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‘Fugazi’: In Support Of Marillion’s Misunderstood Second Album
Warner Music
In Depth

‘Fugazi’: In Support Of Marillion’s Misunderstood Second Album

With frontman Fish exploring darker lyrical paths, Marillion’s 1984 album, ‘Fugazi’, became one of the neo-prog band’s most overlooked gems.

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Surviving the conflicting strains of a rushed songwriting process and protracted recording sessions, Marillion’s sophomore effort, Fugazi, has long been considered by the band to be their “difficult second album”. In spite of this, the record’s timely fusion of mid-80s synth-pop with progressive rock, aided by frontman Fish’s alluring and multifaceted poetic whimsy, has steadily grown into a cult favourite among the band’s fans.

By the end of 1983, Marillion’s debut album, Script For A Jester’s Tear, had been an unmitigated success, selling more than 300,000 copies in the UK. With expectations quickly rising, frontman/lyricist Fish, guitarist Steve Rothery, keyboardist Mark Kelly and bassist Pete Trewavas soon had to contend with the departure of their original drummer, Mick Pointer, before facing down a litany of challenges that almost threatened to derail the group’s progress.

Here is the story of the tumultuous creative process from which Marillion’s Fugazi emerged, and why the album marks an important chapter in the neo-prog band’s early career…

Listen to ‘Fugazi’ here.

The backstory: “We were still trying to make a name for ourselves and bust out of the divisions”

Caught up in promoting their debut album, Marillion were already feeling the pressure to record a follow-up. Despite their numerous touring commitments, a new record was expected to be finished within a year, but with very little time to write songs and feeling tired from life on the road, that seemed a hard ask. To make matters worse, the sudden dismissal of drummer Mick Pointer meant that Marillion’s line-up was in a state of flux.

As the band headed off to Wales on a brief writing retreat, Andy Ward, the former drummer for prog-rock band Camel, temporarily joined the group and they began to throw together some early ideas. At this point, Fish had a notebook filled with unused lyrics, but Marillion hadn’t been working on new material for very long before they were sent back out on the road, this time for a US tour. It was during these shows that Ward left and handed over the drumsticks to John Marter, who played with Marillion when they supported Rush in New York City.

When the time finally came to return to Wales and finish what they started, Marter was gone; in his place came Jonathan Mover, who helped out with some demos before he, too, was replaced with a more permanent appointment, Ian Moseley. Despite, going through four drummers in a short period of time, Marillion tried their best to press ahead.

“We were still trying to make a name for ourselves and bust out of the divisions,” Fish later admitted. He eventually found lyrical inspiration after reading a book about the Vietnam War. Stumbling across the word “fugazi” – army slang for “fucked up, got ambushed, zipped in” – he felt it summed up how things were in the band at that time.

The recording: “The pressure was on the rest of us to come up with some music”

When recording finally got underway, things didn’t get any easier for Marillion. Much to their dismay, after time ran away from them at Maison Rouge, in London, the band were forced to ferry between various locations – notably Pete Townshend’s Eel Pie and Trevor Horn’s Sarm Studios – adding to the disjointed nature of the Fugazi sessions.

Even then, technical issues would frequently arise, as when the group recorded at The Manor Studio, in Oxfordshire. “Recording at the Manor was an amazing if frustrating experience,” guitarist Steve Rothery would recall. “I remember waiting all evening to record my guitar parts as they were having terrible problems syncing the two 24-track tape machines together.”

Musically, the band were always playing catch up with Fish’s poetic outpourings, largely composing songs in the moment to match the lyrics he had amassed while sitting by the stone circles in Wales. “Fish had most of the lyrics for the album already written,” keyboardist Mark Kelly later said, “so the pressure was on the rest of us to come up with some music.”

However, judging by the lock-step synchronicity of Fugazi’s debut single, Punch And Judy, Marillion fans were largely oblivious to the song’s fretful origin story. Released as a single in January 1984, it peaked at No.29 in the UK and saw Fish paint a disturbingly bleak picture of married life, full of satirical snippets of domestic strife (“Propping up a bar, family car/Sweating out a mortgage as a balding clerk”).

Taking Marillion back into the charts, Punch And Judy also offered fans a hint at how producer Nick Tauber had moved Marillion into new sonic territory. “At the time it was recorded there was a fashion to make everything very clean and bright sounding,” Rothery said, in an interview with Hit Channel. Perhaps due to the time-sensitive nature of the recording sessions, Tauber had cleverly weaved in the sparkling touches of new wave synth-pop to sugarcoat Fish’s dark and troubling lyrical fare. Clearly, Fugazi was shaping up to be a sleeker and far more pristine prospect than anyone had suspected.

