Tag Archives: Marillion

Pop shots Fader

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Why is pop still so scared of the vagina?

Why indeed?

And it’s not just pop per-se: popular cultural morés in general often present as being at odds with female biology even whilst commodifying (female) sexuality embodied therein…

e.g.

Pornographic representation of in-vaginal ejaculation is so novel it occupies its own, minority-interest ‘kink’ category (‘creampie‘, if you’re interested): the converse ubiquity of ejaculation on faces and/or breasts (as far as possible from the vagina, note) and anal sex.

Public breast-feeding remains a matter of consternation and misunderstanding, despite those practicing it having ‘enjoyed’ http://www.maternityaction.org.uk/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/breastfeedingpublicplace.pdf since 2010; restrictions on its portrayal via social media. Showing breasts is only a (moral, if not actually legal) crime it seems, when they’re actually functioning as breasts; rather than as a sexual fetish.

The increasingly visible recourse to accusations/diagnoses of Transphobia/Cissexism within public discourse, with the tacit purpose of disabling such discourse: embodying the increasingly-fashionable Post-Modern notion that female-ness is a psychosexual ‘identity’ divorced from reproductive biology, and that any suggestion to the contrary is offensive, albeit to a small minority.

The longstanding trend towards employing girls/women with ‘masculine’ (i.e. tall, lean, not-so-curvy) physiques as models in fashion.

What is it ‘we’ don’t want to see? You’d think femaleness were a terrible thing indeed, that we might be blinded by the light of it. ‘This little wound women have… it frightens me.’ spoke the artist-seducer Reynolds in Anaïs Nin’s A Model’ . Seems it frightens a lot of people. Maybe it should?

From The Fader article:

‘Why is pop scared of pregnancy? Aside from the fact that women are so often presented as objects not subjects available for consumption in their own music videos—an illusion that’s broken by the sight of a pregnant bump—perhaps it’s something to do with that old nightmare of “having it all.” Ever since the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s—when sexual morals shifted, independence celebrated, and more women began to enter the workplace—women have been split into workers and nurturers.’

Having it all‘ is a phrase once often deployed to knock down women who dared to step outside of their male-prescribed, supposed limitations, especially if they performed too well. Overt, incontestible evidence of female reproductive power is an affront to those of us who claim to have the red telephone to woman-central at our fingertips. Whilst some of us non-females show aptitude as both workers and nurturers, there’s still that one thing we can’t do. And it’s no coincidence that artists such as Cherry and Björk who unashamedly bare – and revel in – their femaleness are also high-achieving and indisputably icons. Bjrk writes of

‘”(the) “biological” process of heartbreak: “the wound and the healing of the wound.” But, let’s be real: it also looks like a vagina! Which is, of course, the anatomical source of the family unit that she mourns on “Family,” following the breakdown of her relationship. Where do I go to make an offering, she sings, To mourn our miraculous triangle: father, mother, child.'”

(Which the Po-Mo set might seize on as homophobic, unjustly: even Elton in full indignance is grounded enough to realize he can’t have his kids without female participation. There’s good reason to interrogate the wisdom of IVF and other ‘reproductive technologies’ but that’s a debate for another day.)

She knows.

When Marillion‘s Steve Hogarth wrote the words for The Wound he was in the same metaphorical space, I think; albeit from a necessarily incomplete, male perspective:

Finally, here’s a good – and apposite – one from the vault:

 

 

 

Out of the box…

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A tenuous link to be sure – not so much comment or reflection on the recent Frank Maloney brouhaha: the song was inspired by Mikes Tyson and Jackson; with bonus OJ Simpson years back – as an ex use to throw up a good tune:

‘Is this what it means to be a man, boxing up all your emotions?’

‘Now the ring is just a band of gold.’ Indeed.

A lyrical dissection of masculinity worth revisiting for all that. As for our Frank‘….

Call me cynical if you will, but there’s a whiff of ‘career re-launch’ hanging about that ‘story’.

Merry Xmas… with bells on!

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Had a bit more to drink than intended last nite so work today was a little more effort than it needed to be. Only fifteen lunches to cook so not too much of a trial though. Thanks to my good friend Sam for the loan of her couch for the nite, and Wayne for his company this evening. Managed to catch up with Mum & Dad, my sister Angela and my lovely girlfriend Julia by phone (she’s visiting family) so all in all, an Xmas well-spent. Off to bed in a mo – work again tomorrow before a clear run of a week off to carry me on to the new year.

