Somewhere Else, An Unexpected Journey

Somewhere Else album coverThe one thing that I’ve noticed about Marillion’s recent album release, Somewhere Else, is that it provides Marillion with the opportunity to release pun-tastic releases based on the original album. ‘Something Else’ was the bonus DVD, there’s the forthcoming ‘Snow-where Else’ Christmas tour. I’m sure that the ‘making of’ CD will probably get called ‘Nowhere Else’, and the live album will be dubbed something like ‘Somewhere on the Road’.

It’s not a bad title to say the least, and captures the content of the title track brilliantly. What I’ve found, however, is that I’ve had to be, musically, somewhere else to give it a fair review and ponder my thoughts on the new album.

When I first listened to it, the sound pumped from my stereo crashing into my dining room like waves at high tide. This album wanted to make sure that its presence was felt. Not only that, it made sure you noticed (as far as Marillion albums go anyway). ‘The Other Half’ is the opener and allows Marillion to tighten up some riffs and let Ian Mosely crash out with the splash cymbal. It reminded me of the first time I listened to Genesis’ ‘And Then there Were Three’. I could hear counterpoints in the melody courtesy of Mark Kelly and Steve Rothery and Pete Trewavas ploughed the song home like they are on ram raid. It’s a fine track that has it’s own other half. Halfway through the song it turns into the moral of it. It seems somewhat trite, but still good, and is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Steve Hogarth calls the song home by repeating the line ‘the other half’. Something that bizarrely happens in a number of songs, in which either h ran out of words, or decided repeating the titles or phrases a lot is more effective.

‘See it Like a Baby’ slides in as the first single from the album. Not a bad song. There are five distinct lines in the song, one repeated over and over. Musically, it’s wonderfully subtle during the verses – it’s just a shame that it feels like it’s dragging on. Even the guitar solo sounds a little repressed – almost as though the impact of the song drags it down.

Still in single-town, ‘Thankyou Whoever You Are’ starts up with a piano / vocal style reminiscent of Enlightened from marillion.com. Then the chorus bursts on, and Hogarth plays with the repeating lyric idea (again), soaring with the title of the song. There’s song great key changes in the verses, which help to keep the song interesting. The chorus itself is dynamic with Mark Kelly’s keyboards providing strings that allow h’s voice to soar. Rothery cuts in with a solo against a backdrop of syncopated drums and rolling piano chords. It’s crisp and clear. And then another chorus and the song gently plays out. A fine track but not their best. Some have also argued that the lyrical theme is somewhat trite.

‘Most Toys’ then bounds into view. If you can imagine some drunk smashing through your window, getting up, the proceeding to stumble around destroying things in his wake, then this would be the musical equivalent. It’s loud, samey, and ultimately dull. The theme is the compulsory Marillion ‘trappings of fame’ song that appears on nearly every album. I have no problem with that, though. ‘King’ is the quintessential ‘trappings of fame’ song on Afraid of Sunlight. This is a coarse and brash song. The fact that the title track is next has me immediately reaching for the next track button.

Now we have the singles out of the way, we are treated to ‘Somewhere Else’ itself. I’m glad that they decided to use this title rather than its working title. I feel it captures the feelings of isolation perfectly. I really like Marillion’s use of piano throughout this album. It creates a clear, crisp sound that only enhances the sounds of the other instruments. It shows on this song. Once again, a song of two halves, the centre section has what I can only describe as an irksome line, “Mr. Taurus ate a thesaurus…” I played SE to a friend, and as he caught this particular section of this song, he turned to me and said, “That’s terrible.” I’d pretended it was artistic, but ultimately couldn’t refute it. Which is a shame because there’s some great lines following that. Then the song launches into a crescendo of sound as h launches into the closing section of the song, everything rising in pitch and volume and then… then… nothing. Unfortunately the song seems to abruptly stop, and we don’t hear the great ending that we hoped for. Such a shame.

