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Marillion - Afraid Of Sunlight, Deluxe Edition

Marillion: Afraid Of Sunlight - Deluxe EditionAfter the dark complexities of Brave it seemed like EMI were done with Marillion until John Arnison talked them into allowing the band to record one more album. Two conditions; it had to be ‘knocked out’ both quickly and cheaply. Under intense pressure and knowing they were almost certain to be dropped the band recorded one of the best, most cohesive albums of their career.

What saved the band was using their advance to outfit their own studio, the Racket Club, and Afraid Of Sunlight was the first album recorded there, under the watchful gaze of producer Dave Meghan. The music that emerged from their writing sessions was the polar opposite of the labyrinthine gloom of the previous album and, while the subject matter was no less serious, the music was lighter and less oppressive.

Given a new coat of paint as part of a reissue campaign that is seeing Marillion’s first eight albums released as deluxe CD/BluRay and vinyl sets Mike Hunter has remixed the stereo version and created a 5.1 surround version. The CDs and BluRay are housed in a beautifully produced book-style package and the day-glo Jesus cover that caused so much controversy back in 1995 has been reinstated. As well as the remixed album also included is the original Dave Meghan mix plus a full concert from the accompanying tour, recorded at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam. Bits of this were used on Made Again and the show was released as part of Marillion’s Front Row Club but Mike Hunter has produced the show properly for this release. More of this later.

But what of the music? Well, the eight tracks that comprise Afraid Of Sunlight still sound superb twenty four years on. Opening with the bluster of an American boxing ring announcer welcoming us all to a World Title bout, Gazpacho is an airy start to the album. With its jangly guitar line and driving bass, the music belies the subject matter of the song; the self-destructive streak of famous people like Elvis, Mike Tyson and OJ Simpson, you can almost feel the sun beating down on the California coastline as another Hollywood casualty beats down on his wife. Huge swathes of keyboard add colour under the strident guitar lines until the song finishes with the sound of a helicopter and audio from the OJ Simpson police chase.

The entire album is a look at the perils of success, the loneliness, depression, destruction and madness that are the inevitable by-products of fame and fortune. Cannibal Surf Babe is a bizarre, light-hearted tribute to one of music’s most notable casualties, former Beach Boy Brian Wilson. The band capture the Beach Boys sound with delicious harmonies and crazy lyrics, co-written with John Helmer. The song is propelled forward by Pete Trewavas’ funky bass and Ian Mosley’s ‘handclap’ drumming, while the rest of the band ride the wave. Choppy guitar fights Mark Kelly’s weird stylophone-style keyboard noises for supremacy while the chorus is catcher than the flu. I was born in 1960-weird indeed!

EMI wanted a Cry Me A River style hit and the band delivered the gorgeously fragile ballad Beautiful. A paean to being a misfit and being put down. You can hear the pain and emotion in Steve Hogarth’s empathetic vocals. The song manages to stay just the right side of saccharine sweetness and ends on a defiant note; “What are you so afraid of? Show us what you’re made of. Be yourself and be beautiful”. There are some lovely piano runs from Mark who also breaks out some gorgeous Hammond organ while supplying the melody.

Next is the first of a pair of non-identical twins. As the band mention in the documentary, Afraid Of Sunrise and Afraid Of Sunlight are essentially the same song. One would normally have been dropped by Dave Meghan argued for them both to be developed. They share some of their lyrics and melody but somehow, despite their similarities they engender a totally different feeling. Sunrise feels bright and widescreen, painting pictures of a road trip through the white heat of the never-ending Nevada desert; an escape from real life.

It’s counterpart is claustrophobic and dark, the life of the King of the World lived out in the presumed safety of the dark night, away from prying eyes and paparazzi. The song is heavily influenced by the death of Kurt Cobain; “Been in pain for so long, I can’t even say what hurts anymore”, a man who sought success but never wanted to be famous and ultimately driven to take his own life, partly as an act of defiance, taking back control of his life. Afraid Of Sunlight has a more sinister, accusatory slant, the song’s protagonist speaking of disloyalty and betrayal, both his own and his partner’s; he will deny her, she will sell him out. When you are famous just who can you trust? The chorus sounds like a dreadful realisation that everything is wrong.

Both twins are fairly gentle songs with Sunrise being an acoustic affair with the guitar sounding more like a harpsichord - probably one of Mr Rothery’s many effects pedals. The song gives space enough to hear Pete’s bass playing, which provides the melody over the strummed acoustic guitar chords. Sunlight also starts gently but swells and builds to the chorus, Steve’s voice soaring as the music surges underneath. Once it hits it’s stride Sunlight is an altogether denser affair with less space within the music. The latter song contains another breathtaking guitar solo, which is echoed towards the tune’s end, weaving in between the vocals. The song suddenly slows again with just h’s voice echoing those in Sunrise and Marks keyboard washes ending with the question “So how do we now come to be..?”

Out Of This World looks in broad terms at those whose obsessions drive them to extremes and specifically at Donald Campbell who lost his life on Conniston Water pursuing his dream of the water speed record. “Three hundred miles an hour on the water, In your purpose built machine, No one dared to call a boat”, the opening lines are sung over the slow, haunting music, Steven Rothery’s guitar work and Mark Kelly’s keyboards combining perfectly to create the atmosphere over Ian’s languid drum beat and the slow thrum of the bass guitar.

