rarities

REVIEW: Van Halen – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 promo EP) “Van Halen turns 15!”

VAN HALEN – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner promo EP) “Van Halen turns 15!”

Stuff like this is in my collection not because it’s valuable to me, but because at one point in time I got it for free.  We ran across promos like these all the time, and couldn’t sell them, so they were free to take.  Because it was Van Halen, I hung onto it even though all five tracks are taken from the live album Right here, right now.  It disappears in your CD collection due to the jewel case without a back cover or spine.  For the sake of simplicity (and a shorter title), we’ll just refer to this EP as “Van Halen turns 15”.

It actually plays really well.  Without any filler or solos, it’s a tight CD packed with some of the best songs.  “Dreams” serves as a connection to the earlier pop rock sounds of 5150.  Live, it rocks with higher octane than the studio version.  “Judgement Day” was one of the better representations of the then-new For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge material.  Its modern groove was predictive of the kind of music people would want to hear in the 90s:  heavier with more edge.  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” is the one token DLR track, and then seemingly to balance things out, it’s Sammy’s “One Way to Rock”.  Whatever — the listening experience is perfect.

Because “Right Now” was the biggest thing since Crystal Pepsi, it’s inevitable that the live version was included on this CD.  If you find “Right Now” to be vomit-inducing, you can just hit stop.

Since this is a promo and should only be sought as a freebie, appointing it a score out of 5 stars is meaningless.   Radio stations are always ditching boxes of old CDs so it’s bound to turn up somewhere.

Whatever/5 stars

REVIEW: The Darkness – Easter is Cancelled (2019 Japanese import)

THE DARKNESS – Easter is Cancelled (2019 Canary Dwarf, Japanese release)

I’m baffled.  I’m truly baffled this time, and I’ve followed The Darkness through thick and thin!  From brightest days to darkest nights.  From Stone Gods to Hot Leg.  And for the first time, The Darkness have thrown me for a loop.

Easter is Cancelled sounds like their rock opera, their big concept album, with gentle acoustics turning into loud bombast.  It looks brilliant on paper, but in practice it sounds more like Tenacious D.  That’s it — this isn’t a Darkness album.  This is what the D should have released instead of whatever Post-Apocalypto was.

Where I used to shout with glee as one gleaming riff gave way to another and then another, now I hear only fragments.  Only portions of great tunes, not completely brilliant tracks front to back.  The top track is actually one of the bonus songs, called “Different Eyes”.  The guitar work on Easter Is Cancelled is consistently stunning, at least.

This review has been painfully hard to write.  I take no pleasure in this.  It took months of agonising to get here.  I don’t want to hate The Darkness.  I want to embrace them — all four of them! — with open arms and heart.  Perhaps one day, I will again.  With all due apologies to Justin, Dan, Frankie and Rufus, this one wasn’t for me.

2/5 stars

I would be neglecting my rock and roll duty if I didn’t report on the Japanese bonus track, “Dancing House”.  It’s only a minute long and it’s…umm…about people dropping in for a party.  It sounds like bad B-52’s.  Really bad B-52’s.  I cannot discern its purpose or reason to exist.

 

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REVIEW: Rush – Rare Rush (bootleg)

RUSH – Rare Rush (2002 home made CD set from acquired downloads)

Once upon a time there was a cool, but doomed, Rush fansite.  This site had countless downloads for free, and was shut down in short order.  While it was up, I grabbed all the studio rarities that they had, and one official live track I was missing.  This compilation is made from all of it.

The rarities begin at the start, with the only two tracks featuring John Rutsey on drums.  They are significant ones.  “Not Fade Away” and “Can’t Fight It” were their very first single on Moon records in 1973.  It’s early Rush, more rock n’ roll, and way more high pitched.  These are very basic recordings, copied from vinyl.  “Not Fade Away” is the old Buddy Holly classic, but harder and with Geddy Lee walkin’ that bassline.  “Can’t Fight It” is an original, co-written by Lee and Rutsey.  It’s a simple but busy rocker.  Alex cuts loose some solos, Rutsey goes bananas on the kit, and Geddy holds it all down with a little bit of flash.  One listen to this and you’d know Rush were going places.  There’s an electricity on the single that carried over to the first album.  They were kids but they could play.