You could almost believe that Tori Amos penned ‘A Voice from the Past’. A repetitive piano phrase changing in key with a morose h singing over the top. I really liked this song until I saw it live. I wont go on about it, but I don’t need the sloganeering that was projected onto the back screen of the gig. It suddenly dawned on me that h was Bono-incarnate and I really went off the song. Musically it is wonderful, sounds swimming with gentle movements and light touches of percussion. It lifts in the third quarter as h shouts “Enough is enough,” and the music builds. It’s really great. But lyrically it leaves me cold.

‘No Such Thing’ finds h stuck on the toilet as he sang this. There’s a peculiar submersive echo that is used throughout the song. Personally, I feel that it adds some depth to the song, but the song itself feels too tempered. My favourite misheard lyric in the album is here: “There’s no such thing as something something”. Some fine music here, but even the bridge doesn’t raise it highly from its monotony.

Ah, something definitely new and different from Los Marillos here as ‘The Wound’ winds up and spits out any preconceptions about Marillion’s music. Bass and drums rumble through as h shouts over the top about the wound, and just as you think you’ve got the song, it quickly changes into a haunting melodic track without the listener even noticing. The music resonates with the lyrics nicely. It’s something so different it took me many listens before I started to ‘get’ this track, but it’s definitely worth it.

I first heard ‘The Last Century for Man’ at the Koko. I remember thinking, “God, I hope this isn’t typical of the album.” Luckily it wasn’t. Outside The Forum in London, a guy asked, “What’s all this nonsense about God Bless America and all that crap?” A woman told him it was meant to be ironic. But not ironic enough for me obviously – or maybe a little too much. I really have trouble bearing the cumbersome lyrical theme, which is a shame as the music is the exact opposite – sublime, considered. The cacophony at the end is merged well – but is it really necessary? I don’t know. But the song is over soon enough.

‘Faith’ has been knocking around for about 6 years now. It was actually played at a Marillion convention before Marbles was released, but never made it to Marbles itself. I’m glad, as it feels like a whimsical, and somewhat half-cooked effort that has suffered from too much work, yet not enough substance. h’s voice croaks through this semi-acoustic meandering wannabe ‘Made Again’, and then some bounding bass and horns crash through and upset the balance some more. Unfortunately, the song sounded as good as it was going to get on the ‘Bootleg Butlins’ DVD. It wasn’t too bad there, but this really isn’t the place for the song to live.

One thing that struck me is the return of ‘mumbly h’. Steve Hogarth seems to have gradually developed this mumble that makes most of the lyrics incoherent. This first became noticeable on tracks such as ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘Fantastic Place’ on Marbles. It was used to good effect. Here it is overdone.

Sonically, the music really comes through. The Marillion ‘sound’ feels more stripped down, and that serves it a great justice as at any point you can pick out what’s being played. It’s a refreshing change to the production of ‘Marbles’ and the over-production of ‘Anoraknophobia‘.

But ultimately the album feels disjointed, being a collection of songs that fail to reach their potential. SE is an album that also suffers from following ‘Marbles’ 3 years later. Marbles is an epic and brilliant Marillion album. Every track shines.

When you typically listen to a Marillion album, you know that you’re listening to something special. Marillion are and always have been more than the sum of their collective parts. Here, something seems to have held the band back, and resulted in a good album.

A good album, not a great album which is what I expect from Marillion. Sorry, guys!

Jon Collins, an Internet Hero

A fellow Marillion and Fish fan, Jon Collins recently posted that he’d sort me out a curry after comparing Fish’s new album 13th Star to cooking.

As I’m inept at cooking, I’ll take his word for it – but I thought I’d check out Mr. Collins’ credentials in a proper style. Readers of this blog (ha! I couldn’t resist that one) might recognise the name from my post about the Marillion biography ‘Separated Out‘.

Still, I checked out the A Collection website, to see what he has to say for himself there, a lo, there’s a link to his blog! There’s nothing like a blog to get a feel for a person.

Indeed, I can pin Mr. Collins down as an IT baking, cookery skewing, hedgehog mowing genius. And he likes Marillion of course.

