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Main Category: Prog Rock
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Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1983
Overall rating =

Proof that faithful imitations can work if the object of imitation is well understood.


Track listing: 1) Script For A Jester's Tear; 2) He Knows You Know; 3) The Web; 4) Garden Party; 5) Chelsea Monday; 6) Forgotten Sons.

Marillion had actually been practising their craft for some time before they were let in the studio, and the six songs recorded here were nothing new to them when they hooked up the mikes and cables. In fact, the recent 2-CD edition of the album adds an entire bunch of contemporary material that was recorded by them more or less at the same time (including the 19-minute epic 'Grendel'!), but I don't have that one, so I'll only concentrate on the songs they made public in that memorable year of 1983. "Public", of course, doesn't mean "popular", but that is probably understood - in the face of ZZ Top's Eliminator and Bowie's Let's Dance, what kind of chance could these guys have?

Not that they have much now, either. The typical association is that of "Marillion = imitated Genesis", and whoever wishes to hold this under suspicion will most certainly encounter a short and swift defeat. Already on the very first album, it is seen how much the vocal of Fish is similar to the Peter Gabriel vocal, and it's not just the tone or pitch or nerdiness of the voice that upholds the association, it's also the theatrical approach - the use of different intonations, complex, intricate modulation, "personified" delivery, etc. etc. In addition to that, guitarist Steve Rothery is an obvious Hackett fan, and on several numbers he even seems to be using the very same pedal Hackett used to create the timeless 'Firth Of Fifth' solo. (Not too soon - considering that in 1983 he certainly sounded more authentically Hackett-like than Hackett himself). Can't say anything notable about the other guys, because they don't seem to be sticking out too much, but overall, quite a few atmospheres on here recall Genesis.

What is missed, I think, in these comparisons is that reducing Script For A Jester's Tear to nothing but a pure (not to mention inferior) Genesis imitation misrepresents the situation... and actually, serves as the major cause for casual Marillion dismissal ("oh, these guys are just pathetic clones of the Great Ones, and they can't actually write a memorable melody to save their life"). Yet there's the rub: on their very first album, Marillion certainly place the theatrical aspect of their music high above the melodic aspect of their music. Another thing is that the lyrics have nothing to do with Peter Gabriel - and the whole approach to lyrics seems to have rather been inherited by the band from Peter Hammill, another undeniable huge influence. Gabriel used to sing about global themes, incorporating fantasy sequences, universal metaphors, subtle sarcasm and immense erudition; Fish sings mainly about personal problems - lost love, drugs, depression, misanthropy, isolationism, all of these in the same camp as Hammill's "me-against-the-whole-world" attitude.

Which means I'm intrigued - even if none of the melodies really stick in my head, and in fact, I'm not always sure if there are melodies. This album shouldn't be judged by its melodic quality, just as it would be utterly, totally useless to judge solo Peter Hammill by his melodic quality (or Patti Smith for that matter, or Leonard Cohen, or, come to think of it, Bryan Adams, too!). It's more like a sophisticated prog-theater updated for the Eighties; Fish is the 'Hamlet', and the backing band are just the supporting cast disguised as musicians. And as prog-theater, it really works.

Of course, not all of it works; essentially, it all depends on how well Fish gets his part across, and to a slightly lesser extent, on how does the only other musically significant member (Rothery; I'm absolutely unimpressed with Mark Kelly's stereotypical keyboard playing, even if he never lets his mediocrity overshadow the good guys) complement his emotional rasping. This works particularly well on the title track - a complex tale of a lost love, which goes from a soft piano intro into all-out rocking territory, with a bunch of excellent solos from Rothery, and then ends in a moody depressing, and yet surprisingly tender, passage which brings to mind the heavenly closing of 'The Musical Box'. It's actually very important that on the very first song in their discography Marillion were able to create such an excellent sequence of moods, and demonstrate they weren't really just coasting on the successes of their betters, but actually understood that beauty and resonance were really more than just an optional ingredient for solid prog-rock. Everything here is bent to one purpose, to recreate the atmosphere of lonely romantic gloom, and while lonely romantic gloom has certainly seen better days in its lifetime, in 1983 it was certainly way too senile and way too old-fashioned to be done better by anybody else.

