A Very Barry Christmas

#800: It’s Beginning to Look Like Marillion Christmas

GETTING MORE TALE #800:
It’s Beginning to Look Like Marillion Christmas

Immediate apologies to probably a large percentage of readers.  There are two kinds of people:  those who like Christmas music, and those who do not.  Those in the “not” category will probably be dropping in droves this December, as I announce the latest review series here at mikeladano.com.

It’s an interesting matter of fact, but Marillion have a total 15 Christmas themed albums.  That’s an incredibly large number!  Most were only available (for free) to fans of the Marillion Web fan club.  Over the last few Christmases, I’ve reviewed a number of them (linked below).  In 2019, I finally acquired the only two I had been missing.  I didn’t get into Marillion early enough to get the first two, but I was on board by the third.  Now, two decades later, I decided to bite the bullet and pay Discogs prices, which were not all that bad ($30 US each).  And now I have them all!

For a short while, Marillion switched from releasing Christmas albums to Christmas DVDs, which I do not collect.  In 2014, CDs resumed for a short additional run.

  • 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)

Now that I actually have them all, I’d like to get them all reviewed too.  After all, I can really only do that kind of thing once a year — in December.  Starting with Webfree 1, I’m going to work my way down the list.  And if this doesn’t interest you at all, that’s cool.  I get it.  That’s the thing about personal projects.  This is more about me than you, I’m afraid.  But there’s plenty of reason for you to stick around, too.  Many of these Marillion “Christmas” albums have minimal Christmas content.  Chile for the Time of Year? That’s just, flat-out, a double live album.  It was recorded in May!  It boasts some of Marillion’s best known songs (“Kayleigh”, “Easter”, “Cover My Eyes”), and also a number of key later progressive epics (“Gaza”, “Ocean Cloud”, “Neverland”).  If it were not one of their annual Christmas fanclub freebies, it would fit in any other time.

If you’re a diehard, or just remotely curious about Marillion, I’ve done my best to write for both of you.  These CDs are going to expose to you to variety of Marillion songs.  Hits, deep cuts, and stuff you never heard of before.  And you won’t find a series this detailed anywhere else.

As I buckle in for what looks to be a chilly season, I wish you all the very Merriest of Christmases.  It matters not if you celebrate it.  As the world pauses together this season, I hope you have nothing but warmth and happiness in your life.  Perhaps a hot drinky-poo or a pipe by the fire is all you desire.  Might I recommend a Marillion Christmas to nail the vibe just right?

REVIEW: Marillion – A Very Barry Christmas (2001)

A VERY BARRY CHRISTMAS_0001MARILLION – A Very Barry Christmas (2001 Racket Records Christmas CD, free to Racket Club members – webfree 04)

From 1998 to 2008, Marillion released annual Christmas CDs exclusively to members of their fan club, for free.  Each one was different from the previous, but you could count on some cool unreleased music every year.  Of the 11 Marillion Christmas CDs, I have physical copies of nine, and legal downloads of the others that I am missing (the first two).

Today in 2014, Marillion have released a new “best of” compilation CD of their Christmas tracks called A Collection of Recycled Gifts.   This CD also features new material, but it will be most fans’ first chance to hear some of these songs.  I thought that would make an excellent occasion to review a selection of the most interesting volumes of the past Marillion Christmas CDs.

I decided to start with 2001’s A Very Barry Christmas.  “Barry” was their mascot during the Anoraknophobia period.  This was their fourth Christmas CD, and the second I received.  The content on this installment includes Christmas music, specially recorded acoustic versions, and unreleased remixes.  (The reason I’m not reviewing the third Christmas album, the first one that I owned, A Piss-up in a Brewery, is this.  It was later reissued as a regular live non-seasonal DVD that I can review any time.  And I will, because it’s great and that one remains my favourite of these Marillion Christmas releases.)

The album commences with “I Saw Three Ships”, a studio recording of the traditional carol.  Of Marillion’s Christmas music, this is my favourite song.  When it opens you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a vintage outtake from Clutching at Straws or Seasons End.  In fact there is even an echo of “Easter” in some of the instrumental melodies.  They also segue into “O Come All Ye Faithful”, keeping things delicate but electric.  “I Saw Three Ships” is, in my opinion, an undiscovered gem of the Marillion back catalogue.  Then, even though it’s not listed as a separate track, Marillion’s annual Christmas message is included at the end of the song.  This time only Mark and H showed up.  They describe “I Saw Three Ships” as a Christmas carol hybrid, and I agree with that description.

Then, onto the presents!

A VERY BARRY CHRISTMAS_0003The first batch of songs are taken from a 2001 acoustic session at Marillion’s home base, the Racket Club.  Every tune is a brand new song from Anoraknophobia, giving fans an early opportunity to hear acoustic renditions of the new material.  “This is the 21st Century” is reduced to piano and voice (presumably both by Steve Hogarth).  It works well in this setting, even though the album track is long and complex.  “Between You and Me” is complete with the whole band, including keyboards and drums, rendering a catchy sorta-unplugged version of their new single.  “Map of the World”, co-headliner of that same single, is the stronger of the two songs, but not necessarily in this setting.  I think “Map of the World” works best with all the bombast and vocal glory of the studio version.  It needs to be let loose, like the character in the song who wants to see the whole world.  “Separated Out” was originally the heaviest song on Anoraknophobia.  It’s certainly an interesting choice to do acoustically, but I like the way it builds.  It’s actually quite cool.

“Number One” is an interesting selection, because it was first unveiled on 2000’s Christmas album, the aforementioned A Piss-up in a Brewery as a preview of Marillion’s new music.  The studio version was later included only on the limited deluxe edition of Anoraknophobia, so it’s a bit of a hard song to come by.  The cello part is captured nice and beefy, and this ode to artificial pop singers is flawless.  The thing about Hogarth’s lyrics is, he’s not really bitching and complaining.  Indeed, he compares the precision of a #1 pop performance to that of a figure skater aiming to hit a 9.5.   What he does is use his words to get you thinking about the subject, and I like that.

The album closes with three remixes.  From the difficult to appreciate marillion.com comes the jazzy dubby trip-hop of “House”.  This interesting remix by Marc Mitchell spends a couple minutes just focusing on the muted trumpet, which is never a bad idea.  This is a 12 minute remix and it runs the gamut, but it certainly proves that Marillion can and do anything they want musically.  Also from marillion.com is “Go!” remixed by somebody called Size 9 Cooperative.  It has been robbed of its lightly throbbing pulse; it has sadly flatlined and been reanimated as a dance-bot.  This is, quite honestly, terrible.  If I was doing a joke remix of a song in order to make fun of remix cliches, this is how it would sound.  This is one Christmas present you’ll wish you could return to the store, only to find you weren’t given a receipt.  An instrumental mix of “This is the 21st Century” is more my speed.  This is the album version stripped of lead vocal and laid bare.  I enjoy this kind of track because you can really hear the interplay of the instruments.  With Marillion, that is never really boring.  This is a full-length track by the way, all 11 minutes of the song.  Treated instrumentally, it has a nice ambient quality that would work well on an album such as Pink Floyd’s recent Endless River.

3.25/5 stars

 

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