Yay!

So without further ado here’s my Christmas song for the year, Marillion’s just-released charity single, their version of the traditional song ‘Carol Of The Bells‘:

If you like what you hear then click on the link to download the song in either iTunes or regular mp3 formats for just 79p. Alternatively, you can give a few quid directly to the Matt Elworthy Fund (or my lovely employer, The Sussex Beacon) whether you like the song or not: Matt, a resident of Marillion‘s hometown, Aylesbury is recovering from an operation to remove a brain tumour.

Goodwill…

Fresh from the vault (11)

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There was much to like about Dream Theater‘s latest, self-titled 2013 release. Despite that neither of its two trailer singles, The Enemy Inside and Along For The Ride immediately grabbed me; and that the album as a whole does little to expand the band’s musical horizons. it’s an album that I’ve continued to play sporadically since purchase and has grown in my estimation with repeat listening. Understated harmonic references to the band’s own career history are juxtaposed with less-subtle allusions to its influences (particularly Canuck power-trio, Rush) and whilst they’ve not skimped on compositional depth and complexity, there’s a smoothness and accessibility, combined with expert pacing, to the songs which makes it compelling: very much an album-long listen rather than playlist fodder. It’s revelatory rather than revolutionary: a consolidation and refinement of what they’ve learned over their 30+ year career.

So if you’ll forgive me, I’m not exactly criticizing that album when I say I think they’ve managed this particular balancing act as well if not even better before. Octavarium (2005) is regarded by many as the definitive DT album, alongside the Images And Words sophomore effort: I favour the former. DT‘s first three albums (and also the A Change Of Seasons mini-album) have a thrilling exploratory quality, reflecting an ambition to marry classic pop and hard rock influences to ’80s metal bombast . Ironically, whilst not so well-received by some fans, it was their forth, ‘trying too-hard’ (for accessibility) – Falling Into Infinity (1995) – which marked a turning point. Octavarium represents in some ways a return to that mode of writing, albeit undertaken in a more honest spirit: there are parallels with the career of one of Mike Portnoy‘s musical influences, Marillion. Both bands had an unlikely ‘hit’ (Pull Me Under and Kayleigh respectively); both faced record company pressure – to no avail – to write another; and both gravitated of their own accord towards a more streamlined ‘pop’ mode of writing later on in their careers, and significantly, once said company pressure was lifted. Intriguingly, both albums (Octavarium and .com) climax with an archetypal prog epic featuring headfuck widdly keyboard solos that explode out of nowhere (Octavarium and Interior Lulu).

…[so] this is where we came in…

Of Mike Portnoy‘s 12-Step suite – which in light of his and the band’s parting of the ways is now unlikely to be played in full as a live set, more’s the pity – The Root Of All Evil is perhaps the track that works best as a stand-alone song, certainly since 6DOIT barnstorming opening gambit The Glass Prison. If you own the Score DVD/Blu-Ray – a must-buy for any hardened DT fan, as well as a perfect introduction for newbies wishing to explore their varied career-history – you’ll know that it’s also a showstopping intro to their live set. ‘…tidily mixing heavy riffs with some progressive moments…’ to quote band biographer Rich Wilson. They follow it – in that show – with I Walk Beside You, a song which the band freely admitted showcased the members’ love of more commercial stadium rock acts including Coldplay and U2.

Now, DT has attracted its fair share of fan-disapprobation over the years for wearing its influences too boldly on its collective sleeve at times – of especial note, in addition to the above is Systematic Chaos (2007) which appeared to ape both Evanescence (melodically and lyrically, on Forsaken) and Muse (Prophets of War). Cynics have on occasion interpreted these as attempts to leaven their determinedly-virtuostic compositional approach with a little popular appeal. Actually, I’m not sure I completely disagree; but I’m certain that I don’t object. Sure, I can hear what said detractors are hearing, but I could care less because all the aforementioned are great songs.