Another great track is 'Chelsea Monday' (Chelsea! Yeah! No '53rd And 3rd' from these guys!), where Rothery absolutely cooks with these guitar solos, serving as Steve Hackett's long-lost brother - more power to you, brother, if the solos are actually good, and they are. The lyrics are, of course, struggling: so many songs have been written about vapour-headed girls dreaming of their Eldorados while stuck in drab suburban reality that it's hard to imagine all these "catalogue princess, apprentice seductress buried in her cellophane world in glitter town" lines to make us go whoah, but at the very least there's nothing banal about them, and that's more than you could actually ask for. Besides, don't forget about the 1983 factor. They needed at least somebody to tell things the way they were. The older generation, of course, had their Ray Davieses and George Harisons for them, but the younger one was just starting to have Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.

I'm also a sucker for the album closer 'Forgotten Sons', a somewhat more aggressive track than everything else (appropriately enough, being dedicated to the fighting in Ireland), with some harsh funky rhythms carrying the tune forward until it grinds to a near-chaotic halt in what to me looks like their tribute to 'The Knife', and then ends the album upon another climactic note. (Although I must confess that it's goddamn hard to distinguish all the climactic parts on this album, since each and every one of them is marked by exactly the same Rothery-Hackettoid pedal tone and extremely similar chord sequences. D-d-d-disclaimer: similar, but not equal. I checked that specially).

And finally, while 'He Knows You Know' never seems to act like the fans' favourite, I like the song's angry progression and the way it carries its anti-drug message. Now here the lyrics are easily the best thing about the song. You'll have to find me a better description of the lamentable consequences than "singing psychedelic praises to the depths of the china bowl" if you wish to disagree, and then there are neat little touches like repeating the same line ("you got venom in your stomach, you got poison in your head") thrice, yet rhyming it with a different one each time ("you should have listened to the priest at the confession when he offered you the sacral bread", "you should have listened to your analyst's questions when you lay on his leather bed", etc.). If this is not genius, at least it is a typical trademark of a skilful craftsman, and this commands respect. Oh yeah, the melody is fine, too.

The two tracks that don't do anything for me come right in the middle: 'The Web' is very long, has very perfunctory guitar solos (except for one cool bit where Rothery all of a sudden flies away into the sky like he's Carlos Santana or something!), very little vocal modulation of any interest (except for a few cool bits where Fish engages in goofy falsetto), and very little emotional power; and 'Garden Party' is supposed to be an angry society-bashing track judging from the lyrics, but the melody is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Way too bouncy and cheerful to be 'pissed-off', yet never too cheerful to provide an eyebrow-raising contrast to the lyrics. Frankly, I just don't know what to do with it. Should we dump it on a Marilyn Manson album and pretend we never heard it?

On the boring predictable forgiving part, though, Script For A Jester's Tear isn't really supposed to be split into separate songs. Like every normal "script", it's simply subdivided into small episodes, not to be realized without the support of each other. It's traditionalist and conservative (for friggin' 1983 - had it been released ten years earlier, it would have been groundbreaking. But then again, so would have been Britney Spears if somebody locked her in a time machine and sent her flying for the Stone Age), but sometimes it turns out that conservatives speak out much brighter and clearer in those periods when they are particularly closely surrounded by innovators, and that's the case of this album. What can I say? Fish wins me over with this one.



