After a recent Desert Island MP3s post, I ended up going through a bunch of related videos, as one does on Youtube. Judging by the Youtube comments on these songs -always a reliable source- a lot of people who like 80s music are pretty sad the decade is over and wish they could be back there. I’ve never really felt that level of nostalgia as now is clearly so much better than then, with one giant exception.
That’s because I rediscovered an old favourite: Marillion. I’m not going to do a DIMP3s on them because they really reward taking the audio journey that the whole album provides rather than specific songs, but luckily I have so much more to say anyway!
You see, deep down I really, really wish I’d been in the right place and time to be a part of the Marillion scene around the early 80s. A part of the collection of hippies, stoners and wide-eyed nerds that I imagine surrounded a band like this, raging against the modern world and trying to preserve lost mysticism.
Marillion as a band were doing their level best to keep the mysticism alive. Just look at the album covers; they have so much symbolism crammed into every corner that it’s probably more symbolic to see what didn’t make it in. I mean, look at this:
I dream of being here going “That’s great guys, but can we also fit in a lightning bolt that forks but rejoins itself?”
I fully admit I’m probably romantising far too much; imagining long conversations about literature alongside shady brooks and expeditions into ancient wild woods for inspiration. It’s fake nostalgia on my part for a time and zeitgeist that was itself built on nostalgia. The band’s name is short for “Silmarillion”, as in the Tolkien book. Tolkien’s works are full of longing for England past and you can’t miss the running theme in the music about the tragedy of leaving childhood and anger that the world has to be so uncaring about it. Many of the other notable songs cover love and heartbreak; standard musical fare but elevated here by Marillion’s fantastic lyrics.
The lyrics are special; weird, wonderful things that sometimes don’t make any sense, full of odd slang, allusions to nursery rhymes but above all passion. I wish I could have been there to help workshop the songs, which I fondly imagined happened in the upstairs room of a pub or at a band practice in someone’s shed on a farm or something equally English.
It’s unfair to talk about how good the lyrics are without quoting some, so here’s an example from Misplaced Childhood, which is probably the album I’ve listened to most. It was hard to keep myself from just putting down entire songs – you really can just drop iinto an album at random and find great wordsmithing – but I’ve restricted myself to a snippet from Childhood’s End? I’ve always liked:
And it was morning
And I found myself mourning,
For a childhood that I thought had disappeared
I looked out the window
And I saw a magpie in the rainbow, the rain had gone
I’m not alone, I turned to the mirror
I saw you, the child, that once loved
The child before they broke his heart
Our heart, the heart that I believed was lost
Of course, fancy lyrics are nothing without the music to accompany them. Luckily, the soundscape is good too. It’s rich and complex, but rarely gets overcomplicated just for the sake of technique. Fish as vocalist (and it fits perfectly that the lead singer is called Fish) brings the music and lyrics to beautiful life. He’s an excellent singer, soft and delicate when gentleness is called for but not afraid to almost snarl out the words when passionate anger is needed.
It’s not for everyone; I could certainly understand if you were to find them pretentious and overblown. I’ve never looked into their later albums (they’re actually still going) for fear of finding out that they’ve lost the intensity of imagination. But even now I’ll relisten to Script For A Jester’s Tear, Fugazi or Misplaced Childhood and secretly wish that right now I was a burnt out roadie with a huge beard, living in a caravan in a patch of wild wood, surviving on memories and by selling carvings of mystical beasts in a market town. And I’d still be a romantic, pining for the magic.