Anoraknophobia

REVIEW: Marillion – Crash Course – An Introduction to Marillion (2001 first edition)

MARILLION –  Crash Course – An Introduction to Marillion (2001 Racket Records, first edition)

Here is an interesting gimmick.  Starting in 2001, Marillion began compiling “Crash Course” CDs, offering them for minimal cost on their website.  The idea was that you could buy this CD for next to nothing, and send it off with to someone else with the intention of getting them into Marillion.  After the original discs were gone, they revamped the tracklisting in 2002, and again in 2006, 2008 and 2017 with new songs.  Let’s have a listen and see what Marillion thought their most immediately appealing material was 20 years ago!

Since their new album was the crowd-funded Anoraknophobia (a new idea at the time), one of those songs leads the pack.  They chose “This is the 21st Century” which I recall them really pushing at the time.  I still am not sure why that was one of the songs chosen to push.  It’s 11 minutes long and not very commercial.  It’s also quite slow and mellow and takes some time to absorb.  You’d think they would have gone with one of the singles — “Map of the World” is the track I personally put on my mix tapes when trying to get someone into this band.  That’s not to say “This is the 21st Century” is an inferior track.  It’s complex and demonstrates Marillion’s recent fascination with loops.  Instead of making them cheesy, Marillion made them trippy.  This one song is a lot to digest and new fans might be baffled by lyrics like “A wise man once said a flower is only a sexual organ, beauty is cruelty and evolution.”  And some macho dude in camo pants is absolutely going to be triggered by the line “He had denied his feminine side,” but I don’t think that guy was ever going to be into Marillion anyway.

The far more obvious song “Rich” from marillion.com is an underrated gem.  “Dot Com” as they call it is an overlooked album.  Marillion really dove into a commercial deep end with some songs, while going full acid trip on others.  “Rich” is pure pop, with a bangin’ chorus.  “No tears, no lies, no pain, no doubt, no darkness, no confusion!”  That’s how modern Marillion makes me feel.  “Rich” is an uplifting song.  “So talk about failing, to fall is not to fail.”  Get rich right now, says Marillion.  Mark Kelly has a hefty keyboard hook that anchors the song, while the verses slowly sway with a 2000s groove.

The oldest track is “Afraid of Sunlight” from 1995.  They were trying to stay away from things that sounded too dated.  No worries of that with “Afraid of Sunlight”, a timeless song if Marillion ever had one.  It is so basic, with one little melody that runs through, but then it absolutely explodes on the dramatic chorus.  If this track doesn’t win ’em over, nothing will.

Back to Dot Com and “A Legacy”, the song that opened the album.  Once you get past the slow opening, this song punches hard.  The distorted vocals are so 90s, but that’s nothing…wait until you hear “Under the Sun” from 1998’s Radiation.  That album was all about noise; everything banging and cranked up loud.  It’s also my favourite song on this disc.  From the haunting keys to the crashing chords, “Under the Sun” kicks all the asses.

Would this disc have appealed to newbies in 2001?  Some, certainly.  But like anyone, I think I could have done better!  There is no point rating a CD like this so we’ll just call it:

5/5 Barrys 

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Christmas 2002 – Santa and his Elvis

MARILLIONChristmas 2002 – Santa and his Elvis (2002 Racket Records Christmas CD, free to Racket Club members – webfree 05)

This is the fifth of 11 Christmas CDs that Marillion released free to fanclub members.  I have physical copies of nine, and legal downloads of the others I am missing (the first two).  I thought the 2002 installment, Santa and his Elvis, would be make for an enjoyable review.

The intro “Christmas Message” seems to be delivered by an intoxicated band, recording in October!  Laughing and doing voices, the members deliver their own personal Christmas messages to fans, if you can make out what they’re saying.  For fans only!  Then of course the band do an Elvis classic, “Lonely This Christmas”.  Although it’s not too polished (it was recorded live in the studio) it does have some pretty cool performance moments.  Hogarth’s singing is like butter but Steve Rothery’s guitar is delicious.  Then, as a surprise, they do it again as a Pistols-esque punk version.  Very cool.

