Album Of The Week - Marillion - Fugazi
Considering the current state the world is in at the moment, it makes sense to therefore review an album that encapsulates the problems society faces in just one simple word - Fugazi.
Following the release of Script For A Jester's Tear the previous year and a barnstorming performing at Reading Rock 1983, as well as an appearance at Glastonbury under their belt, Marillion seemed to have been thrust into the limelight as the figureheads of this prog rock revival. The following year would see the band continue with that incredibly tight sound that had been exhibited on their debut on an album with even more in the way of attitude and purpose that would really turn things up to eleven. Fugazi was the result of those efforts, although for the last few years, was an album I seriously neglected, despite it having some of my favourite Marillion tracks to date on it - the likes of Assassing, Punch & Judy and Incubus for example are always some I've held in rather high regard. Intriguingly, if Reading 1984 had gone ahead, Marillion were due to headline, which would have given them a fantastic opportunity to further showcase the material present here, although thanks to a taking over of the borough council by the Conservative Party, the festival that year never happened. This, along with the fact the band never performed at Live Aid thanks to their manager at the time, John Arnison, turning it down, despite the fact Fish was on stage with Billy Connolly at the end, has to go down as one of the most unfortunate moments of their career. Nonetheless, Fugazi still remains a great record that's packed solid of some incredible songs.
This is of course evident on the opening Assassing, a song with more kick-in-the-teeth attitude than pretty much anything on Script. Whilst Script was undoubtedly an exhibition in the brooding darkness of Marillion's early work and there is still some of that here, Assassing kicks it up a gear for something truly special. It's a seven minute journey into the harder side of the band's sound, complete with smatterings of shrill synth from Mark Kelly and a haunting set of drums from the then new man, Mr. Ian Mosley. What's more, there's that classic seething vocal from Fish that comes packed solid with clever wordplay and metaphor on the subject of character assassination and a discussion on various band members coming and going. It's generally assumed the song was written about the rifts between Fish and Mick Pointer.
There's not only shedloads of interesting lines personifying verbal fighting, be it to "unsheath the blade within the voice" or "Apocalyptic alphabet casting spell the creed of tempered diction/Adjectives of annihilation bury the point beyond redemption" but also plenty of other outside references to warfare that really hammer the point home of Assassing being all wrapped up in these violent sentiments. With sustained allusion to not only the First and Second World War such as the "thousand yards stare" referring to the expression from soldiers in the trenches looking over to the enemy lines. What's more, with a key quote from Apocalypse Now ("And what do you call assassins who accuse assassins...") and the "non-com observer" in reference to those such as journalists and film crews who observe conflict, there's also a theme of the Vietnam War emerging, generally regarded as one of the most brutal conflicts of the last century. This just helps to makes it a prime opening track that with a certain funkiness to it already helps to set Fugazi apart from Script and also from other eighties prog bands at the time such as Genesis who'd obviously moved in a pop-oriented direction, as heralded by the move into the eighties.
Intriguingly, despite Assassing being one of the first then new songs to get an outing at the likes of Reading, it didn't end up being the lead single of Fugazi. That honour would go to the much shorter and arguably less Marillion-like Punch and Judy, a tale of domestic abuse and violence wrapped up in a frame of a classic British seaside puppet show. However, there's double meaning on that title, given the track's subject matter, as is displayed by its refrain of "Punch, punch punch the Judy". To state , as the likes of Ultimate Classic Rock have, that Punch and Judy maybe miffed fans as a result of the song's shorter length is to be honest, from a personal perspective, incorrect. Whilst the Script album had undoubtedly portrayed their prog rock potential, the non-album singles and associated B-sides Market Square Heroes, Three Boats Down From The Candy as well as the incredible clever Charting The Single had shown the band were not just Gabriel-era Genesis copycats, as a lot of the press had made them out to be. Punch and Judy continues where those three tracks left off, providing ample amounts of that Marillion sound and lyricism all wrapped up in three minutes. To call the band a sell-out based on that is like calling Genesis a sell out for releasing I Know What I Like as the shortest song from 1973's Selling England By The Pound. Bands make different length songs, get over it.
Given its status as Fugazi's lead single, Punch and Judy was the only song from the album to be performed on Top Of The Pops, where of course Marillion had gone down in the BBC music show's history books for really taking the mick out of the way the show was done. On their now infamous performance of Garden Party, when Fish got to the less-than-broadcast-friendly line of "I'm fucking", that was soon swapped out for "I'm miming" as a jibe at the fact performers weren't allowed to perform live. For acts such as Marillion and those other rock acts who arguably made a better job of things live than in the studio, it was an insult to be forced to mime. Whilst there would be no such shenanigans on that particular Marillion appearance, there would also be on the infamous flipchart performance of Lavender the following year. Quite interestingly too, Punch's B-sides, rerecordings of both Market Square Heroes and Three Boats Down From The Candy were the only Marillion tracks ever recorded with drummer John Marter, the band's third drummer in the space of three years, following Mick Pointer's depature and the sacking of former Camel drummer Andy Ward, who can seen in the video to Garden Party, usually standing next to Pete Trewavas.
Jigsaw is one of those tracks has, over time, been lauded by fans and critics alike as an essential component of the band's material and yet at the same time one of the more underappreciated songs on Fugazi. I'm as equally guilty of never truly giving this one a spin, not least when it was follows two of the record's biggest commercial successes. In listening to it back for the first time in a while, I'm greeted with this familiar sound that's largely helped along by Steve Rothery's immense guitar solo that certainly puts some of the more commercial ones on Kayleigh and Sugar Mice to shame. That's not to say those ones arent' great too, but Jigsaw's just takes it to another level. With that solo in mind, as well as Rothery's other incredible guitar work here, and in bringing together with Pete Trewavas' purposeful bass work and Mark Kelly's powerful and entrancing synth work, you get something that is quintessentially Marillion. On top of everything comes Fish's soft and affectionate yet equally powerful vocal that discusses the problems of a strained relationship, or as the Scottish songsmith put it himself, "the song is about the relationship that splits up and forever comes together again. It gets worse because each time it comes back together, more pieces of the jigsaw have got lost, and you can't get them back."
