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.
The 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.