An edit of “Bravado” from Roll the Bones sounds like a CD single was the source.  What a song.  Is it a ballad?  Who cares.  It burns.  Neil kills it with a drum roll beyond perfect, right at the start of the fade-out, which is why you need the full-length original.  It also contains one of the most poignant Neil Peart lyrics:  “And when the music stops, there’s only the sound of the rain.”

Next is the three part interview “It’s a Rap”, from the Roll the Bones era.  Alex’s portion comes from a 7″ single, Geddy’s from a rare European CD single, and Neil’s from the more common one.*  Neil’s is probably the most interesting.  He discusses the controversial rap section from the “Roll the Bones” single, which was his idea. Robbie Robertson and John Clease were two people they thought of to deliver the rap, before Geddy did it himself.  Speaking of Geddy, his interview has the best quote:  “I don’t know how we got this image.  Maybe we wore too many robes in the 70s.”

The “pre-release” tracks here from Counterparts are slightly different in the mix.  The differences are very subtle.  Some more prominent keyboard here, a less double-tracked vocal there.  “Ghost of a Chance” has unique Lifeson fills in the last part of the song.  These tracks will be fun for any fan of Counterparts (a great album).  Some of the best songs have these “pre-release” tracks.  From “Animate” through “Double Agent”and finally “Everyday Glory”, these are awesome tunes.  “Cold Fire” absolutely smokes.  Unfortunately these tracks are not as clear as others, as they came (as I recall) originally from a rare promo cassette.

An edit of “Virtuality” from the (honestly dreadful) Test for Echo album is a drag.  I don’t like to speak ill of the dead but “Net boy, net girl” is not one of Neil Peart’s best lyrics.  In the 90s there was a trend of internet-themed songs, and none of them were really any good.  Moving onto “Nobody’s Hero”, which is a “master edit” (not sure what that is).  It’s only short by about 20 seconds at the end as it fades early.

The only live track on here, “Force Ten”, comes from the very rare and expensive Japanese import for Different Stages.  It could possibly be the only Japanese bonus track that Rush have.  Much like the album itself, this track is awesome and harder hitting than its studio counterpart.

Disc 2 opens with a radio edit of “Test for Echo”, one of the best tunes from that album.  Really cool is an instrumental mix of “One Little Victory”, though it’s so fuckin’ overdriven.  Vapor Trails reduced to mp3 (especially back then) is a harsh sound.  This is very brickwalled.  But as an instrumental, it’s worth suffering through.  Compare that to the crisp “Show Don’t Tell” (promo edit) that follows.  Now you have depth and texture.

Vintage vibes return on an old “Spirit of Radio” edit — two of them actually.  One is 2:59, the other 3:23.  They crackle of old vinyl.  Consider that the original is almost five minutes!  Radio edits are what they are — chopped to cram more songs in between commercial breaks.  “Shatter the illusion of integrity, yeah.”

Some high-tech songs shake it up a bit.  “Big Money” and “Red Sector A” are edited and truncated (“Big Money” for a music video).  “Red Sector A” is missing a whole minute of music from the middle, which you definitely miss.  The edit is just yucky, as is the one at the start of “Secret Touch” from Vapor Trails.  I’m realizing that, on its own, I can listen to Vapor Trails.  But I cannot listen to them one song at a time on a mix CD like this.  That overdriven mix is too drastic for a compilation.  (This is why Rush remixed tracks for their own Retrospective 3 album.)

“Time and Motion” is a “work in progress” pre-release, and it’s harder to listen to than the album version from Test For Echo.  More enjoyable is an edit of “The Pass” (Presto).  This brilliant, minimalist Rush tune was the start of a new kind of sound for them.  An awkward edit of “Tom Sawyer” cuts the song down to 3:32, a real shame.  Here’s thing:  “Tom Sawyer” was Rush tightening things up; making them concise.  There was no fat to trim on that song.  Everything that was there belonged.  This edit is a butcher job, cuts all over the place, an absolute travesty.