So, well done to Jon Collins for being him, and when he’s in, or near Margate, I can expect a nice curry!

Extract Audio from DVDs in Ubuntu

I wanted to extract Marillion’s cover of Toxic today, which lives on the DVD release of Thankyou Whoever You Are / Most Toys.

I found a useful page over at Ubuntu Geek which covered the topic nicely using a tool called transcode, which I’ve used a little of in the past.

I was having some difficulties with this one though, as transcode only worked on a few titles on the DVD. After a bit of testing, I discovered that this wasn’t woking on titles that had no video.

Eventually I settled on this command line to extract the song:

<code>transcode -i /dev/dvd -x null,dvd -T 4,1,1 -a 0 -y null,ogg -o MarillionToxic.ogg</code>

Here’s the breakdown:
transcode – run transcode
-i /dev/dvd – set the input to the DVD drive
-x null,dvd – set the input modules. As I don’t want video, I’ve used null and then dvd for the audio channel
-T 4,1,1 – set the Title 4, Chapter 1, Angle 1, which is the Toxic track on the DVD
-a 0 – set the audio track (the first is 0 on DVDs)
-y null,ogg – sets the output to ogg. Once again, I’ve forced null for the video
-o MarillionToxic.ogg – finally, I’ve set the filename for extracting the audio.

The whole track was extracted from DVD in a matter of seconds. Brilliant.

Marillion at the Koko – 28th January 2007

Interesting gig last night.

After not seeing Marillion live for over a year, Steve and I made our way to London and the oddly named ‘Koko‘. The journey consisted of us considering our feelings about the forthcoming album, ‘Somewhere Else‘. We were finding it difficult to summon up a great deal of excitement about the release. After the excellent ‘Marbles‘ in 2004, this album has been 3 years in the works. A lot of momentum seems to have been lost after such a strong album, and it’s commonly known that a number of the tracks are left-over material from the Marbles sessions. Nevertheless, it was time to get our Marillion heads on and enjoy the evening.

The venue was quite odd. Balconies all over the place with a 19th century theatre feel about it. I can’t help but feel that the venue used to be a theatre in its own right.

As it’s the convention warm-up show, we weren’t sure if we were going to be treated to the complete track list from ‘This Strange Engine‘, or if there were any new songs to be played.

Once the band opened with ‘Splintering Heart’, I knew this wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill setlist that dogged live shows up to and including the Anoraknophobia tour.

The show was a pleasant surprise for me. TSE wasn’t played in it’s entirety, but a number of tracks were represented: ‘One Fine Day’, ‘Hope for the Future’, and ‘This Strange Engine’. The former two I had not heard live before.

As well as that, the alternative version of ‘I Will Walk on Water’ was rolled out. The big shock of the night – and certainly a track that I never thought that I’d hear live.

Two tracks from the forthcoming album were played, one entitled ‘Last Century for Man’, which I thought was a commentary regarding the state of the planet and our destruction of it – a political piece. I couldn’t really get to grips with them though. Unfortunately, having songs played for the first time like this makes it difficult to be objective.

On the whole, the set rolled in at under 2 hours (Steve felt short changed), including 5 minutes of Steve H talking a to fan on the phone while on stage. I enjoyed it (which was impressive considering I was starting to feel flu grabbing hold of me as the day progressed), and Steve did too. “A couple to cross off the list,” He said to me as we left.

One warning if you’re overweight and visiting the Koko – forget about using the balcony gents. If you can’t see your feet, you’ll never be able to comfortably pee…

I watched her as she walked across the poles…

So I ordered Jon Collins’ Seperated Out for Helter Skelter Books last week.

They’re a London-based bookstore that specialise in musical books.

A couple of days after I ordered the book, it turned up. In POLISH no less! I e-mailed the store and they promtply replied admitting that they had cocked up and would send me out a nice English copy.

So it turned up this week. I’m a happy shopper and the e-mails I received were always prompt and friendly.
These people show how to put service into customer service.

Highly recommended.

As a side note – If anyone gets the lyrical reference I’ll give them a prize :)