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Marillion - Script For A Jester's Tear CD (album) cover

SCRIPT FOR A JESTER'S TEAR

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

4.22 | 1414 ratings

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5 stars A Re-Mastered Masterpiece - a new Masterpiece!

What a superb job the band have done in the remastering; This is almost a new album - the dynamics are staggering - especially at high volume, and an album of this quality deserves every ratchet on your hi-fi.

The title track is a masterpiece in itself. Although clearly a song, and containing repetetive passages, there is no chorus section, and the verses do not all follow the same melodic progressions. It opens with Fish singing a capella "So here I am once more". The irony of opening a debut album with this line is not lost on this reviewer! From this moment on, Marillion throw hook after hook - infectious melody after infectious melody at us, and not only that, but layer melodies in each instrument until it becomes impossible to tell which is the main melody.

Focus is on the dominant lyrics, of course, as every word is wrought into poetry of the finest hues. Fish is master of using strong melody lines to carry the lyrics, and inflects perfect dynamics - lights and shades - so that every meaning is put into the words; however it is still the task of the listener to work out each undercurrent and double or triple meaning that he puts in.

Add to that Mark Kelly's powerfully melodic and ambient yet understated keyboards, Peter Trewavas' solid, melodic and strongly rhythmic bass, and Steve Rothery's brilliant Celtic, Gilmour influenced yet originally melodic (there's that word again!) guitar solos, and you have near perfection. Mick Pointer plays just enough on the kit to keep things moving - but as long as we don't pay the drums too much attention, they do the job without intruding. Perhaps the 1980s sounding heavy snare is too much of its era, but the surrounding music is timeless, and really, someone could have just sat there playing bongos and it would have worked with music this strong. It's good to have the full kit though!

"Script..." works its way through a series of neck hair-raising highs, starting with the gorgeously rich bass entry, and never stops working through the story of the artist exploring his emotions after the break up of a relationship in which the protaganist suffers deeply from unrequited love, and even describes the process of writing a song about it "I act the role in classic style of a martyr carved with twisted smile - to bleed the lyric for this song, to write the rites to right my wrongs - An epitaph to a broken dream, to exorcise this slient scream...". All this over a winding bass line and light keyboard melody - and the word "scream..." is delivered in a muted, gasping fashion, making this a very powerful passage. But there's more power and drama to come - just listen.

"He Knows You Know" - title possibly influenced by MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA's "You Know You Know"? - A song about drugs and the more unpleasant effects they can have - especially if you take to "fixing smack". The poet turns to drugs to assist in his rehabilitation from the catastrophic emotional loss, but ends up ill - "Singing psychedelic praises to the depths of a china bowl...". An insistent rhythm drives this song - and does not relent for such things as choruses, although it does fade for a short bridge passage. A strange choice for a single, despite the pounding rhythms, and remarkable that it wasn't banned for its lyrical content - but there you are!

"The Web" fixes us firmly back into prog territory, with more of those neck-hair-raising moments. Pure, pure melody and magnificent harmonic progressions layer up upon the winding bass lines in a fine, shimmering web of rich sounds - many proggers may be disappointed not to hear dazzling technical complexities as well, but I would say that the dazzling technicalities lie in the fact that all these melodies seem to magically work together - that was not an accident! The poet is now alone in his tenement flat, wallowing in his memories and gazing through old photographs, contemplating the need to let go and move on. Kelly's keyboard melodies verge on the bombastic, and really shine in this piece.

"Garden Party" sees the poet moving on - getting out and mingling a bit, but repelled by what he sees. This was a hit single - amazing, really, when you consider the venom with which Fish attacks society and its hypocrysies, and the unconventional rhythms and complex lyrics which dominate the song. However, its "conventional" verse-chorus" type structure make for a workable single that guaranteed it some airplay, even if much of the pop audience didn't have a clue what Fish was singing about. The video was superb!

"Chelsea Monday" Continues the poet's contemplation of what is "out there", and sees the archetypal society woman getting all her style from magazines while inhabiting a strange plastic fantasy world created for her so that she doesn't have to think about it. The bleak music structure and insistent rhythms drive this music through dark layers and yet more gorgeous melodies - honestly, the hairs on the back of my neck have a tough time during this one!

But the best is saved for last. "Forgotten Sons" shows the poet finally getting himself a political conscience and considering the fate of young soldiers sent off to die for some governmental chess game, as he externalises his internal struggles - his fight against his conscience and the battle of the human animal vs the intellectual, thinking, romantic being. This is one of the greatest pieces of music I have ever heard, culminating in the truly monumental guitar solo that follows the inspired "prayer" section. While recording this section, according to legend, the recording booth suddenly went icy cold, and a tangible presence was felt. This presence was allegedly partially recorded - and there are also sounds on the master tape that were not produced by the band. Listen to this section and see if you can work out what they are - if nothing else, this section has the deepest power I've ever known to make people feel unaccountably uncomfortable. It's not heavy metal, but it's certainly INTENSE.