Year Of Release: 1984

More of the same = not as good. No, no, no, I'm not going to persist that Fugazi sounds exactly like Script, only with a new drummer (Ian Mosley). There are differences. Slight ones. The tunes, I guess, are often more rhythmic than before, and if I make a wild guess about the songs being more complex than before, I really hope professional musicologists won't turn their heads away in disgust. They're also adding little tiny weeny petty distinct 'modifications' and 'gimmicks' into the sound that weren't there before; Script kinda introduced every song as it was and rolled it over to the very conclusion, but Fugazi is a little bit more sensitive towards 'arranging' and 'fleshing out' the compositions, padding them out with stuff that really doesn't seem to belong, but then after a few listens finally merges with the main bulk of the composition with a happy heavy grunt.

In other words, as befalls any respectable neo-prog band, they're neo-progressing. The bad news is that unless you really really wanna love this band, you won't be able to notice that progress, or even if you notice it, you won't think much of it; because the essence is just the same - more or less hookless, unmemorable tunes with a lot of whaling fish, er, sorry, a lot of Fish wailing. Me, I appreciated the theatrics once, but second time around, it's a little less fresh; with the unpredictability factor gone, you pretty much know what you're going to get, and that makes me unhappy.

Still, I can't deny that the album starts out really strong. 'Assassing' is the most inventive of the compositions, mainly because of the intro: looks like they're taking their cues from solo Gabriel as well as from his earlier band career, because the thumping ethnic percussion there is very much akin to what Pete himself had been doing just a few years ago. There are also sitars and Indian/Arabian motives (Arabian, I guess - they have to do with the 'assassin' motive, right?), and then the song suddenly transforms into a brisque, sarcastic funk-rocker (really, there's disco bass and syncopated funky guitar, even if they disappear pretty quickly) before Fish finally steps in declaring that 'I am the assassin, with tongue formed from eloquence'. There's enough energy and funny Fish histerics in the song to last it through seven minutes, even if I don't remember anything when it's over.

Then there's also 'Punch & Judy', which is a really really interesting song that again reminds me a little bit of Gabriel, but this time of the shorter character-portrayal Genesis songs like 'Harold The Barrel'. It's a short and compact tune dealing with family disorder, and the song's tricky time signature and Fish's overdriven jerky delivery match the subject perfectly; proof that Marillion could get away with a short tune as well, heck, the chorus is kinda catchy even - I like it when Fish goes 'Punch, Punch, Punch...' with Mosley following his vocal rhythmics exactly. I even like the generic synth background on that one; somehow they are able to select the subtlest and most menacing notes and tones on the instrument.

It's after song number two, though, that the problems begin. I don't like almost anything after song two. I might say that the only truly offensive moment on the record arrives when Fish goes 'I saw the lizard, I saw the lizard, I touched the lizard...' on 'She Chameleon'; the "lizard" cliche had been overridden and overabused so much by 1984 you'd think nobody in his right mind would dare employ the word in a sound again, much less place an obvious emphasis on it - you can't help but noting that the guy wants you to know he's singing about the l... the l... the li... uh, stop the pain, somebody. (And please refrain from sending me three thousand page long commentaries on the exact meaning of the song and what it was actually that Fish was going to communicate with the reptile analogies - a friggin' dead cliche is a friggin' dead cliche no matter how noble your purpose is).

Fortunately, it's only one moment - on other occasions, the lyrics are either good/tolerable or I'm just able not to notice them. BUT - decent or indecent, I just don't get excited by these songs. 'Jigsaw' is very pretentious and pompous, but apart from the qualifiable guitar solo, there's nothing going on in the song melodically, and Fish's style is not unique on here. 'Emerald Lies' is slightly better, but takes forever to break out of its lethargic acoustic part, and even then, when they get a great self-assured bassline going, they don't care to let it shine for all of the song. The eight-minute 'Incubus' has good guitar solos again (dammit, that Rothery guy really needs a better band) and, if at least slightly, recaptures the energy of 'Assassing'; and the only song that can compare with the power of the two openers is the majestic title track, which pretty much has everything a good prog rock song should have - besides a really interesting melody, that is. I mean, you gotta love a phrase like 'do you realize it, this world is totally fugazi!' There's a whole lot of different sections in there, from the minimalistic piano intro to the fast "main" section to the moody grimy-synth-driven "mid" section to the one bit of memorability, the somewhat touching 'where are the prophets, where are the visionaries, where are the poets' bit that closes the song. Right on Mr Fish! Where 'em prophets be? Aargh, what a fuckin' world this is, taken over by post-modernist scum like 'em Talking Heads! Why isn't prog rock cool any more?