The Answer Lies Within reminds me of nothing so much as a superior Elton John, even – horror of horrors, Robbie Williams –  ballad. Lyrically, it benefits from a simplicity that suggests (guitarist and lyricist) John Petrucci didn’t spend too long sequestered away with his thesauruses and dictionaries; and the string accompaniment from a stripped-down contingent of Jamshied Sharifi‘s Octavarium Orchestra is tasteful. It’s a strong piece of songwriting. Later, both Never Enough and Panic Attack (the former especially) attest to Portnoy‘s and the band’s love of Muse (the band occasionally performed Stockholm Syndrome, a song witha passing resemblance to DT, at soundcheck or as an encore). The latter’s song Assassin – from Black Holes and Revelations (2006) – might lead one to wonder if the Teignmouth trio haven’t returned the inspirational compliment: the resemblance to Panic Attack is uncanny and it’s not insignificant that Black Holes… is, in this writer’s opinion the finest example in recent years of progressive ambition and mainstream appeal coexisting in sweet, mutually-beneficial harmony.

The album ends with two satisfyingly ‘proggy’ epics; Sacrificed Sons and the five-part title track. The former features a rare lyrical credit for secretly-Canadian singer James LaBrie, inspired by 9/11. To quote Wilson (above) again ‘…The danger of such a topic, is that it could become over-politicized, mawkish, insensitive or even sanctimonious … the band just about carry it off…’ I think Wilson’s being less-than-generous: LaBrie handles the subject matter deftly and humanely, avoiding the obvious pitfalls of glorifying ‘The West’ and demonizing the Islamic terrorists. Musically, it’s dramatic not melodramatic and the second track to utilize the added depth only an orchestra can bring.

Octavarium (the song) is 24 minutes of showboating and homage, yet the attention to musical detail and obvious fun had by the band in composing and performing it save it from becoming a leaden exercise in indulgence. In classic ‘symphonic’ mode it moves smoothly (with one notably-dramatic exception) and confidently thru five ‘movements’ building drama along the way. It’s a masterclass in tension and release; surpassing their previous ‘symphonic’ high water-mark A Change Of Seasons and pointing the way to The Count Of Tuscany (Black Clouds And Silver Linings, 2009) which remains for me the apotheosis if DT‘s take on that style.  The live version documented on Score (and backed by a full orchestra, below) takes the song to even greater heights.

Like Dream Theater, Octavarium derives much of its strength as a piece from both its allusions to the band’s own history and its influences, albeit clever and well-chosen ones, delivered at times with a nod and a wink and at others with subtlety and reverence. It’s a conceptual album in more ways than one, with an overarching theme metaphorically relating the career of the band at that point to the musical octave (from which the title, Octavarium also derives, it being DT‘s eighth album) and also chock full of ‘nuggets’ of musical detail for attentive listeners to unearth. A whole blog post could be devoted to this aspect alone, and helpfully, one enterprising fan has already done just that. A couple such nuggets Spetang appears to have missed (in reference to the aforementioned titular song-cycle) are a bar of the Phantom Of The Opera theme at 11.37 and a the first phrase of Jingle Bells interpolated at 17.47. There are probably more yet…

Octavarium is the most complete DT album for me: it showcases every facet of their musical style and the songwriting is consistently-strong. The title track alone is worth the price of admission.

3rd time lucky: Pripyatic

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Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery has a new instrumental side project The Ghosts of Pripyat scheduled to be released in September of next year. It’s his first solo outing proper after a couple ‘false starts’…

‘I had an offer to record a solo album from EMI during the recording of Misplaced Childhood in 1985. However it led to a strong disagreement within the band and the idea was shelved. While recording the Brave album at Miles Copeland’s chateau in France I was offered a deal to make an instrumental album for his “No Speak” label, however, I decided to record the first Wishing Tree album instead. Fast forward another twenty years and I’m invited to play at the annual Plovdiv guitar festival in October 2013. Having committed to the festival it left me with the small problem of what to play for an hour. “Blues in A” just wasn’t going to cut it. I had a few strong ideas and got together for a couple of writing sessions with my good friend and fellow guitarist Dave Foster. Dave and I have a great musical chemistry which brought forth a lot of amazing music. After a couple of days rehearsal with the fantastic rhythm section of Leon Parr and Yatim Halimi I realised this was going to be something really special. The live album and video from the performance gives you an idea of where the finished album, “The Ghosts of Pripyat”, will go…’

He’s financing the release via Kickstarter, the popular crowd-funding platform that so resembles Marillion‘s long-established business MO and it surpassed its (modest) funding target on launch day (yesterday and also the man’s birthday). But don’t that let it stop you from chipping in if you like what you hear…

Unrestrained by the structural demands of Marillion‘s familiar songwriting style, Rothery‘s playing takes on a different dynamic; a melodic lead that is by turns less fiery and more richly-realised . The above montage of clips evidences a sound somewhat removed from his day job, though fans of that band might notice passing similarities to past instrumental breaks such as The Opium Den and Cathedral Wall. The harmonic choices and elegant phrasing are identifiably Rothers yet… different. Bold, languid and, dare one say, a little indulgent. White Pass (below) begins with chords that faintly remind of Jordan Rudess‘ opening to the Someone Like Him section of Dream Theater‘s Octavarium; noodles gently awhile before subtly gaining momentum.

