The following post is written by a guest reviewer, Andromeda.
“I see myself in them, the people at the borders, waiting to exist again” – El Dorado iii, Demolished Lives
Before you read any further, let’s be frank: If you prefer your prog to focus on innocuous topics and mythical lands, then Marillion’s latest, F*** Everyone and Run (F.E.A.R.), is not for you. If, on the other hand, you appreciate a pointed and relevant commentary on the world around us that is set to polished, vibrant music, then settle in. You will be impressed. Musically this album is the strongest and most driven and structured since Marbles. Listening to it, it feels very much like the heir to that album and the last great concept album from Marillion, Afraid of Sunlight.
“I remember the enchanted English walled garden…” The first line of the opening track, ‘El Dorado’, immediately establishes that there will be an examination of nostalgia for a time that may have only existed in our imaginations. It also firmly sets in the listener’s mind that image of a wall, and walls will continue to feature throughout the album. Walls are used to keep people out, keep people in, and separate us from each other. ‘El Dorado’, the mythical lost city of untold wealth, also promised extreme riches to those who discovered it. As we’ll see later, the ones who have accumulated the gold don’t want to share it, and this is causing massive problems. The music here is quiet and poignant, and there is a hint of foreboding, of the oncoming storm.
The second track, ‘Living in FEAR’, poses an interesting question: Is acting in a peaceful, non-violent, and welcoming manner a sign of weakness or actually of strength? At what point do societies accustomed to living with the fear of terrorism, refugees, and the loss of a way of life (real or imagined) say, “No more fear,” and move to be accepting? “Our wide eyes aren’t naïve/They’re a product of a kind of exhaustion.” All that time spent living in fear will grind us down and take a toll anyway. Steve Rothery’s guitar rings like a bell on this track, calling everyone to respond to a new way of thinking.
‘The Leavers’ is, on the face of it, just a song about a band that tours the world, bringing their magic show of lights and music from town to town. But this track places a great deal of emphasis on the Remainers, who stay in their homes and tend to everyday lives. Given the recent Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, it seems clear that there are layers of interpretation to be found. Was the rhetoric used to convince people to vote for Leaving the actual magic show? And another possibility: Are the Leavers the new “citizens of the world” who want to live beyond borders and walls and the notion of country?
The next track, ‘White Paper’, focuses even more on the ones who remain. Mark Kelly’s quiet piano work here echoes the piano motifs from the Remainers on the previous track. They are the people who long to move beyond “forty different shades of white” to rediscovering the “colours of fire.” They have lost something or someone, and they desperately want to move beyond the grays and return the color to their lives.
‘The New Kings’ then drives home that this world is at the mercy of those who have the control of the gold and the wealth. The elites jet about the world, not out of love for it and its diversity, but for the sake of squeezing as much out of it as they can for their own use. In the process of becoming disconnected from the world (behind the wall of their wealth and power), they develop paranoia and an extreme distrust of the news or other people; they also live in fear. This multi-chapter song (over 16 minutes total) alternates between somber, foreboding passages and soaring moments showcasing Kelly and Rothery. Rothery’s guitar on the last chapter, ‘Why is Nothing Ever True’, is especially cutting and angry.
The coda to the album, ‘Tomorrow’s New Country’, is brief and quiet … and coy. Is it a farewell? Or is it a further statement of the changing nature of world politics? “Tomorrow’s new country / Calls us home / … for the day.” Nothing is permanent; everything is constantly changing. We can embrace it, or we can retreat behind the walls of our own devising.
Having been a fan of Marillion for 30 years now, I’m very familiar with the variety of quality in their music and lyrics over the decades. There have been luminous highs and some depressing lows. While I wouldn’t call F.E.A.R. the best album of theirs ever, I would definitely recommend it as a fine example of their unique musical form. This work feels like it was made with a definite purpose, and – agree with the message or not – the most enduring works of art are born out of a passionate examination of our lives and the world around us. That passion and clear imperative to tell a story shine through.