rarities

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

 

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Baubles – Christmas 2004

MARILLION – Baubles – Christmas 2004 (2004 Racket Records)

And now we have arrived at the worst Marillion “Christmas” album. There had to be one, didn’t there? Unusually for a Christmas CD, this one contains almost zero seasonal content. Which, you know, that’s no so bad in and of itself. Unfortunately, the 2004 Christmas CD is all remixes.

Marbles-era Marillion went a little remix-happy.  They had singles remixes.  They had a fanmade remix album (Remixomatosis) with a bonus CD of also-rans.  They had a 12″ promo single under the band name “Remixomatosis” with even more remixes.    And for the diehards who had a fanclub subscription, the annual holiday album was choked with nine more of these fanmade remixes.

The only Christmas content is the usual “Christmas Message”…which is, due to the unavailability of the band, just a remix of previously recorded Christmas messages.  Amusing?  Yes.  Disappointing?  Indeed.

The liner notes explain that Marillion received over 500 remixes from fans, and Remixomatosis represented the winners as voted for from the band.  Baubles, then, are the best of the rest.  It starts well enough, with the “Ordnance Survey Mix” of the excellent song “Map of the World”.  This one is decent because it doesn’t just mix in more drum loops, but oodles and oodles of string arrangements.  It’s “Map of the World” reimagined for strings, but unfortunately suffocating some of the regal vocal melodies in exchange.

Next is the “Demystified Mix” of “This is the 21st Century”, which begins by reducing everything to basic piano and percussion, and then adds the bass and accoutrements.  The chorus has a strange floaty quality.  Then the “2.5 Hearts in the Groove Mix” of “Fruit of the Wild Rose” is like coming down into the mud.  Very little of the original song remains, drowned by lofty beats and bass.  The funky chorus is good but the rest loses the plot too much.

“Number One” is a cool song for remixing, and this one is interesting.  Fast synth and beats turn it into something new, a pounding dark dance number.  They call it the “Whatever Mix” but it’s better than the name suggests.  It blends seamless into the “No Monsters Remix” of “If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill”, which doesn’t leave much of the original song intact.  I would have called it the “Boring Disco Remix”.  Moving on, “When I Meet God” is still recognizable in form of its “Ontological Mix”, with changes made to the guitar and drums.  It’s a good alternate mix to the original.

The “Latino Freak Mix” of “Separated Out” is surprising.  Taking the heaviest song on the album and making it into a mambo?  OK, I’ll give you points for that.  It’s not my cup ‘o hot chocolate, but to each their own.  The normally wonderful single “Between You and Me” is put into a laid back snooze on the “Martini Mix”, a failed (if jazz) experiment.  Finally the CD gratefully closes on the “Hard Time Mix” of “Quartz.  That aptly describes how it feels listening to this whole CD front to back.

1.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – Say Cheese! Christmas With Marillion (2003)

MARILLION Say Cheese! Christmas With Marillion (2003 Racket Records)

The 2003 edition of the annual Marillion Christmas CD featured a front cover picturing the guys lounging in their pajamas, lazily smoking pipes.  These discs are usually pretty loose assemblies of song, and it looks like Rothery is already into the wine.

The annual Christmas message is first; this time they just want to wish you a lovely Christmas and a happy, happy New Year.  Onto the music!  “Stop the Cavalry” is considered a Christmas song in the UK, and Marillion’s is hastily assembled with keyboard samples covering most of the instruments.  There are plenty of jingle bells to keep things seasonal-sounding.

“Seasons End” begins with “O Come O Come Emmanuel” as if often does, morphing it into an original seasonal song.  This live version comes from a 2002 Christmas tour, as released on a DVD called Christmas in the Chapel.  It was never released on CD, so this is the only physical CD you can get with any of it.  Expect the usual mindblowing weightiness.  From the same show, they also perform the carol “Gabriel’s Message”, dark and gothic.  “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) is a capella from a German Christmas show, and it is beautiful.  Finally Marillion and the Racket Records folks have their way with “The 12 Days of Christmas”, modifying the words for their own needs.  As usual, the song wears thin fast.

There’s non-seasonal material too, which is often the case.  “I’m the Urban Spaceman” (The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band cover) is a Steve Hogath home demo, dating back to ’96.  This rarity is originally from a Hogarth solo EP, a neat curiosity.

“Neverland” was brand new; the Marbles album was still fresh and this would have been some of the first live material available from it.  It’s a full-on 10 minute epic, performed with professional passion.

These Marillion Christmas albums usually have one seasonal song and then a bunch of rarities.  In 2003 at least they included a few extra seasonal tunes and carols to make it feel like you’re actually listening to a Christmas CD.  These being fan club discs, it’s hard being too critical.  This one was fun, with only “The 12 Days of Christmas” to annoy you.

3.5/5 Christmas stars

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