Smiling Vinyl Whores

Fugazi is the one that always sorted out the Marillion boys, from the Marillion men*, if you really liked this one you were hardcore; lots of fans (very rightly) adored Script For a Jester’s Tear, owned Real to Reel and Fugazi, but only got properly excited again by Misplaced Childhood.  Me? this was my absolute favourite Marillion LP for years. How could you argue with lines like,

Apocalyptic alphabet casting spell the creed of tempered diction
Adjectives of annihilation bury the point beyond redemption
Venomous verbs of ruthless candour plagiarise assassins fervour

or the sheer daring swearing of,

I never say no, in chemical glow we’ll let our bodies meet
So was it just a fuck, was it just a fuck, just another fuck I said
Loving just for laughs, carnal autograph, lying on a lizard’s bed
So was it just a fuck, was it just a fuck, just another fuck I bled
Degraded and alone, raped and still forlorn
Betrayed on a lizard’s bed

You couldn’t, or at least I couldn’t when I was 17.  I bought into Marillion, good style, supported them vehemently like they were a sports team – wore the T-shirts, drew their logo on more school desks than I care to admit**.  Which is just as well, as in the world outside they were seen as deeply, horrendously, irredeemably uncool – deeply nerdy, pretentious and overly wordy.  Let’s face it, they were.  I would have died for them at the time, without question.

Marillion fugazi 02

The artwork by Mark Wilkinson as always was a huge part of why I liked them and every bit as important to the whole package as the music – just like Derek Riggs’ work with Iron Maiden^.  The jester has moved out of his gloomy garret on the Script .. sleeve and ensconced himself in a modern apartment, looking the worse for wear, his existential angst plainly visible, his jester’s motley strewn across the room and only properly visible in the mirror.  Now to a normal mortal this would just be a neat album cover, but not for such as me.  I believe I can trace all the causes of his unhappiness in the cover.

  • Spilt Wine: Mr Jester shows appalling, basic drinking skills by spilling his wine – careful jester! That wine stain will be an absolutely bugger to get out the carpet.
  • There’s a copy of the 12″ of Marillion’s own Punch and Judy and Pink Floyd The Wall on the floor despite there being no visible record player – could this be the reason for his drunken/drugged-out angst?
  • In fact, he’s listening to a Walkman – the inferior, tinny cassette sound is clearly fuelling his weltschmerz^^
  • I’m not sure I’d have let the magpie with the wedding ring have full run of my flat either – there’d be crap everywhere.
  • The carefully draped memento mori skull on the sofa? dramatic, but not very comfy – another source of anguish?
  • A pet chameleon? chameleons release a mild toxin through their skins, called nestachoromylin, which induces feelings of intense sadness if human skin comes into contact with them too often.
  • The picture of a clown – jesters good, clowns bad; everyone knows that.
  • The high-heeled shoe next to the bed – clearly Mr jester has been experimenting with cross-dressing and I know from associating with ladies, that heels can hurt your feet if you’re not used to them.
  • He’s lost a piece of his jigsaw – that’d make me seriously cross! Maybe even cross enough to lie on my bed, draped only in a piece of chiffon (a pale kimono), spilling wine. That cross.
Subtle, subtle
Subtle, subtle

The lyrical concerns on Fugazi are a perhaps a bit illuminating in terms of the contents of Fish’s head at the time, we have verbal backstabbing (Assassing), marital strife (Punch and Judy), failing relationships (Jigsaw), arguments in relationships (Emerald Lies), groupies (She Chameleon), being dumped by someone who’s doing well (Incubus) and the general fucked-up state of the world and stuff (Fugazi).  So a quick straw poll gives us 6 tracks out of 7 about how crap people are, women in most cases and one track about how pants the rat race is/neo-Nazism/other stuff.  Now I’m no psychiatrist but this was a dude experiencing some relationship/trust issues at the time.  Or is it just the case that it’s always easier to write about a woman doing you wrong, than doing you right?^^

Now at the time I was digging all this my knowledge of the opposite sex was, a kiss or two aside, entirely theoretical.  I’d have jumped at the chance of having my heart broken so I could sing along to all the bitterness even more.  It’s funny listening again to this LP, like I say it was my favourite one by far, at least until Clutching At Straws was released but it doesn’t sit very well with me now, the production lacks any real bass (poor Pete Trewavas never quite gets a look in here) and the heavier bits don’t cut it so well as they had previously, or would do again.

Close up of rubbish drinking technique.
Close up of rubbish drinking technique.

