This was a request. I have to oblige.
Starting from the bottom, here are Marillion’s studio albums from weak to strong.
16. Somewhere Else (2007). Following an album like Marbles (2004) is damn near impossible. Somewhere Else has never completely clicked with me and it remains foggy in my memory. Incidentally, the vinyl version has three live bonus tracks and a slightly shuffled song order, as well as a warm sound that benefits the listening experience.
15. Happiness is the Road (2008). Consisting of a massive eight sides of vinyl (!), Happiness is the Road is broken into two albums: Essence, and The Hard Shoulder. While both discs contain memorable songs such as “This Train is My Life”, the set is too sprawling and slow to be enjoyed frequently. (The vinyl version contains bonus live tracks from the album Happiness is Cologne.)
14. marillion.com (1999). I love that the band were digging into trip-hop and writing catchy poppy songs, but as a whole the album doesn’t rank higher than…
13. Holidays in Eden (1991). Some like it, some consider it too commercial. I fall into the second category.
12. This Strange Engine (1997). I still like this mostly acoustic album (I own three copies), but it’s a departure. Iron Tom Sharpe calls this “the one that sounds like Hootie and the Blowfish”. It retains progressive moments but also stretches out into celtic folky sounds and tropical celebrations.
11. Anoraknophobia (2001). A decent album, a bit long winded but a progression over 1999’s marillion.com
10. Sounds That Can’t Be Made (2012). I think Marillion really grabbed this album by the balls. It’s fearless.
9. Afraid of Sunlight (1996). This middle grouping of albums on the list are really so close it’s meaningless. It’s splitting hairs to put them in a meaningful order. Afraid of Sunlight scores high due to the excellent title track.
8. Brave (1994). This is where Marillion-with-Hogarth really came into their own. It is still one of the most ambitious Marillion albums and an emotional roller coaster of a concept record. There’s also a heavy 10 minute jam released as a B-side called “Marouette Jam” that necessitates buying of the remastered 2 CD edition.
7. Seasons End (1989). The most difficult album of a career is gonna be the first album with the new singer. By retaining their classic sound with a few new twists and a new charismatic frontman, Marillion successfully rode through the transition.
6. Radiation (1998). I love this noisy reject of an album. It’s brilliant.
5. Script For a Jester’s Tear (1983). Fish finally makes his first appearance on this list with the very first Marillion album. Genius poetry but complicated tunes make this one a jagged-edged favourite.
4. Marbles (2004). Marillion’s first double CD studio album, never wearing out its welcome. Like Brave, but grilled to perfection and with all the accouterments.
3. Fugazi (1984). Fugazi is not an easy album to get into, with a pugnaciously opaque second side. The first side is pure genius.
2. Misplaced Childhood (1985). The record company shit their pants when they heard that Marillion were doing a concept album for their third record. The band had written two 20+ minute pieces of music tentatively titled “side one” and “side two”. After honing it live, they unleashed Misplaced Childhood to the stunned masses.
1. Clutching At Straws (1987). It not difficult to put Clutching at Straws as #1. It is one of Marillion’s most beloved, and Fish’s favourite. The dark poetry and sharp songwriting makes it a timeless perennial favourite, never stale, and always revealing new facets to its personality. An utter classic.
Marillion have numerous live albums (I lost count but well over 50 or 60) and greatest hits with exclusive material to boot. Ranking those is all but meaningless. Having said that, one essential purchase for a serious Marillion fan is their first double live, The Thieving Magpie (1988). This epic contains a full performance of Misplaced Childhood, as well as non-album cuts like “Freaks”. Another great record to own is B’Sides Themselves (also 1988), containing some of Marillion’s most memorable B-sides. These include the 18 minute epic “Grendel”, and more concise classics such as “Tux On” and “Market Square Heroes”.
Dig into some Marillion and see what the frak you’ve been missing!
RECORD STORE TALES Part 303: Marking Your Discs
In the 1990’s, stealing CDs and selling them to a pawn shop or a used CD store was a fairly common way for thieves to make some money. Today I doubt it happens at the levels I saw in the 1990’s. You just can’t get as much for a CD today, not even close.
I had seen too many people lose valuable music to theft, and never get the discs back. I received many visits and phone calls from upset customers, hoping that someone had sold their stolen discs to me. But a lot of thieves were too smart to sell them in town. They’d go somewhere else to sell them, assuming that they’d be harder to catch then. When somebody lost dozens of CDs in a break-in, they would call all the used stores in town. “If you see a guy bringing in a huge collection of Jazz box sets, including about a dozen Miles Davis remasters, call me.”
