Marillion – Anoraknophobia
Marillion’s twelfth studio album was released in May 2001 and the story behind its release is a very interesting one. In early 2000, the band had the idea of sending out a mass email to their database of thirty thousand people asking them if they would be willing to fund the recording of the next album. Over twelve thousand people responded within three weeks and decided that it would be a fantastic idea to pre-pay despite having to wait over a year for new music with the first seven thousand people having their name credited in the liner notes. The success of the preorder was a pioneering use of crowdfunding and meant that the band could get a distribution deal from EMI (their former label) without losing any of the rights to the songs. I sadly missed out on the preorder (I did the preorder for the next album), but I bought the album directly from the band’s website and it arrived a few days later.
The title Anoraknophobia may seem to be a nonsense made-up word (Marillion is a made-up word anyway) but it has a deeper meaning. It comes from Arachnophobia of course but if you break it down into anorak, no and phobia you can see that it makes a lot more sense. This is not about the ‘fear of anoraks’ but about not having a fear of anoraks i.e. that you need to enjoy whatever hobby or interest makes you happy whatever it may be and not to care what anyone else thinks. Marillion fans have been known as both ‘freaks’ and ‘anoraks’ throughout the band’s career.
The album has a very sweet and cartoon-like cover with the same image of Barry (the album’s mascot) repeated nine times in a square of different colours on very nice plain blue background. That is the background story and a description of the title and the album cover but what about the music itself? The album running time is sixty-three minutes and thirty-one seconds which is not too long and not too short with no song shorter than five minutes long. So, let’s take look at all eight songs individually:
"Between You and Me" opens with a lovely mid-tempo piano piece lasting just thirty seconds but then kicks into an up-tempo alternative rock song. Musically it is quite like Radiation’s “Under the Sun”. I like how the band and tempo drop down during the bridge leaving just piano and voice before the band come back in.
"Quartz" is driven by a repeated bassline. Equal parts funky and trippy. Some people have said that it should finish with the line “one of these days you just have to stop” but I think the ending solo is worth the extra minute or so.
"Map of the World" is a sister song to the title track from Holidays in Eden but with a country rock vibe. The only thing I dislike is the ‘Paris, London, New York’ line. Surely h could have found better cities to use than three of the most visited in the world (Accra, Bangkok and Lagos for example?) but I guess it is the way the words must scan.
"When I Meet God" has a lovely mixture of electronic synth arpeggios, acoustic guitar, drum-loops and some of the most beautiful and philosophical lyrics Steve Hogarth has ever written. the whole song is about the idea of a female god who needs to look after her family a bit more. ‘A perfect mirror floating in space’ may be a reference to the Hubble Space Telescope. The song fades out with some samples of news reports from the time such as the Concorde crash and the deaths of Sarah Payne and Damilola Taylor. One of the best songs on the album if not their entire back catalogue.
"The Fruit of the Wild Rose" is probably the closest to a blues song but still being unmistakably Marillion. I love the organ stabs on this but the synth pads during the chorus are lovely too. Towards the end the song becomes a funk jam with some great wah-wah pedal guitar playing mixed in with what sounds like a heavily treated steel string acoustic guitar and Mark’s organ and synths.
"Separated Out" is another hard-rocking anthem this time driven by heavy guitar and a simple three-note organ riff. Marillion may not write songs like this very often but they do the heavy rock stuff extremely well. The song is influenced by Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Pay close attention to the samples from the 1934 movie ‘Freaks’ - “We accept her one of us.”
A short synth throb opens "This Is the 21st Century" quickly followed by a very hypnotic programmed drum beat that drives along the whole song. Over the top of this is a synth pad, short stabs of lead guitar and Steve Hogarth’s wonderful voice. A lovely slow burner widescreen epic of a song that never outstays its welcome over its eleven minutes and one of the finest long songs they have ever written.
The final song "If My Heart Were a Ball It Would Roll Uphill" is another of the heavier songs on the album. The are more of the organ stabs but also some electronics in there too. There is even a sample of Fish singing Chelsea Monday from the first album. The song fades out with a reverberating drum loop while h sings random words.
Anoraknophobia is probably the most varied Marillion album they have ever made. Free from record company pressure they were able to create an album they wanted to make and over the eight songs there are influences from alternative rock, blues, jazz, country, trip-hop, dub (a similar style to reggae), rap, funk and electronica. There were (and still are) mixed feelings about this album from the fanbase, but you cannot deny that the band were willing to try something different and there is nothing wrong with that. As it was the first Marillion album I bought new, it is very special for me but also because the songs are so strong, and it is still in my top five of Marillion albums.