There are some really good moments here though, ‘Jigsaw’ balances the wordiness with a delicate tune and Fish sings it with a real passion, there’s a short talkie bit and it has the best Steve Rothery guitar solo on the album, fulsome and lyrical.  I’ve always had a thing for ‘She Chameleon’ and not just because of the swearing, although that’s always good but because of Mark Kelly’s organ sound.  I also like the mood shifts in ‘Fugazi’, especially when it all goes a bit nasty when Fish spits out lines like ‘waiting, the season of the button, the penultimate migration’, although it doesn’t all quite work as a whole.  There are some very good lines hidden away amongst Fish’s excess verbiage here, I was particularly taken with,

Through the Silk Cut haze to the smeared mascara
A 40 watt sun on a courtroom drama

from ‘Emerald Lies’.  Overall though a bit too self-conscious and wordy, although at the time I would have held it up as the best poetry ever written by anyone ever, in the whole history of everness.

Marillion fugazi 06

I think above all the good bits and the wrong bits the song writing on Fugazi just isn’t quite good enough by Marillion’s standards, there are bits here but nothing as good as some of the earlier tracks, or what was to come from them shortly.  In fact the best track they did around this time for my money was ‘Cinderella Search’ a great tune relegated to being the B-side of Assassing.  When I listened to Fugazi again today I enjoyed it for a lot of nostalgic reasons, it reminded me of being young and uncynical, ironically given the thrust of most of the lyrics but it has certainly shuffled down my Mental Marillion Pecking Order (MMPO) a few places.

Marillion fugazi 07

I’ll leave you with the startling fact that Marillion not only predicted the internet on their debut, Fish wrote about and predicted something even more dear to my heart on Fugazi, yup he predicted me.  Evidence?

I’ve seen a different doorway shut a million times before
The smiling he chameleon, the smiling vinyl whores

Guilty as charged Mr Fish, I am a vinyl whore, I do smile if provoked to do so and I have been known to close the odd doors, or two in my time.  Okay so I changed ‘she’ to ‘he’ there, I admit.  You want more evidence?

Whatever happened to … Complements on unnatural size

Again, guilty as charged.  What can I say, it’s been a burden to me all my life.

Marillion fugazi 03

325 Down.

P.S – I made the chameleon fact up.

*I use boy/man advisedly, Mrs 1537 being the only chick I ever met who was properly into Marillion.

**not sure what the statute of limitations is on logo-ing, so I need to be careful I don’t want to find myself doing a five stretch – particularly if they trace the 1988 Smashed Gladys outbreak back to me too!  Mind you I reckon I could handle prison, I’ve watched Oz enough times – I’d need to set up my own gang, obviously, but I feel the 1537’s would end up running the wing, what with our astute music criticism and trivia knowledge.  True story.

^I found this excellent interview really interesting – I had no idea at all that Mark Wilkinson had also worked with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.

^^my new word, German for ‘world-weariness’.

^^Dr Feelgood’s genius ‘She Does it Right’ being the glorious exception to the rule.

32 thoughts on “Smiling Vinyl Whores

  1. The missing record player – yes you’re right goddammit:) It was on Script and I think I just ran out of room (literally) to update it to what – a Dynatron stereogram? Probably:) This is my guilty pleasure as far as Marillion too – Clutching was far better on every level…but tracks like Incubus and the title track still get to me. Favourite line: ‘The thief of Baghdad lives in Islington now, praying deportation for his sacred cow’ just a terrific piece of wordplay!

    1. Hi Mark – I can’t believe you’ve read this, you’re a God from my teenage years onwards – you decorated my bedroom walls and T-shirts, you shouldn’t be paddling about in my nonsense – you should be eating unicorn and chips in the Fortress of Solitude, with Fish.

      A dynatron stereogram? definitely!

      And thank you for not minding me defacing your lovingly created artworks with random bits of Lego. You’re a gent.

  2. I have been a huge Marillion fan since 1987, but have never seen them live! I do go to Fish gigs regularly and am off to see him in May, loved reading this so much, thanks for sharing x

    1. Hi, thanks for stopping by Sarah, and many thanks for your kind comments too. I’ve not seen Fish live since ‘Vigil’ days, when I tried to blag an interview with him for my school newspaper!

      His last LP was supposed to be very good, but I haven’t quite taken the plunge yet – should I ?

      1. Hi, oh you really should! Even better come along to a live show, you may even find the lovely Mark selling his artwork 🙂 x

      2. Hi, it would be Liverpool in May if I did, but it’d depend on work commitments at that point. I’d like to though. Last time was in Cardiff in about February 1990, worlds ago.

