Ian Mosley

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 – Less Is More (2009)

MARILLION – Less Is More (2009 Intact)

I’ll be honest here: I haven’t been into Marillion much, post-Marbles. 2004’s Marbles is my favourite H-Marillion album, and I wasn’t into the two studio followups. I found Somewhere Else to be a rushed and somewhat uninspired, and the sprawling Happiness Is The Road all but impenetrable. Therefore I’m not as familiar with Marillion’s recent more live output as I am with the pre-Marbles stuff, so that’s my problem reviewing Less Is More.  The song “Wrapped Up In Time”, I couldn’t tell you how the song goes until I hear it again.

I am, however, extremely enamored with Marillion’s previous acoustic CDs, the double Live At The Walls, and the fanclub exclusive A Piss-up In A Brewery. Marillion are a band that truly shine in an acoustic setting, but I wasn’t all that excited about another one.  How badly do we need more acoustic Marillion?  I didn’t think I needed another one, but I bought it anyway, because…the collection you know?

MARILLION LESS IS MORE_0002I was wrong. Less Is More (a studio acoustic recording instead of a live one) is just as great as Live At The Walls, with many songs given a fresh arrangement. Some, such as “The Space…”, are the same acoustic versions that the band has been playing for a long time, but others are fresh and inspired. Truly, this album sounds like a labour of love to me. The band’s lust for experimentation has come out beautifully in an acoustic setting, with a song like “Interior Lulu” actually quite a bit better than its original 1999 (marillion.com) counterpart. The songs are subtle, with slight percussion additions, but not a lot of bells & whistles. One of the best songs is the one new one, “It’s Not Your Fault”, which outshines some of the classics. I found the acoustic version of “Hard As Love” to be even more enjoyable than the original rocking version, and quite a surprise too, because I didn’t think it would lend itself well to an acoustic arrangement. Other highlights for me included “Memory Of Water” and “This Is The 21st Century”.

The two bonus tracks on this CD, “Runaway” and a cover of “Fake Plastic Trees”, have been released before on Live At The Walls. (“Fake Plastic Trees” was also a bonus track on the CD single for 1998’s “These Chains”.) I have always been fond of “Fake Plastic Trees” and I prefer Marillion’s version to Radiohead’s. (I’m not a big Thom Yorke fan, but Hogarth really sings his heart out on this one.)

This album is so good, it really revamped by interest in Marillion. I’m glad I bought it! For non-fans, this is a great accessible introduction to a band that by all rights should have been huge. The quality of their songs, as displayed on Less Is More, is simply world-class.

5/5 stars

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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REVIEW: Marillion – Radiation 2013

RADIATION 2013 FRONT

MARILLION – Radiation 2013 (Madfish)

Radiation (stylized as Radiat10n, Marillion’s 10th studio album) was another controversial Marillion album. Much like This Strange Engine and marillion.com, Radiation did not have that universal fan appeal that magical albums like Brave seemed to have.  It confused some of the staunchest of Steve Hogarth followers. It is unlike any previous album, but still rooted in the progressive experimentation that Marillion are known for.  Just had that modern twist to it…just enough weird stuff with samples going on to turn off the fans who felt like they were just hanging along for the ride after This Strange Engine.

I remember Tom saying to me, “This Strange Engine…was that the one that sounds like Hootie and the Blowfish?”

Perhaps in reaction to that, Radiation had a heavier, noise-saturated mix.  The band always said it didn’t come out the way they initially heard it, and always had hopes to remix it one day.  Now 15 years after its release, Radiation 2013 is a revisit to the original album with that fresh remix the band had always talked about.  It is packed in a handsome Madfish box, all the original artwork contained within, housed within a brand new cover by the same guy who did the original.

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The original album itself has always appealed to me.  I tend to like the underdogs.  Born Again, after all, is my favourite Black Sabbath record.  My favourite Motorhead is Another Perfect Day….

Let’s start by talking about the original album.

Opening with a cacophony of orchestra noise, a campy distorted melody follows. Hogarth is warning us of global warming, a topic he visited 9 years earlier on “Seasons End”. “Under The Sun” follows this intro, with lyrics such as “It used to rain, dreary and grey, most every day but not anymore!” Looking at the bright side of global warming from the British point of view! A haunting ghostlike keyboard melody underscores this aggressive yet sparse tune.

This is followed by the pounding of “The Answering Machine”, a classic that is often performed unplugged these days.  The original album version is completely different, and I hear so much joy in Ian Mosely’s drums to just be sheerly having at it.