It’s plaintive and gently compelling, and whilst I could have survived with a couple minutes less noodling in the early part of the song it effectively showcases the tasteful mastery of mood that Rothery brings to the table at The Racket Club. If I have one overarching criticism it’s that the ululating crescendo never really reaches a satisfying climax: it just kinda peters out awkwardly and abruptly; the ‘great chemistry’ Rothers alludes to (above) failing to coalesce into a stable musical molecule.

So this is not about tight, technically-adventurous musical showmanship so much as carefree, melodic rambling to stir the soul. In a way, it falls between two stools; insofar as it’s a bit too interesting to serve as ambient chill-out fare, whilst not demonstrating the full-blooded chops that will start the virtuoso-twitchers stroking their beards in wonderment. It possesses a little of the gently psychedelic quality of early Porcupine Tree, something that Rothery‘s Marillion bandmate, bassist Pete Trewavas explores with his Edison’s Children project.

Speaking of Mr Trewavas, and full-blooded chops; Transatlantic (his collaboration with Mike Portnoy [Dream Theater, Winery Dogs, Flying Colors], Roine Stolt [Flower Kings, Kaipa] and Neal Morse [Spock’s Beard, Flying Colors]) are set shortly to unleash their forth studio project, Kaleidoscope upon the world . The pre-order opens on December 10.

So, a good time to be a Marillion fan and/or an aficianado of what was once dubbed ‘underground music’. Underappreciated? Maybe. Priapic, sorry Pripyatic? Sure. But go knock yourselves out…

Hold your breath … ’til you feel it begin…

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Further to ‘Lightbulb Moment…’ here’s a taster for the upcoming Edison’s Children album The Final Breath Before November:

The Final Breath is the opening cut from the new album and hints at something darker than In The First Waking Moments, pushing further into ‘gothic’ territory: in particular (singer, Eric) Blackwood‘s breathy vocal is faintly-reminiscent of Fields Of The Nephilim‘s Carl McCoy.  Musically I’m also reminded of the lush, spacious textures (that band) peddled on The Nephilim and Elizium, also by Levitation especially on the moodier second half of Need For Not, and Gazpacho‘s Night conceptual opus. These are albums that build intricate layers of sound into immersive mood trips, whether by alternating post-rock style repetitive riffs with explosions of muscular prog or interpolating evocative tonal details and haunting synth washes.

Pete Trewavas and Eric Blackwood are no slouches in the musicianly stakes, but it was utilizing these kinds of writing and recording ‘tricks’ that made In The Last Waking Moments such a memorable album, rather than in yo’ face showboating. Conversely, whilst neither are technically-proficient singers, their pleasingly-raw delivery and sincerity impart real character into the songs.

Here’s hoping their ‘Final Breath…‘ is nothing of the sort…

This track does it’s job as a teaser well: it gives little away yet leaves an indelible impression. I want to hear more…

Lightbulb moment (his Children’s children)

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This is kinda one of my ‘Fresh From The Vault’ posts by any other name, albeit with benefits and shiny pre-order knobs on. One of my favourite albums of last year (it was recorded and released in 2011, I was a little late to the party) was the transcendental In The Last Waking Moments by Anglo-American duo, Edison’s Children.