It's at this juncture where Fugazi turns even more atmospheric with Emerald Lies, another one of those tracks that became a bit of a live favourite on the Misplaced Childhood tour. By comparison to the first side's first three tracks that are all real heavy hitters, Emerald Lies has traditionally been branded as one of the more lacklustre affairs on Fugazi, although in this instance, I will have to disagree. As with He Knows You Know and The Web before it, Emerald Lies has this attitude and a coldness more commonly attributed to the band's debut than this second album. Much like Jigsaw, this offering also concerns a relationship that has been eroded by both a lack of trust and jealousy; the Emerald present could be a coded allusion to the idea of someone going green with jealousy. There's yet more historical reference to the Spanish Inquisition with the passing mention of the "Torquemada", with the idea of someone trying to extract a confession presented. Moreover, there's even talk of the past and future in Emerald Lies with reference to the harlequin perhaps being a metaphor for the Jester, not only thanks to the multicoloured scheme of his clothing, but also the idea of a harlequin being somebody foolhardy and mischievous. When it comes to the future however, the song refers to a "pale kimono", a small foreshadowing of the same garment that would characterise the opening to 1985's Misplaced Childhood. It's such clever lyrics that actually have helped to portray Emerald Lies as this under-appreciated success as opposed to simply being some half-arsed filler.
Things definitely take a more sinister turn thanks to the haunting and evil-sounding organ of She Chameleon, a song that has its origins firmly more in 1982 than 1984. There's a fantastic demonstration of its original and much more uptempo form on the Early Stages boxset's first CD, a show from the Mayfair in Glasgow. However, when the band came to put Fugazi together, it got slowed down and had those organ motifs added which changed the sound completely. Nonetheless, the song's theme of discussing groupies and associated amorous experiences were retained and arguably the slower, album version of She Chameleon just ekes out the horrifying sentiments of the song's lyric. By comparison to some of the other songs in the Fish-era back catalogue, none have been quite so impactful and profoundly blunt as this. The actual contents of that activity are cleverly shrouded by Fish's lyricism, referred to as simply as a "glide between the sheets", yet once it's happened, the song's last refrain seems to suggest something altogether more brutal: "So was it just a fuck, was it just a fuck, just another fuck I said/So was it just a fuck, was it just a fuck, just another fuck I bled/Degraded and alone, raped and still forlorn/Betrayed on a lizard's bed."
It's on Fugazi's final two songs where things get even better. First comes the marvellous Incubus, a song Fish would describe as a practical continuation of the story told on The Web whereby it concerns realising the problems of a past relationship that have cropped up following its initial demise and in particular, the dangers of risque images and the skeletons in the cupboard of lovers' pasts. Behind some of Fish's most poetic lyricism to date comes that same sinister and brooding sound that has soundtracked Fugazi thus far. Incubus takes things to a whole new level when it comes to both lyrics and instrumentation that outs it head and shoulders above even the likes of Assassing and Punch and Judy. There's those same organ and piano motifs as on She Chameleon that continue the same evil nature as well as the short breaks of a softer vocal from Fish that sound straight from Script For A Jester's Tear that just help to make this an incredible listen.
Rather interestingly, the title track of the record is left until last, and it's arguably Fugazi's best. As I've discussed on previous articles concerning Fish and Marillion's work, some of those lyrics seem more relevant today than when they were originally released and that's certainly the case here. It is also on this particular track where the Vietnam allusions come to a head, as it's a slang term used by the Americans when they were there during the war. Supposedly, it acts as an acronym for "Fucked Up. Got Ambushed. Zipped In." in reference to the process of how troops got killed on the battlefield and were then zipped up in bodybags to be removed. Musically speaking, as with plenty of other Fish-era Marillion songs, Fugazi is nicely split into all different sections which each have their own specific charms. First comes the atmospheric opening spoken piano piece, before it moves suddenly into a hard-hitting, bass-and-drums driven haste and then into something a little bit more triumphant-sounding and almost theatrical.
It's at this point where the song splits in half, and the rallying cry last seen in Market Square Heroes begins. Fish explictly questions the state of the world - "Do you realise this world is totally fugazi?" he sings, before asking"Where are the prophets, where are the visionaries, where are the poets?". If that rallying cry and a march wasn't already present enough, the track finishes with this marching-band like snare drum sound. You get the sense that Fugazi is a real protest song at the way the world has gone and how it's been characterised by the loud rise of the right (a subject later returned to on Clutching At Straws' White Russian) and the frightening reality of Cold War conflict that have caused a form of dark veil to overshadow his world view. It's a perspective that can certainly be reexamined and applied again today, although not so much in terms of the Cold War, but more in terms of the world in general being "totally fugazi". If it's any further evidence, the title of Fish's last album says it all - Weltschmerz roughly translates to "world pain".
Fugazi is undoubtedly one of those albums that sits well in multiple places. Whilst seen as entirely relevant back on its initial release in 1984, its subjects and some of Fish's lyrics still seem as poignant today. It's an incredible commentary on the state of the world and the different corners of life's problems, all wrapped up in some of the best music and songwriting of a generation.
If you want to pick up a copy, I'll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/3m0ekrN
Or if you'd prefer, here's a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next time!
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