Marillion - Brave
Once I caught wind that Marillion were in the studio to complete the follow up to 'Holidays In Eden', a strange feeling came over me. Was this going to be mark 2 of the previous release, or are Marillion able to fight off the record label and create a non-comformist wax? Something that is truly them which their fans had grown to love? As reviews started to trickle in raving about the return of the true Marillion, I was still very cautious about 'Brave'. Remember, I sided much more with Fish, therefore anything the guys did, had to be on point. However, the moment 'Brave' from my speakers for the first time, any fear of giving in to EMI's demands were gone. Instead, what I heard was a classic recording in the grander scheme of things. Elation and euphoria are two very small words to describe my state of mind as the opening bars to 'Bridge' rang out. Sadly this was the last time I paid attention to anything Marillion did for many years. Yes I know I'm an idiot but that's what happened.
As the guys got together after a much-needed break from recording and touring 'Holidays In Eden', to create a new album, they only had bits and pieces ready, at best. No proper songs nor any direction on a theme was decided on until Steve Hogarth told the band about a news segment he had heard on a radio station in Bristol, England. A woman had been found walking on Severn Bridge, a known location for suicides, and was allegedly stopped from jumping to her own death. However, she wouldn't speak to anyone, so no one knew what caused her to attempt this. Marillion decided this woman's story was the angle they needed and began to piece together what would become the amazing 'Brave'.
Setting the mood right away the eerie ‘Bridge’ begins with a ship baying it’s horns before a dreamlike keyboard takes it away. It’s almost like the beginning of the end. As Steve Hogarth starts to sing, we are inside the woman’s mind who is preparing to take that final step. The song leads into ‘Living With The Big Lie’ guided by a trippy, creepy guitar. Once the whole band joins in, the atmosphere is dreamy and dark with a lot of turmoil bubbling inside our main character. It picks up pace eventually making the woman’s distraught mind even more vivid, as she is thinking about all the events that led her to the bridge. ‘Runaway’ goes back in time when the troubles started for the woman. It deals about being blinkered, so instead of finding a resolve and giving proper help, only pity and sympathy is given which many times triggers a trauma, which is the case with the bridge woman. Built up around five chapters, if you like, ‘Goodbye To All That’ tells it all how the woman slips fast into the tormented realm she came to inhabit. The descent happens faster due to the lack of proper help from her family. Thinking she has found a resolution and an escape, she embraces the world of heroin with all that it entails. Deep down she knows it’s wrong but it’s better than the false airs put up at home. Musically the song covers many different spectra and it works so well depicting the whirlwind she’s in.
Heavy riffs initiates ‘Hard As Love’ which is the album’s out-and-out rocker as the band really lets it all hang out. Trying to open up and let the love she so desperately crave in, it might be too little too late. Still, she tries because she wants to love and be loved and have a purpose. Lyrically ‘The Hollow Man’ is a direct follow up to ‘Hard As Love’, but it tells about the consequences of shutting love and people out of her life. A soft piano courtesy of Mark Kelly backs up Hogarth for the most part and it creates the perfect soundtrack to the woman stepping away from her people. ‘Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury’ is the point where our main character hits breaking point. Her father commits acts of treason towards his wife and family. The mother tries to deny everything for the sake of superficial appearances, and this plummets our heroine to her impending doom. Steve Rothery is playing his heart out, as does Ian Mosley and Pete Trewavas as always, all while Mark Kelly is adding anguish to the woman’s troubled being. Another rocker is ‘Paper Lies’ where Marillion sings about the horrible twists the Press puts on stories, all in the name of more sales. In the end there’s hardly a trace of truth left behind each news story.
A man who tried to save the woman mainly by talking to her, thinks back on their conversations. Thinking she showed a lot of strength despite her adversaries, he hopes she’s alright and managed to climb out of the descent she was stuck in. By utilizing a somewhat Celtic feel to ‘Brave’ the band perfectly brings out the reflective mood this man is in. In ‘The Great Escape’, which is actually made up by ‘The Last Of You’ and ‘Fallin’ From The Moon’ as well, we’re taken back to real time again as the woman is on her way to the bridge. She doesn’t view her soon-to-be suicide as something bad, but rather the only way to cleanse herself and get rid of all the demons. Waiting to take that final leap, she finally opens up – to herself – and accuse the father, who initially caused all her problems, for not helping and caring for her. Finally liberation is there. She realizes all the pain she’s suffered doesn’t matter any longer. She’s free and steps out from the bridge and falls into the water and disappears…or does she? The music does have a build-up character, it slowly grows and grows until Marillion are pulling out all the stops to add to all the emotions and freedom the woman finally feels. Amazing! Album closer ‘Made Again’ is a contrast to the main theme. It offers hope and rebirth, if you like. Again, who knows if the woman actually died. Bright, light and free of obstacles, a solitary guitar guides Hogarth through a journey of new beginnings.
Listening to ‘Brave’ now it has lost none of the magic it radiated upon it’s release. The album still moves me and touches deep within and I can’t stop marveling at Marillion’s fantastic ability to be down to earth and hit home on emotions like few can. And that’s just focusing on the lyrics. Add the music they create and everything explodes in ways unfathomable. So let their music embrace you and enjoy. While writing this and listening to the album over and over again, I simply can’t grasp why I couldn’t be bothered with the guys later on. I’ll try to figure that out until the next installment.