Posts Tagged ‘Marillion’

Young Man Blues

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

I have come to the realisation that all of my favourite music is immature. Prog, metal, glam and folk all have an inexorable appeal to dopey fourteen year old boys.

Prog is all explosive time signature changes and wonky surrealism, songs about cyborg armadillos and severed heads on croquet lawns. Metal is men with long hair and spiky guitars shrieking angrily about the devil, war, and psychopaths (or preferably all three). Glam rock falls broadly into blokes in make up being all weird and arty, blokes in makeup being intentionally daft (both of which are British bands in the 70s), and blokes in makeup singing about shagging strippers while riding Harleys up Sunset Boulevard (American bands in the 80s). Folk music aficionados will object that it’s a genre characterised by a will to continue an important cultural tradition, and its lack of pretension and image, therefore being sufficiently “grown up”, but  I only listen to folk music because 85% of it is songs about witches.

Even indieish types, hailed as brilliant songwriters, like Jarvis Cocker and Ben Folds have written a lot of songs about not growing up and feeling awkward in the face of responsibility.

We live in a world where it’s perfectly acceptable for a grown man to buy himself toys (uh… collectables) and video games (er… they’re a rapidly developing media), and that’s fine by me (although I don’t really think my Dad would understand or approve), and gigs and music festivals the world over are crammed with people in their 30s and 40s who are desperate to prove they are still “down” with Little Boots and Black Kids (delete/replace with more current talking point as applicable).*

So what is “mature” music? Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan? I could never get into either of them. I actually think the most mature music I listen to is Marillion. Now say that name to most people and they’ll just look at you blankly or assume you are trying to say “Marilyn Manson” with a cleft palate). But those that remember them will no doubt sneer, scoff and guffaw, pointing out that they are the most emotionally retarded of bands, with their album covers featuring sad jesters, clunkier version of the standard prog rock widdly widdly instrumental style,  ridiculously verbose lyrics and murky concepts (1982’s Grendel was an 18 minute epic that would at least have found favour with Otto the bus driver, as it was from the monster’s point of view).

However, there’s the rub. Most people haven’t heard (or heard of) the If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill hitmakers since the 80s. Their more recent stuff rejects the histrionic and is sombre, melodic and heart on sleeve emotional. To me it sounds, I dunno, mature.

* I originally wrote Bat For Lashes, but I have checked wikipedia and deemed her not contemporary enough. Not only was she born in the 70s, but her first record was released in 2006! I might as well namecheck Status Quo!

Bat For Lashes and Black Kids
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Twenty Years Of Getting Used To It

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Twenty years ago, Marillion released a double concept album about child abuse, incest, mental illness and suicide. SUPER FUN GOOD TIMES! As someone who still refers to the 90s as “recently”, I am having difficulty accepting the fact that it was that long ago. Almost as much as my housemates at the time had difficulty with the fact that I listened to Brave at a ridiculously high volume, every single day.

The band had decided to ditch their unsuccessful attempt to produce a radio friendly record, and go the whole prog hog. Recorded at a chateau in France, for a whopping nine months, it’s considered by many fans to be their masterpiece. Whilst invoking such serious themes for the purposes of entertainment is a cheap trick, it’s a very nineties trope (in fact pretty much every comic that Vertigo produced at the time seemed to have at least one character that had been the victim of child abuse).

One of my favourite things about Brave is its alternate ending. On the main version of the album, (spoiler alert) the girl on the bridge is rescued at the last moment by some dude, or possibly another aspect of her personality (hedging your bets ambiguity is another good concept album trope), and the song The Great Escape flourishes into an almost Broadway style emotional crescendo, followed by the “new, brighter dawn” payoff of the epilogue Made Again.

If you bought the vinyl album, however, the final side of the album was double grooved, so half the time you got the standard happy ending, but the other half of the time, The Great Escape would not reach its climax, and the music would drop down into an altogether more hopeless, defeated tone, signifying that the girl does in fact throw herself off the bridge, and falls to her death.

That would have been the best idea ever, had people been buying vinyl in 1994. Of course, in 1994, no one was buying prog albums, so it hardly mattered. The music industry was riding the Britpop train, and EMI, fresh from the success of Blur in particular, dropped Marillion like a shitty stick. Blur’s Parklife, was a we’re cleverer than you romp through British musical heritage (they had a “punk” song called Bank Holiday, what wags, eh?), although they never touched on at the time desperately unfashionable 70s rock. Pink Floyd’s bleak interrogations of modern life were just as much a part of the pop continuum as poncing around pretending to be The Kinks, and I’m convinced Brave is the best album that The Floyd never recorded. Marillion were always slated by the press as Genesis copyists, although they never much sounded like the Supper’s Ready hitmakers, even when they were trying to (“Grendel!”). Steve Rothery’s guitar technique always lent  more towards David Gilmour, and here, along with the more subtle keyboard work and “atmospheres”, the band basically produced The Wall, with better tunes but without the misogyny.

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