Afraid of Sunlight
After the critical success but commercial failure (In EMI's eyes it cost far too much to make)
of the 1994 concept album ‘Brave’, Marillion set to work writing and recording their eighth
album. Recorded from January to March of 1995 and released in late June (just after the
My teenage obsession with Britpop and indie bands such as Blur,
Oasis, Suede, Pulp, Elastica and The Verve meant that though I was introduced to and
enjoyed the ‘Brave’ album, I completely ignored ‘Afraid Of Sunlight’ in 1995 but this is
something I rectified when I became a fan again after finding a Marillion compilation in a
record shop in Cambridge while I was at university in late 2000.
Unlike some of my other reviews, I will be taking a different approach, concentrating only on
the music this time. So, let’s get on to the album’s eight tracks and running time of just over
fifty minutes and twenty-five seconds:
I don’t know if there is a better album opener than “Gazpacho" (The bandhave opened with
it on their Christmas tour in 2014). An epic seven minutes and thirty seconds and a Steven
Rothery showpiece of his masterful guitar work. If you are a fan of guitar effects such as
chorus, reverband delay then this is a song for you but the whole band shines on this.
Lyrically, influenced by the 1980 Martin Scorsese movie ‘Raging Bull’ the song is about the
Hollywood lifestyle and possibly a boxer who can’t handlethe fame and is abusive. The
gazpacho of the song title refers to whether the stains on a wife’s dress is blood or justspilt
gazpacho soup. Boxing is not a sport I have ever liked but I can understand the lyrics
Gazpacho segues into the Beach Boys intro of “Cannibal Surf Babe". This is one of Steve
Hogarth and John Helmer’s weirdest lyrics and is believed to be inspired by horror movies.
It is one of Marillion’s fast songs but while not as aggressive as songs such as Gaza and, it
is heavy Marillion.
A short French woman speech (a short speech in French not a short French woman) segues
into "Beautiful" (there are a lot of segues on this album). Beautiful is what it is indeed, full of
twinkling guitar and piano arpeggios and another outstanding uplifting chorus. It was
released as a single and is the most commercial sounding song on the album but sadly only
reached number twenty-nine in the UK singles chart.
"Afraid of Sunrise" is the fourth song. I admit I was not impressed when I first heard the
album as I thought it was lyrically too like the title song, but I have grown to love its ‘cruising
with the sun coming up’ sound and some of the most amazing fretless bass work I have ever
heard. I think this is the worst song on the album but that is only because of the high quality
of the other seven songs.
"Out of This World" is the story of Donald Campbell’s land speed attempt on Coniston Water
in early 1967 (I’m not related by the way). The main guitar line is a simple slow arpeggio
treated with an echo effect that fits the song perfectly. During the second half of the song,
the minor chords in the chord progression on synth pads make it very atmospheric and
haunting. It is the longest song on the album is probably the Marillion song most about both
death and water. If you are ever in the Lake District, I highly recommend taking a walk
around the lake while listening to this song.
The title track "Afraid of Sunlight" has a very subtle programmed drum beat, synth and string
pads and another of Steve Rothery’s trademark guitar arpeggios during the verses but gets
louder and harder but no less beautiful during the chorus. It is stunning and probably my
favourite song on the album. Towards the end is a wonderful piece that is not quite a guitar
solo but close enough to a solo to stand out.
"Beyond You" is like the title track in that it has a quiet synth pad driven verse but a powerful
chorus. Apparently, the song got a few complaints when the album was first released as the
mono version sounded unnerving, but I think the wall of sound works well and sounds
awesome on massive speakers.
Though it is not a concept album, the album has an underlying theme of the destructive
nature of the celebrity lifestyle and this is perfectly explained in the lyrics of "King". Live, the
bandplay a video of many celebrities who had died, and I am not ashamed to say that I
have shed a tear ortoo on occasion seeing some of my heroes on there. During the last
thirty seconds, the song builds and builds, getting faster and faster until it stops suddenly,
and the album ends.
This was to be the last album Marillion released for EMI and for an album that was written
and recorded so quickly (by Marillion standards) it certainly does not feel like it was rushed.
You can hear all the nuances in the music, the samples are clear but subtle and not
overused and the production is outstanding for a recording in a brand new (at the time)
private studio. I already mentioned Pete’s fretless bass on Afraid Of Sunrise’ but overall this
is some of the best playing he has ever done (and that is saying a lot). In fact, the whole
band is at the top in terms of musicianship. The bandhave a philosophy of simple things
done well and a perfect example is this album. The chords and rhythms may not be
complicated but the talent of this band is in the writing, arranging, production and the
equipment that they use. Until Marbles replaced it, for a long time this was my all-time
favourite Marillion album and I would quite happily rate it as 9/10.