“At such speeds, things fly” signals a shift in tempo and an absolutely superb, emotional Rothery solo as we move into the second half of the song, which speaks of the personal cost to one such as Campbell, how the drive to go “where nobody has gone” causes personal relationships to disintegrate from such single-mindedness. Everything else is irrelevant, pushed aside and left in the wake of an all-consuming compulsion. There’s also the use of radio messages from the control centre and Bluebird itself which adds extra poignancy when you realise those messages were the moment a man died trying to achieve his chimera... “Complete accident, I’m afraid” echoes over and over as a prelude to Hogarth’s impassioned coda.

Most Marillion fans will know the story of how Bill Smith heard Out Of This World which sparked his own obsession, first to raise the wreckage of Bluebird and then to rebuild and run the machine again. Because of their involvement, both Steves were there when the wreckage was lifted and h performed the song at Donald’s funeral. The Campbell family also allowed Marillion to use footage of Donald and Bluebird, which greatly enhances the song when it’s played live. There’s something chilling about this song and indeed Meghan claimed the song was haunted due to numerous problems while recording it. It is however, a fitting tribute to Donald Campbell.

The band wanted to record a Phil Spector style song and thus the hymn to loss and loneliness that is Beyond You was born. To get that authentic Spector sound the song was mixed in mono and I assume that it is still that way on this reissue. The song starts gently, with Hogarth’s fragile, poignant voice and a gentle piano motif but builds imperceptibly until we reach that ‘wall of noise’ which fits perfectly as the feeling amplifies. More than anything else it’s Ian’s drums that give the chorus that Spector sound, that and the kitchen sink production that throws everything into the mix!

After those seven tracks, which are relatively gentle, the album’s denouement is far harsher than anything that has come before. King is the ultimate warning to be careful what you wish for. Fame and fortune are hard to come by but even harder to sustain and many don’t make it out alive after tasting the kiss of success. After the opening few chords the music suddenly stops, replaced by a cacophony of voices which culminate in a woman saying ‘admirable”. h starts singing at this point asking “How long can you stand..?”. As he weaves his magic the music builds again and again, rising and falling, filling the gaps between Hogarth’s scathing lines. There’s a furious solo from Mr Rothery, all discordant effects pedals and tremelo bar which matches perfectly the anger and bitterness that underpins the song. There’s more Hammond organ from Mark, while Pete’s thunderous bass and Ian’s drums clash and clatter. The song ebbs, flows and climaxes with a riotous build up of all the instruments, eventually collapsing into silence.

It goes without saying (although I am going to anyway) that the band are excellent songwriters and musicians and every performance on this album is incredible. Coming off the back of Brave and recording an album so different but equally as good shows how adaptable and flexible they were (and still are). The different styles of songs here opened up new avenues for the band to explore in subsequent releases. There were a lot of external pressures during this period but you would never guess from the quality of the songs on Afraid Of Sunlight.

Having listened to both Afraid Of Sunlight disks I have to say there probably wasn’t a huge amount wrong with the original Dave Meghan mix. It is pretty clear but compared to the new mix it does sound a bit of it’s time and is quite harsh. Mike Hunter had to piece together the music from old DAT as the masters were lost when Parr Street studios closed and he has done an excellent job finding most of the right bits. Apparently Out Of This World was the worst affected with different pieces having to be used. That track is apparently still haunted! Mike’s version of Afraid Of Sunlight is a little warmer and clearer (especially Pete’s bass), and there’s definitely less echo on h’s vocals. Unlike Brave, where I will stick with the original, the new mix of this will be my go-to version.

The live disks are certainly an added bonus. The entire show is spread across two disks and sounds superb. Hogarth handles the Fish era material with aplomb and seems equally happy belting out Incommunicado as he does singing the gentler songs such as Beautiful and Easter. The set list is a great mix of Fish era tracks, older Hogarth era and the then new Afraid Of Sunlight material, including Icon. The production is really clear and clean. Highlights include the opening salvo of the aforementioned Incommunicado and Hooks In You, a long section from Brave, a pulsating King and the closing trio of The Great Escape, Uninvited Guest and a rousing Garden Party.

The BluRay contains various high resolution versions of the remixes as well as the 5.1 version, the video for Beautiful, extra tracks, demo versions, work-in-progress bits of music and a documentary. The documentary is very interesting as the band sit and talk about various aspects of the recording of the album, the songs themselves, being dropped by EMI and arguments about the artwork. The band seem happy to chat about what was a time of upheaval and change but also a very productive period for the band musically. The three extra tracks are not particularly compelling and you can understand why they didn’t make the final cut, although Icon was played live and is included in the Rotterdam show. The jams and early versions give a insight into the process of making and refining the songs, piecing together the bits to make the completed work. I can’t play the 5.1 mix so can’t comment on that part of the BluRay.

Within the booklet there’s an introduction from Rick Armstrong, essay pieces by Philip Wilding and James Levy, a piece by Bill Smith about Out Of This World, song lyrics complete with wonderful new artwork by Simon Ward and lots of photos from the Afraid Of Sunlight era, all of which help make this an excellent package well worth owning.

This deluxe release has reignited my love for this album. Due to the fact that Marillion still play so many of these songs live, I have become used to hearing them individually in that setting, rather than as a cohesive hour of excellent music. The fact that this music still resonates so much so long after it’s original release shows what a special band Marillion are.

Released: 02.11.19

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