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‘Brave’: Behind Marillion’s Bold Leap Into Mental Health
In Depth

‘Brave’: Behind Marillion’s Bold Leap Into Mental Health

Unravelling the mystery of a girl’s psychological struggles, Marillion’s 1994 album, ‘Brave’, is one of the band’s great artistic triumphs.


With their 1994 concept album, Brave, British progressive-rock legends Marillion embarked on a perilous journey into the troubled psyche of a young girl struggling to find her place in the modern world. Based loosely upon a true story, the album elaborates on the girl’s plight with chilling atmospherics and heartrendingly epic song arrangements that saw the band make a bold return to classic prog-rock territory.

Standing the test of time as a powerful statement on mental health, sexual abuse and emotional dysfunction, Brave has come to be regarded as one of Marillion’s finest achievements – a haunting rock opera that vividly explores the darker aspects of the human condition. Here’s why…

Listen to ‘Brave’ here.

The backstory: “I thought, That sounds like the first page of a mystery novel”

Back in late 1988, a disturbing news story caught the ear of Marillion frontman Steve Hogarth as he was listening to the radio. The police had discovered a young girl wandering around in a confused state near the M4 motorway, worryingly close to the Severn Bridge – a notorious suicide spot located on the border between England and Wales.

After taking the girl to a hospital in Bristol, investigations into her identity proved fruitless; she was mute and unresponsive, seemingly unable to remember her name or who exactly she was whenever nurses or police officers asked her questions. “The petite girl, aged 14-18,” wrote a news reporter for the Aberdeen Evening Express, “appears to be deaf and dumb and is not responding to police questioning.”

“I thought, That sounds like the first page of a mystery novel,” Hogarth later told Prog magazine. It wasn’t until five years later, however, that the singer decided to revisit the story of “the Silent Woman of Severn Bridge” for a concept album called Brave, a chilling exploration of psychological abuse and mental illness that would prove to be one of Marillion’s most ambitious and formidable projects.

The recording: “We all thought it would make for an interesting record”

Opting to record the album at Château De Marouatte, in the South of France, Marillion met with producer Dave Meegan in early 1993 to embark upon this dark and macabre musical undertaking. “We went there with a truck full of technology and turned the place into a recording studio,” Hogarth later recalled. Realising that Brave’s subject matter called for a sweeping and theatrical sound, the band returned once again to prog-rock’s more conceptual waters, working up lengthier compositions and more complex ideas than the ones they had developed for their previous album, 1991’s Holidays In Eden.

With the story of the unidentified girl as a starting point, Hogarth’s lyrics took inspiration from tabloid reports of drug addiction, sexual abuse and societal breakdown. Seemingly telling the story of young girl grappling with the loss of innocence, it was clear from Brave’s opening two songs – the eerie ambient synthscape of Bridge and the conspiracy-laced paranoia of Living With The Big Lie – that this fictional exploration of the protagonist’s inner psyche was a springboard to a broader social commentary on moral decay in the modern world. “We all thought it would make for an interesting record,” Hogarth later admitted, “and an adventure.”

Sent spiralling with “The babble of the family/And the dumb TV” and decrying “Chemicals in the water/Drugs in the food”, Brave opens like a rush of anxiety-filled delirium. Evoking an icy and haunting atmosphere, the album’s success was no doubt aided by the fact that it was recorded in a medieval castle in the Dordogne which dated back to the 13th century, the building’s ghosts wailing from the walls like banshees in limbo. With Hogarth painfully expressing the girl’s feelings of disillusionment (“Not believing the leaders, the media that feeds us/Living with the big lie”) and pondering the reasons behind her decision to abscond on Runaway (“Did you cry when they dragged you home?”), Marillion were on a mission to make listeners’ blood run cold.

Dragging its audience out to sea in the riptide of depression, Brave’s lead single and penultimate track, The Great Escape, was released in January 1994, the girl bidding a farewell her sorrows with an Icarus-like jump into the abyss (“Don’t ask me why I’m doing this/You wouldn’t understand/You’re asking the wrong questions/You couldn’t understand”). With guitarist Steve Rothery’s empyrean solos clasping for answers, it was painfully apparent that Marillion were taking a bold leap into the unknown.

The release: “It’s the story of a young girl’s life from birth, to being abused to heartbreak, to drugs… everything”

Released on 7 February 1994, Brave was seen a radical departure from the commercial pop-rock sound of Holidays In Eden, Marillion returning to a more overt prog-rock style steeped in heavy and often unsettling themes. “It’s the story of a young girl’s life from birth, to being abused to heartbreak, to drugs… everything,” Steve Hogarth told Kerrang! magazine at the time of the album’s release.

Peaking at No.10 in the UK, the album reminded many listeners that Marillion’s sense of conceptual ambition and neo-prog audaciousness knew no bounds. As Hogarth howled with indignation throughout, Brave presented a deeply sympathetic meditation on the root causes of despair, poignantly highlighting social issues such as drug addiction, sexual abuse and struggles with mental health that remain tragically relevant today.

From exploring the police’s efforts to uncover the mystery girl’s identity (Goodbye To All That) to bemoaning the spread of media disinformation in the tabloid press (Paper Lies), Marillion were clearly working on a much larger canvas than ever before, seemingly mindful of engineering a grand statement on the enigma of life and mortality (the splash at the end of Paper Lies is believed to be an oblique reference to the death of Robert Maxwell, the press baron who died in a mysterious yacht accident in late 1991).

Brave’s second single, The Hollow Man, peaked at No.30 in the UK and finds Hogarth pondering a world teeming with angst-ridden souls (“Watch this cold world dishing up these endless hollow men/Find us anywhere you look”), giving a voice to the internal struggles many fail to see. One of the album’s more sombre moments, it’s an unnervingly existential piano ballad of commendable restraint that flies in the face of Marillion’s more commercial-sounding hits that had, by that point, become their stock in trade.

The legacy: “From a fan’s point of view it was a great album”

In time, Brave has come to be regarded as an artistic triumph among the best Marillion albums. Despite not reaching the commercial heights of such 80s efforts as Script For A Jester’s Tear and Misplaced Childhood, the album resonated strongly with prog-rock fans who celebrated the band’s return to more challenging material. “From a fan’s point of view, it was a great album because it kind of restored their faith in what Marillion was,” Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas told The Prog Report.

Fully demonstrating how literary reference points can infuse the best Marillion songs, Brave’s final single, Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury, was a melancholic rocker lyrically inspired by the poem Daddy by Sylvia Plath – who herself died by suicide in 1963 – that sinks listeners’ heads into “a pillow of sand and sleep”. Peaking at No.56 in the UK, Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury proved there was a space in the charts for thematically elaborate compositions that pondered life’s deeper mysteries.

Three decades on from its release, Brave still bristles with remarkable insight and emotional tact, validating Marillion’s creative intuition and standing as a landmark entry in their discography. Perhaps even more pertinently, the album’s themes have only become more relevant with the passing of time, and they remain painfully relatable in a modern era where suicide prevention and mental-health awareness are more important than ever.

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