Sunday, 23 October 2016

Marillion's 'Fuck Everyone and Run' - Album Review

Since forming in 1979, English progressive rock veterans Marillion have always been pioneers. In the 1980s, they almost single-handedly spearheaded a progressive rock revival with a punishing world touring schedule and albums (and singles) that took the UK charts by storm. It is not an understatement to suggest that they were one of the biggest bands of the world at one point, which is something that makes their current position as a slightly mysterious cult band even more interesting. If you put a gun to my head and told me I had to pick one over-arching favourite band, I would probably pick Marillion. All of the band's 17 studio albums are good in their own way, and each one has a unique sound and feel that means there is a Marillion album for almost any situation. Despite never truly loosing touch with the mainstream music media, Marillion have essentially been a cult act since the mid 1990s, but the support of their large (and extremely loyal) fanbase has allowed them to remain extremely active and continue to release quality music. 15 or so years after the likes of Kayleigh and Lavender were soaring up the single charts, Marillion were still acting as musical pioneers. 2001's Anoraknophobia was totally funded by fan pre-ordered, which allowed the band to act without record label support, something which they have continued to use ever since. Marillion are credited with being one of the first bands (if not the first band) to use 'crowdfunding' to finance their activities, something which is now extremely common place for bands that are outside the musical and commercial mainstream. In an act of coming full circle, Marillion teamed up with crowdfunding website PledgeMusic to release their 18th album Fuck Everyone and Run which was released last month. Often referred to as simply F E A R, this new album is the band's first for four years, since the release of the excellent Sounds That Can't be Made in 2012. Soundwise, F E A R is quite similar to that album, but also borrows heavily from 1994's dark concept album Brave and 2004's sprawling double album Marbles. As a result, F E A R is a very varied and dark album, and easily the most 'progressive' the band have sounded for a while! Gone are accessible rock songs (mostly) and instead the album is centred around three multi-part epics that are each like mini-albums in themselves. Two more 'traditional' songs and a short outro complete the 68 minute album, which is something that needs multiple listens to fully appreciate. This is an angry and extremely political album, which might put some people off, but it is also extremely heartfelt and emotionally charged. As an aside, this is an album that saw Marillion bother the charts once again, with this album hitting number 4 on the week it was released! This the highest position the band have reached since 1987's Clutching at Straws, and is the highest-charting album of the Steve Hogarth-era!

The opening number, El Dorado, is one of the three long, multi-part epics, but it actually starts in rather understated fashion. Steve Rothery's delicate acoustic guitar melody dominates the short first part Long-Shadowed Sun, before Mark Kelly's dense keyboards take over for The Gold. Hogarth's vocals are fantastic throughout the whole album, with plenty of diversity on show early on. Long-Shadowed Sun has  folky, singer-songwriter feel to it, whereas the opening to The Gold sees his oft-used mumbled falsetto that is reminiscent of modern bands like Radiohead. More traditional 'rock' soon takes over as Pete Trewavas' melodic, growling bassline takes over for a groove-led section with pulsing rock organ and a strident vocal display from Hogarth. The amount of diversity crammed into this opening few minutes is more than you would see in many whole albums, and is a real taster of what is to come. The Gold climaxes in one of Rothery's trademark emotional guitar solos, which is the one thing that links all the various faces and sounds of Marillion. He is one of the world's most underrated guitarists. and this soaring section is proof as to why. Demolished Lives definitely has the marks of Brave all over it, with a complex bassline and layers of keyboards that have an eerie, unsettling sparkle. Echoey vocals herald the arrival of F E A R, another dark piece of music that is focused around one of Rothery's affects-heavy arpeggiated guitar melodies, as Kelly's space-age keyboards scream and fly around above. Hogarth's vocals are at his most caustic here, with serious bite and anger on show as he spits out the visceral lyrics. The Grandchildren of Apes, the fifth and final part of El Dorado, is almost a return to the floaty, folky intro. Delicate piano chords dominate, and Hogarth's vocals are much more relaxed after the poisonous display of the previous part. It ends on a rather anti-climactic note, but it actually works well, with the fading keyboard notes acting as a great contrast to how the rest of the song slowly built up emotionally and musically. Living in F E A R, the first of the two stand-alone songs on the album, is typical modern Marillion. The verses are quite sparse, with a bass-heavy sound and layers of keyboards. The song picks up during the chorus, which is noticeably louder and more 'rock' than the rest of the song, with Hogarth letting rip with the vocals over the top of Ian Mosley's crashing drums. Those who are fans of the sound the band forged on Sounds That Can't be Made, or 2008's Happiness is the Road, will certainly enjoy this, and it acts as a great contrast to the two epics that bookend it.

