Thursday 8 January 2015

Marillion - Misplaced Childhood

"New" - a new or current album
"Old" - a previous release (possibly lost in the mists of time)
"New-New" - a new or current album from an artist that is unfamiliar to you (either partially (ie you know the name and what they sound like) or completely (ie never heard of them)
"New-Old" - a new or current album from an artist you know well
"Old-New" - a previous release from an artist that is unfamiliar to you
"Old-Old" - a previous release from an artist know well

This is, perhaps, a simplistic classification method.  Indeed, you could further the classification with an additional "New"/"Old" referring to ownership/purchase status - but to be honest it all starts to get confusing than (as if it wasn't already?)

OK, the last 12 months has thrown up a variety of "New-New" and "Old-New", and I've now run out of "New-Old".  So now it time for "Old-Old".
The next step is to stand in front of the shelves for a minute and wait for inspiration.

First off the racks:
Marillion - Misplaced Childhood

Aylesbury may sound like a non-descript, mudane, home-counties town, but was home to one of the most popular live venues (Friars, which has hosted performances by Free, Mott The Hoople, David Bowie, Genesis, The Police, Stiff Little Fingers and many many others).  It is also the hometown of John Otway, and in 1979 spawned the first incarnation of Marillion.
Formed in 1979 and taking their name from a J R R Tolkien book (how much more Prog can you get?) bu guitarist Steve Rothery and drummer Mick Pointer.  Derek Dick (better known as Fish to save sniggering at his surname) joined on vocals in 1981.  Mark Kelly (keyboards) and Pete Trewavas (bass) completed the line-up.

The band played Genesis/Pink Floyd/Van Der Graff Generator/Peter Hammill infused Prog Rock - probably not the wisest move against a backdrop of NWOBHM, Post-Punk New Wave, New Romantics and developing Synthesiser music and increased studio production techniques.
Probably not an immediately obvious recipe for success, but exposure, and positive reaction, on Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show led to EMI taking a punt.

First single "Market Square Heroes" was released in late 1982.  Whilst the A-Side was more of an anthemic (almost air-punching) rock track, the B Side showed Proggy-pretensions with the 17 minute "Grendel".
Their debut album 'Script For A Jesters Tear' came out in early 1983 and continued the musical backdrop - 6 tracks around the 7 or 8 minute mark was not necessarily the order of the day for most albums in 1983.  For the two singles culled from the album ("He Knows You Know" (the shortest track at 5:30) and "Chelsea Monday" it was necessary to edit the songs down to 4 minutes to make them palatable for radio play.)

The second album was titled 'Fugazi' (1984) - the name can be translated as being derived from fugacious meaning fading or transient, or a military slang term for f**ked up.
This is perhaps a reflection of the lead up to the recording of the album with original drummer Mick Pointer leaving, and a succession of drummers auditioned before Ian Mosely got the job, and the number of studios utlised in order to get the job finished.
This album squeezes in 7 tracks, but is ultimately not as good as the debut.  It just doesn't feel as focussed as the debut.  Later in the year though, the Live album 'Real to Reel' was released which showed just how strong the band were on stage.
Also on this tour, Fish announced that the bands next album was to have only two tracks, entitled "Side One" and "Side Two".

The outline story/concept was the result of a 12 hour acid trip, where Fish faced up to lost childhood memories, failed relationships, the impact of becoming successful, loss of inspiration and, as is the way with all good stories, ultimate redemption.  Effortlessly strung together, and featuring recurring musical motifs.  Drop the needle and Side One, Track One and you'll be happy to stay until the end of Side 2, Track 5 - it is a great way to spend 40 minutes, and on CD it feels even more seamless.

At the outset, EMI expressed concern about the bad going all "70s Prog" and recording a concept album.  These fears were alleviated when initial single "Kayleigh" hit number 2 in the UK Singles Chart.

The album starts with a spoken passage which (sort of) outlines the story, before the now familiar guitar opening for lead single "Kayleigh".  This segues into the second single "Lavender" (which also hit the Top 10).  In a departure for Marillion, this song had to be extended to make it into a single.
"Bitter Suite" is a 5 part movement combining atmospheric music (there is a touch of the Pink Floyd about it) under spoken poetry ("Brief Encounter"), developing into sung lyric ("Lost Weekend") before reprising the guitar motif from "Lavender", the melody (or a close approximation) is also revisited for "Blue Angel".  "Misplaced Rendezvous" tells a downbeat tale of a lost relationship, before rolling into another spoken passage which serves as an intro to the third single lifted from the album, "Heart Of Lothian".  This is a nationalistic track, and perhaps the strongest of the straight-ahead rock songs on the album.  Personally, I think it is the strongest of he three lifted singles, but performed the worst (shows you what I know then?).
(if you haven't got a CD player, now is the time to get up and turn the record over (unless you've got one of those super-duper, fangly-dangly 1980s record players which could play both sides with no human intervention)

An atmospheric keyboard introduction followed by pummeling drums opens up into a full on rock song with impassioned, almost snarling vocals, crashing cymbals and guitar histrionics.  "Lords Of The Backstage" kicks in maintaining the rock sound, although the vocal is more toned down.  Cynically, the instrumental nature of the song feels like it was written as purely a linking passage with lyrics added to keep the momentum of the story.  This may not be the case, but it does segue into "Blind Curve", possibly the most complex and ambitious and potentially epic track on the album.
Again built on 5 parts.  "Vocal Under A Bloodlight" is another tale of lost (or possibly unrequited love).  "Passing Strangers" is another brief tale in a similar vein.  This is followed by a truly magnificent Steve Rothery guitar solo lasting near a whole minute - at no point does a note sound out of place or forced.  The next part "Mylo" is a song of loss, based on a the death of a close friend.  Towards the end you can feel the confusion growing in the mind (and the voice) of the narrator.
"Perimeter Walk" is slower-paced with some shrill picked guitar, and moody atmospherics.  The lyrics sit below the music and are dark and moody, yearning for a lost childhood, before erupting into "Threshold", which questions whether the return of childhood in such a hostile world is a good thing?.
There is a familiar guitar refrain, and more picking guitars lead into "Childhoods End" - the point here being redemption, and the realisation that childhood is not lost, it continues to reside inside ("There is no childhoods end").
"White Feather" rounds of the album on a high - a call to arms following the tried an trusted "together we stand" principle.  The album fades on the refrain "I can't walk away no more".

EMI's reservations were perhaps true when they feared an overblown, prog concept album, with a potentially confusing story would die a death when placed before the public.  Well, in this case those reservations were entirely misplaced (geddit?), when the album was lapped up by the public and hit Number 1, topping 300,000 sales by the end of the year and continuing to be the bands most bankable album (not that they earn that much from it) - worldwide sales are estimated to be in excess of 2,000,000.  Not bad for a niche band, playing the sort of music that was supposed to be killed off by Punk in 1977.

Childhoods End? / White Feather

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