Marillion – A Script for a Jester’s Tear
The year is 1983. Synth-pop and new wave have won the war against punk. The dinosaurs of the progressive rock movement are shells of their former selves. Genesis devolves to Genesis, while Yes returns from retirement and strikes it big the “Owner of a Lonely Heart” (wtf?!). And then there was Asia’s Alpha. What was a self respecting prog fan to do? Look towards the mother land, friends, for there was about to be a revival, of sorts (and not for long), which thrust all things “prog” back into the limelight. The genesis, so to speak, of that revival was Script for a Jester’s Tear.
After an initial single release (the mangled “Battle Priest” version of “Market Square Heroes”), EMI released Marillion’s debut full length effort in 1983. Heavily influenced by classic Genesis, the album set the template for the neo-prog movement that has stayed with us to this day (for better or worse, depending on your point of view). Longish songs, twiddliy keyboard bits (using cutting edge digital equipment) and soaring guitar solos are all in play here. Not as complex as the classics, but daunting enough to scare away the riff raff.
The greatest distinction from what came before was Fish, the band’s charismatic Scottish frontman. While he certainly sounds a bit more like Peter Gabriel in spots, Fish’s lyrics went to places that the more abstract verse of Genesis and Yes dared to tread. From lost love (“Script for a Jester’s Tear”) to drug addiction (“He Knows You Know”) and suicide (“Chelsea Monday”) to the troubles in Ireland (“Forgotten Sons” – a subject which, ironically, the band would revisit in “Easter,” on Season’s End, the debut release with second front man Steve Hogarth), these songs are much more personal than most of 70s prog. Which is not to say there isn’t some clever social skewering around, too (“Garden Party”). While in the wrong hands these conceits lead to perhaps the most tired neo-prog cliché, Fish is master, both of the words and the delivery, and isn’t in the same league as most modern melodramatic hacks. Not that it works every time out, as Conrad pointed out.
Overall, the album sounds like a band still trying to get its feet in the studio. Most of these tunes appear on various live releases, with “Garden Party” cropping up at live shows even to this day, and fare better. They have more life, energy, and much improved drumkit work. The production also sounds a little thin, though, to be honest, I’m working off the original CD release and not the remastered version. If you’re a neo-prog aficionado and for some reason don’t know Fish-era Marillion, this is as good a place to start as any. If you’re not a fan of the genre in its current state, this (along with early IQ and Twelfth Night) might be of archeological interest, as an example of what neo-prog was once, in its infancy.