It was always best if you could somehow identify your collection. Jazz box sets and Miles remasters (for example) would be easy to spot. If somebody else called and said, “Somebody stole all my rock CDs…I had Stone Temple Pilots, Korn, Creed, Days of the New…” well, there wasn’t much hope. These are titles that we often saw, probably every single day. If you could somehow mark the discs as your property, however…
Different people used different methods. In 1995, I got a call from a guy who worked at the downtown Dr. Disc. His collection had been stolen. He marked his discs in a unique way. He placed a strip of tinfoil underneath the CD tray. If somebody came in to sell a hundred CDs and they all had tinfoil under the tray, there’s your guilty party.
Most people, who didn’t care about the packaging or condition of their discs so much, would just write their name inside. Either on the booklet, the inner tray, or the front cover. I could never deface my music like that, and neither could T-Rev. He came up with his own method. Rather than mark the CD packaging itself, he wrote his initials on a tiny red sticker, and placed that somewhere unobtrusively on the CD. If he ever wanted to remove it, he could do so without wrecking anything.
Tom didn’t share our “no permanent marks” philosophy. He embossed the front covers of his discs with a press that imprinted his initials on the front cover. Tom gave me a couple CDs once – his initials always bothered me. When I had the chance to swap covers with a copy that was in better condition, I did. Tom tells me he doesn’t emboss his CDs anymore. I’m glad he came to his senses.
T-Rev and I both have had CDs stolen, unfortunately. Both of us had our vehicles broken into. T-Rev never recovered the handful of discs that were in his Jeep. (I remember that one was the excellent Barstool Prophets albums Last of the Big Game Hunters.) They never showed up, anywhere in town. As for me, I only lost one disc – Fish’s 1998 compilation Kettle of Fish, which was inside my Discman (also stolen). They didn’t take the CD case. I imagine they probably threw out the CD; chances are these thieves would not enjoy the subtle sounds of Derek William Dick. At that time, the album was not available in Canada, and I believe I had to order it directly from the official Fish site in the UK to replace it. That cost me about $30, to replace a CD that I originally paid $7.99 for. That was not a good day.
RECORD STORE TALES Part 299: More Journals
A sequel to Part 244: Diary of a Mad Record Store Man. I think the journal entries speak for themselves, so here they are.
On this Marillion live disc, Fish just dedicated the entire Misplaced Childhood record to Phil Lynott…he must have just passed away when it was recorded. That’s heavy, man. My two lyrical heroes, Fish and Lynott…
Crazy to think that I’ve been in this business for 10 years, and only now am I starting to listen to Buddy Holly. Sad to think what I’ve been missing all these years! I can’t believe how great Buddy’s music was. It’s really clicking with me, I just love Buddy Holly!
Some dude was just in here throwing a pencil at us because he didn’t have a receipt. I AM TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT. I need to get THE FUCK out of here.
Wish me luck in the Minds in Motion walk today!
This is the second of two Marillion reviews this weekend. For the first, Seasons End, click here.
MARILLION – Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other (1992 US), A Singles Collection (1992 UK)
After the mediocre pop sounds of Holidays in Eden, Marillion were about to embark on a far more interesting journey. But not before issuing the standard greatest hits CD with two new songs attached. Marillion had released a compilation of B-sides before (B’Sides Themselves) but never a collection of A-sides. As the title implies, you get six singles with original vocalist Fish, and a half dozen with his replacement Steve “H” Hogarth. Then in addition to these 12, there are two new songs: A Rare Bird cover called “Sympathy” (an excellent dramatic piece) and a forgettable pop song called “I Walk Walk On Water”, easily the weakest song on the album.
While there are two much more complete compilations out today (Best Of, The Best of Both Worlds), I still enjoy listening to Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other from time to time. Not too often, though. It is a bit awkward, as they insisted on shuffling one Fish song after each Hogarth song. Remember when Van Halen attempted that? It didn’t work for them either. It doesn’t flow. Really, old and new Marillion were like two completely different bands and you can’t just from “Garden Party” to “No One Can”. It doesn’t work no matter what universe you inhabit.
However, the tunes themselves are awesome, and you get most of the singles. Three are missing: “Market Square Heroes”, “He Knows You Know”, and “Punch and Judy”. However you do get all the Hogarth singles up to the time, and the most well-known and commercial of the Fish ones. Most of these tunes are really strong and would make it to my own car tape (just in a different running order). Others (“The Univited Guest”, “Hooks In You”, “No One Can”) would not. Swipe those three out for the three Fish singles I mentioned and you’d have a damn good comp. However, it would be lopsided towards Fish and obviously Marillion weren’t going to do that.
At this point Marillion were skirting dangerously close to being a pop rock band. The singles from Holidays in Eden are decidedly straightforward and geared towards 1992’s radio tendencies. “I Will Walk On Water” is hardly any better. Unbelievably, the band soon turned in the immortal album Brave which is so deep, so rich, so emotional, that I don’t even know how I’m going to review it. The music can change your life, if you let it.
