REVIEW: Marillion – Holidays In Eden (2 CD remaster)

Hi, please don’t hate me. When it’s a band like Marillion that I hold to very high standards, I tend to be extra critical!

MARILLION – Holidays In Eden (1998 EMI 2 CD remaster, originally 1992)

After the triumphant return that was 1989’s Seasons End, Marillion had to sit down and actually write with the new singer for the first time! Considering that all the music for Seasons End was intact in one form or another before Steve Hogarth joined the band, nobody knew yet if the band could write with the new singer and gel. After a nervous breakdown or two, Marillion were able to complete this album. Holidays In Eden marks a fresh start — no leftover music from the Fish era, no jesters or magpies in the artwork.  New logo, new direction.  (This CD comes with both the American and the UK covers by the way, and you can display it with either.)

Even though Marillion didn’t utilize any of their old musical ideas for Holidays in Eden, the music for three of these songs (“You Don’t Need Anyone”, “Cover My Eyes” and “Dry Land”) were originally recorded by Hogarth’s previous group, How We Live. I have the CD, 1987’s Dry Land, on which they appear. “Cover My Eyes” had a different chorus, and was known as “Simon’s Car”.

Holidays In Eden is a starkly commercial album for Marillion. They had some success with “Easter” previously and the record company asked for more hits. New producer Chris Neil (A-Ha) was not the kind of guy to obsess over layers of music and unusual chord changes. He and the band stripped the songs to the basic melodies, and tried to reduce indulgences to the bare minimum.

As a result, Holidays today is an album that often gets maligned by old fans. Not all of course; many fans have ridden the highs and lows of the Hogarth era with smiles on their faces.  One listen in, and you can understand why some find Holidays to be a tough pill to swallow.  There are a couple songs here that are interchangeable with some of the brighter moments in the Bon Jovi back catalogue. Indeed, imagine JBJ himself singing “Dry Land” or “No One Can”; suddenly you realize, this is a pop album!

Steve Rothery’s guitar is not as omnipresent as it normally was, and this time Mark Kelly’s keyboards provide little more than pleasant accompaniment.There are some more progressive moments in bits and pieces. The electronic intro to “Splintering Heart” is quite interesting albeit a bit long, before Rother’s familiar triumphant guitar begins to soar. “The Party” is a darker number, but it’s not a personal favourite.  The final three songs on the album work as a suite; a trilogy on the effect a city can have on two people. All told these three songs add up to over 10 minutes of music, providing the most “retro Marillion” sounds on the album. Unfortunately, they’re just not as good as similar extended suites on Misplaced Childhood or Clutching.

HOLIDAYS_0008The rest of the album is loaded down with pretty standard rock, vastly different from Marillion of old and not as satisfying. Only “Dry Land” with its fat cello riff, and “Cover My Eyes” and its irresistible lofty vocal melodies rise above the morass of mediocrity. I find the title track to be beneath what the band can do, and “No One Can” almost unbearable to listen to. And if you do listen to, you don’t want to be doing it in the car with the windows down.

There are some bright shining moments on CD 2, the bonus tracks. “A Collection” (the lyrics of which are kinda creepy) is a bright little acoustic number that has become a cult favourite, and has some integrity to it. This was originally a UK B-side. “Sympathy”, a cover by Rare Bird, was originally released on the greatest hits album Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other, but sonically it fits in with Holidays.  It does strengthen the album by its presence. You also get a sparkling acoustic version of “Cover My Eyes” that will leave you asking how Hogarth hits those notes.

The rest of the bonus tracks are either too pop (“You Don’t Need Anyone”, “I Will Walk On Water”), or are less interesting demos (“No One Can”, “The Party”, “This Town”). The demo of “Splintering Heart” features an interesting guitar-based alternate intro section, and there are some alternate arrangements, but nothing that you really keep going back to. One of the most interesting, but also most disposable tracks is “Eric” during which Hogarth demonstrates his new glove-activated synthesizer, seen on many a tour.