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Some recent live tracks round out of the album.  From 2001 in Manchester is “Fruit of the Wild Rose” representing the then-new Anoraknophobia.  This laid-back steamy number is extra slinky live.  At almost eight minutes, it’s the longest track here.  Surprisingly, this transforms into a heavy version of “Cannibal Surf Babe” and the two songs become one. Merry Christmas, indeed.

Then it’s off to a 2002 radio broadcast, with the two lead tracks from their new single:  “Between You and Me”, and “Map of the World”.  These tracks exemplify the new sound Marillion were going for at the time.  They are concise, powerful pop rock songs featuring light experimentation with loops.  I recall they were listening to a lot of Massive Attack and Radiohead at the time, among other artists, and usually this kind of modernization doesn’t work.  Marillion pulled it off.  They managed to combine the more melodic rock sounds of Holidays in Eden with a modern ethic without sounding too contrived.  As much as I prefer the progressive, darker side of Marillion, they do write really great pop rock from time to time.    It’s not like they sold out; there’s enough good playing here to satiate the old fans.  These are the singles, after all.  “Map of the World” is a particularly lush, excellent song.

The radio broadcast continues with an older track from Radiation, “The Answering Machine”.  This is a song that exists in two separate live guises equally well: acoustic and electric.  The original album version was electric, and that’s the version played here.  I’ve become so used to the acoustic version that hearing an electric one is music to my ears.  This dense rocker smokes in this version, a bit faster than usual.  Then finally a duo from Afraid of Sunlight:  the title track, and its epic closer “King”.  “Afraid of Sunlight” fits well with the set, because it too benefited from drum loops back in ’95.  It remains as powerful and classic as ever, though Steve Hogarth’s voice is raspy and hoarse in spots.  As for “King”, it sounds intimate, bare and incredible as ever.

4/5 stars

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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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REVIEW: Marillion (as “Remixomatosis”) – You’re Gone (2005 promo EP)

Welcome back to the Week of EPs! Each day this week, I’ll be checking out a variety of EP releases, both famed and obscure.

MONDAY: Aerosmith – The Other Side (1990)
TUESDAY: Wolfsbane – All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! (1990)
WEDNESDAY: AC/DC – ’74 Jailbreak (1984)

REMIXOMATOSIS – You’re Gone (Promotional 2005 Intact records)

REMIXOMATOSISEager to cross over to new fans, in 2004 Marillion released an album called Remixomatosis.  It was a 2 CD set of fan remixes of tracks from 2001’s Anoraknophobia.  Hogarth-era Marillion have not been remix-shy, having done something like this on 1998’s Tales From the Engine Room EP.  Aware that chances of being played in the clubs were slim, the following year Marillion released a promo EP of three more remixes under the band name Remixomatosis.  The name Marillion appears nowhere on the sleeve.

99% of the time, I really dislike remixes, especially when songs are danced up.  I bought this for the collection, but let’s give it a spin.  “You’re Gone”, originally from Marbles, sounded very little like the “Debonair Dub Mix” on this EP.  All I can hear from the original track is Hogarth’s vocals.  Maybe some keyboards, but who knows because the dominant part of the song is an annoyingly repetitive synth & beat.  This goes on for an agonizing 7:55.  This is not a song I would listen to for enjoyment.

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The “Plasma Dub Mix” of “Between You and Me” is almost twice as long as the “Marillion Vs. Plasma” version on the Remixomastosis CD.  This track adds a new bass line consisting of four notes that repeat over and over and over and over and over.  Then a little bit of Hogarth’s vocal is dubbed over synthesizer lines.  There have been better remixes of this song, notably the Mark Kelly remix from the “Between You and Me” CD single.  After a couple minutes, the remixer Robert de Fresnes throws in some acoustic guitar from the original song, which really only makes me want to hear the original song.  If you like repetitive music made by computers, go for it.