Next we arrive at the remixes.  The “Punchit Scratchit” and “Rock Slamfist” mixes of “Tom Sawyer” come from a promo single for the Small Soldiers soundtrack.  They’re pretty terrible.  Nobody needed to overdub somebody going “rock! rock!” over it.  There’s a neat loop repeated in both mixes, but most fans will call these tracks “abominations”.  Don’t forget that these were done for a kid’s movie.

Saving one of the best for last, it’s “The Weapon” featuring Joe Flaherty as “Count Floyd”!  Fans of SCTV know who that is.  The 7″ single this originated from goes for about 45 bucks on Discogs.  Definitely an item reserved for those with an all-expenses paid Rush card!  It really is a treasure though, considering the importance of SCTV to Rush over the years.  Joe Flaherty on a Rush single — yes, I want that.

The compilation ends on an up note, with an edit of “Time Stand Still”; though a bit choppy.  It stands as a reminder that Rush are not serviced well by single edits.  Indeed, any edit on this set is noticeably inferior to its album counterpart.  These particular Rush songs were honed in the studio to the necessary elements already.  Further thinning did not need to happen and only hinders enjoyment.

But, they’re rare, is the thing.  And collectors live for anything different from the album versions.  It’s part of our disease.  I won’t say “go and track down these promo singles”.  No, don’t do that.  That’s expensive.  I just hope you found this information interesting.  There are definitely treasures worth spending money on, among these downloads.  But sellers know that, and charge according to what they feel they can soak you for.  It’s unfortunate but owning this stuff physically is hard to prioritise, and for that reason, most of us will have to settle for downloads and bootlegs.

 

* Neil’s interview is the only one that I own physically on CD single.

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – The Ozzman Cometh (1997 Japanese import)

OZZY OSBOURNE – The Ozzman Cometh (1997 Sony Japan 2 CD set)

By 1997, Ozzy had reclaimed his crown as the prince of darkness.  The successful Ozzfest, including a partial Black Sabbath reunion (Mike Bordin instead of Bill Ward) had introduced Ozzy to a wave of nu-metal youngesters.  Why not cap the year off with a greatest hits album?  It wasn’t Ozzy’s first (1989’s Best of Ozz preceding it) but it was his first for most of the world.  Incredibly, given the Ozzy camp’s ability to muck up important releases from time to time, it was a particularly good package.

The Ozzman Cometh has had a number of issues over the years, but we won’t get into the ones that came after Sharon meddled around with re-recorded tracks.  Initially there was a limited edition 2 CD set and a standard single disc.  The lucky fans in Japan got an expanded 2 CD set with two bonus tracks.  That’s the one you see pictured here.  It comes in a non-standard extra thick jewel case due to the extra Japanese booklet inside.

The big deal of this new compilation was the inclusion of recently discovered early Black Sabbath tapes — “Ozzy’s 1970 basement tapes”.  Wikipedia tells us that these are actually BBC recordings:  “The John Peel Sessions” of 26 April 1970.  These have yet to be included on any Sabbath deluxe, so you have to be sure to get The Ozzman Cometh to complete your Sabbath collections.  “Black Sabbath” and “War Pigs” commence the set right out of the gate.  These tapes are raw but clean, and Geezer Butler has remarkable presence.  It’s a very sharp picture of what young Black Sabbath sounded like.  The lyrics are still a work in progress for those who love such differences, but Ozzy sounds even more like a man possessed.  “War Pigs” is still in its “Walpurgis” form, the “Satanic” version, and this is the clearest you will likely hear it.

Onto the hits:  Ozzy’s grudge against The Ultimate Sin was apparently already in play.  On the US CD, only one track from the Jake E. Lee era was included and it’s “Bark at the Moon”.  In Japan, “Shot in the Dark” is substituted in replacing Zakk Wylde’s “Miracle Man”, bringing the Lee content to two.  However the Randy Rhoads era is the star of the disc, with his version of “Paranoid” lifted from the Tribute album.  Included are, for the most part, the expected usual Rhoads songs:  “Crazy Train”, “Goodbye to Romance”, and “Mr. Crowley”, but no “I Don’t Know”.  Instead it’s the more interesting “Over the Mountain”.