Year Of Release: 1985

This is good. It's not particularly involving. It's not very memorable. It's certainly not too original even by Marillion's own standards. But it's GOOD.

And it's pretty hard to tell why it's good, unless you want the obvious formulaic diehard-prog-lover answer (it's long, it's complex, it's challenging blah blah blah). But of all the Marillion albums, it's easily the one with most edge to it. There are songs here which are dark and dreary and energetic at the same time, almost nightmarish in a way. There are some tender moments, too. Best of all, there's no being overridden by progressive cliches - not a single 'I saw the lizard, I touched the lizard...' in the way. Actually, most of the songs are quite grounded in reality this time around; as the title suggests, this is Fish exploring the darker angles of his childhood experiences and trying to "artistically disclose" some of his own personal complexes. It's full of unclear references to the past, and I'm pretty sure there are Marillion fans who can explain all this stuff better than I can anyway.

What touches me more is the overall effect and the overall atmosphere. Misplaced Childhood is structured as one continuous piece, and although the various 'movements' are given their own names and the album is separated into tracks, there are no breaks - you're supposed to take it all together like a Jethro Tull album. In 1985! Goodness gracious! But don't worry, it works, and while in the case of a bad album it might have drowned the few highlights in a sea of messy filler, in the case of this album it works vice versa - the "messy filler" gets perceived as secondary linking material that ties together the main good pieces. And don't forget the atmosphere. In spots, they're almost going for Pink Floyd-like universal depression (check out the middle part of 'Blind Curve'), and while, of course, Marillion are no Pink Floyd, there's a sense of "universal purpose" to the record that never lets it down. It's not just a "Let's fuck fashion and be proggy and complex" ideology. It's not a "we love Genesis and Pink Floyd so much, let's sound like them" ideology either. For the first time, these guys are clearly understanding what they're doing (most notably Fish). They're doing a dark concept album about their past. Thumbs up!

Not that it's all so dark and weird and inaccessible, though. As in the case of Thick As A Brick, occasionally you do get a hint that this lumping-everything-in-one technique is actually just a mascherade to hide a bunch of short pop songs or, at least, short melodic 'movements' that are perfectly discernible (okay, so the tracks are separated, which gives you an even better hint). After the short moody introduction of 'Pseudo Silk Kimono', the band launches into two songs that, as far as I know, were actually singles, and did pretty well on the British charts as well. Out of these, 'Kayleigh' is a gentle romantic ballad that reminds me of some of the better Phil Collins material - a ballad that has enough energy to rise above adult contemporary, but doesn't "overdo itself" so as to become a generic power ballad either. I do admit the chorus lyrics could use some refining ('please excuse me, I never meant to break your heart... but you broke mine'? The hell is that? Fish, you're supposed to be a lyrical genius of the highest order, not the script writer for Star Wars!), but other than that, it's a good song.

Then again, it's all supposed to be teenage reminiscences, so maybe a little bit of intentional 'clumsiness' in the lyrics wouldn't hurt. No lyrical clumsiness in the pretty piano ballad 'Lavender', though - two and a half minutes of excellent pseudo-Genesis emoting. No, I'm not a Marillion nut, but I gotta tip my hat to Fish for that 'lavenders blue, dilly dilly, lavenders green' line, and to Rothery for the accompanying melodic solos.