    1. What’s wordy about:

      Drowning Tequila sunsets, stowaways on midnight ships,
      Refugees of romance plead asylum from the real.
      Scrambling distress signals on random frequencies,
      Forever repatriated on guilt laden morning planes.
      We are pilots of passion sweating the flight on course
      To another summit conference, another breakfast time divorce,
      Screaming out a ceasefire, snowblind in an avalanche zone.



  3. Although you can’t really tell from some of the videos we’ve made, my buddy uncle Meat had a disability. He stutters very badly. He took a lot of inspiration from Fish’s lyrics to Incubus. There’s a line about “stammering silence” in there that he can really relate to. Plus like Fish he is a singer. For him personally that song was an endless string of lessons specifically written for him, he’s always pulling something out of those lyrics.

    I love this album.

    1. Like I said, it really was my favourite one until ‘Clutching..’ was released, but just doesn’t sit as well now. Hell, I can still sing-a-long to every track word perfectly.

      I think it just lacks a bit of bass – live versions of the songs worked better for me – I used to have an extensive collection of bootlegs back in the day.

      I like the story about Uncle Meat, if you can find art that connects that meaningfully it’s a special thing.

      1. I think Clutching is probably my favourite too. And you’re right some bass would help. You mentioned Iron Maiden’s Somewhere In Time which I listened to last night. That album could really use some bass, it’s so thin.

      2. Definitely an 80s thing, the worst offender I can think of being Metallica’s Justice – okay so I understand the background, but even so dudes!

      3. It’s funny to listen to an Iron Maiden album like Somewhere in Time, and then go right into a new album like Dance of Death (which is what we did last night).

        I had to dive for the volume knob, because Dance of Death is mastered so much louder, but the sonic quality was completely different. I guess tastes change. Back in the 80’s I thought Somewhere In Time was Maiden’s best sounding album yet.

  4. Yes, Assassing is about verbal backstabbing — but it’s also about Mick Pointer. Assassin is vaguely about the firing of their old drummer — which adds a WHOLE new dimension to the words.

  5. “There’s a copy of the 12″ of Marillion’s own Punch and Judy and Pink Floyd The Wall on the floor despite there being no visible record player – could this be the reason for his drunken/drugged-out angst?
    In fact, he’s listening to a Walkman – the inferior, tinny cassette sound is clearly fuelling his weltschmerz^^”

    Holy shit! Never realized this before! Damn you Mark Wilkinson, damn you! OK, now to finish reading your review.

  6. I loved this album too. Very funny cover analysis.
    I think the magpie, representing ‘one for sorrow’ has just come back from ‘crack converters’ with his engagement ring. Even they didn’t want it, so clumsy drinking it is.
    Funny that you should mention Derek Riggs here – I bumped into his daughter just the other week. (I apologised of course) I almost got an Iron Maiden (Eddy) comic off the ground with Derek back in the day. Marvel were all for it, but Mr. Smallwood looked at our proposal and in very Spinal Tap kinda way – ‘why would we want to do a comic, we sell enough albums anyway?’

    1. Wow !! Like, really wow!!

      EMI really knew a thing or two about how o build up a nerdy male fanbase with the conceptual art and everything, it worked I knew people who bought both bands’ work for that reason alone.

      I loved Derek Riggs’ stuff particularly around ‘Somewhere in Time’, even though that’s not an LP I’ve got much time for.

      I treated myself to a second-hand book of mark Wilkinson’s stuff last night.

      1. Yeah, he’s such a cool dude. Really laid back guy. I haven’t seen him for years. I’ll get round to looking up some day soon,see what he’s up to. I think the drift of the comic was that Eddy was a bounty hunter caught up in a devil-pact-gone-wrong, and banished to some sort of hell dimension, from which he’s escaped and is tracking down those who did him wrong – human and demon alike, with the ultimate goal of repossessing his stolen soul. Some shit like that. Coulda been fun with Derek designing and Liam Sharp or some other Bisley-esque artist doing the artwork.
        The band’s management had an imagination failure on this one. I remember their faces when we pitched the idea… wind. Tumbleweed. Mexican church bell.
        Ya know what’s really weird, I don’t even like Iron Maiden. But I seem to be connected by three degrees of separation. If you’re ever in Broadstairs, there’s a seedy pub halfway down the high street where Steve harris’ sister drinks! She’s always happy to chat about her famous brother.

  7. Great piece. Love the cover analysis, despite missing the most plausible reason for his depression. He actually listened to the whole of ‘The Wall’, responding in the only sane way by pitching his turntable out the window.
    PS. Is that Peter Hammil’s ‘Fool’s Mate’ on the floor next to Floyd? Fine album.

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