If the Nobel Prize judging committee are to be believed then we should start thinking about music as literature. The awarding of the 2016 literature prize to Bob Dylan may have had as much to do with attempting to appear “relevant” and garnering headlines as it did about celebrating the musical and lyrical genius of the American songwriter. Whilst this, in time, will be regarded as the last truly great hurrah of the Baby Boomer generation, the award, at the very least, asked you to start thinking about his music through a very different lens.
Considering matters through a different lens has been something in the DNA of the British progressive band, Marillion. This new record, the magnificently titled F.E.A.R.( F*** Everyone and Run) (earMusic) is their eighteenth record to date and shows a band, now into their fourth decade of making music, showing no signs of being creatively moribund. On the contrary, F.E.A.R. is amongst their most ambitious and successful albums, struck through with a confidence and fearlessness that is admirable and energising in equal measure.
Given that the Nobel Prize committee have now formally sanctioned thinking about music as literature then we could perhaps see F.E.A.R. as an aural novel split into five chapters.In reality, F.E.A.R. is a seventeen song double album but the five parts of this album hang together absurdly well- giving us moments of contemplation, reflection, anger, defiance and melancholy- often simultaneously.
Marillion’s consummate eschewing of traditional song structures has well documented. Here, though, on the five part musical narrative that is El Dorado it feels like the band have taken a great step forward, lyrically and artistically.There is a delicate trepidation and quiet reflection at the beginning of Eldorado i: Long Shadowed Sun which sees H as narrator thinking of a beloved England he remembers, stable and happy if not for a constantly changing weather pattern. Thanks to Mark Kelly‘s evocative keyboard bridge we move effortlessly to El Dorado ii: The Gold where we get a more familiar song structure based around an infectious, melodious refrain. If El Dorado is about anything then it is about fear and the fear of a world that is changing but not necessarily for the better (more of which later). On El Dorado iii: Fear there are undoubted echoes of The Invisible Man from Marbles and the dark melancholy that anchored their Brave concept album but this is not an album of retreading glories or rehashing old demos.
The contemplation of the wider world takes on a mantle that is far more personal through the third part of the record, another five part narrative: The Leavers. Here we get an insight into the collective and personal anxieties of a band in constant change, wondering whether this is what life is about. The sense of mortality is palpable but there is a hope and adult realsiation that the calling of their art and the constant cycle of homesickness allied with that pull to be constantly moving is perhaps what they are here for.
White Paper is another melancholic reflection, considering how the passing of time also sees one retreat into the background. The great irony that with experience comes a retreat from active participation in the world that you have been a participant in. If that sounds awfully grim, then it shouldnt as this mid life crisis put to music is defiant and hopeful, not self absorbed or dismissive.
The New Kings is a five part epic, part elegaic rumination, part furious lamentation for a world gone wrong, attacked on all sides by self serving hypocritical leaders with scant regard for their actions and even scanter regard for those they lead. Hogarth can barely control his seething rage as he asks:
“Do you remember a country that cared for you?
A national anthem you could sing without feeling used or ashamed?
Now we’re living for the new kings”
F.E.A.R. is the sound of a band who believe in decency and hope, wondering how things have all gone wrong. They may not have all the answers but they are asking the right questions and, despite everything, appear to believe that good can come out of it all: the light at the end of the tunnel may not be a freight train coming their way, after all.
Before the album was released, H offered these words of the record the band were contemplating:
“There’s a sense of foreboding that permeates much of this record. I have a feeling that we’re approaching some kind of sea-change in the world – an irreversible political, financial, humanitarian and environmental storm. I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that my FEAR of what “seems” to be approaching is just that, and not FEAR of what “is” actually about to happen.”
This is a band who have nurtured their exceptional talent with care and spectacular attention to detail. Marillion are a band who challenge themselves to raise the artistic and performance bar; who treat their audience with respect and intelligence.This is an ambitious, rich and deeply rewarding record of subtle nuance, innovation and deep resonance. The Nobel Prize Committee might have a point after all, then. F*** Everyone and Run is a great English novel.