And that's it with the "poppy" numbers. After these two songs, one by one we get these cold showers of merciless guitars and synthesizers, as the innocent teenage prancing dies away and life appears before poor little Fish in all its ugliness and desperation. Yep, call it Marillion's take on The Wall if you wish. The two certainly have a lot in common. 'Bitter Suite' is an excellent title for a track that's mainly distinguished by Rothery's increasingly disturbing guitar work (no longer that similar to Hackett, but rather combining elements of Steve's playing with elements of Dave Gilmour and Camel's Andy Latimer); and the already mentioned 'Blind Curve' never leaves anything in my head, but never becomes boring for me while it's on.

I gotta say, though, I still wouldn't be that much impressed if not for 'Childhood's End?' which sums up all the dark and light reminiscences in a pretty neat lyrical conclusion, ultimately optimistic and hopeful, as Fish firmly states that 'there is no childhood's end', a statement which I gotta agree upon one hundred percent. But regardless of whether I do or do not agree, the song's chuggin' New Wavish rhythm and catchy chorus, maybe even poppier than 'Kayleigh' and 'Lavender' taken together, are terrific either way. Kudos to Fish for impressive vocal deliveries all the way through. Now if only some of these songs could have been memorable... or if only the album was just a wee bit more diverse... but I'm reaching for the impossible here, I know. At any rate, I can't imagine a diehard prog fan not taking a liking to this record - had it had the fortune to come out ten years earlier, for all I know it might have gone down in history as a classic. It's easily the best proof that a guy like Fish should NOT be disregarded as a mere talentless Gabriel imitator. Well, maybe he is a Gabriel imitator, still, but definitely not talentless. Talentless people write 'all we are is dust in the wind'. (Sorry, couldn't resist another swipe at my favourite whippin' boys. I should be ashamed of myself, but after all, relax, all we are is dust in the wind, so if a speck of dust whips another speck of dust, what does it matter in the face of eternity?).



Year Of Release: 1987

For some reason or other, Marillion decided to go back to short song format for this album (actually, "back" isn't a very appropriate word here, as they started out with lengthy compositions from the beginning). But don't think this makes any of the songs more accessible. The extra length may have bothered these guys, but the lack of hooks obviously did not, and even the three-minute songs on the album are totally unmemorable; and it's a long album, going over fifty minutes. So don't put it into a different category; on the contrary, thematically this is more like a sequel to Misplaced Childhood. It's just as, or even more, personal as that one, except that where Fish used to concentrate on the opposition between the innocence of childhood and the perverted nature of his adult existence, here he concentrates exclusively on the present.

And actually, the present looks pretty bleak for the guy. I'd argue that Clutching At Straws is lyrically the very best thing Marillion could ever offer - the pictures of confusion, despair, drowning in drugs and alcohol, and just total isolation from the rest of the world are drawn here as never before or after. It's not up to me to say whether Fish is a lyrical genius or not; I don't think he is, but at the very least, not a single line on the album strikes me as foully cliched or unbearably naive (and occasional flashes like 'Doctor says my liver looks like leaving with my lover' are actually terrific!). The individual songs make sense; they're often subject to diverse interpretations, but that's actually a good thing - hey, Fish pretends to be the guy who can get you to think of something, after all, and here he succeeds more often than not. And it all comes together in the end, with a dark, depressing conclusion ('The Last Straw') that seems to be in direct contrast with the somewhat brighter, more optimistic solution to 'Childhood's End?'. 'We're clutching at straws, still drowning'. Well... might as well be.

It's just way too bad that the overall impact of the album gets lost on you unless you're really sitting head in hands, crouched over the lyrics sheet, while the music of Marillion, volume turned to the max, engulfs you on all sides. Then you might be converted - at least, while the music is on. But otherwise, it just seems that the intensity of the songs is nowhere near as strong as on Childhood, and besides, there's just not a single new musical idea on here. Sometimes the band suddenly starts assuming the sound of mid-Eighties Rush, which is not a good thing; at other times, they fall back upon their Genesis emulations - the synth loops on 'Just For The Record', for instance, sound like they'd been directly lifted from 'Firth Of Fifth'. Steve Rothery still manages to shine from time to time, but his solos are also getting less and less inventive and more and more predictable. In short, from a purely musical perspective, this record does not thrill me at all.

