It’s 1984, and I’m 15 years old. I’ve discovered a new album via a friend, and its gatefold cover immediately intrigues me; swarming with imagery and hidden meaning. I put the fresh vinyl onto my record deck and wait for it to start, already looking ahead through the printed lyrics on the sleeve…
So here I am once more in the playground of the broken hearts.
One more experience, one more entry in a diary, self-penned.
Yet another emotional suicide overdosed on sentiment and pride.
Too late to say I love you, too late to re-stage the play,
Abandoning the relics in my playground of yesterday…
They’re not so much lyrics as poetry. The album has just six songs; most of them are over 8 minutes long. Almost symphonic arrangements, properly anthemic guitar solos, extravagant drum fills, changes of tempo and mood, 5/4 or 7/8 time signatures, elliptical subject matter hidden within dense vocals, laden heavily with adjectives. There’s minor keys aplenty, loneliness, rejection, drug addiction, aristocratic ponces, soldier victims of the IRA, all smothered into 40-odd minutes of neo-prog-rock. This is Marillion’s debut album. I’m 15, I’m angsty, I don’t do pop music, I’ve hit the limits of my flirtations with heavy metal and been fed up with Queen since they went all Radio-friendly, but this is fucking amazing.
Marillion are still around, recording and touring with their original line-up, bar the frontman, lyricist and singer, Derek William Dick. No, he didn’t think his name was especially Rock, so changed it… to Fish.
I’ve only recently got into Spotify, and instead of using it to discover new music, I’ve been wallowing in guilty pleasures from my youth, namely Marillion. I don’t think I’ve listened to any of their music in 25 years, but it’s all come flooding back. Their first two/three albums were very important to my teenage self. I loved the complexity and the ambition of their music. I loved the richness of the poetry/lyrics (especially compared to the banalities of 1980s manufactured pop), and Fish’s retelling of broken relationships, thwarted romantic idealism and how this world is totally Fugazi all resonated with my confused sensibilities.
Looking back with nearly 30 years’ hindsight and perspective, the music still just about holds up. Of course they wear their influences pretty brazenly on their sleeve, particularly Peter-Gabriel-era-Genesis. But the poetry… now it kind of seems almost embarrassing. If I’m generous, it’s someone trying very, very hard to be clever but unable to edit themselves. What’s an emotional suicide, exactly? What else is a diary if not self-penned?
At its worst, it reminds me of William Pitt the Younger as portrayed in Blackadder III, a moping adolescent…
There is just one thing before I go… (confidentially) I’ve got this sort of downy hair developing on my chest – is that normal? Also, I get so lonely and confused. I’ve written a poem about it; maybe you’ll understand. “Why do nice girls hate me? Why…
Marillion were nailed on, perfect for the teenage Chris. Where I now smirk quietly and try to forgive myself for embracing this tosh so readily, I once embraced it, I loved its wordplay. Yes, I really did.
The Web – Marillion (Script for a Jester’s Tear)
The rain auditions at my window, its symphony echoes in my womb,
My gaze scans the walls of this apartment
To rectify the confines of my tomb…
…The flytrap needs the insects, ivy caresses the wall,
Needles make love to the junkies, the sirens seduce with their call.
Confidence has deserted me, with you it has forsaken me,
Confused and rejected, despised and alone,
I kiss isolation on its fevered brow
Security clutching me, obscurity threatening me,
Your reasons were so obvious as my friends have qualified.
I only laughed away your tears
But even jesters cry.
Fish has described the first album as ‘bedsit thoughts’, while the follow-up, Fugazi, was ‘hotel-room thoughts’. Which is immediately reflected in the album cover.
This time there was more anger, directed at women-as-demons (She Chameleon, Incubus), more relationship break-ups (Jigsaw, Emerald Lies) and in perhaps the most over-wrought, over-written and impenetrable song-lyrics I’ve ever seen, the final track, the titular Fugazi.
Vodka intimate, an affair with isolation in a Blackheath cell.
Extinguishing the fires in a private hell
Provoking the heartache to renew the licence.
Of a bleeding heart poet in a fragile capsule
Propping up the crust of the glitter conscience.
Wrapped in the christening shawl of a hangover
Baptised in the tears from the real.
Drowning in the liquid seize on the Piccadilly line, rat race
Scuttling through the damp electric labyrinth.
Caress Ophelia’s hand with breathstroke ambition
An albatross in the marrytime tradition.
Sheathed within the Walkman wear the halo of distortion,
Aural contraceptive aborting pregnant conversation.
She turned the harpoon and it pierced my heart
She hung herself around my neck…
I mean, WHAT? I’m not even sure Fish could explain this bollocks.It’s probably about alienation, or something.
This music meant an enormous amount to me for a couple of years at a pretty fundamental time. I was playing it the other day when Rachel overheard it and exclaimed her distaste. Apparently one of her teachers used to play it during lessons and walk around the class playing air guitar. That’s what Marillion was like for its fans. I can realise now that quite a lot of it is quite ridiculous.
But that hasn’t yet stopped me indulging this now very guilty pleasure. Forgotten Sons, anyone?