Marion: Music for outsiders

❉ We look back on the chequered past of Britpop casualties Marion, as Demon marks the 20th Anniversary of the original release of Marion’s debut album ‘This World And Body’ with deluxe editions of this album & its follow-up, ‘The Program’.

There seems a lot of mystery behind Marion for me. Marion were a great band and should’ve been huge. Why weren’t they? They had a beautiful lead singer, looking like a cross between Dirk-era Adam Ant and John’s Children-era Marc Bolan, with an amazing voice unlike anyone else (unkind reviewers back in the day drew comparisons with early Bono, but I’m not going there).

Between 1994 and 1998, they produced a string of brilliant singles which managed to sound commercial yet retain the raucous energy of a great live band in full flight. I remember a lot of my friends loved them, yet if we refer to our old friend Wikipedia it tells us that their most successful single, Time, only peaked at #29 in the British charts.

Every 90s guitar band gets lumped in with the Britpop movement. The word Britpop is synonymous with a jaunty optimistic vibe, something which never really sat well with bands like Marion. As Jaime told NME at the time “The thing about most of the groups who are doing well now is that they’re good-time bands, and we’re definitely not that. But they seem to forget that most of the people in this country aren’t having a good time. The people in the groups might be, but no-one else is”.

Marion certainly don’t sound like they think they’re going to live forever. Songs of small-town frustration, unhappy childhoods, desperation, sex, drugs and violence delivered with an urgency and a refreshing lack of cynicism. This is the Suede, Manic Street Preachers and Pulp end of the Britpop spectrum. Music for fellow outsiders.

Edsel have released two fairly comprehensive deluxe versions of their two LPs, and listening to them today the mystery continues. These albums both sound great, taken out of the Britpop picture and listen to on their own merits they sound, to these ears, even better than they did at the time. 20 years worth of perspective have given them an almost Smiths or Buzzcocks level of cool.

This World and Body

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Previous attempts at some of these songs (on the Rough Trade single Violent Men, the Stephen Street-produced single Sleep and the self produced Toys For Boys) were enough to create a stir around the band (and even for Morrissey to invite them on tour) but it is these Al Clay-produced versions that really shine. Clay seemingly found a way to capture what an exciting band Marion where. Neither guitarist takes the traditional role of lead or rhythm both seem to merge into one with their parts intermingling as if it’s all one guitar. There are elements of Joy Division in the rhythm section on All For Love. Then there are Harding’s melodies which have an atypical ethereal quality yet the delivery is always direct and compelling. The pace at which these songs fly past is quite an astonishing listen. The band really sound like they’re playing for their lives. Listen to Fallen Through or I Stopped Dancing, for sheer energy they’re hard to beat. As each incendiary anthem finishes another takes its place. It’s only as the album closes that we finally get a bit of breathing space with the lovely ballad Your Body.

The second disc collects together most of the B-sides from this era rearranged in an order to make it flow more like an album. Here we see a few different dimensions to Marion only hinted at on the album. There are a few alternative versions of LP songs (not including, presumably for contractual reasons, the full Rough Trade Violent Men single). On disc 3, all of their BBC sessions are collected. The combined effect is like an excellent Marion equivalent to ‘Hatful of Hollow’.

The Program

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With ‘The Program’ the mystery of Marion deepens. Johnny Marr calls it the most under-rated record he ever made. Unlike other supposed chaotic ‘drug records’ the band sound really together, the songs and performances are strong and coherent (this ain’t The Libertines), it is a lot less urgent and more polished than its predecessor but retains the innate cool.

The legendary Johnny Marr is credited as both a producer and as a third guitarist. Whatever his guitar contributions are it’s not certain, but the cocktail of different guitarist certainly has a different flavour on this (especially the Morricone-esque title track). The band is further expanded by Ged Lynch on percussion, which adds that whole other layer of shine. Harding’s vocals are a lot more assured and inventive, the melodies have a freeform flow over the top which really sink into your head.

One can’t help imagining, had London Records put some money behind their marketing, whether this could’ve been the album that broke Marion into the mainstream. After the first single (the epic Marr co-write Miyako Hideaway) supposedly flopped, the label seemingly buried the LP. As with all information regarding this LP the story isn’t clear. But Marion’s take is that the band tried to get the album back and sell it to another label, but rather than do this London Records snuck it out with no promotion whatsoever. I remember seeing a copy in a record shop after it had been out for a while – I was quite eagerly awaiting the release at the time and would’ve bought it on day one had I known!

The band toured Japan and the US but here in England the LP sank without trace. Sparkle, the Japan-only single, sounds like a hit. Powder Room Plan and Strangers would surely have been singles had things gone better. When The Killers’ ‘Hot Fuss’ came out in 2004 I couldn’t help wondering whether it could be a Marion LP from an alternative universe where ‘The Program’ made them huge.

The comprehensive B-sides collection on disc 2 is really interesting too. Marr takes the spotlight on the instrumental Promise Q. A sublime Harding vocal on Speechless is a particular highlight. Presumably they were running out of ideas when they did an almost identical re-make of Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer which also features here (from their Japan-only Sparkle EP). Also from that EP is a delicious acoustic version of Sparkle. Finally, a hint at what might have happened next is also included with the one previously unreleased track The Only One For You.

Unfortunately the band split shortly after The Program was eventually released. Jaime Harding has stated in several interviews that his addiction to heroin was the problem. Johnny Dean from Menswe@r stated “It’s probably no coincidence that the big Britpop movie was Trainspotting”. Heroin is the invisible thread which seems to tie a lot of the bands burdened with the Britpop moniker together.

Since Marion split Jaime has given the occasional interview full of Bolan-esque hyperbole declaring a new phase for a new line-up of Marion. Sadly very little of this material has seen the light of day (apparently there’s a lot of it, maybe enough for Edsel to work with Harding to curate a collection of the best bits?). On the cusp of a series of ‘This World And Body’ twentieth anniversary shows, recent events have also further derailed the Marion story just when it looked like it was getting back on track. Whatever happens next, I sincerely hope Jaime Harding is able to put his talent to good use in the future and produce some more music as exciting as on these two albums.

If you like original guitar pop music with a glam rock swagger and you’ve never heard Marion before, then welcome to your new obsession. With these two reissues you get pretty much everything they ever did for under £25!


❉ Marion ‘This World and Body’ 3 CD Deluxe edition and Marion ‘The Program’ 2 CD Deluxe edition were released on 16 September 2016 from Demon Music Group. ‘This World and Body’ 180g Red Vinyl will be released on November 4, 2016.

 

4 Comments

  1. Excellent article on two classic ‘lost’ albums. Both albums still stand up today and I agree that tracks from ‘The Program’ in particular would surely have been hits with some marketing behind them – notably Miyako Hideaway, Sparkle and The Powder Room Plan. Maybe they were a band out of their time though. The Killers, Interpol & Editors came along 5-10 years later with a similar style to much, much greater success. But Marion had ‘would-be hits’ to match anything in those bands early releases.

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