RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#412: Just for the record, I’m gonna put it down
By special request of Aaron at the KMA.
Marillion have 16 studio albums: Four with original poet and singer Fish, and 12 (going on 13) with Steve “H” Hogarth. (I’m not counting the album of acoustic versions called Less Is More.) Like any band who have had more than one beloved singer, it is very difficult to try to arrange their albums in any sort of rated order. How can you compare an album like Brave to Fugazi? They are nothing alike. They share similar DNA, and the ambition to play intelligent rock music, but to say one is better than the other? I wouldn’t want to do that.
But I must. This was a request. I have to oblige.
Starting from the bottom, here are Marillion’s studio albums from weak to strong.
16. Somewhere Else (2007). Following an album like Marbles (2004) is damn near impossible. Somewhere Else has never completely clicked with me and it remains foggy in my memory. Incidentally, the vinyl version has three live bonus tracks and a slightly shuffled song order, as well as a warm sound that benefits the listening experience.
15. Happiness is the Road (2008). Consisting of a massive eight sides of vinyl (!), Happiness is the Road is broken into two albums: Essence, and The Hard Shoulder. While both discs contain memorable songs such as “This Train is My Life”, the set is too sprawling and slow to be enjoyed frequently. (The vinyl version contains bonus live tracks from the album Happiness is Cologne.)
14. marillion.com (1999). I love that the band were digging into trip-hop and writing catchy poppy songs, but as a whole the album doesn’t rank higher than…
13. Holidays in Eden (1991). Some like it, some consider it too commercial. I fall into the second category.
12. This Strange Engine (1997). I still like this mostly acoustic album (I own three copies), but it’s a departure. Iron Tom Sharpe calls this “the one that sounds like Hootie and the Blowfish”. It retains progressive moments but also stretches out into celtic folky sounds and tropical celebrations.
11. Anoraknophobia (2001). A decent album, a bit long winded but a progression over 1999’s marillion.com
10. Sounds That Can’t Be Made (2012). I think Marillion really grabbed this album by the balls. It’s fearless.
9. Afraid of Sunlight (1996). This middle grouping of albums on the list are really so close it’s meaningless. It’s splitting hairs to put them in a meaningful order. Afraid of Sunlight scores high due to the excellent title track.
8. Brave (1994). This is where Marillion-with-Hogarth really came into their own. It is still one of the most ambitious Marillion albums and an emotional roller coaster of a concept record. There’s also a heavy 10 minute jam released as a B-side called “Marouette Jam” that necessitates buying of the remastered 2 CD edition.
7. Seasons End (1989). The most difficult album of a career is gonna be the first album with the new singer. By retaining their classic sound with a few new twists and a new charismatic frontman, Marillion successfully rode through the transition.
6. Radiation (1998). I love this noisy reject of an album. It’s brilliant.
5. Script For a Jester’s Tear (1983). Fish finally makes his first appearance on this list with the very first Marillion album. Genius poetry but complicated tunes make this one a jagged-edged favourite.
4. Marbles (2004). Marillion’s first double CD studio album, never wearing out its welcome. Like Brave, but grilled to perfection and with all the accouterments.
3. Fugazi (1984). Fugazi is not an easy album to get into, with a pugnaciously opaque second side. The first side is pure genius.
2. Misplaced Childhood (1985). The record company shit their pants when they heard that Marillion were doing a concept album for their third record. The band had written two 20+ minute pieces of music tentatively titled “side one” and “side two”. After honing it live, they unleashed Misplaced Childhood to the stunned masses.
1. Clutching At Straws (1987). It not difficult to put Clutching at Straws as #1. It is one of Marillion’s most beloved, and Fish’s favourite. The dark poetry and sharp songwriting makes it a timeless perennial favourite, never stale, and always revealing new facets to its personality. An utter classic.
Marillion have numerous live albums (I lost count but well over 50 or 60) and greatest hits with exclusive material to boot. Ranking those is all but meaningless. Having said that, one essential purchase for a serious Marillion fan is their first double live, The Thieving Magpie (1988). This epic contains a full performance of Misplaced Childhood, as well as non-album cuts like “Freaks”. Another great record to own is B’Sides Themselves (also 1988), containing some of Marillion’s most memorable B-sides. These include the 18 minute epic “Grendel”, and more concise classics such as “Tux On” and “Market Square Heroes”.
Dig into some Marillion and see what the frak you’ve been missing!