Uninvited Guests: A beginner's guide to Marillion; Part 1: The Fish Years


7 jui. 2009, 13h15m

First, thanks to all who replied on my previous journal - you have all made some excellent points. I think we can all agree that what we like in our music transcends genre; we want to hear musicians who believe in what they're doing.

And speaking of which; this is part one of my four-part article on the history of my favorite band in the world, ever: Marillion.

Uninvited Guests: A beginner's guide to Marillion

If any band in the idiom is sure to divide opinion among music lovers, it's Marillion. Marillion single-handedly revived the genre in the eighties, to mixed critical response. Marillion released a couple of albums that would become the blueprint of prog for years to come, to mixed critical response. Marillion went on and took their music in a completely different direction, to mixed critical response. Marillion devised revolutionary new ways of bringing their music to the audience, to mixed critical response. And of course, Marillion was subject to one of the most controversial changes of face in rock history, very much to mixed critical response.

In this series, I will review all 15 albums of this legendary band. I will rate every album with a number of stars, five being the maximum.

Part 1: The Fish Years

If progressive rock was on its last legs in the late seventies, it was all but dead and buried in the early eighties, especially as far as the British music press was concerned. Enter Marillion, an eclectic young progressive rock band with an eclectic young Scottish front man. Even though they were widely ridiculed in the media, they quickly found themselves a dedicated fan base- after all, with all great prog bands from the seventies either disbanding or drifting in to mediocrity, where else where they to go? Thus began the long and windy career of Marillion, the band that spearheaded the second wave of progressive rock and went on to become one of the most unusual musical units of the past 30 years; 30 years of staunchly rowing upstream against "popular" opinion.

1983 - Script For A Jester's Tear
* * * *

Marillion crashed upon the earth with this, immediately and firmly establishing their sound; compact progressive rock (most songs are around 8 minutes long) with modern synthesizers, soaring guitars and of course Fish, not so much singing as spewing out his over-the-top poetry, all over whoever would listen to a man in a jester suit.
This is obviously their first record; the sound is often unbalanced and many songs are not quite as edgy as they were to become. Moreover, it hasn't stood the test of time all too well; The Web and Chelsea Monday sound more than a bit dated.
Still, there is a lot to enjoy about Marillion's first. He Knows You Know is a punchy, snappy track that successfully combines the band's undeniable sense of melody with Fish' snarling. Forgotten Sons is particularly strong, with great guitars and a funky, groovy part in the middle. And the melancholic title track is a true gem; Script for a Jester's Tear is arguably the ultimate Marillion-with-Fish track, with great performances from all band members and an emotional delivery from Fish.
"Script" is a milestone of progressive rock, but when getting into Marillion's back catalog, I suggest you start somewhere else (no pun intended). In 2009, this album is of particular interest mostly to the fans and the historically interested.

1984 - Fugazi
* * * *

In many ways, Fugazi is the younger brother of Script. Marillion further elaborated their sound as established on their previous album. They sound more focused, more punchy, tighter and a whole lot catchier, and Fish is angry as ever. Keyboard player Mark Kelly frequently takes the spotlight with his dexterity and contemporary (for the eighties, anyway) sound. More than anyone, it was he who defined what became known as Neo-Prog (to the chagrin of any band thus named).
Assassing and Punch & Judy are wonderfully rocking openers, Incubus and Fugazi are prime examples of Marillion's idea of prog. Emerald Lies is pretty overdone to my likings, changing time signature and melody about twenty times in five minutes, but it does showcase the talents of new drummer Ian Mosley - usually mister laid-back himself. And then there's Jigsaw, a true highlight; no progressive skulduggery but a beautiful ballad that shows Marillion's sense of dynamics, as well as the masterful emotional soloing of Steve Rothery.
This is my favorite album from Marillion's early period, and a good place to start of you're getting into this period. It is even better than the first album, even though that one is also rated 4/5 because of its greater historical importance.

1985 - Misplaced Childhood
* *

It is typical for Marillion that their most commercially successful album should also be their least interesting. But Misplaced Childhood is grotesquely overrated. It is a concept album about an aging rock star looking back at his youth. While this is all well and good, Misplaced Childhood does very little for me. If you should ever think Fish is a lyrical genius, I suggest you skip this record to track three and hear him sing "Lavenders green, dilly dilly lavenders blue, when you love me dilly dilly I will love you." Come on Derek, you can do better than this!
This album also gives us Kayleigh - scoring a radio hit is the worst thing a prog rock band can do. The ghost of this song (well, I must admit I can't say it's bad) haunts Marillion fans to this day, always having to explain that this band is so much more than a one hit wonder from the eighties!
Side one consists mostly of a sleek, polished, watered-down, dare I say commercial version of the old Marillion we know and love, mostly devoid of the anger and raw edge that made the previous albums so powerful.
Fortunately side two picks up the pace again, with Waterhole and the mini-epic Blind Curve, as well as the beautiful Childhood's End, but two-and-a-half good songs can't save an album.
Now, many people think Misplaced Childhood is the best album from the Fish era, or indeed Marillion's best album. Sure enough, there is much to enjoy; there are lots of Rothery solos and Kelly synths. And - apart from Lavender - the lyrics are top-notch. But overall, I must say that I think the other Fish-era albums are much better.

1987 - Clutching At Straws
* * * * *

Clutching at Straws has a special place in my heart - I got it for my eighth birthday and played it a lot. As far as I'm concerned, it is the absolute highlight of the Fish years, so this review won't be objective. Nevertheless, let's take a look at it.
Marillion perfected their sound in 1987. This album has everything good about early Marillion and then some. Mark Kelly's playing is becoming more and more subtle, but hasn't lost its eighties sound just yet - Just for the Record and Incommunicado see him playing his ass off. Steve Rothery and Pete Trewavas are brilliant as ever. Fish delivers some of the best work of his career - his voice would decline dramatically in years to come, but he's at his prime here, showing the full scope of his versatility. Angry, sad, cheerful, desperate, guilty and melancholic, screaming, snarling but also gentle and moving, he can do it all.
Highlights are numerous, such as White Russian, Slainte Mhath, Torch Song and Sugar Mice. And that Warm Wet Circles didn't become three times the hit Kayleigh ever was just baffles me.
This is the creative highlight of Marillion with the tall Scot and probably the best prog album of the eighties. Still, it would soon become apparent that the relationship between Fish and his band was ending...

Fish was struggling with love, drugs, alcohol and life on the road. Tensions were rising in the group, and Fish finally left, angry as ever, in 1988, with half a new album finished. It was the end of a short but fertile collaboration that was Marillion Mark I. But it wasn't the end of Marillion. Far from it.

To be continued...
Envois approuvés
Progressive Rock, Marillion


  • Mostlyanthony

    Let me start by saying that I'm not a fan of Fish to say it mildly, I'll always prefer Marillion with h, but I feel that "Lavender" is completely misunderstood. True, Fish can write better lyrics than that. The point is he DIDN'T write that part. "Lavender blue" is an old English nursery rhyme (check it on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavender_Blue )...and so it's a continuation of the line "Then I heard the children singing..." And well, children sing children's songs, you can't expect a child to recite Shakespeare, right?

    15 jui. 2009, 20h20m
  • Petula07

    I am beginner with Marillion so thank you for these guides - it's interesting for me to compare opinions of more fans :)

    31 jui. 2009, 13h19m
  • stefkeB

    I agree mostly, apart from loving Misplaced Childhood, which I prefer as a Marillion-with-Fish album.

    19 août 2009, 13h59m
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