FEAR Itself
Marillion's Dark, Angry, Brilliant New Record

Marillion’s new album is called Fuck Everyone and Run.

When I paid for this album a year ago, I had no idea it would be called Fuck Everyone and Run, and neither did the band. And when they told us, nine months into an incredibly successful preorder campaign, that the new album would be called Fuck Everyone and Run, I will admit that I didn’t know what to think. This is a band I have loved for 20 years and what the holy hell were they doing calling their new album Fuck Everyone and Run?

But being a Marillion fan is a state of perpetual, reciprocal trust. It’s how they operate. They’re the band that invented crowdfunding, using donations to fund a U.S. tour in 1997 and then an album, Anoraknophobia, in 2000, nine years before Kickstarter launched. Crowdfunding is based on trust – we give the band our money at least a year in advance, offering them the freedom to make whatever music they want, and we trust them to deliver something amazing. Likewise, the band trusts us with their art, taking enormous creative risks secure in the belief that we will give their work the time and patience it deserves.

This has been their modus operandi for 16 years now, and I can’t imagine there’s a band alive who wouldn’t be envious of the position Marillion is in. They haven’t been on a record label since the ‘90s. They are beloved around the world by a good-sized, incredibly devoted fanbase – 17,000 of us pre-ordered Fuck Everyone and Run, without hearing a note of it. They haven’t had to compromise or dilute their music in any way. They write whatever they want, play whatever they want, make exactly the records they want to make on their own timetable, and still get to tour the world and perform for thousands of people who know all the words to every song. Tell me that isn’t living the dream.

And man, do they treat us fans well. My preorder of FEAR bought me a gorgeous 100-plus-page hardcover book full of illustrations and photos and a making-of DVD that won’t be available anywhere else. Plus all 17,000 of us got our names listed in the book. Their concerts are magical experiences – I get to go to one in a couple weeks here in Chicago – and every two years, they host a series of conventions for fans, wherein they play their hearts out for three nights in a row for us. I attended one in Montreal last year, and it was one of the best concert-going experiences of my life. The fans feel like family, like we’re whispering this secret between us, so happy to find people that this band affects in the same way.

I’ve grown used to the fact that most people I know will not hear what I hear in Marillion, will not get the spine-tingling life-changing joy I get out of them. The fact that there are thousands upon thousands of us around the world, though – enough to fund a risky and powerful album like FEAR – is consolation. I would still be overjoyed if the people I love most were to accompany me on this journey, but hey, I get to support a band making music I love deeply, and immerse myself in new music every couple of years. Feeling bad about that, even a little, seems like whining.

Considering how much I love FEAR, whining is the furthest thing from my mind. Like all the best Marillion albums, this one is taking its time with me. It’s one of their most dense – it’s anchored by three long pieces that each stretch to more than a quarter of an hour – and easily their angriest and most political. Singer Steve Hogarth has said that this album captures his sense of foreboding – there’s a storm coming, he says, and it speaks the language of fear. The sweeping epics on this record tackle the love of money at the root of all evil, and the lyrics touch on Syrian refugees, wars wrapped up in religion, media manipulation and the shame of living in a country you don’t respect anymore. It even elliptically (and coincidentally – the song was written last year) references the Brexit vote that divided the UK into leavers and remainers. When Hogarth sings “fuck everyone and run” in “The New Kings,” it’s with an air of sadness – this is the attitude he feels from the moneyed “new kings” of the world, “sailing our seas of diamonds and gold.”