As for Zakk Wylde’s legacy, it’s hobbled by the missing “Miracle Man”, since “Crazy Babies” doesn’t adequately capture his madness.  “No More Tears” is present as a single edit, and “Mama, I’m Coming Home” is necessary for any hits CD catering to people who just want some Ozzy songs they like.  It’s unfortunate that “I Don’t Want to Change the World” from Live & Loud takes up space.  The Zakk era ends with two good songs:  “I Just Want You”, the excellent dark ballad from Ozzmosis, and “new” song “Back on Earth”.  You had to have a new song, and according to the liner notes this was an unreleased one from the Ozzmosis era featuring Geezer Butler on bass.  Fortunately it doesn’t sound like an inferior song, just one too many ballads for the album.  (It’s written by Taylor Rhodes and Richie Supa.)

The second CD contains more treasure.  “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” are bonus Sabbath songs from the same Peel session.  Like the first two, they are crisp and probably essential to any serious fan of the original lineup.

Japan got two extra songs from movie soundtracks, enabling you to get them on an Ozzy CD.  The first is the excellent “Walk on Water”, Ozzy’s only studio recording with Zakk Wylde’s replacement Joe Holmes.  If you wanted to know what an Ozzy album with Holmes would have sounded like, here’s a good indication.  It would have been not too dissimilar from Ozzmosis but with some really different guitar playing.  Sure sounds like Mike Bordin on drums!  The other soundtrack song is “Pictures of Matchstick Men” featuring Type O Negative as the backing band.  It’s pretty forgettable.

The Ozzy interview from 1988 is 17 minutes of nothing special.  Here’s an interesting fact for you.  When stores were solicited for this album in 1997, I can distinctly remember the papers saying the interview would be a new one conducted by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I no longer have that piece of paper, and memory is what it is these days, but that’s what it said.  For whatever reason the 1988 one was used instead.  Go ahead and let me know how often you play it.  You can tell it was taped in the UK, at a rehearsal or soundcheck, because you can hear Zakk wailing away in the background.

The Japanese CD also comes with a neat sticker sheet with all of Ozzy’s album artwork on it.  I think the US CD has some screen savers.  I’d rather have the stickers.

Ozzy and company did the greatest hits thing right and have never actually done it this well since.  May as well track down a 2 CD Ozzman Cometh and get those Black Sabbath tracks you’re missing.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Whitesnake – The Purple Tour (2017 CD/Blu-ray set)

WHITESNAKE – The Purple Tour (2017 Rhino CD/Blu-ray set)

David Coverdale releases so much Whitesnake product (most of it worthwhile) that it is easy for the odd live album to slip between the cracks.  After he felt recharged by 2015’s The Purple Album, Coverdale released a live album and video from that tour.  This is not long after the four live CDs that make up Made in Britain and Made in Japan, so what does The Purple Tour offer that is different?

More Purple, obviously.  Of the 13 tracks on CD, five are Deep Purple covers.  There are an additional three more in 5.1 surround sound on the Blu-ray.

They open with “Burn” which leather-lunged David struggles with a bit right out of the box.  Fortunately his capable backing band can handle the supporting vocals, though it sounds sweetened after the fact.

This lineup of Whitesnake, which is still the current one featuring guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra, bassist Michael Devin, drummer Tommy Aldridge, and keyboardist Michele Luppi, is particularly good.  Whitesnake can never simply revert back to being a blues band.  John Sykes and Steve Vai made certain that Whitesnake would always have to have a couple shredders on hand.  When Beach and Hoestra get their hands on a Purple (or Whitesnake) oldie, they generally heavy it up by a few notches.

You could consider the setlist to be a surface-level “the classics of David Coverdale” concert.  No new material, nothing later than 1987.  It’s cool that some standby’s like “Slow An’ Easy” were jettisoned in favourite of even older tracks like “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.  It’s fun to hear “The Gypsy” instead of something better known.  Another Purple classic, a heavy version of “You Fool No One” from Burn goes down a treat, with plenty of tight interplay.

