MICHAEL HUNTER – River (1995 Racket Records, 2013 reissue)
99% of people who stumble upon this review won’t know who Michael Hunter is, and that’s fine. He’s one of Marillion’s crew. He’s Mark Kelly’s keyboard tech, and he’s a producer in the studio as well. This album came to be when Marillion were looking for some ambient music to open their Brave tour. The wanted to set the mood right for that dark concept album, played in its entirety. If you own one of the live albums from that tour, (though not Made Again disc 2), then chances are you’ve heard a little bit of River.
According to the liner notes by Marillion’s Steve Hogarth, the album was composed and performed, not merely programmed! The bits of music used are lifted from Marillion’s Brave, and other records, and re-composed into a 42 minute album. There are no songs, but the music is divided into seven numbered tracks (I – VII). There’s no point discussing them individually. Sometimes you can’t even tell when one section has ended, and another has begun. Sure, there are changes in mood and texture, but River remains a largely monolithic block of music. It’s watery sounding, and very atmospheric.
I had River going when I was playing a computer game (called Lux, which is the same as Risk, but with infinite maps to conquer). River felt appropriate to the video game setting, in fact it reminded me of some of the music in the old Rama video game from the 90’s. Unfortunately the CD is mixed quietly by today’s standards so I had to crank it a bit to get the listening balance right.
Bits and pieces are familiar. If you know Brave, then you have heard some of these keyboard and guitar sounds before. It doesn’t feel like “Brave remixed” any way, however. Somehow Michael Hunter used those sounds to actually compose an original piece of music that stands as its own work.
Fans started requesting that the Brave live intro music be made available on a CD, so Marillion released the Michael Hunter album on their own label Racket Records and made it available to order in 1995. That sold out, and they re-released it as a Front Row Club optional release (FRC-006). That meant that members of Marillion’s Front Row Club subscription service could get the album, but it wouldn’t be sent to them automatically. They had to “opt in” to get it, since it wasn’t a “new release” but a reissue. Some members already had it. I did not, but for whatever reason I didn’t opt in to get it. I considered it outside of the Marillion discography, and in many respects it is. In 2013 it was reissued once more (each time with slightly altered cover art), and I finally decided to snag it as part of my annual Marillion website order.
I’m glad I did. While I wouldn’t listen to this frequently, since I don’t often crave long ambient pieces, it definitely will come in handy.