The release: “It’s an angsty album – it’s kind of like jagged, broken glass”

Finally released on 12 March 1984, Marillion’s second studio album, Fugazi, entered the UK charts at No.5 and, selling 60,000 copies, went silver in a matter of days. Yet the band weren’t in a particularly celebratory mood at the time of the album’s release, largely because it was finished six weeks behind schedule and had run significantly over budget, reportedly costing around £120,000 to make.

By putting a more contemporary-sounding spin on the group’s neo-prog style, however, Fugazi was by no means a disaster. Despite its fractious writing and recording process, the music shimmered with typically grandiloquent fancy, accompanied by Fish’s most personal and acid-tongued lyrics to date, as when he casts a jaundiced eye over the wiles of groupies (She Chameleon) and the endless slog of touring (Emerald Lies).

The album’s second single, Assassing, peaked at No.22 in the UK. With a haunting, Middle Eastern-sounding drone conjured up by Steve Rothery on a Roland guitar synthesiser, the song’s lyrics saw Fish address the sacking of the band’s original drummer, Mick Pointer, and the subsequent revolving door of new members, framing himself as a hard-nosed hatchet man (“I am the assassin, with tongue forged from eloquence”). “This is about various members leaving,” Fish said of Assassing in 1984, “and about the elegant strategy involved in the business world.”

Since Marillion were back on tour at the time of Fugazi’s release, there was very little opportunity for them to process the whole experience. As a result, many of the band’s members continue to have mixed feelings about the record. “It’s an angsty album,” bassist Pete Trewavas said in an interview with Prog magazine. “It’s kind of like jagged, broken glass.” With Fish describing it as “a far darker” work than Script For A Jester’s Tear, Fugazi has since come to be regarded by Marillion fans as one of the group’s most unfairly overlooked offerings.

In fact, it’s easy to see why Fugazi has been embraced by many as a cult favourite, with She Chameleon being a particular highlight. “That’s actually a pretty good, disturbing song in gothic garb,” Fish later told Eclipsed magazine. “That evocative keyboard, that was pretty original at the time, very dark and haunting.” Elsewhere, the album’s penultimate track, Incubus, is a slaloming synth-prog epic telling the doomed tale of a female porn star who flubs her big chance to become a professional actress due to seeing a duplicitous former co-star in the crowd. “I still like it from a lyrical point of view,” Fish said of Incubus in an interview with Velvet Thunder. “Melodically it moves through different dynamics, and it is a classic Marillion song.”

The legacy: “I would say it’s got some real high points in it”

In the decades since its release, Marillion fans have only continued to embrace Fugazi as something of a long-lost treasure the band deserve to be proud of. After all, Fugazi is a record that sold over 100,000 copies, with hit singles such as Assassing quickly becoming setlist favourites. “A lot of those songs worked well live,” bassist Pete Trewavas admitted to Prog magazine. “They stayed in the live repertoire for quite a while.” For this reason, as far as Marillion fans are concerned, the merits of Fugazi have been grossly neglected, and the album has long been overdue a critical reappraisal. “Looking back now, I wouldn’t say it was my favourite album,” guitarist Steve Rothery has since admitted to eonmusic, “but I would say it’s got some real high points in it. I mean, Incubus and Fugazi itself, I think, are two great tracks.”

Often rewarding repeat listens thanks to Fish’s cryptic and enigmatic wordplay, Marillion’s biggest achievement on Fugazi was to create music that fused the crystalline glow of mid-80s synth-pop with intellectually ambitious prog-rock, laying the sonic groundwork for their future ascendancy with later hits such as Kayleigh and Lavender. “It’s a transitional album,” Fish said of Fugazi, in an interview with Louder Sound. “It’s an album we needed to make to get to Misplaced Childhood.”

Despite the challenges the band faced during its creation, Fugazi has gone on to find a lasting place in the hearts of Marillion fans who continue to navigate its untrammelled depths. From the guitarist Steve Rothery’s beguiling, spine-tingling solo on Incubus to Fish’s deeply poetic digressions on Emerald Lies, Fugazi may, indeed, be a stepping stone, but it’s also a crucial waypoint in a journey that paved the way for Marillion’s future triumphs.

Buy the 4LP deluxe edition of ‘Fugazi’ at the Dig! store.

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