The Blu-ray disc includes some more obscure treasures.  “You Keep On Moving”, “Stormbringer” and “Lay Down Stay Down” fill in some of the Deep Purple blanks.  A dual solo with Reb and Joel called “Lotsanotes” is also the fun kind of addition that usually gets axed from a live album.  You’ll also find a music video for “Burn” and a fun interview with Joel and Reb conducted by Michael Devin.  These guys love their jobs.

But just who is this album for?  Don’t Whitesnake have enough live stuff by now?  Yes — they certainly do.  So this album is for two groups of people.  1) Those of us who have to have “everything.”  2) Somone who hasn’t bought a Whitesnake in a long time, but is curious what they sound like these days.  For those folks, they won’t be “bogged down” by anything new.  They will only get David and his crack band tackling the oldies.  Pull the trigger if that sounds like something you’re into.

3.5/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Virtual Lights Strikes Over France (1998 bootleg CD)

Merry Christmas, Harrison!

 

IRON MAIDEN – Virtual Lights Strikes Over France (1998 bootleg CD)

I took some flak when I first reviewed this.  “So funny, you guys bashing on a Maiden album,” said a disbelieving Aaron.   “Compared to contemporaries, you gotta know they still kick ass and take names over any of the pretenders to the throne.”  If only it were that simple.  More recently, Blaze Bayley-devotee Harrison has questioned my 1/5 star score.  It’s time to revisit the album after seven years and see if it sounds any better.


Ever wonder why Blaze only lasted two albums with Iron Maiden?  Most people assume it’s because they were more popular with Bruce, which is true.  But there was more to the story than that.  The evidence is here on Virtual Lights Strikes Over France, a live bootleg from the 1998 tour.  A handful of tracks aside, Blaze’s voice was in rough shape.  He struggles to hit and hold notes, on his own material no less.  He’s not as bad as Vince Neil, mind you.  He sings all the words and gives it all he’s got.  He’s just continually flat or sharp on key notes.

“Futureal” starts things in a promising manner, powerful and solid.  The struggle begins on “Angel and the Gambler”, missing notes here and there.  He begins “Lightning Strikes Twice” prematurely.  He does OK through the verses, but the chorus is a lost cause.  This is the tipping point.

“Man on the Edge” from The X Factor should be a slam dunk.  The problem is when Blaze hits a bad note, he really commits to it.  When the first Bruce Dickinson song is up, “Heaven Can Wait”, it’s all over.  No matter how good Iron Maiden are, this version is as close to unlistenable as the storied metal band ever gets.  Bayley recovers for a while on “Clansman”, but “Two Worlds Collide” must be tougher to sing.  “Murders in the Rue Morgue” is a slaughter.  Shame, since it’s a rarely performed Paul Di’Anno tune.  “2 Minutes” is marginally better.

In general, Blaze fares better on his own songs, but that doesn’t mean they’re exempt from problems.  You have to be a patient fan to listen to the entire set in one sitting, and you’ll absolutely wince multiple times.

The second CD has three bonus tracks from a show two years prior, from the X-Factour.  On these, Blaze is tops!  The difference is striking.  Here, he’s got the power necessary to accompany Iron Maiden on stage.  You can at least buy this CD for definitive live versions of “Fortunes of War”, “Blood on the World’s Hands” and “The Aftermath”.  It’s clear Blaze’s voice had changed between the two tours.

Am I being harsh?  Admittedly, yes, but for two reasons.

  1. Iron Maiden and Steve Harris have higher standards than this.
  2. I paid $60 for this goddamn thing.

The main point though is 1.  Obviously this situation was not going to be sustainable and Harris made the necessary change.  If he hadn’t, Iron Maiden might have risked being known as one of those bands who are hit and miss in concert, like Kiss and Motley Crue today.

I am going to revise the score higher.  It is live, and it’s not all terrible.  But few songs are free from some seriously sour notes, and for that reason, Virtual Lights will remain the least played Maiden CD in my collection.