In the meantime, if you want a sampler of Marillion’s most commercial moments, pick this up. However for a better overview, pick up one of the other comps I suggested. (Of note to collectors, the version of “I Will Walk On Water” released here is hard to find elsewhere, and there are some other single edits, remixes and whatnot included. The liner notes are also excellent.)
This review dedicated to the great Uncle Meat. Part 1 of a 2 part series!
MARILLION – Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987) (EMI)
This is the first of two Marillion Official Bootleg box sets. The second covers the Hogarth years 1990-1994. Mine came with an autographed print!
I listened to this box again over the course of a week. I chose the car as the setting. I’ve spent a lot of time driving to Marillion in the past (lots of great memories) so this setting works for me. I enjoy loading long box sets onto my car MP3 player. I did that recently with the 12 CD Deep Purple Bootleg Series box set. As soon as I was done with that one, I dove into Early Stages.
I also acquired the recent compilation Early Stages: The Highlights. Why, you ask? Well, like many “highlights” packages, they usually stick on one exclusive song to get you to buy the same thing twice. The bait is “Market Square Heroes” Fife Aid 1988, the final song of the final show with Fish. OK, I’ll bite.
I don’t have a lot to say specifically about any of the concerts included in this box set. There are a lot of songs from periods before they were recorded on albums, and that’s cool. There are four different drummers on this set*, representing the rarely documented transitional periods in Marillion’s lineup. The discs are all of great sonic quality considering the years they were recorded. Fish is a great frontman, usually funny but occasionally serious, and always entertaining.
Here are some observations about some of the set’s highlights. From The Mayfair, Glasgow, 1982: “He Knows You Know” is not quite as slick as we’re used to, a little tentative, but no less powerful. An early version of “She Chameleon” is quite different musically from what it would become, although the lyrics are mostly in place.
When you get to the Marquee show (December of ’82), Fish is especially talkative and sentimental. The gem here is obviously “Grendel”, a song which never ceases to amaze me. Fish’s expressive voice has me hook, line and sinker. You’ll be treated to the complete workout of “Grendel” again in 1983 (Reading). The 1984 Hammersmith concert has emotional classics like “Jigsaw” and “Cinderella Search”. The real treat is an early version of the first track for the forthcoming album Misplaced Childhood; a track Fish calls “Side One”. It’s an early version, the lyrics still not all the way there, and it’s missing the entire “Lavender” section. But you can hear the shape of things to come.
Hey Uncle Meat! Who’s your favourite lyricist?
The box set closes with a late period show, and a big one: Wembley, 1987. A good chunk of Misplaced Childhood (all of Side One) and Clutching at Straws are presented. There are only a couple oldies: “Fugazi” and “Incubus”. This is a slicker, more commercial-sounding band, much more skilled at writing complicated yet catchy music.
Of note: there are a whopping 15 pages full of liners notes by one Derek W. Dick, aka Fish, and new cover art by Mark Wilkinson! If that doesn’t sell this set, then nothing will.
* Mick Pointer, John Martyr, Andy Ward, and Ian Mosely. Only Jonathan Mover is not heard on this, although he is on the 6 CD Curtain Call box set.
RECORD STORE TALES Part 188: “Limited Edition”
In 1994, Garth Brooks issued his 10 million copy selling compilation album, The Hits. On the front cover was an interesting notation: “limited time only”.
Now, I’ve bought discs that were limited edition before and were numbered to prove it. For example I recently picked up #5945 of the “Credo” single by Fish. Even so…that’s a lot of copies out there for a single by Fish. How many copies of a Fish single would be made anyway? And aren’t all singles limited edition? After all, they aren’t going to make more once they’ve run their course, no matter who the artist is. Onto the next thing.
And then of course you have some seriously limited edition items, like that recent Thin Lizzy Live at the BBC box set! I’m not sure how many copies were made, but everybody’s sold out, and now you have to buy it from people asking way too much. Over $250 USD on Amazon right now. Forget it! That is limited edition.
When Garth plastered “limited time only” all over The Hits, it quickly became a joke. We ordered 50 copies of them, and sold most during the first week. We ordered another 50 copies, as Christmas was coming soon. Those sold. We ordered 20 more after Christmas had passed, and continued to order them every week into the new year whenever we sold out. Some limited edition!
10,000,000 people bought it, and I’m sure 99.9% would have bought it without that “limited time” tag. With great pomp and circumstance, Garth then had the master tapes destroyed.
The master tapes to a freakin’ greatest hits album! Who cares?
It was really hard to take the phrase “limited edition” seriously after that. The next release that came out that truly was a limited edition was the Smashing Pumpkins box set The Aeroplane Flies High, but even that enjoyed a second run when the first printing sold out.
So: the lesson here folks is, when it says limited edition, be skeptical! Very few things are, and the ones that really are limited aren’t always advertized as such. Record labels want to make money, right?
Unfortunately, Garth didn’t put this one on his box set!
NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…
Hide the discs!