A friend once decided on a whiskey drinking project as a new year’s resolution. She decided she would sample a different whiskey each week through the year. More a gift than a resolution for many, but for her it was an arduous task, given that she didn’t particularly like whiskey.
Her thinking was far from skewed though. She knew that the drink was prized in our culture, and wanted to understand why – and the best way to do that was to work through the best whiskeys on offer.
I think I’d prefer the whiskey project rather than a weekly sampling of prog rock, with its keyboards on ice, mythic concept albums, and geekish knob-twiddling. In the interest of public service then, I’ll give you a short cut suggestion, to help you avoid the aural equivalent of cirrhosis. Jump straight to Marillion’s Clutching at Straws album if you want to hear the best in prog rock.
And if you want to hear the best song on the album, it is without doubt Warm Wet Circles.
It’s a song that can make me forgive them for their excessive use of keyboards, for their Tolkien inspired name, for their inability to finish a song in less than 6 minutes, and even for the silk bearskin padded tracksuits that Fish was wont to wear at the time.
The chief problem with prog rock is that, while it may have a musical sophistication, it’s generally pig-thick. No amount of clever counterpoint, modulation, or shifting time signatures can disguise a man singing about goblins. Warm Wet Circles takes the complexity that is a pre-requisite for this type of music, and marries it with a lyrical vision that is equally complex. Each time you listen to the song you’ll hear something new.
Written, like the rest of the album, while touring Europe in an alcohol-fuelled daze, the song takes the image of a warm wet circle and runs with it. And it’s an image that has depth to mine.
She faithfully traces his name with quick bitten fingernails
Through the tears of condensation that’ll cry through the night
As the glancing headlights of the last bus kiss adolescence goodbye
In a warm wet circle
Like a mothers kiss on your first broken heart, a warm wet circle
Like a bullet hole in Central Park, a warm wet circle
And I’ll always surrender to the warm wet circles
The song moves through different moods, until, in a rare moment where guitarist Steve Rothery and Fish seem to be on exactly the same wavelength, it explodes into a bright, raging, climax.
She nervously undressed in the dancing beams of the Fidra lighthouse
Giving it all away before it’s too late
She’ll let a lovers tongue move in a warm wet circle
Giving it all away and showing no shame
She’ll take a mother’s kiss on her first broken heart a warm wet circle
She’ll realise that she played her part in a warm wet circle
It’s epic, but not in the way that Rick Wakeman would imagine. It’s bold, passionate, and poetic – a six-foot-something crazed scottish poet riffing wildly on (presumably catholic) shame, sex, and alcohol.