Fugazi Deluxe Edition: The Progressive Aspect Review Click here to discover more
Marillion's second album, Fugazi, gets a wash and brush up courtesy of Andy Bradfield and Avril Mackintosh. Can they breathe new life into the flat production of the original release? Leo Trimming's apocalyptic alphabet casts the spell!

1984’s Fugazi, Marillion’s second album, is the latest of the band’s ‘EMI era’ albums to be re-released as an impressive deluxe edition. There are albums which stand the test of time, some ‘deluxe’ editions seeming little more than cosmetic marketing exercises with no discernible improvements. Then there are albums which REALLY need an updated version to sort out issues from the original release, and boy, does Fugazi benefit from this treatment!

Fugazi

After the great success of debut Script For A Jester’s Tear, Marillion had a lot to live up to, and it is fair to say they experienced classic ‘difficult second album syndrome’. The title is taken from Mark Baker’s Vietnam War book Nam, Fugazi meaning ‘all fucked up/screwed up’, which seemed apt on a couple of levels for a band who had just been through some turmoil in terms of personnel. They were also overindulging in some of the ‘recreational’ activities that might be associated with a young band in the flush of a successful album and sell out tours. All these factors contributed to less-than-ideal circumstances for their second album.


Marillion have always been a contrary band but even for them choosing Punch and Judy, a happy little ditty about marital friction and domestic violence, as the first single was rather bizarre

Fugazi is generally perceived by most fans as the least satisfying albums of the four from the Fish era (cue someone shouting “Well, it’s MY Favourite!”). It undoubtedly includes a couple Marillion’s finest songs, but it lacks consistency. However, with the distance of time, this re-release can allow Fugazi to be reconsidered, out of the shadow of more celebrated Fish era Marillion albums.

It is conceivable that Fugazi will be unknown to some, so this review will attempt to describe the songs and background in some depth. It will be more familiar to others, but hopefully they might find out some interesting information about long known songs. No doubt these people are probably wondering whether it is worth re-investing in the album.

Well, the answer to that question can be answered right from the start – ABSOLUTELY Yes! Why?

One of the main drawbacks of the original 1984 release was the poor-quality production. There were issues with producer Nick Tauber being exhausted and dealing with other personal issues. Additionally, the band have acknowledged that when they went into the studio they just did not have enough quality material for an album. Marillion were also being given a relentless touring schedule so could not concentrate on creating new music. Eventually, they simply ran out of time and began the Fugazi tour before the album had even been released. They heard the final mixes whilst out on the road and were disappointed with the final product, but EMI informed them it was too late to make any changes.

Therefore, in that context, Fugazi is definitely the album from the Fish era that would potentially most benefit from a fundamental remix, presenting these songs in a manner closer to what the band had aspired to ‘back in the day’.

Fugazi

Assassing is probably the song which most noticeably benefits from the excellent remix by Andy Bradfield and Avril Mackintosh, showing a vast improvement. I was fortunate enough to witness the live world premiere of this song at a small gig near Swansea in the summer of 1983 – it sounded immense with real bite and menace, blowing the crowd away in an exhilarating performance.

Fast forward to the release in March 1984 and I distinctly recall thinking ‘WTF!?’ when I heard the strangely tinny and rather insipid production of this much anticipated song. It was a pale shadow of what it should have been. This remix transforms the song into what it should have sounded like in 1984! It has the depth and resonance this excellent song deserves, with Ian Mosley’s drums and Pete Trewavas’ bass crisply powering this dark incantation about the sacking of former band members (exactly who it is based on depending on when Fish was asked about it!). Peter Hammill of Van der Graaf Generator, their support act on the Script tour, had played Fish a tape of Islamic music on the road, inspiring Fish to suggest an Eastern feel to this song as he already had a virtually finished lyric.

In the fascinating accompanying Blu-ray documentary The Performance Has Just Begun, Steve Rothery reveals that he wrote the majority of the music for Assassing, especially the distinctive opening riff, using a Roland guitar synthesiser. Mark Kelly’s keyboards sound so much more fulsome and sparkling in the remix and guest Chris Karen’s previously ‘buried in the mix’ tabla playing in the later section can now be heard, adding a suitably Eastern effect to Mosley’s thumping drums. If anyone has any doubt whether it is worth getting this re-release, just compare the original mix of this song with the resplendent job presented here – it’s virtually worth the money alone.

Marillion have always been a contrary band but even for them choosing Punch And Judy, a happy little ditty about marital friction and domestic violence, as the first single was rather bizarre to say the least. Fish had written the words for this harsh social observation well before they wrote the music. This was the only song written with American drummer Jonathan Mover, who came and went quickly in Marillion’s very own version of Spinal Tap during the summer of 1983 when they went through three drummers before finding Ian Mosley.