“Three Minute Boy” is supposed to be about Liam Gallagher.  It is another great song, and this one in a slower tempo.  It also has a haunting quality, and Steve Hogarth sings his ass off.

The very quiet “Now She’ll Never Know” is next. It’s a little simpler than the earlier tracks, partly because bassist Pete Trewavas is on guitar this time. Hogarth sings like a spectre of himself, fragile and weak, hiding.  It’s an awesome performance.  Then, sampled strings introduce the single “These Chains”, a late-Beatles-y ballad with a dramatic chorus.

The next track is the very Floydian “Born To Run”, regarding the “people of the north”. Never has Steve Rothery sounded so David Gilmour. Yet another classic guitar solo to add to his list of many, a showcase piece. “Born To Run” is a slow track, mournful yet also hopeful.   Ian Mosely used the subtlety he is known for and classes the song up several knotches.

Suddenly, the gothic keyboard crashes of “Cathedral Walls” assail the unguarded listener. Hogarth, his voice reduced to an echo, whimpers the lyrics. It sounds as if pain and anguish are wracking his body. The choruses are dense and powerful. This is by far the heaviest moment on the album, yet unexpectedly punctuated by quieter breaks.

The final song on the album is the 10 minute epic “A Few Words For The Dead”. It is very minimalist to start, but builds up to a barrage of vocal melodies by the time your trip is done. It is not an easy track to swallow but is worth the effort.

(The original Canadian CD had two bonus tracks: the incredible “Big Beat Mix” of “Memory of Water”, from the last album, and an unplugged rendition of “Estonia”.  These two bonus tracks are not on this version of Radiation.  I only mention it in case you were wondering. The “Big Beat Mix” was also available on the single for “These Chains”, along with an incredible cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”.

RADIATION 2013 CDAs for the Radiation 2013 remixes?  There is no way, absolutely no way, that they can compete with my feelings for the original album that I know and love.  I spent 15 years with this album.  There is no way any remix could ever compete with that, in terms of love, familiarity, and meaning.  Having said that I also think the original, noisy mix is perfectly suited to these songs, and plenty awesome at that.  I love it.  It’s different.  Here’s some thoughts and memorable moments regarding the remixed versions.

“Under the Sun” – Cool guitar solos, more guitars.  More keyboards too, and a full, complex mix.  Lusher, more audible harmonies.  The song drags on a bit too long though.

“The Answering Machine” – Just as heavy and massive, but clearer.  Still features that distorted lead vocal.  Also goes on longer, with previously unheard lyrics.

“Three Minute Boy” – Additional keyboards, not drastically different.

“Now She’ll Never Known” – Possibly the best of the remixes so far.  Sounds as if, “Ahh, this is what it was meant to be like!” Makes the original sound muffled under a blanket.

“These Chains” – Very natural sounding, possibly the least messed with.  You can hear a guitar part at the end that mirrors the main melodies in a very Beatles-esque way.

“Born to Run” is completely different, a whole new vibe.  Now, instead of being a mysterious, a sunset-stained blues, it is a slow dance.  I definitely prefer the original version of “Born to Run”.  This is nice as an alternate take on a truly great song, but the original just has so much vibe.  The guitar solo is still chilling, though.  Spine-tingling.

“Cathedral Walls” is also inferior to the original.  It has lost its other-worldliness in favour of sonic clarity, an uneven trade.  There is also no “These Chains” reprise before going into “A Few Words for the Dead”.

“A Few Words for the Dead” remains hypnotic, has some more depth to it.  But the original mix was already really interesting and good.  I don’t think much was gained from the remix.

There are a few other associated albums related to this one, if you like it, that you can get from marillion.com:

Unplugged At The Walls. A double live unplugged CD, recorded in a restaurant during the mixing of Radiation. It features live versions of tracks like “Now She’ll Never Know”. It’s also where the “Fake Plastic Trees” B-side was lifted from.

Fallout: The Making of Radiation. A 2 CD compilation of song sketches, unfollowed directions, unfinished and finished ideas.  One disc is a complete album demo, the other, snippets of sketches.  Its cover art is featured inside Radiation 2013 as well.

Radiation will always be a favourite of mine.  It’s nice to finally have the remix of the album, instead of just wondering what it would be like.  Now I know.  And honestly?  Curiosity has been quenched.  Now that I’m not curious anymore, I know it will only be played a fraction of the times I will still play the original.

Radiation:  5/5 stars

Radiation 2013:  3.5/5 stars for the remix, 5/5 stars for packaging and album quality