Lonely This Christmas

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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