Tentative Review #11


(released 1984)

1. Assassing *****
2. Punch And Judy ****
3. Jigsaw ****1/2
4. Emerald Lies ****1/2
5. She Chameleon ****1/2
6. Incubus *****
7. Fugazi *****



Emerging as they did in the early 1980s, Marillion have endured a long reputation as a "throwback" to the original progressive rock scene. Their "original" (not quite, but let's not get too technical) lead singer, Fish, was frequently referred to as a pale imitation of Peter Gabriel, and the band itself was often regarded as a similarly pale imitation of Genesis. (Thus far, the most amusing manifestation of this tendency involved a reviewer against Ian Mosley if he would consider "doing a Phil" and taking over on lead vocals after Fish left.)

To be sure, some of this criticism is rooted in reality. Marillion, in their early years, frequently wore their influences on their sleeves. Some examples of their "throwback tendencies" here follow...

  1. King Crimson: the keyboard line to "He Knows You Know" is similar to the melody of "Frame By Frame".
  2. Yes: Fish took his nickname, in part, as a result of his appreciation of Chris Squire; "Script For A Jester's Tear" includes the line, "I'm losing on the roundabout".
  3. Jethro Tull: Fish later recorded a solo album entitled Songs From The Mirror.
  4. Genesis: the group did a cover of "I Know What I Like" early in their career; Fish has subsequently worked with Tony Banks.

In spite of this, however, I can't help but believe that much of the criticism imposed upon this group has been unwarranted. Many progressive fans, from my perspective, seem to have dismissed the group a bit easily -- though they may have lacked a certain degree of originality between their "choice of genre", much of the music which they came up with in their early years is actually of very high quality.

The aforementioned statement does not, sadly, apply to most of the output by the current Marillion. With Clutching At Straws, the group began to fall into more predictable mores; with Steve Hogarth as their lead singer, they've become little more than an ordinary neo-prog band.

In their early years, however, Marillion were among the best progressive groups of the '80s. Although substantially different musically, the quality of their output ranks with that of Discipline-era King Crimson.

Fugazi and Misplaced Childhood were the best albums released by the early group. The former, under consideration here, is unquestionably the most consistent Marillion release in terms of quality. All of the tracks on the album are worthy of at least a " * * * * " rating; three of the tracks merit " * * * * * " categorization.

The album begins with "Assassing", one of Fish's witty, pun-filled lyrics about the dismissal of former associate (Mick Pointer? Diz Minnit?). The entire lyric is based, quite literally, on a "play on words", likening verbal outmatching of said associate with the secret creeds of the original "Assassins" (a commentary on the nature of the music industry may be easily discerned here, of course). The music, also, is top-notch, with Kelly and Mosley setting a vaguely Middle-Eastern backdrop for the opening, and Rothery setting the mood the general song which follows. The solos of Rothery and Kelly in the middle section may be somewhat derivative, but they're no less good for being so. One also wonders if the percussive keyboard punches were meant as a parody of "Owner Of A Lonely Heart...

"Punch And Judy", the leadoff single from the album, tells the sordid tale of two make-believe lovers becoming trapped in unhappy domestic squalor. Fish's first-person depiction of the frustration of the male figure is extremely effective (and, by the standards of the American charts, the inclusion of the line "just slip in these pills and I'll be free" in a successful pop single must be regarded as highly unusual). The music doesn't really develop in this song as much as the others, but the keyboard setting at the beginning of the track is noteworthy.

The melodramatic "Jigsaw" contains prehaps the most obvious nod to early Genesis -- one section of the lyric contains the words, "the waiting room", "chambers", "visions", "ripples", "moon", "fountain", and "horizons" in the space of a few lines (with an obvious allusion to the Hackett/Banks instrumental section of "Firth Of Fifth" in the background). It's difficult for this reviewer to believe that something this cleverly obvious wasn't intended as an affectionate tribute, rather than as a blatant rip-off. As regards the rest of the song... the doomed romantic melodrama of the lyrics is perhaps a bit forced, and the transition from a keyboard spotlight to a full-band performance is perhaps a bit too obvious... but, other than this, it's another excellent track.

"Emerald Lies" and "Incubus" are the underrated gems of the album. The former has an extremely strong guitar/bass presence near the beginning of the work, as well as excellent percussive additions (though the keyboards are relatively muted until the end). The lyric, here, is one of Fish's early "grappling with the temptations of fame" tracks (his mockingly "highbrow" accent in the line, "Diamonded costume dripping shades of green" must be regarded as an act of high self-parody; moreover, one must wonder if the title is an allusion to drug addiction of some sort).

"Incubus" is an extremely underrated showcase piece (for both Fish's vocals and Mark Kelly's keyboards). Fish's depiction of self-obsessed paranoia is stunningly effective in this context (even if some of plays on words are a bit overly melodramatic...).

"She Chameleon" is another Kelly spotlight, using an organ setting to compliment Fish's metaphorical world of sexual licence on tours. The use of dissonance in the "Was it just a..." section is quite effective in marking the singer's change in mood from naive innocence to regretful memory.

This leaves "Fugazi", possibly the greatest song that Marillion ever recorded. The lyric matter touches on matters both personal (alcoholism, insanity, isolation in general) and public (Vietnamese deportations, Nazi revivals, Brixton racial politics), merging the two forms in a highly effective manner. Fish's lyrical skills reach a few new heights here (despite the occasional awkward line). As regards the music, it is to be noted that the keyboards lines used here are rather more diverse than in previous Marillion lines. The military drums in the concluding section were a nice touch as well...

In summary, then... despite the fact that Marillion are generally not the most respected of all progressive bands, the open-minded listener may nevertheless find quite a bit to appreciate here.

The Christopher Currie

(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 14 May 1997)

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