The first Marillion Christmas CD release since 2008’s Pudding on the Ritz doubled down! It was an unusual but special treat: a full-on double live album.
Recorded May 16 2014 in Santiago Chile, it has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, except that it was that year’s fanclub gift to the fans. With that in mind, it could be their Christmas release with the widest appeal. No carols here for the Grinches and Scrooges to complain about. Just two CDs of progressive music from the Sounds that Can’t Be Made era.
It was the final date on Marillion’s Latin American tour, and it sounds as if they pulled out all the stops. “Gaza”, a cinematic 20 minutes of swirling rock, is a hell of a way to open such a show. Bass runs, samples and guitars coagulate into a mass of music, breathtaking in construction. That’s a lot to digest, and so an easier pill to swallow follows. “Easter” (wrong occasion, lads!) is one of Marillion’s best known hits, liquid and energizing. It and the ballad “Beautiful” each serve to refresh your ears and prepare them for bigger musical challenges ahead.
“This is a song about, and called…’Power'” whispers Steve “H” Hogarth just before another weighty progression. The dancey “You’re Gone” lightens the mood again, as the band wisely don’t let things stay in one groove for too long. “You’re Gone” was a charting single for the band, but as far as accessible pop rock goes, I think they have better tunes in the pocket. Like “No One Can”, or “Cover My Eyes” elsewhere on the album. These longstanding classics from Holidays In Eden have aged well, though the high notes on “Cover My Eyes” have to be supported by the audience.
“Man of a Thousand Faces” is always an interesting song, coming from Marillion’s acoustic “Hootie” phase (as Tom Morwood calls it). It’s adds variety to the concert setting, and is certainly as dramatic as Marillion before and since. But it’s the first song from the Fish era that really stirs the soul. “Warm Wet Circles/That Time of the Night” is a song Hogarth has always done well. As the years passed, he became more comfortable with the Fish songs, and that is audible.
Plenty more early songs follow on the second disc, making this live album a really fine sampler. “Uninvited Guest” and “Hooks In You” from Seasons End were both popular singles in their time, and some diehards love when they resurface in the set. Others think Marillion has better material these days. Neither song was on 2012’s Sounds Live, a much more serious and less upbeat listening experience overall.
Once “Hooks in You” has crashed its final chord, the balance of the album is made of epics and old Fish classics. “Ocean Cloud” and “Neverland” (16 and 10 minutes long respectively) are the epics, both slowly pulsing with vivid life. The way each twists and turns makes neither a bore. “Neverland” is the album closer in fact, ending it in dramatic fashion.
Before we get there, Marillion lay down four Fish classics in a row: The timeless trio of “Kayleigh” – “Lavender” – “Heart of Lothian”, and the poignant ballad “Sugar Mice”. All singles, all tracks forever linked to Fish. But Steve is the Marillion singer now, and he’s been singing those songs almost as long as Fish himself. His versions have their own quirks and personalities, and we live in a world where they can all coexist with Fish’s.
I love when Hogarth says, “We dedicate this song to all the Kayleighs in the audience! There’s bound to be a couple!” Indeed, they’d be in their 30s today.
Merry Christmas Marillion and thanks for the CD. For those who hate Christmas music, this is the one for you! In fact, as a pure live Marillion album, it’s better than most (and they have a lot)!
- Happy Christmas Everybody! (1998 – Webfree 1)
- marillion.christmas (1999 – Webfree 2)
- A Piss-Up in a Brewery (2000 – Webfree 3)
- A Very Barry Christmas (2001 – Webfree 4)
- Santa and His Elvis (2002 – Webfree 5)
- Say Cheese! Christmas With Marillion (2003 – Webfree 6)
- Baubles (2004 – Webfree 7)
- Merry Xmas to Our Flock (2005 – Webfree 8)
- The Jingle Book (2006 – Webfree 9)
- Somewhere Elf (2007 – Webfree 10)
- Pudding on the Ritz (2008 – Webfree 11)
- Chile for the Time of Year (2014 – Webfree 17)
- A Collection of Recycled Gifts (2014 – Compilation with new Christmas material)
- Christmas Tour 2014 – Live at the Forum (2014 Abbey Road “instant live”)
- A Monstrously Festive(al) Christmas (2015 – Webfree 18)