2.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – A Monstrously Festive(al) Christmas (2015)

Glad tidings and joy! It’s the final day of the least popular series in the history of this site. Yes, the daily hits took a nosedive, but we have succeeded in reviewing every single Marillion Christmas CD. You’ll find a directory below. Thanks for reading if you did! Back to our regularly scheduled program next time.

MARILLION A Monstrously Festive(al) Christmas (2015 Racket Records)

The very last Marillion Christmas CD to date is another double live album. It’s actually a summer Festival gig (July 2015) with a shorter set, and two Christmas songs from December 2014 added at the end. Most of these tracks have appeared on other Christmas albums, all but “The Invisible Man”. It’s notable for focusing on long-bombers and only a couple of “hits”.

Not sure what’s up with the cover though, the band dressed as mad scientists, all but Pete Trewavas. It’s a suitable image I suppose, since Marillion are like the mad scientists of rock music.

17 minutes of “Gaza” opens the show, heavy as hell, one of the most intense Marillion songs of their 40 year history. It might be about the Holy land but it’s not what you’d call Christmas-y! Expect a driving ride through war-torn landscapes, with quieter respites strategically placed. Lightening the mood, “You’re Gone” kicks things up. The pop melodies and dance beats get the toes tapping.

“Oh fuck, now Pete’s gone,” says Hogarth between songs.  Fortunately the bassist returns!  “Power” from Sounds That Can’t Be Made follows, one of the better songs from the later years.  The only anomaly on this album is “Sugar Mice”, the sole oldie in the set.  “I prefer their old stuff”, Steve says to chuckles from the audience.  As usual, he absolutely nails the song, a passionate poem to the down and out.  The other Steve (Rothery’s) guitar solo is a song to itself, a beautiful complement to the perfect words.  “Man of a Thousand Faces” from Marillion’s “acoustic period” (This Strange Engine) is different from the other songs, performed with extra expression.  (“Bbbbbabble of Babylon”.)  The crowd loves it and keep singing well after the song ends.

Nothing but long bombers for the rest of the show.  “Neverland” (10:28), “King” (8:05), and “The Invisible Man” (15:13) represent some of the most epic Marillion music ever committed to tape.  Heavy, heavy moods!  Complex, driven songs, each one with mini-compositions within compositions.  “Invisible Man” in particular is like listening to a stream of songs, and live, it breathes.

The added two Christmas songs, from Germany and France respectively, are ones that have appeared on Marillion Christmas CDs before.  Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is a go-to for this band.  Acoustic guitars, gentle keys and jingle bells are all it takes.  A loungey “Christmas Song” is funny for how Steve messes up the lyrics right from the start.  So it’s not the definitive Marillion version, but it’s genuine.

That’s what makes all these live performances special.  There’s no fixing.  Everything is how it went down.  There’s no point in releasing CDs of so many individual concerts if you’re going to fix them in the mix.  Whether it’s a forgotten word or a missing bassist, it’s all in.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – Live at the Forum – Christmas Tour 2014

MARILLION – Live at the Forum – Christmas Tour 2014 – 11 December 2014 (Abbey Road “instant live” CD set)

This CD was unusual in that it wasn’t a fanclub-only release.  It was an “instant live” released by Abbey Road, from Marillion’s 2014 Christmas tour — a double live album.  And unlike the official 2014 fanclub release, this one has (some) actual Christmas music on it!

“Gazpacho” is an apt way to start a celebration, which was the goal according to Steve Hogarth.  The lyrics might not be all bright and gleeful (“They say the King is losing his grip again”) but the music certainly is.  One of Steve Rothery’s catchiest riffs is coupled with Hogarth’s unmistakable voice.

“The Uninvited Guest”, an early single about HIV, is second in the setlist and one several looks back at the fondly-remembered early days.  It’s a bit loose and sluggish but the fans always sing along when prompted.  The newer “Power” follows, ominous and powerful, pun intended.  Chalk it among Marillion’s most memorable choruses.

Hits follow in quick succession:  “No One Can” and an extended “Warm Wet Circles”.   The laid back vibe continues as Marillion comfortably play for the dedicated.  They ping-pong back and forth between old and new, as the next two songs “Woke Up” and “Trap the Spark” are from 2008’s double album Happiness is the Road.  That atmospheric record has been a hard one to absorb over the years.  The songs are not immediate.  Fortunately it’s “Easter” next, a song that never fails to get the masses singing along.

