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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 – marillion.christmas (1999)

MARILLION – marillion.christmas (1999 Racket Records)

The second Marillion Christmas CD was sent out the year of marillion.com, a pretty good if misunderstood experimental studio album.  Marillion began to incorporate elements such as dub and loops.  They were also getting the hang of this special fanclub Christmas CD idea.  Where the first was a mixed bag, the second is one of the their best.

Opening with a hauntingly beautiful “Gabriel’s Message”, the mood is set.  Steve Hogarth’s enviable golden pipes are front and center.  Heavier instrumentation begins to ebb and flow halfway through, and a cool carol is ended.  If you think Trans-Siberian Orchestra is cool, you’re going to love this.  It’s better.

Let the rarities commence, with the single edit of “The Answering Machine” from Radiation, unavailable on commercial CD.  Still an enjoyable song, with its cacophony of noise and keyboards lending it a unique progressive flavour.  The next two songs are real treats.  “Interior Lulu” and “Tumble Down the Years” were both recorded for Radiation, but held back for marillion.com because they didn’t quite fit.  For the first time, the Radiation mixes are included here.  (Not for the last time, as Marillion soon issued extensive “making of” albums for their later catalogue.)  If Radiation had included them, it would have been a far more mellow album.  Both tracks are quite different from the final versions.  “Tumble Down the Years” has a more rock and roll vibe.

Up next, a “Technopop Remix” of “Memory of Water”, a runner up for the “Big Beat Mix” that went out for CD singles and bonus tracks.  It’s not as iconic, and never really sounds like Marillion the way the “Big Beat Mix” does, and it’s far too long (10:02).  There are then three acoustic tracks:  “Abraham, Martin and John”, “Runaway” and “Estonia” originally done for a cancelled French EP.  You can find acoustic versions from this period on the album Live From the Walls, but these ones sound properly recorded in a studio.  “Abraham, Martin and John” is so good it will bring tears to your eyes.  An absolute treasure.

Hey remember on the 1998 CD, when Marillion included some instrumental “Karaoke” versions for a contest?  One of the winners is on this CD, the Cradley Primary School’s lovely version of “Beautiful” (the Dave Meegan mix).  They must have had some cool teachers at that primary school!  It’s pretty cool hearing the kids singing those words.

Heaven only knows that we live in a world,
Where what we call beautiful is just something on sale.
People laughing behind their hands,
While the fragile and the sensitive are given no chance.

Finally, the annual Christmas message from the band is placed at the end of the CD instead of the start.  They’re not as goofy (or drunk) on this instalment, as they run through the tracks and wish us all a Happy Christmas.  Thanks, guys!

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Marillion & the Web Christmas 1998 – Happy Christmas Everybody!

MARILLION – & the Web Christmas 1998 – Happy Christmas Everybody! (1998 Racket Records)

Marillion have always been a fan-friendly band, offering up special rarities for the most dedicated.  In 1998, fan club members received the very first Marillion Christmas CD.  It’s one of the least satisfying of what turned out to be a long-running proposition, but since it was the first, we’ll let it slide.  At just 30 minutes, Happy Christmas Everybody is also the shortest.  Most of the music consists of “Karaoke mixes” for a contest they were running.  Record your own vocals, send it in, and win!

The first-ever “Christmas Message” track from Marillion explains the origin of the CD, as the guys crack up themselves in the background.  This is mixed into “The Christmas Song”, a festive version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” by Marillion.  (A standalone song would have been better.)

Exciting at the time, the next tracks are excerpts from the next Marillion album, marillion.com.  Hey, it was 1998, what are you going to do?  Jethro Tull had an album called J-tull.com.  Regardless of the title, this CD had sneak previews of “Interior Lulu” (two snippets) and “Tumble Down the Years” from the next album.  The mixes are not the final ones from the album, which is interesting to fans, but they’re so damn short.  They’re also samples of very mellow sections of songs, which may (or may not) have given false impressions of the new album.

The four Karaoke mixes are all but full length, with one done by Marillion producer Dave Meegan himself.  The instructions are so quaint.  “We’re inviting you all to make tapes!”  Tapes!  Just mail them in!  It’s a little odd to hear landmark pop rockers like “Cover My Eyes” without the massive hook of the lead vocals!  All you get for vocals are some backing tracks on the chorus.  Fabulous drums on that track, by the way Mr. Mosley.  “No One Can” is cool because you can hear the backup instrumentation a lot more without the syrupy singing.  “Beautiful” is the one by Dave Meegan, and as such it’s the most listenable.  He mixed in new elements, making it more like an interesting instrumental arrangement.  The more recent “These Chains” is probably the least appealing of the Karaoke songs due to its minimalist approach.

We’ll cut Marillion some slack.  It was the early days, their first Christmas CD, and the exclusive mixes are appreciated even if the album previews are not.  There aren’t any really usable Christmas songs on this album, a problem they’d fix next time out.

2/5 stars

 

NEW FEATURE: Sunday Chuckle

Happy new year to all! All over the world, to you music fans, connoisseurs, and various people with great taste in reading.

This is a new feature at mikeladano.com and I hope you have a chuckle with your morning coffee. Every Sunday I’ll share something funny or otherwise amusing that made me smile or raise an eyebrow. This week, a parcel arrived from the Royal Mail, rather late: precisely one month after it was ordered. Normally mail from England arrives rather quickly, but the explanation can be found in the picture below.

thailand

You see where it says “CANADA” in big letters? I know, I know. Because “Canada” is spelled so similarly to “Thailand”. They both have “an” in the name with a “d” somewhere.

No big deal; Marillion.com are always happy to replace lost items, they have done it for me before. I received the parcel unscathed…from England via Thailand. Would you like to know what’s inside?

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.

RADIATION CD

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