1985 was a great year for music. One saw the likes of Rush’s Power Windows, Saint Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love (work of genius), Cupid & Psyche 85, Smiths’ Meat is Murder (see Barbarism Begins at Home), Propaganda’s A Secret Wish, and of course, Tears for Fears’ massive hit Songs From the Big Chair (personal favourite). But lurking in the shadows of these smash pop goliaths was a prog rock masterpiece by the name of Misplaced Childhood. I first heard this driving to and from the Saturday market in Loches, a charming French market town which boasts excellent almond croissants.
They were deemed so unfashionable in the era of The Smiths, the Mary Chain and The Cure that those who’d seen the light were only galvanized by the opprobrium. To hear Misplaced Childhood – the band’s masterpiece and biggest seller – now, out of context, liberated from playground peer pressure, is to recognise a truly great concept album. It’s one that believes 41 minutes of rock music can – like a film or book – aim for the stars and present a story full of emotion, poetry and, above all, drama. Prog Archives
The personnel on this remarkable album are as follows:
Fish – vocals; cover concept
Steve Rothery – guitars; additional bass guitar;
Mark Kelly – keyboards
Pete Trewavas – bass guitar
Ian Mosley – drums, percussion
Pseudo Silk Kimono kicks off the album in great Marillion style, lyrically dense and musically beautiful. The opening bars of synth are just majestic. Listen to the way that the keyboard punctuates the gorgeous lyrics. “Naked of understanding” is one of my favourite lines in the album. “The spirit of a misplaced childhood” is introduced at this stage in the album and is a theme which follows the album through. Listen out for the bass throughout this track.
And the misconception that prog is all about indulgent jamming and noodling? There’s zero fat here. Everything lasts exactly as long as feels right. Prog Archives
Kayleigh is of course a love song replete with longing and regret. The really impressive part of this is the seamless transition from the previous track. I almost didn’t see it happening. It was only because I was following the lyrics on the inside sleeve of the vinyl cover that I noticed at all. The balance of instruments here is key and hints at the excellent production value of the album overall.
Lavender follows, again seamlessly, and hits us with the wonderful lyric “IOU for your love”. Listen to the ingenuity of the lyrics throughout – “A spider wanders aimlessly…” – just superb. There is a beautiful languishing bridge between this song and the next.
Bitter Suite is made up of five movements five movements.
- Brief Encounter
- Lost Weekend
- Blue Angel
- Misplaced Rendezvous
- Windswept Thumb
Each of these are unique and marked by a change in the musical style. This track has a strong focus on lyricism and a wide range of ingenious conceptuality made real by excellent musicianship and top class production. The prog sweep at the end of the final movement is so very Genesis.
Heart of Lothian closes side 1. Lothian is a region of the Scottish Lowlands, between the southern shore of the Firth of Forth and the Lammermuir and Moorfoot Hills, respectively. This is split into two movements (Wide Boy and Curtain Call) and is a love song in a way, to the rise and fall of the album’s central protagonist, heralding from this part of Scotland. This track is almost ballad like, but ends up a greatly felt and passionate piece of prog with, again, some superlative lyrics: “looking like an actor in a movie shot // feeling like a wino in a parking lot”
Waterhole opens side 2 in a distinctly more poppy fashion, perhaps rewarding us with something simpler after a tumultuous first side. Social commentary is as present as ever in the lyrics here: “Pattern merchants selling false impressions” and “wide boys wear love bites for their crimes” – terrific!
Lord of the Backstage has a really strong riff. Once again the transitions between the tracks are seamless. “I walk the backstage // a creature of language”.
Blind Curve is, again, split into five distinct movements.
- Vocal Under a Bloodlight
- Passing Strangers
- Perimeter Walk (one can almost feel the longing in this movement)
The guitar solo and synth work are top shelf in this track. Each movement is punctuated by a change of music again. There is a real mastery of language throughout this album making the lyrics somewhat akin to poetry. Please note the excellently yelled “THE CHILDHOOD” in thick Lothian Scottish.
Childhood’s End is, to me, inspired by Rush in its beginning. The lyrics are especially heartbreaking here. Fish sings of finding direction after a woeful childhood and coming out stronger as a result, which bleeds seamlessly into the raucous final track, White Feather.
That cohesive thematic structure is mirrored by the arrangements, which flow elegantly from the artful synth-and-volume-pedal textures of opener “Pseudo Silk Kimono” to triumphant rock closer “White Feather.” Steve Rothery’s New Wave-y riffs give the album a decidedly ’80s sheen, but his Steve Hackett-esque solos keep the songs grounded in the prog idiom. Keyboardist Mark Kelly takes a similar approach, moving from breezy synth pads to intricate melodic runs. Ultimate Classic Rock
White Feather closes the show with a final seamless transition from the previous track. A real loud rock anthem-like closer which builds on the strength of the album as a whole. This is a really strong note to end on.
I’m proud to own my heart // This is my heart
These are our hearts // You can’t steal our hearts away
Overall, Misplaced Childhood is more than an album. It is both a journey and an experience. The production is flawless, the lyricism is groundbreaking and the musicality is outstanding. The sequencing cannot be praised enough – this album tells the story of a tragic journey from failure to success, musically and lyrically in a deeply moving way. Misplaced Childhood’s concept is huge and was pulled off exceptionally well. The skill of each player is on full display across the album.
This is a truly moving and important album.