I cannot say for certain, but Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood was probably my first album without breaks between songs. Clutching at Straws probably has a more coherent progression of lyrical themes, but Misplaced Childhood combines lyrical and musical progression. Eh, I’ll say that Clutching does a good job of musical progression as well, it just doesn’t do it seamlessly for the entire album.
Emotion, drama, tension, release, and a clever path through highs and lows. Both albums establish a storytelling style with the music serving as more than just a soundtrack for the lyrics. The music establishes mood, emotional color, movement, and pace. The themes move between guitar and synthesizers with strong rhythmic support from the bass and drums. Complexity varies but never gets too complex or obscure.
The lyrics, on the other hand, can wander into obscure territory, requiring more than one listen to fully appreciate. In fact, both albums benefit from multiple listens, especially when listening to the entire album in one sitting, which I highly recommend.
There are plenty of other Marillion albums worth listening to, but those two really stand out in my mind. They demonstrate how individual songs can benefit from the songs around them and how well crafted collections of songs can take the listener on a journey where the sum is significantly greater than the individual parts.
That “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” intention is one of my great motivations, and something I am trying to deliver in the Assassin stories. It’s something I want to deliver in each book and between books. I want the individual chapters and sections to offer something to the chapters and sections around them, and I hope to accomplish something similar with the characters and settings, and to some degree with the technology used. I try to take the different elements and present them in a sequence and manner that creates a specific kind of mood and flow, elicits certain emotions, and stimulates thought.
Albums like Misplaced Childhood and Clutching at Straws showed me what is possible, they set some high-water marks and established a creative pinnacle. They might not be for everyone, but the way they touched me made me want to replicate that type of artistic expression and hopefully give you a similar experience.
Notes: Just for the Record on Clutching at Straws was the song that hooked me on Fish-era Marillion. I first heard it while working as a holiday replacement disc jockey at Kansas State University while I was in the Army. The version of Clutching at Straws I was exposed to did not have the song Going Under on it, and I personally think the album flows much better without it. Sadly, Fish (lead singer and lyricist) left the band after the tour for Clutching at Straws, so I never got to see the band with him at the helm.