I think the band realized this direction was leading them nowhere (no songs were hits like “Easter” was).  They got right back to where they belonged on 1994’s Brave, a challenging listen that will, if you let it, change your life. Buy that, not this, unless you gotta get ’em all. Sadly, I must say that Holidays in Eden is only for Marillion fans.

2.75/5 stars, close to a 3, but not quite.

51 comments

  1. This is actually one of my favorite and most listened – to Marillion albums. I can totally appreciate where your coming from though. I find the title track to be the only skipable song. But the rest of it is quality pop!

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        1. OK, I won’t. Whew.

          In all seriousness though it’s not a bad album, but in my book probably the weakest of the four EMI Hogarth records. I hold Seasons End as my favourite of those.

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        2. Me too. TSE is a one-off, and as such I tend to be drawn to those. Tom hates it. That was the last Marillion album he bought. Even Marbles couldn’t bring Tom back. He says TSE is “Hootie and the Blowfish”.

          But TSE has some great tunes, such as the title track, Man of 1000 Faces, 80 Days, Memory of Water (although I prefer the Big Beat Mix, I like to listen to both one after the other for added effect). It also had Hope For the Future which I think has just as much integrity as “Fool in the Rain” by Zeppelin.

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        3. I think Estonia off TSE is one of their best moments. Incredible tune. Marillion are one of those bands you live with though aren’t they? I find the various albums go up and down in my affections over the years. I loved Seasons End for ages but I find it really uneven now. The straightforward rock tracks are just dull but there are brilliant songs like Berlin and The Space.

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        4. And Scott, here I am as a guy who dislikes Estonia. Don’t know, I just find it boring! I know what you mean about Seasons End though, my least favourite track is Hooks In You. We may have discussed this before (?) but I’m also not a big fan of Uninited Guest.

          Hey, can you explain “first footing” to me again?

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        5. Isn’t the first foter salso supposed to have a lump of coal (as a gift, for heat) in one hand, and a bottle of something tasty to drink in the other? At least, the coal would be traditional, at this point, I’d imagine.

          Do you also do the thing where you open the back door at midnight, to let the old year out, before opening the front door for the first footer and letting the new year in?

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  2. This is where I lost patience and drifted off to other bands. I just thought it was all a bit weedy for my tastes. Always thought they should have packaged it better a la Season’s End.

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  3. The band revisited HiE and played it in its entirety at the Marillion Weekends in 2011. It ‘rocks up’ far better than you might expect. Interesting you mention the alternate guitar intro to ‘Splintering Heart’ – this is a great track live, and would be on many fans’ set lists if they were picking an ‘all time’ Marillion live set.

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      1. For me it’s one of those rare albums where every single track is a winner. ‘Cannibal Surf Babe’, ‘King’, ‘Beyond You’. Have you seen the video backing they use for ‘Out of this World’? ‘Moving’ is not the word!

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        1. I must have seen it, because I have an Afraid of Sunlight live DVD, and Out of this World was performed. I can’t recall. And thanks for reminding me of Beyond You! What an amazing track.

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  4. This is a fair assessment of “Holidays In Eden,” even though I would rate it more highly than you. Taken as a collection of songs I think it’s excellent, but it doesn’t hold together like the brilliant albums that surrounded it: “Seasons End,” “Brave” and “Afraid Of Sunlight.” In hindsight that’s a lot to live up to, but at the time of its release it was a solid (if slightly lesser) follow-up to its predecessor.

    A lot of fans complained about the supposed brittle sound quality of these 2-CD remasters, but I was very pleased with them. I haven’t listened to the bonus discs since they were first released so I can’t really comment on that, but the album itself is really enjoyable. At least your review will help lower expectations for anyone checking it out for the first time.

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    1. I don’t agree about the brittle sound comment. I had no issues. On the other hand I have an original EMI pressing of B-Sides Themselves from ’88 and it’s soooo quiet and has no warmth to it at all. That is a CD that never gets played. I get little enjoyment from the sound.

