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Marillion - Fugazi CD (album) cover





3.97 | 1314 ratings

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4 stars A band, prog or otherwise, is only as good as the musician they have sitting behind them on the drum stool. Marillion's brave debut broke all the existing rules and regulations mandated by the corporate pig powers-that-be in the MTV virus-infected 80s and I found much of it to be of decent quality. But the inconsistent drumming of Mick Pointer was a deficiency impossible to overlook and it tainted my overall impression of "Script for a Jester's Tear." However, I was intrigued enough by Fish's over-the-top-but- engaging theatrical approach and Mark Kelly's keyboard acumen in particular to justify exploring their sophomore effort and I'm glad I did. It would seem that I wasn't the only listener who had the same reservations about the percussive component because they solved that impediment in one fell swoop by giving Mick the boot and hiring Ian Mosley to manhandle the tubs. The difference is like night and day.

Having indulged in some on-line research about "Fugazi" I've gained even more respect for the album. These boys were a mess and it's a wonder it got recorded at all. The myriad of studio problems, both technical and schedule-wise, and the band members' personal struggles with the trappings of the rock & roll lifestyle continually got in the way of the creative process. That usually spells disaster for the welfare of any group but these determined fellows somehow groped their way through the drug-laced minefields and managed to produce a follow up that exceeded my expectations.

The improvement is evident on the very first cut, "Assassing." The mysterious intro with its Indian overtones draws you right in, then a refreshing world beat emerges from the haze. Soon a driving, INXS-styled approach takes hold with Steve Rothery's guitar in front as Fish begins to paint the landscape with his unique vocal colorings. Steve's solo comes off a little too calculated but Mark's synthesizer lead is strikingly effective and the change of pace the band introduces on the bridge makes this a well-rounded song from start to finish. One of the group's strongest characteristics lies in their lyrics and this tune is no exception. It addresses the firing of Pointer (their previous stick-wielder) and, having experienced both ends of that cruel sword, I can tell you that it's heartbreaking. It's akin to a divorce and the messenger feels like. well, a cold-blooded assassin. "Listen as the syllables of slaughter cut with calm precision/patterned frosty phrases rape your ears and sow the ice incision," Fish sings, "so you resigned yourself to failure/and I emerged the chilling stranger/to eradicate the problem/unsheathed the blade within the voice." The addition of a tender "my friend" on the back of each of those last lines only adds insult to injury and the self-loathing evident in Fish's delivery is chilling.

"Punch and Judy" is next and, after an exciting 7/8 beginning, it falls into a somewhat predictable chord progression that the group decorates with various musical hues to keep it from getting stale. The tight rhythm section of Mosley and bassist Pete Trewavas provide much-needed momentum. The tune describes a jaded couple struggling through the post-honeymoon phase of their marriage. "Whatever happened to pillow fights, Friday nights and jeans so tight?/Lover's Lane, passion games, Sunday walks in the pouring rain?" they wonder. Those romantic situations have been replaced with "curling tongs, mogadons, 'I got a headache, baby, don't take so long'/middle-age dread, single beds, losing the war in the waistlands spread." Yep, been there, brother.

"Jigsaw" is a highlight of the proceedings. After a quieter, intimate verse a startling chorus strikes hard and the dynamic contrast is breathtaking. They repeat that cycle, then wisely escalate to another key for Rothery's fluid guitar ride before letting the track evolve ever larger in scope until they release the tension into a sweet fadeout. The subject is another break-up but this time it's not between friends but lovers and neither party wants to be the instigator of the split. "Stand straight," Fish demands, "look me in the eye and say goodbye/we've drifted past the point of reasons why." Later he sings "Dream coins for the fountain/or to cover your eyes/we reached ignition point/from the spark of pleasantries/sensed the smoke advancing from horizons/you must have known I was planning an escape." The next track is "Emerald Lies" and it begins with an energetic shuffle, then settles down into a softer guitar-driven segment. After Ian spices things up with jarring drum spasms they jump into a quasi-metallic motif and conclude with a grand finale. Relationships are a dominant theme throughout the album and this song tackles the scourge of mutual distrust and suspicion. "To don the robes of Torquemada/to resurrect the inquisition/and in that tortured subtle manner inflict/the questions within questions/looking in shades of green/through shades of blue/I trust in you/trust in me to mistrust you," he sings.

Another favorite is "She Chameleon," a number that goes through many changes, starting with a wonderful church organ accompanied only by Fish's vocal. Mosley's drums sound fantastic and Kelly contributes a scintillating synthesizer solo to this well-constructed piece of neo-prog. Here Fish compares groupies to reptiles. "They know what they want/they sing your name and glide between the sheets/I never say no/in chemical glow/we'll let our bodies meet," he reports, "loving just for laughs/carnal autograph/lying on a lizard's bed." But when the sun rises he finds himself feeling "degraded and alone/raped and still forlorn..." "Incubus" follows with its stately atmosphere intermixing with guitar and piano-led sections, climaxing in a cavernous ending. The lyrics are obviously about a nocturnal demon but they're very abstract and reading them is akin to poring through the poetry of Charles Bukowski. "And the walls become enticingly newspaper thin/but that would only be developing the negative view/and you have to be exposed in voyeuristic color/the public act/let you model your shame on the mannequin catwalk/let the cats walk," he rambles. Interesting.

But the album's namesake song is even weirder, word-wise. After a simple piano/vocal intro Ian kicks the band into gear and the tune grows into a driving platform for Fish to dramatize upon. After a brief pause they drop down to an ominous, stalking beat for a while before building to a full-scope closing. Perhaps the obtuse lyrics were jotted down in the fervor of a hallucinatory free-for-all but all I can derive from them is a sense that Fish has become untethered from the pier of reality, his life is now FUBAR and he fears "he'll fade with old soldiers/in the grease-stained roll call" and "linger with the heartburn/of Good Friday's last supper." (Gotta give the boy his props, though, he conjures up some fabulous imagery.)

This album shows a talented group of musicians getting better by the session. In spite of their youthful indiscretions and unrestrained wallowings in the cesspool of fame they made a pretty good record. And, bless their hearts, they continued to courageously brandish the battered banner of progressive rock in an era when the bulk of the music biz was fixated on filming cute, three-minute videos featuring half-naked wanton women snarling in cages and to hell with musical integrity. No wonder Marillion leaves us with Fish crying out from that barren wilderness "Where are the prophets?/where are the visionaries?/where are the poets.?"

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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