It still has some good, umh umh, shall we say it, "musical complexes". 'Incommunicado' is arguably one of Marillion's best rockers: fast, pompous, a little bit ironic (even self-ironic - after all, isn't Flash singing about himself in the first place? a guy in the 'backpage interview' who wants to make it real big?), with a good deal of energy, and, when you start to think of it, very much in the style of solo Pete Townshend around the All The Best Cowboys era. 'Going Under' rips off Genesis again, but nobody ever ripped off their medieval-tinged acoustic twelve-string sound better than these guys anyway; more or less the same goes for 'Torch Song', with its memorable 'read some Kerouac and it put me on the track to burn a little brighter now' intro. And the one sole moment of musical catharsis arrives at the very end of the album, where some big-mouthed chick gets in a duet with Fish raving about how they're drowning, clutching at straws (after which the album ends with a desperate 'Nooo!' and an evil laugh, as if you were still having doubts about the nature of the ending).

Elsewhere, you just don't get anything in particular. But maybe you don't need to. The very best thing I can say about the album is that over the course of fifty two minutes I was never just sitting around and struggling with the temptation to turn it off once and for all. Fish does have this subtle, inobtrusive way of getting under your skin after all - I guess that's what they call 'charisma' in the end. And there's no direct in-yer-face self-pitying involved here either, even if the album essentially IS self-pitying: it just has too many complex metaphoric layers on it to render it immediately accessible, which is a plus. I probably moderately like this in the same way other people moderately (or more than moderately) like Floyd's The Final Cut: if the constructed atmosphere clicks with you, you're gonna uphold the final product independent of whether it has any obvious hooks or not. But by all means, Clutching At Straws is way more complex a construct than Final Cut; and since we're speaking of that particular type of musical genre where complexity, ambiguity, and extreme use of intelligently twisted metaphors does matter, I find this here little thing much more defendable than Roger's Wall-doubling anti-war pamphlet. Which isn't to say I'm all that impressed, either. But I do assure you that at least some of these lyrics are worth poking your nose at even if you ain't never heard the music.



Year Of Release: 1988

A clever pun and a nice gift for the fans at the time - nine tracks unavailable on regular studio albums and at the same time presenting a very demonstrative evolution of Marillion and their sound over the most part of the decade. Nowadays the album has been made entirely redundant by those fat bombastic 2-CD re-releases of the original studio records, replete with bonus tracks a-plenty, so the diehard Marillion fan who had been expecting these releases ever since he first heard the word "Fish" as a proper noun will find no need for B'sides Themselves. I, however, do not have the re-releases - look, I have much better ways of spending my money all right? - and b'sides, I like reviewing rarities compilations because it's technically convenient.

I'm not really sure if all of those songs were B-sides, actually. I don't know how 'Grendel' could be a B-side: the hideous thing runs for seventeen friggin' minutes, and considering that it was one of the band's first ever studio recordings, I doubt anybody ever let them issue it on single. And yeah, I said "hideous" and I mean it: it gives the indication that Marillion, in fact, started out as a typical Dungeons & Dragons band, penning interminable suites on medieval lyrical topics - just the kind of stuff people always snicker at when speaking of prog rock. Well I got news for you people: good prog is not about D&D at all, and much to Marillion's honor, 'Grendel' remains the one and the only example of their falling into that mushy trap so obviously. It is still worth hearing once or twice, just for a hoot, you know - that single oddball weirdo piece of elfish fantasy the band allowed themselves. But melodically and atmospherically, it's hardly any better than any given Kansas epic, and certainly much worse than Seventies' Rush, at least in the ass-kicking department. Seventeen minutes of atmospheric medieval acoustic strumming, pompous, yet meaningless organ bashing, and generic "prog-metal" soloing. At times the piece acquires a certain 'Fountain Of Salmacis' feel, but certainly without that epic's pioneering charm or inventive melodic flourishes; and another mid-tempo section towards the end sounds like it was just perfectly ripped off of the 'Apocalypse In 9/8' part of 'Supper's Ready'. Talk about your influences...