“Sounds That Can’t Be Made” from the album of the same title still pleases, thanks in no small part to Hogarth’s passionate vocal.  Things start to feel seasonal, however, on “Seasons End” which sometimes (like this time!) opens with “O Come O Come Emmanuel” as only Hogarth can do it.  The song is as poignant today as folks like Greta Thunberg try to deliver the same message that Marillion had in 1989.

So watch the old world melt away,
A loss regrets could never mend,
You never miss it till it’s gone,
So say, goodbye.

Didn’t Hogarth say this concert was a celebration?  Well, Marillion have always been dark.  It’s been said that their early music with Fish was all about alcohol, and the later music with Hogarth about “death and water”.  There is a nugget of truth for that.

“Man of 1000 Faces”, from their “acoustic period” feels a bit more like a singalong.  If you can master the tricky words, that is!

I’m the man of a thousand ages,
You see my face in the stones of the Parthenon,
You hear my song in the babble of Babylon.
I’m the man of a thousand riches,
Be my guest at the feast of Satyricon,
You spend the money that my logo’s printed on.

But the whole thing coalesces into an absolutely massive mountain of music at the end, perfect for the crowd to chant alone.  It’s made for audience participation.  Then, the progressive rock epic “King” is jokingly dedicated to Harry Styles.  It’s a dubious honour, since the song was inspired by tragic figures such as Elvis and Kurt.

After a brief pause, it’s time for some Christmas music.  It’s “The Christmas Song” but not the same “Christmas Song” from the very first Marillion Christmas CD.  It’s the “real” one.  “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”  Apparently it didn’t go over well in Glasgow or Manchester.  “Fucking Northerners”, says Hogarth.  They bravely tried it again in London where it seemed to be better received.  “Above average!” shouts an audience member.  They top that with John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”.

The show is ended with a bunch of oldies: “Sláinte Mhath”, “The Release”, and from the first album, “Garden Party”!  “The Release” is interesting because it’s a B-side, albeit a very popular one, due to its soaring chorus and everyman lyric.  Hogarth always does well on “Sláinte” though it is quintessentially a Fish song.  As for “Garden Party”, it might be Marillion’s only real party song, quaint as it is.  “I’m rucking, I’m fucking!” but Steve lets the crowd finish for him.  It’s excellent fun on a CD that is often too serious for your house Christmas party.

You can hear just why this band has such a rabid fanbase on just about any of their live albums, but this one is particularly warm and inviting.  Have a listen.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Chile for the Time of Year (2014)

MARILLION – Chile for the Time of Year (2014 Racket Records)

The first Marillion Christmas CD release since 2008’s Pudding on the Ritz doubled down!  It was an unusual but special treat:  a full-on double live album.

Recorded May 16 2014 in Santiago Chile, it has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, except that it was that year’s fanclub gift to the fans.  With that in mind, it could be their Christmas release with the widest appeal.  No carols here for the Grinches and Scrooges to complain about.  Just two CDs of progressive music from the Sounds that Can’t Be Made era.

It was the final date on Marillion’s Latin American tour, and it sounds as if they pulled out all the stops.  “Gaza”, a cinematic 20 minutes of swirling rock, is a hell of a way to open such a show.  Bass runs, samples and guitars coagulate into a mass of music, breathtaking in construction.  That’s a lot to digest, and so an easier pill to swallow follows.  “Easter” (wrong occasion, lads!) is one of Marillion’s best known hits, liquid and energizing.  It and the ballad “Beautiful” each serve to refresh your ears and prepare them for bigger musical challenges ahead.

“This is a song about, and called…’Power'” whispers Steve “H” Hogarth just before another weighty progression.  The dancey “You’re Gone” lightens the mood again, as the band wisely don’t let things stay in one groove for too long.  “You’re Gone” was a charting single for the band, but as far as accessible pop rock goes, I think they have better tunes in the pocket.  Like “No One Can”, or “Cover My Eyes” elsewhere on the album.  These longstanding classics from Holidays In Eden have aged well, though the high notes on “Cover My Eyes” have to be supported by the audience.