Fugazi

Mover was a skilled drummer, but did not fit in and made the crucial error of annoying Fish! One thing he did that got right up the nose of the Big Man was to ornately embellish this piece in quirky 5/8 rhythms, whereas Fish had imagined it as a much more straightforward Bo Diddley-esque rock ‘n’ roll number. The rest of the band also ‘Marillion-ised’ the song with all sorts of flourishes, such as Kelly’s distinctive keyboard fanfare, squeezed into three frantic minutes. Ian Mosley felt it was “right up his street” and he clearly enjoyed flashing his skilled drumming through the piece, whilst Pete Trewavas is equally skilful, moving the bass around in what he called a “Proggy version of Macca”. However, Trewavas acknowledged that it was “more fun to play than to listen to” and it was no surprise that even after an appearance on BBC’s Top of the Pops TV show the single unusually fell down the charts. Pop music it ain’t!

She Chameleon has a lyric written even before Script…, and the song had been part of their live set well before the debut album (curious readers can hear its debut on the Glasgow Mayfair disc from September 1982 on the Early Stages Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-87. However, that embryonic version was very different to the finally recorded song. It was felt the lyric was too good to waste so they wanted to write a better piece of music for it. Fish has revealed that inspiration for the song stemmed from a rather drunken conversation backstage at the Friars, Aylesbury with Julian Cope of The Teardrop Explodes, who was being repeatedly interrupted by young female fans wanting autographs and a snog. Fish said to Cope, “Was it just a fuck, just another fuck?”, which Cope said would make a great lyric. Cope never got the credit they drunkenly agreed would be forthcoming if it was ever used in a song!


She Chameleon has a lyric written even before Script… and the song had been part of their live set well before the debut album

Unfortunately, even after a new score, this was still a good lyric in need of some good music! Gone was the admittedly incongruous upbeat rhythm of the original, which did not really fit the vitriolic nature of the words, replaced by a much more sombre approach. Nick Tauber suggested that Kelly play the main backing on a church organ, recorded at the Angel Studios, Islington. The intention was probably to give a more baroque atmosphere, but the outcome is a rather stately, almost funereal feel which Kelly himself states is rather 'dirge-y'. He does embellish the middle with a suitably lizard-like synth solo and Rothery adds a spectral guitar solo, but we soon get dragged back to the main musical cortege which tortuously fades away, frankly to the relief of most fans… and it appears most of the band! Kelly wrote the music, but he was disappointed with the outcome. Pete Trewavas is rather more negative about it, suggesting “There’s a few bits I’d have probably left unrecorded – waste of tape…”. Honestly, no remix of any sort could redeem this song, surely the musical nadir of the Marillion Fish era?

Jigsaw maybe symbolic of the album as a whole, featuring some lovely constituent parts, but there is definitely a missing piece. The song tinkles in gently with an almost nursery rhyme-like melody (akin to later song Lavender?) on Jupiter 8 keyboard. Fish conversely sings bitter lyrics of love going sour. Rothery described it as “almost a great song” with a great vocal performance. Fish admits that this may be one of his “wordiest lyrics” (and that’s saying something!), based on the idea that in relationships each person keeps something back and wants to be the one to lay the last missing piece. The verses are verbose, but it has a killer chorus – uplifting and poetic.  Midway through, Rothery plays an inspired flowing and melodic solo. In some ways this lovely but flawed piece could be seen as a foreshadowing of later song Sugar Mice which has a similar but better developed vibe.

Fugazi

For some strange reason, Emerald Lies is not regarded highly by some – even the band are divided. Rothery and Fish seem underwhelmed by it. In contrast, Trewavas and Mosley were pleased as it really gave them license to show off their skills, Mosley feeling he could do whatever he wanted. Personally, I think it’s an absolute hidden gem with a cracking opening percussive salvo led by the rhythm section. Trewavas clearly loved playing Emerald Lies, feeling he was “more Geddy Lee than Chris Squire”. It’s an enigmatic and contrasting song, combining spidery sections with fragile vocals around furious bursts of percussion and thunderous bass before it erupts in an explosive finale. Rothery’s angsty guitar and Fish’s poisonous lyrics so evocatively depict the “40 watt sun in a court drama”. This is an underappreciated mini-epic, dripping with the green of envy, swinging tumultuously between extremes in the same way as Fish’s ‘on/off’ relationship was vacillating at the time.

Fugazi

Fish’s voice ranges from almost whispered regret to bitter menace and desperate, snarling fury in a vocal tour de force. Originally intended as a B-side, it was eventually promoted to the album when they realised they were lacking material. What a waste it would have been to hide it away on a single, and it certainly benefits greatly from the remix with the drums and bass to the fore and much crisper.