There’s no doubt that FEAR is meant to be a sequence, an album that draws strength from the mood it sets and the imagery it conjures and calls back to. Gold figures heavily, and not just on the cover – the opening multi-part suite is called “El Dorado” and sets up the first world as the city of gold, its streets only for some. It’s framed around that oncoming storm, beginning with bird sounds and tender acoustic guitar and lyrics about walled gardens in England, before the clouds roll in and burst: “The thunder approaches… tearing up the sky like paper, white-welding through the dark steel of clouds and the release of the sudden rain…”

From there, “El Dorado” grows ever more foreboding as it spins its thesis: money turns us into terrible people. The third section is called “Demolished Lives,” and in it, Hogarth turns his gaze to those struggling to get into the golden city: “I see myself in them, the people at the borders, waiting to exist again, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, denied our so-called golden streets, running from demolished lives into walls…” The gold stops us, he says. The gold always did. By the time the fourth section, “FEAR,” descends, the storm is in full gale. The band hits upon a repetitive figure and just simmers with it, building it to a boil slowly over four minutes while Hogarth lays it on the line: “And the madmen say they hear voices, God tells them what to do, the wars are all about money, they always were…”

I can’t stress this enough: Hogarth is absolutely amazing in this section, and across this album. He has long been one of my favorite singers, able to hold down a song with just a whisper or ride it full-throated into the atmosphere, and on FEAR he conveys great vulnerability and anger and frustration and, at times, hope. It’s a bravura performance, and when he’s quiet and fragile, as he is at the end of “El Dorado,” he breaks my heart like few singers I know. “We are the grandchildren of apes, not angels,” he sings, but even at the end of this crushing, darkening powerhouse, he’s hopeful. It’s stunning. Marillion is no stranger to opening albums with difficult epics, but “El Dorado” might be their most magnificent.

The single, “Living in FEAR,” is the antidote – it’s the most joyous, buoyant song here, and has the closest thing to a hook-filled chorus. This song is about leaving the keys in our unlocked doors as a show of strength, as a way of saying we’re not afraid, and though the words can be clunky (“We’re not green, we’re just pleasant,” which is a William Blake reference, but not one that rolls off the tongue), the sentiment is welcome. But it comes early – “Living in FEAR” feels like a resolution, like it should close the record, but it leads into three further long pieces full of sadness, anger and pain. The sequence is clearly well thought out, so this is meant to be a moment of light before plunging back into the darkness. And we’re meant to think of it as a nice thought blotted out by reality.

That reality gets a galloping start with “The Leavers,” for my money one of the finest pieces of the band’s career. Essentially the best “life on the road” song ever, “The Leavers” dives deep into the psychology of the nomadic lifestyle. “We sleep as we’re driven, we arrive before dawn, we wait in grey truck stops for the night to release us…” (This first section, with its pulsing keyboards and thunderous drums, is unlike anything the band has done.) Hogarth spares no one in this song – his family and friends, the remainers, are unable to “persuade us and tame us and train us and save us and keep us at home,” and he knows whenever he leaves he will be letting them down. But he can’t help himself – he belongs nowhere, arriving everywhere and leaving soon after. There’s a palpable sadness to this song, emphasized by Mark Kelly’s spare pianos, and though it ends in celebration – the final section, “One Tonight,” describes a concert – you know the joy is fleeting. “There are scars in our eyes from a thousand goodbyes…”

The piano forms the foundation of “White Paper” as well, a song which reminds me of the Blue Nile. The melodies are subtle and only reveal themselves with time, and like the album itself, it builds so imperceptibly that you barely notice before it’s at full strength. “White Paper” is about fear of losing someone, but also of losing inspiration and relevance. “I used to be center stage, time I should act my age, and watch from the shadowed wings all these beautiful things,” Hogarth sings, the full weight of his 57 years in his voice. This song and “The Leavers” are more intimate, more personal, and seem to suggest that the societal problems of the bookending longer pieces can be traced back to individual fears, individual insecurities. Here’s what I’m afraid of, he seems to be saying, and here’s where fear leads us to.

And where it leads us is “The New Kings,” the darkest and angriest song on the record (and in Marillion’s catalog). Sung largely from the point of view of the people who own the world, “The New Kings” trades in familiar language: “we’re too big to fall, too big to fail,” “greed is good,” “on your knees, peasant, kiss this ring.” But it’s all delivered with such frustration and resignation that it works. The band enlists a string quartet for the first time to add to the sadness of the early sections, and when the band is on fire here, Hogarth is phenomenal. Guitarist Steve Rothery finally gets let out of the box here – he’s been present on the entire album, but subdued, only delivering a few of those patented soaring solos. Here he’s everywhere, playing fiery leads on the first section and interlocking with bassist Pete Trewavas and drummer Ian Mosley on the intricate second part.

