Imagine this: a progressive rock band with 18 previous albums and almost three decades comprising of the same line up, making a politically fuelled album titled F*** Everyone And Run that’s initialized as FEAR. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it? Surprisingly, Marillion avoid a potential blunder, and instead build on their strengths from their previous album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, and salvage classic prog from the rather embarrassing state of affairs its big names have been in this year.
I’m no Marillion fan, admittedly, having only heard their latest two albums and cocking my head when people reminisce about Fish. Though I will say that from their previous album, FEAR picks up where ‘Gaza’ left off with its long, progressing structure and social commentary o’ the times. On the surface, the album looks to be a case of Marillion being grumpy old men: scoffing at political powers, the rich and social issues. Yet as the record runs through, it becomes apparent that it’s also a sorrowful narrative of the state of affairs than merely an angsty protest; this is built up and epitomised in the penultimate track, ‘The New Kings’, where frontman Steve Hogarth near-whimpers “Fuck everyone and run” – a falsetto that seems laughably melodramatic at first, but the fragile mourn at the recklessness of capitalism is somewhat endearing. It’s certainly not a new theme to talk about, but it’s refreshing to hear it being lamented than being yelled at by punk kids.
Thankfully, Marillion don’t directly refer to the subjects that fuel FEAR; where in the album trailer Hogarth dismays about bankers and ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair and where its message is apparent in ‘The New Kings’, there’s no lyrical imagery painting a burning effigy of the man (sadly). The themes are general enough to be continuously applicable as long as capitalist society remains, but not cryptic to the point of ambiguity; though keyboardist Mark Kelly and guitarist Steve Rothery joke about the album being a prophecy when asked about the recent U.S. Presidential Elections and the British EU referendum – we might even see the next album covering them, joy.
Unfortunately Marillion’s execution of these themes is the weakest aspect of the album, with more than frequent lyrical clumsiness solely from Hogarth. ‘The New Kings’ is probably the worst offender in FEAR, with an innumerable amount of eye-rolling lines – favourites of mine being “Flying high / In a scary sky” and “On your knees, peasant”. The mystifying, Gazpacho-like ballad ‘White Paper’ is also incredibly heavy handed with the predictable rhymes “white / light / night” and its corresponding monochromatic imagery; a frustratingly overused trope that everyone needs to stop using. Not just Marillion, everyone. These comical and generic lyrics twinned with their serious delivery is forgettable at best and painfully distracting at worst – even if it’s meant to be intentionally belittling, silly or ‘sticking it to the man’, it doesn’t avoid being awkward and it’s hard not to groan at.
Though saying that, it’s the softer, more heart-felt moments in the album that salvage FEAR with vivid imagery that steers away from political criticism, such as the entirety of ‘The Leavers’ and the nostalgic beginning of ‘El Dorado’:
I remember… The enchanted English walled garden
Days of summer air and honey-suckled nights
The capricious dance of lavenders and cabbage-whites
Made more than 3D, glowing in the evening long-shadowed sun
Nowhere better. But in England, although nothing really changes, the weather always does…
Where the lyrics and Hogarth’s powerful vocals take the limelight (for better or for worse), the music in FEAR is a consistently palatable background showcasing Marillion’s neo-prog core and sprinklings of electronica. Solos aren’t ego-engorging and actually resonate well with the feel of each song; there’s no evidence of awkward shoehorning of showboating – an irritating habit in many prog bands. Here Marillion stay true to actual progression, and songs rarely falter as they shift through different musical ideas and never stagnate. Change is frequent enough to keep us on our toes but not so much that songs become incoherent, with the one exception being the singlesque ‘Living in Fear’ where abrupt transitions cut off some really nice grooves that I wish lasted longer.
FEAR’s highlight is undoubtedly the sprawling 19-minute track, ‘The Leavers’. It opens with rattling electronic chimes and Hogarth’s globe-trotting lyrics that sends us flying down midnight highways, only to be joined by eddying bass riffs and guitars that pierce through the electronica like alien transmissions. If you ever needed a soundtrack for wanderlust, this would be it. Sadly, after the first 5 minutes, the song reaches a screeching halt and loses the brilliant momentum gained by its intro – not that the following part isn’t great, mind you, but the premature climax followed by atmospheric wanderings feels like a step backwards.
Although it’s the album’s longest, ‘The Leavers’ doesn’t feel like a song that spans for an eternity – hell, I would’ve preferred it to be longer, though the nice reprise in the closing track, ‘Tomorrow’s New Country’, does satisfy my hunger. It progresses in neat parts flagged by glitching piano intervals; it’s rather polite that Marillion have the courtesy to break up the song with these familiar interludes, avoiding the trap of being an amorphous blob of music which many other ambitious prog epics suffer. These parts alternate between narratives from the nomadic ‘Leavers’ and the home-rooted ‘Remainers’ – no, this is not about Brexit – and their conflicting lifestyles. It’s the most moving track of the album, where it covers domestic social commentary rather than tin-foil frilled politics – the emotion here peaks with Hogarth’s resolving final croon of “You can write / But I won’t reply”. All things considered, I do think that ‘The Leavers’ is the single strongest song out of the progressive rock scene from this year.
With F*** Everyone And Run, Marillion haven’t exactly executed the protest album of the century, but neither have they destroyed their careers with how potentially edgy and disillusioned it could have been – hell, they’re even in a position where they can afford do to that, so well done them for resisting the temptation of self destruction. For the most part, they stay relatively rooted to the ground and present domestic social issues with delicacy; it’s the political themes in half the album’s songs that undermine FEAR with Hogarth’s lyrical tripe that mirror that of your eccentric uncle’s Christmas dinner ramblings that you oh, so love. The music is of a consistently high standard with very few blips and will never see you bored, though there’s not much else to say otherwise. Ultimately the two biggest issues I have with FEAR is that ‘The Leavers’ is so streets ahead of the other tracks that it eclipses the rest of the album; and that ‘The Leavers’ is too short.
2 thoughts on “Album Review: Marillion – F*** Everyone And Run”
The “New Kings” lyric is actually “If you cross us, we’ll buy you”, which fits with the following lyrics “…and you can retire / Your children set up for life / Think about it”. It’s about buying influence and power, even from your enemies.
That, makes a hell of a lot more sense now – apologies to Marillion and to Hogarth for that