“Man of a Thousand Faces” is always an interesting song, coming from Marillion’s acoustic “Hootie” phase (as Tom Morwood calls it).  It’s adds variety to the concert setting, and is certainly as dramatic as Marillion before and since.  But it’s the first song from the Fish era that really stirs the soul.  “Warm Wet Circles/That Time of the Night” is a song Hogarth has always done well.  As the years passed, he became more comfortable with the Fish songs, and that is audible.

Plenty more early songs follow on the second disc, making this live album a really fine sampler.  “Uninvited Guest” and “Hooks In You” from Seasons End were both popular singles in their time, and some diehards love when they resurface in the set.  Others think Marillion has better material these days.  Neither song was on 2012’s Sounds Live, a much more serious and less upbeat listening experience overall.

Once “Hooks in You” has crashed its final chord, the balance of the album is made of epics and old Fish classics.  “Ocean Cloud” and “Neverland” (16 and 10 minutes long respectively) are the epics, both slowly pulsing with vivid life.  The way each twists and turns makes neither a bore.  “Neverland” is the album closer in fact, ending it in dramatic fashion.

Before we get there, Marillion lay down four Fish classics in a row:  The timeless trio of “Kayleigh” – “Lavender” – “Heart of Lothian”, and the poignant ballad “Sugar Mice”.  All singles, all tracks forever linked to Fish.  But Steve is the Marillion singer now, and he’s been singing those songs almost as long as Fish himself.  His versions have their own quirks and personalities, and we live in a world where they can all coexist with Fish’s.

I love when Hogarth says, “We dedicate this song to all the Kayleighs in the audience!  There’s bound to be a couple!”  Indeed, they’d be in their 30s today.

Merry Christmas Marillion and thanks for the CD.  For those who hate Christmas music, this is the one for you!  In fact, as a pure live Marillion album, it’s better than most (and they have a lot)!

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Pudding On the Ritz – Christmas 2008

MARILLION – Pudding On the Ritz – Christmas 2008 (Racket Records)

This was the final fan club exclusive Christmas CD that Marillion issued for several seasons.  They switched to DVD for the next few years.  I think an album is more interesting than a DVD, but to each their own!

It’s the annual Christmas message first, an amusing one as usual, with the band goofing around for a bit.  The Christmas song in 2008 was “Little St Nick”, a tour de force progressive rock Christmas tune clocking in at over six minutes.  It appears to be unrelated to the Beach Boys song.  (Listen for the silhouette of “Hey Jude”.)  It could, in fact, be exactly what your progressive rock loving seasonal heart adores!

The next chunk of tracks are jams from the Happiness is the Road recording sessions.  Often these jams would have found their way into songs, but these are the best bits that did not.  “Singapore” has nice laid-back instrumental appeal, but then Pete Trewavas grabs hold of it and it starts sounding like a heavy Brave outtake.  Conclusion: Marillion should consider releasing more instrumentals.  “Jakarta” has some interesting screechy guitar, and vocals.  “Honolulu” goes rock and roll, boppin’ piano included, before heading into more progressive territory and back again.  “In Dorset” is quiet, but with Ian Mosely performing some seriously stupendous percussion stuff.  Fabulous music.  Finally, “In Goa” almost recalls “Black Night” by Deep Purple!

There’s more still.  The final bunch of tracks was assembled by producer Mike Hunter with a Christmas theme in mind.  He decided to arrange the music around the poem “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas.  Thomas’ 1952 recording was a BBC staple.  Steve Hogarth does the reading for Marillion’s version.  For the next 24 minutes you’ll hear the poem over music that occasionally fits, but is often incongruous.  Whether you can get into it or not, It’s 24 minutes of Marillion music arranged in a conceptual framework.  That’s going to appeal to some of you.  Hogarth’s narration is top notch.

The added value of all this unreleased music, much of it seasonal in nature, makes this one of the better Marillion Christmas albums.

4/5 stars