On to the bonus tracks (For the 2CD set):

It's the summer of 1982. The punk explosion has left but faint echoes, as the parade of "New Romantics" waft lace and eye-liner over the masses. The only real alternative appears to be metal - but even the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal is getting a bit old. Suddenly, up pops this quirky single from a "new" band called Marillion. Instantly labelled prog, Genesis soundalikes, whatever... Market Square Heroes is as far from anything else at the time as it is from anything else Marillion wrote. A catchy melody, bouncing rhythms and major keys could soon fool you into thinking that this is a happy pop song. Not true! This is the beginning of the story of Marillion - the band playing the taverns in the Market Place, hungry for the big time, bemoaning the closing down factories and large-scale redundancies in the hypocritical yuppie era of the 1980s, where to some there was endless opportunity, to ordinary factory workers there was nothing but loss of livelihoods and consignment to the scrap heap. Marillion offer the suggestion and solution of planning the day - are you following me?

Three Boats Down From The Candy is much more safely in prog territory, with wafting, drifting keyboard washes. Sumptuously dissonant and borrowing structurally from Genesis, the lyrics are the foundation stone for both "Script For a Jester's Tear" and "Fugazi". Marillion also lay down their own style authoritatively in this song - all the elements are there from Kelly's meandering keyboards, Trewavas' wandering yet solid bass and Rothery's impassioned, Celtic and hugely melodic guitar.

Grendel is one of the most oft-discussed tunes in prog. Is it a mere Genesis rip-off? There's not much evidence of this to start with, as the opening, musically reminds me more of Spinal Tap launching into the epic "Stonehenge". However, as this section "Heorot's plea and Grendel's Awakening" pans out, it is absolutely clear that there is much more to this track. The music follows the epic story well, even though it was originally an 8-minute piece, stylistically similar to Twelfth Night, called "The Tower". The opening section is then repeated and developed, and the next section "As Grendel leaves his mossy home" is in Marillion's more energetic style - here it is apparent that the band put so much passion into recording this piece that they don't seem to have noticed that the bass is out of tune!

Fish bends and twists his voice accordingly, and Rothery bends notes into a solo that Andy Latimer would have been proud of. The vocal section is repeated (for the structure hounds!), then we have the "Earth Rim Walker" section from earlier before relaxing into "Grendel's Journey" - the opening section of which is very and comfortably reminiscent of early Genesis - if this was the only Marillion track you'd ever heard, then I'd understand the continual comparisons!

A short bass solo, which reminds me a little of "After the Eclipse" by Twelfth Night leads to "Lurker At The Threshold", an ever-growing, pulsating orb of prog! Finally (sic) we have the ontroversial "Finale". This opens with one of the best riffs Marillion have ever produced, then layers melody after melody, texture after texture in a miraculously Camel-like style, dropping down here, building up there to the "Apocalypse in 9/8" riff, approximately 14' 15" into the piece. However, listen closely. It's not what is done or what is borrowed, but what is done with that material. Marillion develop it - the epic lyrics and Fish's impassioned treatment of them take it beyond Genesis - the riff that follows is majestic and sweeping and an indication of Marillion's "pure" style developing. Marillion keep up the inventiveness and interest to an uncanny degree - but don't just take my word for it - you have ears!!!

The Demo version of Chelsea Monday takes quite a few listens to fully appreciate why Marillion might want us to hear what superficially (production-wise) appears to be an inferior recording of one of the greatest tracks on the album. However, it has a stark quality all of its own just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.

Before "He Knows You Know" was pummelled into some sort of shape to be a quirky hit single, there was this version. It is typical of Marillion that so many changes should take place - every time I saw them live, you never heard the same performance twice. I love this demo version - really stripped down, and a kind of "retro-neo-prog". To me, this is much more convincingly prog than the version on the album.

Charting the Single seems to set the scene for some parts of the "Misplaced Childhood" album, but has the tight focus on word play more typical of "Fugazi" or "Clutching at Straws". Many of the jokes are downright corny, and it's easy to dismiss this as a light piece of fun - which it is. However, it's more than that - it's the lighter side of Marillion, and the reference point from which to view songs such as "Garden Party", "Assassing", "Heart of Lothian" and perhaps "Incommunicado".

The Alternative version of Market Square Heroes has much fuller production - and seems to have gone through the machinery of the remastering process with more attention than the "Battle Priest" version. There are differences, but I don't really find them notable enough to highlight any here - find them yourself!

The bonus tracks are a very interesting addition, particularly the full contents of the "Market Square Heroes" EP, but the album alone gets the full FIVE STARS. A Masterpiece of prog - a must-own - even if you don't "get it" the first few times you listen to it (and you won't. Trust me). Combined with the bonus tracks, the 2CD set becomes a must-have for anyone that's ever expressed an interest in prog. Don't miss out!

Certif1ed | 5/5 |

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