Bearing in mind the band’s dissatisfaction with the lack of time to finish, it is perhaps ironic that the two best songs on the album – and two of the best of their whole career – were created under great pressure as studio time was running out. Kelly felt the spectre of a fast-approaching deadline stimulated their creative juices to really flow on Fugazi‘s stupendous final two songs. Fish states Incubus is his favourite song with Marillion (and it may well be this author’s favourite Fish era track). Similarly, Rothery states it is his favourite on the album, remarking that the guitar solo was the first of his career where he feels he really “nailed what I wanted to do”. The piece launches straight into the action, with the Islamic influence heard in Assassing re-appearing with a mesmeric beat, Fish intoning “who-wap”, based on an Egyptian funeral chant. Mosley plays the percussive cascade deftly, admitting it may have been based on a rhythm devised by his short-term predecessor Jonathan Mover, which Mosley “bastardised and made my own”. Apparently, Fish was also not adverse to some ‘recycling’, reportedly using part of the soliloquy he had intended for the beginning of Script For A Jester’s Tear which was never recorded.

The rhythms and beats which punctuate Incubus are relentless, dramatic and truly hypnotic – a perfect backdrop to this dark, sordid musical tragedy about a spurned photographer and his ex-girlfriend, left behind as she goes on to modelling fame.

Against the tumbling avalanche of drums Kelly joins with waves of ‘Hammer Horror’ organ, followed by a slithering synth solo. The remix adds so much more Gothic grandeur to this spectacular opening section, before they pull back on the intensity, acoustic guitars and subtle bass underpinning Fish’s envious and vengefully bitter words. Fish repeatedly snarls “I’ve played this scene before”, and suddenly we are left with a spotlight solely on a stark piano and Fish’s desperate voice of rejection. This almost cinematic ‘pull back’ very much shifts the focus of the song and gives more insight into the bitterness infecting the main protagonist’s mind. It’s an inspired musical device which heightens the drama, leading into Rothery’s tremendous guitar solo. As the solo reaches a climax, Fish returns as “the Snake in the Grass” and “the performance has just begun”. A stark organ underpins Fish’s voice and then the whole band launches into one of the best finales of Marillion’s whole career as lyrics and music fuse together brilliantly in a blazing tail dive to the inevitable humiliation in this tragedy.

Fish was on fire lyrically, powerfully conjuring visual images to convey the feelings of desperation:

"Your perimeter of courtiers jerk like celluloid puppets, as you stutter paralysed with rabbits eyes, searing the shadows, flooding the wings…"

Jealousy, revenge and desperate panic never sounded so Stygian in depth, and yet musically it is captivating, drawing us in like moths to watch, with equal measures of fascination and horror, the descent of the protagonists. Incubus is undoubtedly a searing and brilliant piece of Grand Guignol musical drama, and one of the finest pieces in the Marillion canon.

Marillion maintain the outstanding quality with the following title track. A beautiful piano line (reportedly played on the same piano used for Bohemian Rhapsody) sonorously underpins Fish’s drug fuelled observations on the Piccadilly line from Earl’s Court to a gig at the Marquee. Fish reveals in the fascinating ‘Track by Track’ feature that after dropping acid at his flat he wrote the lyrics in a stream of consciousness whilst watching TV. Fish seems to have consumed a dictionary for the album but on the title track he was clearly in ‘full Thesaurus-mode’ with a bewildering array of analogies, metaphors, wordplay and references from mythology and literature (which does not always work). On balance though, Fish’s words fizz with effervescent imagery, startling metaphors and starkly outlined observations which instantly paint almost tangible mental pictures:

"Sheathed within the Walkman wear the Halo of Distortion, Aural Contraceptive aborting pregnant conversation"

On the original recording, after the opening piano/vocal introduction there is a 5-second gap before the rest of the band join the piece, which was particularly effective in a live context. On this remix that gap has been removed, which is a curious decision and about the only reservation I have with this version, which is otherwise vastly superior to the original or the 1998 remaster. Back to the music – Rothery picks up the melody, bass and drum punctuating the background spasmodically, accentuating a sense of dislocation. Fish spits out the lines in a powerful cascade of multi-layered, overlapping vocals. He casts his eyes over a depressing urban landscape – a litany of prostitution, twisted relationships, racist hatred and homelessness. As the tension rises a massive keyboard weighs in and then the whole band really takes off, reaching a seeming crescendo, Rothery throwing in a brief strafing guitar, and still this thrilling juggernaut of a song rumbles on. In live performance the crowds would literally bounce along manically to this fuel injected section… and suddenly the band would drop out to leave the sound of burning.