      I think one cool think about Marillion is that there are plenty of oddball albums in their catalogue. This is one that’s kind of atypical. Radiation is atypical in a different way, and .com in another way again.

      I think the closest album to Holidays In Eden in terms of that “pop” sound would have to be Anoraknophobia.

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  5. I am totally at sea, with this band. I am afraid of their discography, it’s too huge. I do have the Crash Course sampler you gave me, Mike, and it’s great. I need to review that one too. But yeah, as far as this group goes, I don’t own anything but that one disc so I’ll take your word for it!

    Also, I love the “don’t hate me!” disclaimer at the top. It’s your site, man, say what you feel you gotta say! :) We could never hate Lebrain.

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    1. There’s a story behind that…a friend kindly posted my review to Marillion’s Facebook page and I was inundated yesterday with new readers from there :) I wanted to say something in the way of an intro to those new people who’s first impression of me is a negative review :)

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  6. Holidays in Eden is probably my least favorite Marillion album. It was the first cd that came out after I had become a fan, of course through the first 4 albums I caught inexpensively on vinyl in about what, mid-92? The early stuff appealed to me as a Genesis fan looking for something slightly harder. Seasons End sounded great to me, so Holidays seemed lackluster even then. I think a new fan, not knowing anything about Fish or the pre-SE material may come away from HiE with a different perspective, but after Incubus and He Knows You Know and the completely brilliant top to bottom CAS, how could I possibly think this was the best they could do.

    That being said, without doing this album they would not maybe have come up with Brave and thereafter, maybe still not even together.

    H says now that in hindsight they should have maybe changed the name. If there was a Rock and Roll Constitution this would be the first amendment. New lead singer, new name. Automatic. Boom. No Argument. Final.

    Stand out tracks- Splintering Heart, Dry Land, 100 Nights. The overabundance of ballads kill this album. They would go onto much better things and HiE is maybe best seen as the catalyst for change.

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    1. I don’t think Marillion needed to change their name, because they really did a transition the best way possible. Seasons End is really a perfect transitional record. And heck you can even choose the Fish or Hogarth versions, if you buy the double Clutching at Straws CD! They’ve managed to stay very progressive but with a style that suits the new singer and I think that’s grand. One of the few bands who pulled off the singer change.

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  7. Oh of course. Clutching>SE are my two favorite Marillion albums with Fugazi a close 3rd. They relly did make a good transition though agreed there. When I finally heard the aborted final sessions with Fish they really shone a light on the differences between the two versions of the band.

    I really want to hear h do a complete version of CAS. While like you say Fish alternately caresses and spits out his lyrics, H pours a warm glaze over his, just like Rothery does with his guitar playing. Always impassioned they both define great frontmen. They have always stayed true to their vision, like them or not. HiE keeps the vision, there isnt really a huge stylistic change it is just more mellow. I liken it to the Genesis …and Then, album it still sounds like them but they definitely needed to stylistically adapt to the new singer.

    I do find it truly amazing they have persevered when so many other groups have become footnotes.

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    1. They could have packed it in many times — when the original EMI contract ran out, or when they struggled for money in the 90’s. The internet saved this group. When they realized they could finance their business through selling product directly to the fans, that’s what saved the band. They are pioneers of the internet age. A lot of stuff that is now standard practice for indy bands, these guys did first, like “pre ordering” an album that hadn’t even been recorded yet.

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  8. It’s vaguely worth noting that neither Simon’s Car nor You Don’t Need Anyone appeared on the original release of the How We Live album, so at the time of HIE, neither had appeared in public. It’s only on the 2000 Racket Records reissue that these tracks have seen the light of day.

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  9. The production on this album is what lets it down the most. Splintering Heart and This Town/The Rakes Progress/100 Nights become soaring epics live on stage, but on CD they sound a bit too flat. That’s what you get when radio play is your first concern when making an album I suppose.

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