Mick Pointer

#413: Just for the record, Meat’s gonna put it down (Guest shot)

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:

MISPLACED1. Misplaced Childhood (1985)

CLUTCHING2. Clutching at Straws (1987)

FUGAZI3. Fugazi (1984)

SCRIPT4. Script For A Jester’s Tear (1983)

SEASONS5. Seasons End (1989)

6. Vigil In A Wilderness of Mirrors – Fish (1990)

How’s that for a “Big Wedge”? More Marillion tomorrow!

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#412: Just for the record, I’m gonna put it down

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.

SOMEWHERE ELSE16. 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.

 

HAPPINESS ESSENCEHAPPINESS HARD SHOULDER15. 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.)

 

DOT COM14. 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…

 

HOLIDAYS13. Holidays in Eden (1991). Some like it, some consider it too commercial. I fall into the second category.

 

THIS STRANGE12. 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.

 

ANORAKNOPHOBIA11. Anoraknophobia (2001). A decent album, a bit long winded but a progression over 1999’s marillion.com

 

SOUNDS10. Sounds That Can’t Be Made (2012). I think Marillion really grabbed this album by the balls. It’s fearless.

 

AFRAID9. 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.

 

BRAVE8. 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.

 

SEASONS7. 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.

 

RADIAT10N6. Radiation (1998). I love this noisy reject of an album. It’s brilliant.

 

SCRIPT5. 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.

 

MARBLES4. 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.

 

FUGAZI3. Fugazi (1984). Fugazi is not an easy album to get into, with a pugnaciously opaque second side. The first side is pure genius.

 

MISPLACED2. 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.

 

CLUTCHING1. 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.

 


 

THIEVING BSIDESMarillion 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!

REVIEW: Marillion – Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other (A Singles Collection)

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.)

3/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987) / The Highlights

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.MARILLION_0009

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.

5/5 stars

* 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.

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.