It has been a Very Marillion Christmas this year at mikeladano.com. We’ve already taken a detailed look at three of their prior Christmas albums, all fan club-only releases. They were:
Marillion stopped making Christmas albums in 2009, instead releasing Christmas DVDs. This year, however, the band has released A Collection of Recycled Gifts (Happy Christmas from Marillion). This collection compiles all of their Christmas songs, a period from 1999-present, all of them long out of print. It’s important to note that not all of Marillion’s Christmas releases had Christmas songs on them. The first, 1998’s Happy Christmas Everybody!, had only a Christmas message with a CD of new song previews and karaoke mixes. 2001’s A Piss-up in a Brewery was a special live acoustic performance with no Christmas songs, and was later reissued as its own standalone concert DVD. So those releases aside, A Collection of Recycled Gifts contains a song from each Christmas CD, along with some that are new to CD, and one that is brand new, period. A brilliant gift to the fans.
Brand new is Marillion’s cover of “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, a John Lennon classic that very few can cover without sounding like douchebags. Marilllion seldom sound like douchebags, and this version featuring the backing vocals of the band’s kids works without a hitch. It’s rich and warm like a good cup of hot chocolate on a snowy Christmas night. “War is over, if you want it.” I’ll drink to that. I’d like that.
All the way from 1999’s marillion.christmas is the carol “Gabriel’s Message”. The interesting thing about a CD of this nature, that spans a decade and a half of recordings, is that you end up with a vast variety of material as you’ll see. “Gabriel’s Message” begins as a purely vocal performance until it turns dark and gothic with chugging guitars and haunting keyboards. Great unique version, but not one for Christmas dinner with the family, unless it’s the Addams Family. In that case, proceed.
A huge U-turn takes us to “The Christmas Song”, also known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”. Marillion take Nat King Cole’s cue and perform it as a jazz standard. This one is new to CD. It was originally released as a video on a 2013 Christmas DVD called Proggin’ Around the Christmas Tree. “Stop the Cavalry” from 2003’s Say Cheese is fun and goofy, a contrast to the previous tunes. Maybe it’s just me, but I had never heard this song before. It’s not a favourite of mine, so onto “That’s What Friends are For” from 2006’s The Jingle Book. I’m not sure what the Christmas connection is with this song, but Marillion aren’t making anyone forget anyone else’s version. It too falls under the “fun and goofy” category, as does “Let It Snow”. We talked about this one a bit before in my review for Somewhere Elf. This one, I love! “I’m afraid we’re all shit-faced,” indeed! By choosing such a naturally fun and familiar song, and then doing it up as a drunken jaunt in the snow complete with kazoos, Marillion hit the spot.
“I Saw Three Ships” is from A Very Barry Christmas. It sounds like a twin brother to “Easter” in some respects. Though we’re now back to soft and pleasant Christmas music, “I Saw Three Ships” is one of my favourites on the album. Elvis is back in the house for “Lonely this Christmas” from Santa and his Elvis. My favourite part is when they do it as a punk rock version, after the Elvis version! Hogarth does it with Johnny Rotten’s sneer, and I love it.
Loosely connected to Christmas is “The Erin Marbles” from 2005’s Merry Christmas to Our Flock. This is essentially a version of Marillion’s song “Marbles” done as a drunken celtic bar jam variation on “Jingle Bells”! It’s totally fun, though nobody at your Christmas party will understand what the words have to do with it, so fuck ’em! Who doesn’t love a good ol’ drunken celtic bar jam? Not me!
Getting closer to the end now, the Beach Boys are covered on 2008’s “Little Saint Nick” from Pudding on the Ritz. Sounding nothing like the Beach Boys at all, and completely like a Marillion song with jingle bells on top, I can’t see mom and dad digging this version at all. It bears striking similarities to “Deserve” from 1999’s marillion.com, and other Marillion songs such as “This Strange Engine”.
Finally 2013’s “The Carol of the Bells” has been given a CD release. I bought this one on mp3 download last year, but I will always take a CD over an mp3. I love this carol and this version of it. Marillion do this very well, traditionally, before going electric and all Deep Purple on us. They even go Led Zeppelin and James Bond at the end! Brilliant version that fans will absolutely love. Although nobody has ever done it better than Peter Griffin:
“Look at the bells, look at the bells, Holy crap here comes Jesus, and he doesn’t look too happy.”
Some songs are hits, some are misses. It is what it is, when it’s a collection of tracks that were never intended for wide release. On the other hand, I’m grateful that the band put together a compilation CD that included tracks I didn’t have before. The collector in me appreciates it. Merry Christmas Marillion!