Never heard of them, right? Fair enough, no reason you would’ve; but within the demographic best-predisposed to like them they’re already superstars. The other half, alongside singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Eric Blackwood, is Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas, and few bands do audience-engagement in the internet era as effectively as Marillion. It’s the ’80s band that refused to die – should’ve, some might say – but in spite of having had its commercial heyday some two decades previously, its never been in better musical and financial health. Of the five-strong membership, Trewavas has long been the most musically accomplished and promiscuous, and like his best-known extra-curricular projects, EC fits in somewhere on the prog rock spectrum, albeit a million miles away from anything he’s recorded with Marillion, Kino or Transatlantic. It’s closer in tone to early/mid-period Porcupine Tree – before Steven Wilson got chummy with Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) and imbibed a draft from the poisoned spring of Death Metal – and the widescreen Gothic melodrama of Fields of the Nephilim, minus Carl McCoy‘s ‘from beyond the grave’ baritone. That said, there’s more than enough originality there for the project to stand on its own merits; and it possesses certain qualities rare enough to be considered remarkable in today’s – more than ever – saturated musical marketplace

ItLWM is a real headphones album, a seductive, immersive sonic universe that is almost fiendishly well imagined.  Although the pace rarely rises above that of a leisurely ramble across the moors (80bpm, say) there’s an understated, rolling urgency in its beats and chords that sweeps up and carries the listener as surely and powerfully as a driving trance anthem or moshpit filler. It’s just not possible to hear this as a set of stand-alone songs: in an iPod age where the album form has been eroded by download-overload, ItLWM remains stubbornly shuffle-resistant. Cue up Dusk and you’ll find yourself in it for the (70min) duration – which is no mean feat. Wall-to-wall brilliance was rare enough in the age of the LP: 35-40 minutes of flawless composition and performance is a big-enough ask and the number of consistently-listenable double sets even in that golden age a select group. The advent of CD made the 60, then 70 and now 80 minute – effectively double – albums a possibility and in some quarters an expectation. Quality was bound to suffer, if not always, then often: Prog rock aside, Hip Hop and R’n’B records have been especially prone to padding out decent records with material that, in days gone by would have been relegated to single b-sides.

So It’s notable that the final running order for ItLWM was culled from an initial burst of creativity that ran to nearly 50 demo’d songs: hard work, great chemistry and also quality control made that album what it is. The songwriting is consistently strong, and whilst it’s ostensibly a concept album – Sci-Fi gubbins themed around alien abduction; plenty of scope for pitfalls into stinky, cloying Gorgonzola already; deftly-avoided, mind  – it’s the strength of its musical themes that lend it coherence as a piece. The four part Fallout sequence dispersed thruout the album recalls the similarly-structured Marbles theme from the Marillion album of that name; still regarded as a high-watermark of its 30-year career by many. There’s a whiff of Another Brick In The Wall in Fracture. A Million Miles Away  comes from the same stable of confident, mature pop rock as Don’t Hurt Yourself – albeit with a darker edge – also from Marbles. The album is rich in intriguing sonic detail: back-projected, tinkling, burbling samples, squeeks and washes that convey atmospheric depth – this an obvious point of comparison with the aforementioned Nephilim – and impart a sense of unity to the collected songs. The middling pace is broken on occasion: Outerspaced is a demented stomp rocker; Aerosmith in their drug-addled vintage transported to the restaurant at the end of the universe. And The ‘Other’ Other Dimension almost overplays the gently psychedelic element that elsewhere simply suffuses and underpins the songwriting. Totally overplays it, actually, it’s a bit silly, in a Viv Standhall-as-Dr Who kinda way. But these diversions just serve to add colour to an already rich palette in the end. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable journey, all told. The story, such as it is, remains as opaque as Dream Theater‘s Scenes From A Memory was until I looked it up on the Wikipedia page; but I still feel I was taken somewhere, which after all is what the best prog – hell, music – is supposed to do.

So I was understandably excited to receive today’s email from marillion.com updating me on the progress of Edison’s Children‘s sophomore release. It’s going to be called The Final Breath Before November. As before, it’s predominantly the work of Trewavas and Blackwood – with the duo handling all the guitars, keys and digital wizardry, vocals, recording and production – plus support from a handful of collaborators including Henry Rogers (DeeExpus/Touchstone) on drums and Wendy Farrell-Pastore on additional vocals. With Trewavas fielding a full schedule touring with his day job and working intermittently on the next Transatlantic album the man is clearly on fire, and if the last album is anything to go by, Blackwood makes for him an excellent creative foil. As Marillion have previously done since 1997, EC are employing a crowd funding model and fans wishing to buy-in early can support the upcoming release by heading over to the EC pledge page HERE .

TFBBN has a lot to live up to and I don’t mind stoking the flames of expectation a little higher.

p.s.

Having mentioned Kino and Transatlantic up top, it seems churlish not to include a little of their brilliance into the mix. Check ’em out too:

(Bit of an epic this one – amazing gig, though; and I can vouch for that cos I was there 😉 )