The first of two Marillion reviews, enjoy! Tomorrow, another!
MARILLION – Seasons End (1989 EMI, 2 CD remastered edition)
Hard to believe that Seasons End is 25 years old now. In the last 25 years, Steve Hogarth has stepped outside the impossibly big shadow cast by Derek W. Dick (“Fish”) as lead singer of Marillion. While some Marillion fans refuse to accept any Hogarth output post-Brave (I’m looking at you, Tom) many have embraced his work and the latest phases of Marillion. Seasons End was the first, tentative step in that journey. Even the great cover art reflects the change. The Jester and other visual clues from the past are there, inside Marillion’s new photographic artwork direction.
Armed with almost a full album’s worth of nearly complete music (see: Clutching at Straws bonus CD), Marillion set out to fill two enormous positions in the band: Lead vocalist, and lyricist, and not necessarily in that order. Due to the monstrous poetic talents of Fish, lyricist John Helmer was tapped to contribute lyrics to the music they had already written with Fish. (Fish took his lyrics and used them on his solo albums Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors and Internal Exile.) Then, ex-The Europeans and How We Live singer and keyboardist Steve “H” Hogarth was brought on board. Hogarth brought with him an infamous red bucket full of his own completed musical ideas. In that bucket were bits of what later became “The Space…” and the hit single “Easter”.
With that much music behind them it almost seems inevitable that Seasons End would be a winner. Indeed, since most of the music was written with Fish still in the band, it careens joyfully from progressive, moody tendencies to the brighter moments that Hogarth contributed. The result is possibly the perfect album to introduce a new singer: Just enough like the old band that people can relate, but not a copy. Hogarth himself was night-and-day different from Fish: He didn’t sing songs about getting drunk in a bar, or songs about Scottish freedom. He had a quieter style as a frontman, and killer vocal range as a singer.
Seasons End starts off with a long moody intro before kicking in with Steve Rothery’s triumphant guitar melodies and Ian Mosely’s perfect drum rolls. From there it becomes slower, but hopeful: Welcome, “The King of Sunset Town”.
“Easter” is next, a near-perfect ballad for 1989. While it begins quite slow, it gets brighter and more upbeat by the time H sings the, “What would you do with the wire and the gun?” section. Irresistible song. Lyrically excellent, musically perfect. I find a lot of ballads wear out over time. Not “Easter”.
“The Uninvited Guest”, to me, is filler despite its status as a single. There are better songs on the album, and this one is to me just a straightforward standard rock song. The lyrics are interesting — a look at HIV from the virus’ perspective. The lyrics also have a quiet little Scottish reference — look up “first footing” and how heavy 15 stone is, and tell me if you think it’s a shot at Fish.
“Seasons End”, Marillion’s first song about global warming (but not the last) is both lyrically and musically great. I have always enjoyed when they opened shows with this song, prefaced by “O Come Emanuel”.
Side two of the original LP began with a pair of songs I’m not too keen on, the dark “Holloway Girl” and the sax-laden “Berlin”. Some people love both, but I believe these two songs only build the tension. It is the next song that steals the second side. “After Me” is a bright one, a song that coulda woulda shoulda been a single. Its music goes back to the Fish days, but the vocal melody is 100% Hogarth.
Next, “Hooks In You” is a short firecracker of a rocker and very out of character for Marillion. Its simplicity is such that it was chosen as the first single/video. Personally to me is it the most skip-worthy on the album. It doesn’t have the longevity that the rest of this album possesses. Whatever magic similar tracks from the past such as “Incommunicado” have, is missing from “Hooks In You”.
Finally the original album closes with “The Space…”, a longer progressive epic. I quite like “The Space…”, always have, and the band still play it live today. In fact it was recently done on their acoustic album Less Is More. Great song with interesting cryptic lyrics.
As on all Marillion remasters, the bonus disc here is loaded with treasures. “The Bell in the Sea” is a B-side and quite possibly the first song that the H-fronted Marillion have done on the subject of water — someone once said that H’s lyrics were all about “death and water”. This song could be the first of many in the water category. Another great B-side, the poppier “Release” (quite similar to “After Me” in direction) is a total winner. The rest of the disc is rounded out by a 12″ mix of “Uninvited Guest” and six demos. One demo is “Uninvited Guest” which means you have to hear this unremarkable song three times.
Personally while I always enjoy getting bonus material on albums like this, I find the demos to be tedious because they are similar to the album tracks in arrangement, but demo quality in fidelity. So, not really something overly interesting to listen to. If you want more remixes and live B-sides, be sure to check out Singles Box Set 89-95 which has them all and then some!
A remarkable reboot for a band that they had written off. The next challenge was to learn to write with the new singer. But that’s another album….