The closing track is the best (and shortest) one, the “Into the Fire Mix” of the superb “Don’t Hurt Yourself” from Marbles.  As arguably the best song on Marbles, it is a difficult track to ruin.  The remixer Cameron Lasswell wisely leaves Steve Hogarth’s vocal intact.  The vocal hooks on this song have always been fetching.  They are now cloaked in spacey synths, which I prefer to dumb repetitive synths.  It sounds like a song by Lights, perhaps, or one of her soundalikes.

I can’t rate this EP very high.  This is a collectible, pure and simple.

2/5 stars

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Part 313: Not Allowed Lending!

RECORD STORE TALES Part 313: Not Allowed Lending!

By popular request, here’s a story about loaning your CDs out to people who don’t appreciate or take care of them properly.

Really, I should have learned my lesson in Grade 12. I loaned my brand spanking new cassette copy of Van Halen I out to this kid at school, Jamie. He was a nice kid, so I didn’t have a problem with it. What I did have a problem with was the condition in which he returned it: without the cover! How could he possibly have lost it? He did eventually find it and return it to me, but he didn’t seem to understand why it mattered. Who does that? Lots of people, I’m afraid.

At the Record Store, I befriended a customer named Len, who I actually went to highschool with, but didn’t know until after. We had the same group of friends who were all into the same music. I turned Len onto Marillion and he began borrowing my Marillion discs to burn. What upset me was when I loaned him my limited edition copy of Anoraknophobia. Remember how Marillion put out limited edition digipack versions with bonus discs? If you pre-ordered, your name would make it into the CD. My name is there inside Anoraknophobia, and the followup Marbles as well.

img_20140805_180021Len returned my copy of Anoraknophobia – a sold-out limited edition – with a crease in the spine. Probably from trying to photocopy the booklet. I wasn’t happy and I told Len I wasn’t loaning out my CDs anymore. He was sorry he had done it, and understood that I was upset, but that didn’t take the crease out.

Later on, I bought a condo. I moved into the same building as a friend of ours, somebody we all had met via the original record store location. Her nickname was “San Francisky” – a long story that involves my dad and his inability to pronounce things correctly. She was a nice girl most of the time, but very pushy. I have issues with people who try to persistently try to push me around, so I had begun to distance myself by the time I moved in.

A few weeks after I moved in, she came down to my unit. She was having a party upstairs. She needed some music.

“Do you have any Beatles?” she asked me.

“Yup, I have the Red and Blue albums. They’re excellent. The Red one probably has all the songs you’d want for a party.”

VH 194_0001She asked me about a couple more CDs.  Van Halen was one. I got them out of my CD tower.

“You’re going to take care of these, right? And you’ll return them tomorrow morning?” I asked pointedly.

“It might not be tomorrow morning but I’ll bring them back, of course.”

I knew how this girl took care of her own CDs. I had bought enough used discs from her at the store. She always bitched when I told her the discs were scratched up. She never put them back in the case, and left them out all the time.  Knowing her ways of handling discs, I added additional instructions.

“I want you to be careful with these discs, and put them back in the cases when you’re done. I also want you to make sure nobody else touches my CDs. Only you.  I want them back exactly as they are.”

She gave me this flabbergasted expression. What she said next was the sentence that ended what was left of our “friendship”:

“What do you care if they get scratched?! You work at the store!”

That was it. I told her I wouldn’t loan her the CDs if that was her attitude. She went upstairs in an angry huff, and we never socialized again. I ran into her now and then, and she was always bitchy.  The friendship was over.

I really had no regrets about that. One thing about me is that if you want to be my friend, you have to accept me as-is, quirks and all. You don’t have to understand them, but you have to accept them. Nobody can change me.  The only person who will ever change me is myself, and taking care of my property is one thing that doesn’t need changing!