On the other hand, maybe I'm being a bit too harsh - maybe it's just the unjustified song length that weighs down on me so much. A couple sections there work more or less fine, and at the very least Fish has that charismatic Gabriel-esque vocal vibe from the very beginning. And I didn't have to scoop any of my vomit off the floor either. I just don't want to listen to the THING again. I'd rather go straight to the source. Relisten to 'Supper's Ready', reread Beowulf, you know, that kind of shite. Makes you feel closer to nature.

It's interesting that the other long track, 'Margaret', which closes the album, while also dating to the same earliest epoch in Marillion's life, is directly the opposite - it's fun, inventive, and humorous. It's based on a late-period musical adaptation of a Robert Burns poem, so naturally you get some cheerful Scottish-sounding music (and you won't find that many obvious Celtic references on their albums, nope), but it's essentially used by Fish and Co. as the basis for a fast, ravaging jam to showcase the playing talents of the band members. And it works - the solo spots are short and pretty, and while nothing will probably make you fall out of your chair, at least this easily quenches any doubts about the band not showing off on their albums because they really can't do it. They have their professional levels worked out all right, all of them. And they're able to add some real lively excitement to it as well.

In between the two biggies lie seven true B'sides, or so I think, dating from 1983 to 1987. These are, for the most part, in the classic Marillion "confessional" style, and so cannot always be easily distinguished one from another, as the regular story goes. Predictably, the later the song, the more penetrating and just generally clever it seems to me. The first three songs are from 1983 and are still way too feeble - 'Charting The Single' is definitely not aided by yet another blatant Genesis quote ('choo choo to you', Fish croons at the end of one verse, and the rhythm is somewhat reminiscent of 'I Know What I Like', come to think about it); 'Market Square Heroes' has a good beat but too little of the saving Fish charisma; and 'Three Boats Down From The Candy' never really lives up to its crushing bombastic intro, when the doomy organ sound just kind of bangs you down and then never bothers to get you up again.

Much better is 'Cinderella Search', based on a clever rhythmic pattern and tasty guitar tones that seem to have been borrowed from the latest mark of King Crimson (you know what I'm talking about, doncha? The clean thin squeaky mathematically precise note sequences you have on 'Discipline' and stuff). 'Lady Nina' is one of the band's best ever romantic ballads (of course, as usual, infested with a barrelload of bile at that - 'Lady Nina, I'd love to take you home with me, but I love my wife and my family...'). 'Freaks' is already on Misplaced Childhood level of quality, milking Fish' paranoia vibe for all it's worth.

Yet the best song is still 'Tux On'. Maybe Marillion in general is a static rather than a truly dynamic band, but the way they mount the tension on this particular song, you'd think they were the most dynamic of all the dynamic ones. Again, Fish scourges his head for yet another supply of fresh metaphors and similes to depict a tragic picture of another victim of fame, with the 'tux' as the main link between all of his life stages, while the band keeps up the solid groove - Rothery borrows a little from the Edge guitar style this time, but he's totally justified, as the marriage between the guitar and the vocals in this particular case was truly made in Heaven. Or at least, somewhere on the borderline.

All in all, an uneven, but a satisfying collection of material, necessary for the completist - hey, 'Grendel' may be shit, but it is an important link in their evolution - and non-obligatory for a casual fan. But hey, is a collection of B-sides ever supposed to be revelatory? Unless you've never heard the A-sides, hardly ever.


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