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Marillion - Afraid of Sunlight  CD (album) cover

AFRAID OF SUNLIGHT

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

3.79 | 489 ratings

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netboy-netgirl
5 stars Among progressive bands out there, there is a high percentage who have made good or even great progressive albums. There is a smaller percentage who have made an album so good that it is considered their seminal work, it defines their sound as a band. And there is a real small percentage who have made an album that the progressive community considers to be a masterpiece of the genre.

But there is a much tinier percentage of progressive bands who have made an album of such quality that it goes beyond anything they've done before or after, a work where they truly transcend themselves and even the progressive genre. It may not rank as their most popular or most classic work, but it is, by definition, their best.

For Marillion, that album is Afraid of Sunlight.

Everything about the album, speaking in musical, lyrical and sonic terms, surpassed all of their previous work, and they have not reached that far or that high on any album since (though they came very very close with This Strange Engine's "Estonia"). Some people complain that the album doesn't sound like them, which isn't a complete misperception. But to me, it's more like they've taken their sound and style and extended and expanded it, to the point where it's become a new entity entirely. Hogarth stated in the liner notes for the remastered edition that at some point in the process of creating the album, it took on an American character- which surely no other Marillion album has ever had.

The album has a strong concept throughout: the ways fame and stardom can be a destroying force in the lives of those who experience it. Through that framework, the whole album hangs together well as a cohesive whole- including the upbeat and bizarre "Cannibal Surf Babe" placed second in the running order. All the other songs have a melancholy and even depressing lyrical and musical "image" to them. It's hard not to with "Gazpacho", about a Hollywood-type celebrity self-destructing, then "Beautiful", about people who suffer from society's prejudices just because they don't conform, and "Out of this World", about a man, Donald Campbell, who died attempting to set the world speed record on water.

Then comes the eyewall of the emotional storm of this album, "Afraid of Sunlight". It was preluded at the end of Side 1 in "Afraid of Sunrise", a soft and bittersweet version of nearly the same lyric. "Sunlight", however, is devastatingly dark, with Hogarth sounding like a man who has given up on a relationship with someone he's been hurting for a long time, and in the process, is giving up on himself and on life. In the middle-8 he sings "I'm already dead, it's just a matter of time", and then a powerful string section restates the main chorus melody- and you feel like the sky has crashed down and destroyed the world.

And you still aren't off the hook, as you still have "Beyond You", which may be a little of an epilogue to "Sunlight", masterfully produced and mixed in mono for a full "wall of sound" effect a la Phil Spector- which Marillion has explicitly stated they were trying to do. The album finally ends with forboding warning in the form of "King", where the lyrics get very specific about how things can go wrong for artists and creative types who get chewed up and spit out by popular media, celebrity culture, and especially by the companies who "help" them create their work. "They call you a genius, because you're easy to sell- is that what you want?" rants Hogarth, "then the fire in your belly that gave you the songs, is suddenly gone." They're obviously referencing themselves, and their turbulent relationship with EMI, which ended with this album. "I hope for your sake you've got what it takes to be spoiled to death." And with that the album ends on a huge tidal wave-like crescendo building up to... nothing. It just drops off. And you're left feeling nothing but emotionally drained.

Throughout the album everything fits perfectly in with everything else, there's nothing extraneous or unnecessary. The instrumentation and sounds do an incredible job of expressing the emotions of the album as clearly as the lyrics do. Taken together, the album is greater than the sum of its parts.

In epilogue, Afraid of Sunlight forms a perfect pairing with its predecessor Brave, an undeniably expansive and epic work. It's subject matter also recalls the Fish-era pinnacle Clutching At Straws, and since CAS is a heavily-thematic follow-on to Misplaced Childhood, those four albums create a fascinating "double binary" system that has, to this day, defined Marillion. Marillion tried, very hard, to once again mine that vein in 2004 with Marbles. They may have succeeded with that one, only time will tell. But for this reviewer and many, many other Marillion fans, the perfect storm of circumstances that led to the creation of this album simply won't be repeatable within Marillion's remaining career, which for their sake, is probably a good thing. In 1999, with two more albums after Afraid of Sunlight under his belt, Hogarth's notes in the remaster's liner notes basically concurred: "I think it's the best record we've made."

Fletch Brendan Good

netboy-netgirl | 5/5 |

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