But it’s the final movement, titled “Why is Nothing Ever True,” on which Marillion erupts. Rothery plays with abandon for the first time, the storm in full force, as Hogarth lays this down: “Remember a time when you thought you belonged to something more than you, a country that cared for you, a national anthem you could sing without feeling used or ashamed, you poor sods have only yourselves to blame, on your knees, you’re living for the new kings…” It’s the sharpest, most pointed three minutes they have ever given us, the ultimate expression of “fuck everyone and run,” and even the miniature coda of “The Leavers” that ends the album can’t dull its impact. In fact, it sharpens it – the final words are about leaving everyone behind, fucking everyone and running. “We are the leavers, I’ll tell you a secret, it’s better to leave us alone…”

It’s a dark conclusion to a dark album, the waves of anguish leaving the hope of “Living in FEAR” a distant memory. But that spark is still there, waiting to be heard again, and I think it speaks the truth of this album’s call to action. Melt our guns, leave our doors unlocked, don’t be afraid. There is much to fear – money makes us worse, the people who have the money rule the world with impunity, people leave you and you leave them, and we all grow old and lose everything in the end. But facing all that with an open heart is worth it. A storm is coming, a storm is already here. I know I’m dreading November, and the years after that, and what this election season has taught us about the character of our country. But we can either cower from the rain, or run outside to meet it. It’s entirely up to us.

That’s a lot of insight to pack into 68 minutes, but it’s all there. I’ve barely mentioned the music, which is superb as always – Marillion’s work here feels like Talk Talk and Steven Wilson and Pink Floyd in places, but it always feels like Marillion. It’s intricate in ways that don’t immediately jump out, and on first listen it may seem like it all glides by without getting anywhere. This is a pretty common reaction to any first listen of Marillion – their music is patient, and it takes root over time. I’ve listened more than a dozen times now, and it’s come to life. It’s vibrant, focused, constantly moving, messy, raw, beautifully produced, full and rich. It’s Marillion. It stands up there with the best albums they have made. And it’s still surprising me with new delights, even now.

So yes, Marillion took my money and made an album called Fuck Everyone and Run. And I can’t thank them enough. The band has been around since 1978, and this is their 18th album, so at this point every one of these could be the last one. If this turns out to be it, I’ll be more than satisfied. Fuck Everyone and Run is one of the best albums they’ve made, in a career full of phenomenal albums. I’m proud to have supported it, proud to have been a small part of this band’s story for the past decade-plus, and grateful. So very grateful. And I’ll gladly keep on sending my money a year in advance and trusting Marillion to just be Marillion. There’s no other band like them.

* * * * *

I don’t know how it is where you are, but here in Illinois fall has landed with a thud. We went from 80-degree days to 60-degree days and colder with no warning at all. The end of the year is approaching, and here’s further proof: it’s time for the third quarter report. Here is what my top 10 list would look like if I were forced to publish it right now:

10. Sarah Jarosz, Undercurrent.
9. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool.
8. Gungor, One Wild Life: Body.
7. De La Soul, And the Anonymous Nobody.
6. Beyonce, Lemonade.
5. Lauren Mann, Dearestly.
4. Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger.
3. Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution.
2. Marillion, Fuck Everyone and Run.
1. The Dear Hunter, Act V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional.

It’s not often that I hear my number one and number two records within a couple weeks of each other, but I can’t imagine this list without those two at its apex now. I think the quality of this year crept up on me. Looking at this list, I’d already stack it against any other year, and we have three months to go.

Next week, the finale of Gungor’s trilogy and a couple others. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook here.

See you in line Tuesday morning.