If we thought things were dark beforehand it appears we are descending ever lower into a deeper Hell. Armageddon is evoked by a pulsing keyboard in a doom-laden soundscape (apparently inspired by the foreboding theme song of the movie Cat People by David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder) and a guitar scrapes like some sort of wraith. Fish intones an apocalyptic incantation like a manic prophet, with the focus on the fear and the very real threat of nuclear destruction at the height of the Cold War.


Assassing is probably the song which most noticeably benefits from the excellent remix

Marillion do not finish in completely bleak fashion as they arise out of this musical nuclear winter with an uplifting conclusion (although it’s fair to say we have gone down a very long, dark tunnel in this song before we see some rather small light at the end!) A martial rhythm and whistle-like keyboard brings in a march of hope in which Fish asks: “Where are the Prophets, where are the Visionaries, Where are the Poets…”. This remix version has allowed the band to fix the clumsy fade out conclusion which they did not intend and hated, the piece ending far more poetically with the instruments gradually fading away, except for a military drum which ends emphatically, voices echoing away into the distance. This powerful paranoid polemic song should rightly be regarded as a masterpiece in Marillion history.

Hearing these last two brilliant songs again in the renewed splendour of this remix has completely rekindled my love for them – after being on constant repeat for the last few days I have grown to appreciate their artistry, musicality and dramatic impact even more all these years later.

Fugazi

In addition to the remix, there is an excellent live show from Montreal in 1984. Assassing, Incubus and Cinderella Search from that show were previously available on the Real To Reel live release. This full show is a real gem, with Ian Mosley adding great percussive quality, underlining just what a tight band they were on stage. Marillion in concert were phenomenal in that period. It is particularly pleasing to hear Emerald Lies as it was largely dropped from their set after this tour. The whole of Fugazi is featured in the show, except She Chameleon, with the band preferring Cinderella Search. Standout songs are the Real To Reel songs plus a malevolent and yet stirring version of Fugazi itself, and great takes of Script, Chelsea Monday and Forgotten Sons – indeed, it’s a bit of a dream setlist of that era. The band were clearly on form that night and the sound quality and live mix is excellent, conveying the added bite and energy on stage that did not always fully translate into their studio albums.

The Blu-ray features the whole Montreal 1984 set (although there is an error on the stated timing, which gives the Montreal gig a running time of only 45 minutes. I can confirm that the whole audio concert is indeed included on the Blu-ray). As well as this great live audio, visually the excellence of the band’s live performance is splendidly presented with a 45-minute concert for Swiss TV show Hear We Go. Marillion excel, whipping the crowd into a frenzy and showcasing the highlights of their exhilarating live set at the time (Apart from that, Trewavas’ magnificently silly ’80s mullet hairstyle just has to be seen to be believed – some things age better than others!). In addition, the bonus tracks from the 1998 remaster are included, featuring early demo versions and simply one of the best B-sides ever released by the band, Cinderella Search, although it seems strange that these were not included on a fourth CD, similar to the other deluxe editions in the series. Many fans have stated that Cinderella Search should have been on the album instead of She Chameleon. It is definitely vastly superior, and the album would have been improved by its inclusion, but one minor technicality prevented that from happening – it was not written or recorded at the time of the album! It was recorded later as a B-side for the Assassing single.

The sheer quality of Bradield and Mackintosh’s excellent remix is most stunningly displayed in the Blu-ray 5.1 mix, with much greater clarity, sharpness and resonance – well worth it if you have the equipment. However, even without the ability to play the 5.1 mix, the stereo remix alone is resplendent. Most interestingly on the Blu-ray are the documentary and the track-by-track band commentary, which provide some fascinating insights into the creation of this album.

Fugazi is a flawed diamond. It did not quite achieve the consistency and quality of its illustrious predecessor. Rothery was perplexed, saying “How could something that took so long… sound slightly rushed?”, and he and the band vowed that in future they would never lose control over the final album mix. In contrast, Trewavas feels the musicianship all round was better than their debut. Mosley has positive memories of his first Marillion album, describing it as a "brilliant stepping stone to Misplaced Childhood".

Nevertheless, generally there was considerable disappointment that they were releasing something that was not as good as it should have been, and they were certainly right to be disappointed about the production. Fish described it as a “consolidation album”, which live album Real To Reel built on as a platform before their breakout hit album Misplaced Childhood.

The strange thing is that whilst Fugazi was my least favourite Fish era album, it may well have become my favourite in this deluxe edition series. Why? Because after 37 years we FINALLY get to hear something approaching the album the band had hoped to release in 1984…

… so sit back, pour a cup of whatever tickles your fancy and enjoy Fugazi like you have NEVER heard it before… after all “the performance has just begun”.

Reproduced by kind permission of Leo Trimming and The Progressive Aspect. See Leo's original review here.

buffer

< back