Opening with some very old school keyboards, The Leavers is the second epic. It is probably the least interesting of the three, but it is still great with plenty going on. The first part, Wake up in Music, is quite a funky, and slightly trippy, song with the aforementioned keyboards dominating, and a later bassline creating quite a dancey vibe throughout, helped by some great offbeat drumming. The Remainers is much more restrained, with dry-sounding keyboards and a sparse vocal display, featuring some more of Hogarth's falsetto. Rothery's guitar here is also pretty hypnotic, which fits in perfectly with Hogarth's voices. Things ramp up again with Vapour Trails in the Sky, which opens with big bass notes and soon morphs into a soaring piece of modern piece of progressive rock with Rothery's effects-heavy guitar taking the lead. There is a lot going on here, with playful piano melodies often cutting through the guitars, and eventually taking over completely for the ambient second half. Piano also dominates The Jumble of Days, with a melody that sounds like something the band would have come up with in the 1980s, but it is not long before Rothery takes over with what could possibly be the best guitar solo on the album. The bass and keyboard backing is perfect, and makes for a dramatic instrumental section as his unique phrasing and sense for melody shines through. There is nothing quite like a Steve Rothery guitar solo, and they are always some of the highlights on any Marillion album. The Leavers comes to an end with the delicate One Tonight, which is, again, piano-led and rounds out the second epic of the album perfectly as it builds towards a crescendo dominated by Hogarth's soaring vocals. White Paper is the second of the two stand-alone songs, and is the better of the two. In my mind, this is what Invisible Ink from Sounds That Can't be Made would sound like if it was more of a rock song, and in any case this definitely seems like a companion piece to that song. Kelly's piano is the most prominent instrument during the song's early stages, as Hogarth's fragile, shaky vocals croon above. The song gradually builds throughout, as drums, bass, and guitar all join in to take the song to new heights. Rothery's stark notes cut through everything to form the song's main melody for the heavier sections, but it is not long before everything drops out again. This is a song that moves through many distinct sections despite it's relatively short length, but it all holds together perfectly. I really like the song, and it manages to hold it's own despite the album's focus being on the three lengthy pieces.

The real highlight of the album however if the final of the three epics The New Kings. Fuck Everyone and Run is the opening piece, with a distinct verse-chorus structure with Hogarth's soaring falsetto singing the profanity-heavy chorus with little of the anger you would expect. It has a mournful feel, which is different from the groove-based rock of the verse sections, and this sets the tone for the rest of The New Kings. A dark-sounding guitar solo bridges the song into the oft-repeated refrain of: 'We're too big to fall, we're too big to fail', something which certainly encompasses the song's, and indeed the album's, theme of the distrust of modern political and economic policies. The New Kings is easily the most cohesive of the three epics, with less diversity, but this works in it's favour to create a masterful piece of work that contains everything that is great about Marillion. Russia's Locked Doors, the second part, is like a darker version of Fuck Everyone and Run, with the music getting slowly more sinister and the lyrics getting more and more angry. It ends with a repeat of that familiar refrain, before Rothery launches into another of this fantastic guitar solos, this one driven by a driving drum beat and haloed with gorgeous warm keyboards. A Scary Sky is a much more atmospheric and ambient piece, with Kelly's keyboards taking over with a myriad of sounds and feelings, not unlike the sound that dominated 1999's This acts as a bridge between the epic guitar solo at the end of Russia's Locked Doors and the anthemic hard rock final chapter Why is Nothing Ever True?. This part of the song actually reminds me of the final couple of minutes of the song Fugazi, which has similar political sentiments and sing-a-long vibe with big piano notes and catchy vocal melodies. I suspect this was deliberate and, despite the fact more than 30 years separate these two songs, it shows that the core of Marillion has never really changed. It is the perfect ending to an epic piece of music that could be the single greatest Marillion moment for quite some time, and shows the band at their musical, and lyrical, best. A short closing number, Tomorrow's New Country, follows, and this has the feeling of music that plays over the credits after a film finishes. It has a reflective feel to it, and ends the album on a calmer and atmospheric note, which is a great contrast to all the previous drama. Overall, Fuck Everyone and Run is a fantastic album that is certainly a gift that keeps on giving. It shows a band who, having been pioneers their whole careers, once again show the world that they can produce something that sounds unique and distinct. This is an album that will probably come to define what Marillion are about in the 21st century, and is a masterwork in modern progressive songwriting.

The album was released on 23rd September 2016 via Intact Records/earMusic. Below is the band's abridged promotional sound clip for The New Kings.

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