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SCRIPT FOR A JESTER'S TEAR

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

4.22 | 1336 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Review 69, Script For A Jester's Tear, Marillion, 1983

Script For A Jester's Tear is a hard one for me to review. Several aborted efforts have ended in deletion. The reason for this is that it is an album which is extremely consistent in both its strengths and weaknesses, and the number of both of these makes it sort of challenging to write about without feeling like the review's becoming a list. Still, I'll try.

Clearly there are a lot of musical ideas in the constantly changing pieces; we get touches of psychedelia, symphonic moments, quirky light jaunts, an arena-rock solo and even a tad of blues. All of the members (except Pointer) seem fairly involved and capable, though not individually massively distinctive. The lyrics are pretty solid, depressive and entertaining, and the general accusations of sounding too much like Genesis... well, I don't really see it.

The negatives really come from the execution of some of these ideas. Various sound effects similar to those on The Wall often feel like forced insertions, especially damaging to Chelsea Monday, and they are a bit too frequent for my liking. Mick Pointer, as often mentioned, does not do the world's most sterling job here, but I honestly think that he isn't that much of a hindrance to the band's ideas. Complex and distinctive drum parts aren't there, but they aren't really called for. Finally, the trite Garden Party doesn't really seem to fit the album's mood for me, and I think that the weaknesses simply make the overall album less of a pleasure to listen to. Overall, the album's still pretty strong, but its charm was, for me, too soon worn away by the weaknesses.

The title track has pretty much all of the strengths, and very little of the weaknesses, with the soft 'Here I am once more... in the playground of the broken hearts' executed brilliantly by Fish. His vocals and the lyrics throughout are to match, and the band supports neatly and provides new contexts for it. The fact that the same line is executed again with a virtual roar and not feeling at all out of place alone makes for pretty good listening. Mark Kelly's keys control a lot of the tempo changes and ideas, while Rothery's superb rocking solos add force, and the rhythm section, especially Trewavas do manage to escape monotony and make their own contribution. The psychedelic ideas are equally at their most successful, with repeated words and whispered overdubs intensifying the atmosphere. The song's a sample on PA at the moment. Have a listen for yourself, and enjoy. A brilliant opener, and not to be missed.

The ambiguity of He Knows You Know extends beyond the title, with spat-out words, great lines like 'Light switch. Yellow fever. Crawling up your bathroom wall/Singing psychedelic praises to the depths of the china bowl', and the psychedelic ideas and repeats fit in solidly. Pete Trewavas especially seems to be on top form, with great aggressive bass-work. The keys fit in over the top, adding a couple of riffs and chords over which Rothery's guitar can characteristically explode all over the place as well as adding a couple of subtle edges to vocal lines. The fairly random tack-on of the maddened phone call at the end is admittedly nice in the context of leading up to The Web, but feels a little off in ending He Knows You Know. Still, I do enjoy it a lot.

The Web begins with a series of very aggressive, almost big-band on guitar-and-drums, stabs, before Fish joins in to provide a rather excellent set of vocals, both featuring some extended bits of vocal phrasing which are quite interesting, as well as the more normal lines. His own aggressive confusion (something that so few vocalists can handle well) is supplemented by harmonies and low key effects. The musical side is initially little more disjointed than the previous couple of pieces, occasionally feeling like a bit of a crib for his vocals, though it pulls together very well later on. The swelling and whirling keys are a highlight of the piece, and, though Pointer is a bit more of a drawback here than on the previous couple, the playing is otherwise top notch. Not quite sure what it is about Rothery's almost cut-off, yet extremely full, guitar tone that gets me every time, but it does. Unfortunately, the ending seems a little vulnerable in comparison to the rest of the song, with a rather uninteresting set of riffs crossed with irritating synth tones, though there are still a few points to commend in there. Overall, however, the piece is another success.

Garden Party is a bit of a disappointment following these pieces, with the voices on the opening feeling a little too unnatural to me, and the repeated jumpy bass-and-drums riff being present for far too much of the long and rather sarcy piece. A few of the effects do work well, as do some of the keyboard choices. Fish letting his hair down with the lyrics and vocals is a partial success, with a couple of amusing moments (particularly the Chaucer rambling and a rather fed up 'Oh god, not again'). Only of a few of the ideas really fail, most notably the repeat of 'flash', but the piece overall simply doesn't feel very satisfying to me.

Chelsea Monday contains the worst of the special-effects barrages, with idiotic paper/news announcements and supposedly Cockney or Australian (I can't work out which) conversations with needless line repeats. A couple of less driven-into-the-ground effects supplement Fish's vocal, but without the precision that characterises some of the earlier choices. Pointer's percussion, also, doesn't add a lot, feeling needlessly shouty. However, I absolutely love some of the other components of the song. Trewavas' superb bass line, Rothery's wails and Fish's high, slightly more like Peter Gabriel than usual, vocals are thoroughly enjoyable. The emotional Gilmour-esque guitar soloing rips through the headphones the first couple of times, and the acoustics and keyboard touches add a bit more survivability to a song that desperately needs it. This was my favourite piece from the album on the first listen, but the cringeworthy effects uses seriously damage it for me now. Shows off the Floyd influence, but not in a heavily positive way.

Forgotten Sons, thankfully, is a much more rewarding experience, with a range of kicking riffs from all quarters (especially the mock blues/hard rock one from Rothery), and a serious range of emotions and ideas, including a rather more biting and impressive sarcastic opening becoming gradually a bit more serious and without losing the satire. Heck, even Pointer sounds good on this one. Fish's vocals are powerful and biting, and with lines like 'You're just another coffin, on its way down the emerald isle' and his mock prayer, the lyrics match. Psychedelic edges and wails jump out at all points and add a lot of fun. A keyboard solo section is brilliantly handled by Kelly, and the general atmosphere is tremendous. Hearing the 'halt, who goes there?' line gives me shivers every time, and I'm quite impressed that somehow the range of ideas is stunningly summed up in an ending, complete with a choral mellotron and Fish at his most Gabriel-esque, perhaps the only things which remind me bluntly of Genesis in the whole album. A great conclusion.

So, strengths everywhere, but some really, really annoying weaknesses around the middle and not enough consistency in the fascination. Don't get me wrong, it is a good album with some very good tracks, and I can understand why it's so well-regarded, but I still get that painful twinge in anticipation of Chelsea Monday's 'she had a smile on her face' every time I go to connect the CD with the CD player. Should be a definite purchase if you're a bit fonder of The Wall than I am. Perhaps the only people I wouldn't really recommend it to are those who are really picky about drummers. Enjoyable, and it nets three stars from me.

Rating: Three Stars Favourite Track: Script For A Jester's Tear

TGM: Orb | 3/5 |

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