Originally posted 6/29/2011. Last updated 2/26/2019.
|Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)|
All songs written by Dick/ Kelly/ Mosley/ Rothery/ Trewavas.
Released: June 17, 1985
Charted: June 29, 1985
Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.3 UK, 0.8 world (includes US and UK)
Peak: 47 US, 11 UK
Genre: neo-progressive rock
My favorite album of all time is Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood. Europeans who grew up in the 1980s may know the album. Fans of neo-prog rock may know the album. However, the general American public is clueless to its existence. On June 29, 1985, it debuted at #1 on the UK charts. It would be two more months before it even scraped the U.S. Billboard album charts, peaking at #47.
Marillion had been pegged as a neo-prog band which couldn’t escape comparisons to Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. They were seemingly destined for a similar career path devoid of mainstream success. Their first single, “Market Square Heroes,” scraped the bottom of the British charts at an unforgettable #60 in October 1982. Their debut album, 1983’s Script for a Jester’s Tear, soared into the top ten, as with the follow-up album and a live album after that, but comparable success with singles alluded them.
That all changed with Kayleigh, the lead-off single for Misplaced Childhood. The song’s theme of remorse over splitting with an ex-lover made for a topic of widespread relatability. The song hit the UK singles chart in May and climbed to #2 the week ending June 15. It didn’t grace American charts until August when it hit the Billboard rock charts and peaked at #14. In October, the song reached the pop charts as well, hitting #74.
I was a freshman in college in the fall of 1985. One’s teen and young adult years typically coincide with the period in life of greatest musical discovery. I was no exception. I soaked it up the tastes of my peers exploring musical genres that moved beyond my then-Top 40-leaning tastes. In branching out to more album-oriented rock, I heard the song “Kayleigh” and was sucked in. Fish, the band’s frontman, had penned what appeared to be an ironically bouncy pop ditty about lost love. It certainly had catchy lines:
Kayleigh, I never thought I’d miss you
However, it was also infused with Fish’s typically poignant twists and sophisticated way with words:
Do you remember chalk hearts melting on a playground wall?
Click to see the full set of lyrics.
It grew on me and by Christmas I was geared up to plunge into the whole album. For you young’ns, music discovery in 1985 wasn’t as simple as pulling up a bands website or trolling YouTube for video clips. In pre-Internet days, I couldn’t listen to music before buying it. I was wary. Who was this group? Would I like their other songs? I’d never bought an album solely on the basis of one song. I had to take a leap of faith.
Over Christmas break, I kept wandering into a Camelot music store to check out the album. Ah, yes. Once upon a time people actually bought music in stores – and in malls, no less! The cover art fascinated me. It looked like an album I wanted to hear.
Once I’d liberated my wallet of a few dollars and brought the Misplaced critter home, I was immediately entranced. A room-filling keyboard sound opened the album, segueing into the intriguing words “huddled in the safety of a pseudo silk kimono…” half-sung and half-spoken by Fish. This purchase was one risk I would not regret.
Psuedo Silk Kimono flowed into “Kayleigh,” which was followed by Lavender, which was released as the album’s second single and hit the top 5 in the UK. Marillion’s new-found success gave them their best shot at stardom on American shores (alas, it didn’t happen) when they landed an opening stint for Rush.
The first half of the album also contained Heart of Lothian, which was released as the third single and hit the top 30 on the UK singles chart.
I’m pretty close to illiterate when it comes to grasping music theory, so I have no intelligent insight into why this album grabbed me instrumentally or vocally. I’ve just had to rely on gut instinct. Does the album’s overall sound work for me? It did here – in spades.
What made Childhood a regular fixture in my tape deck was its overall concept and witty lyricism. Fish crafted a story which explored well-worn themes of a relationship gone sour, a country ravaged by war, a man dipping into the abyss, and the disappearance of self at the hands of the rock-n-roll lifestyle. Part of the uniqueness stemmed from the conceit of tackling all these ideas at once. The other surprise of the album, however, was its unexpectedly hopeful finale – drug-induced, no less – of recovery via a return to childhood innocence.
Childhood dares to traverse the dangerous ground of “concept album,” going so far as to not even insert breaks between songs. Like classic conceptual works such as The Who’s Tommy, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, the album can draw critical fire for feeling bloated and sacrificing songs in favor of ideas. However, when it comes to art, critics be damned. Fall in love with whatever you like and don’t feel obligated to justify it to anyone.
To my ears, Misplaced Childhood is a cohesive, focused, and seemingly autobiographical effort that takes the listener on a rollercoaster ride through the initial depression of a breakup, the subsequent acid-induced fall into the abyss, and the final realization that, as he sings in Childhood’s End?, “I can do anything and still the child/’cos the only thing misplaced was direction and I found direction/There is no childhood’s end.”
The album shines brightest the middle, when the album’s focal character is falling apart. In Blind Curve Fish sings, “it’s getting late for scribbling and scratching on the paper/Something’s gonna give under the pressure/And the cracks are already beginning to show/It’s too late.” In Lords of the Backstage, Fish explores the burden of maintaining a relationship under the stress of becoming a rock star, stating “a lifestyle with no simplicities, but I’m not asking for your sympathies/Talk, we never could talk, distanced by all that was between us/A lord of the backstage, a creature of language/I’m so far out and I’m too far in.”
With Misplaced Childhood, Marillion not only pulls off their master stroke, but creates a classic that even the most celebrated bands would struggle to top.