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Marillion - Misplaced Childhood CD (album) cover





4.25 | 2093 ratings

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5 stars Every once in a while I find an album that's a bonafide masterpiece of progressive rock and I become somewhat apprehensive about writing the review for it. I want to do it justice and describe it in such a way that others will be encouraged to discover it for themselves. "Misplaced Childhood" is one of those rare recordings that transcends the mundane and climbs to a level of artistic expression that is sublime. Not only is it flawless in its design and execution, it also delivers the kind of symphonic prog that satisfies me in every way possible. There's simply not a moment when I'm not totally absorbed and enchanted.

I must commend the people of the UK for making this album #1 right smack dab in the middle of the 80s. As I recall, it was wholly ignored in the USA and that's our cross to bear. In 1985 we yanks were blindly oblivious to anything nearing the fringes of progressive rock because we had our heads stuck so far up our MTV virus-infected backsides that anything requiring more than 3 minutes of our attention (unless it was MJ's corny "Thriller" video) never got a glance. A band as courageous as Marillion might have blown some wind into the dying coals of prog over here but the record labels, obsessed with how a band looked on TV rather than how they sounded, never bothered to make us aware of their existence. Lord knows there were millions of proggers who would've loved to know about them.

The opener, "Pseudo Silk Kimono," with its sumptuous backdrop drawn by Mark Kelly's dense keyboards, instantly pulls you into their realm and sets the mood for the entire aural experience ahead. Vocalist Fish wields firmer control over his theatrical style on this album and the articulation of his hallucinogen-fueled words is yet another reason it soars so high. He's sad, alone and slightly out of his mind, shuffling aimlessly in his cheap robe "wearing bracelets of smoke/naked of understanding" and covered with "nicotine smears/long, long dried tears." What follows is "Kayleigh," a gorgeous song that could've been as big a hit in Dallas as it was in London had it only gotten a few spins on the radio. It owns all the characteristics of what I think neo-prog is in that it blends the progressive sensibilities of the 70s with the state-of-the-art studio techniques and instrumentation of the 80s to create a unique type of music. With this classy tune they had a popular single that provided vital exposure without cutting the corners of their integrity. Steve Rothery's guitar effects and Ian Mosley's drum sound are exceptional and Fish's lyrics about the euphoria of young love and the devastation resulting from its loss strike directly where it hurts most. "Do you remember/chalk hearts melting on a playground wall?/do you remember/dawn escapes from moonwashed college halls?" he pleads, "I'm still trying to write that love song/it's more important to me now you're gone/maybe it'll prove that we were right/or prove that I was wrong."

Kelly's piano leads into the beautiful "Lavender" with its tasteful dynamics and haunting melody. Here Fish faces the rueful realization that his lady love may be gone forever as he walks through a park. ". I heard children singing/they were running through the rainbows/they were singing a song for you/the one I wanted to write for you, for you" he laments. His use of alliteration on this track is masterful as are Ian's drum rolls at the end. "Bitter Suite" is next and its five parts go through a slew of emotions ranging from despair and bewilderment to insecurity and disillusion. During the mysterious "Brief Encounter" he mutters "the mist crawls from the canal/like some primordial phantom of romance/to curl under a cascade of neon pollen/while I sit tied to the phone like an expectant father." On "Lost Weekend" the group briefly streams into a surprising jazz motif and during "Blue Angel" they apply a heavier rock ballad feel while Fish tells of a desperate tryst. "Two hundred francs for sanctuary/and she led me by the hand/to a room of dancing shadows/where all the heartache disappears." he sings. That's followed by the sensual "Misplaced Rendevous" in which a reunion with his former lover doesn't happen because "the weekend career girl never boarded the plane." Mark continues to paint with deep keyboard hues, but for "Windswept Thumb" he employs his piano joined by Steve's acoustic guitar as Fish relates that he's "on the outskirts of nowhere/on the ringroad to somewhere/on the verge of indecision."

"Heart of Lothian" has a respectful Genesis-like atmosphere. Divided into two segments, "Wide Boy" slips into half-time as Fish seeks refuge among the rowdies he grew up with while on "Curtain Call" the drums are silent and the music drifts as if suspended in mid-air. He ends his wry commentary on escapism with ".and the man in the mirror had sad eyes." Menacing tribal drums underscore "Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)," a vicious rip into the underbelly of life in the pubs where girls are "lying on every word and every arm/turning down their noses to the best lines and the cheap wines" and the boys "wear their lovebites for their crimes." An infectious 7/8 time signature is incorporated for the stunning "Lords of the Backstage" during which Mosley fiercely attacks his drumkit and Fish tries in vain to educate his lost lady about touring. "A lifestyle with no simplicities/but I'm not asking for your sympathies/talk, we never could talk/distanced by all that was between us/a lord of the backstage/a creature of language/I'm so far out and I'm too far in." he confesses.

"Blind Curve" is another multi-sectioned epic. "Vocal Under a Bloodlight" sports a hard beat and Fish proclaims that he's "happy to be lonely" but he's not convincing. "Passing Strangers" is softer in tone as he tells about being "strung out under a necklace of carnival lights." Rothery gets to show off his guitar skills (both solo and in stacking harmony tracks) on "Mylo," a number that features a lovely mix of instrumentation while Fish bemoans "the price of infamy/the edge of insanity." After a short guitar interlude a growling synthesizer drone colors "Perimeter Walk," a dramatic piece where he speaks, then shouts about the loss of his innocence. "Threshold" is huge in scale and it's as if the band has opened the floodgates to let the music gush while Fish finally looks out from his shell and sees that there are bigger issues in the world than his broken heart. "I see black flags on factories/soup ladles poised on the lips of the poor/I see children with vacant stares/destined for rape in the alleyways/does anybody care?/I can't take anymore." he rants.

On "Childhoods End?" Ian and bassist Pete Trewavas establish a solid groove while the guitars and keyboards splash up a brilliant, bright background. Fish accepts a brutal truth. The relationship is over and "she's got to carry on with her life and you've got to carry on with yours." The album ends in the stately, military aura of "White Feather" as he's now turned his attention towards more noble causes like taking on the dogs of war. Accompanied by a glorious children's chorale the group fades into the ether proudly proclaiming "you can't take away our hearts/ you can't steal our hearts away."

The most impressive aspect of this incredibly cohesive piece of art lies in the way it flows seemingly without effort. Of course, that's what makes it so extraordinary because every progger knows that this kind of music is anything but easy to produce and even harder to record without a single seam showing. But that's exactly what this band, on only their third album, did. Their musicianship and their enigmatic frontman's vocal and lyrical prowess show a maturity and confidence that comes only through dedication and commitment to a common goal. With "Misplaced Childhood" Marillion achieved a level of excellence that the majority of bands can only dream of.

Chicapah | 5/5 |


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