Somewhere Else

REVIEW: Marillion – Somewhere Elf (Christmas 2007)

SOMEWHERE ELF_0001MARILLIONSomewhere Elf (2007 Racket Records Christmas CD, free to Racket Club members – webfree 10)

This is, believe it not, Marillion’s 10th Christmas album of 11 total. From 2009 to present, Marillion have issued annual Christmas DVDs (which I do not collect) instead of CDs. Of their 11 Christmas albums, I have physical copies of nine. I am missing the first two, which were later reissued for purchase in mp3 format, and that is all I have in my collection.

(Note: in 2013 they released a new digital Christmas single, “Carol of the Bells”.  This song has since been issued physically on the new “best of” Marillion Christmas CD entitled A Collection of Recycled Gifts which just arrived at LeBrain Headquarters yesterday!)

The reasons I selected Somewhere Elf to review are two: 1) The included Christmas carol is hilarious. 2) The rest of the songs are taken from an invite-only rehearsal performance at Marillion’s headquarters, The Racket Club. The set largely consists of newer songs from Somewhere Else and Marbles.  The CD also contains the annual Christmas message from the band (6:22 long), partly apologizing for the previous year’s “amateurish and shambolic” message!  This soon degenerates into joking, mistakes, re-takes and acoustic Christmas jamming, so obviously the quality level has gone up this year.

Track 2 is the official 2007 Christmas song, “Let It Snow”!  This is a kazoo-laden drunken carol with new lyrics.  “The Aylsebury roads are closed, Let it snow let it snow let it snow!”  Hogarth’s campy vocal isn’t my cup o’ tea, but it’s all clearly for laughs.  They segue into “White Christmas” before returning back to the singalong.

Found some booze in a flight case,
And I’m afraid that we’re all shit-faced,
So I guess that we’ll have to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

This one made it to one of my annual Christmas CDs that I give out to friends one year.

The live rehearsals might be more interesting to some.  The intimate setting means Marillion play mostly mellow, dramatic songs.  They commence with “The Last Century for Man”, a new song from Somewhere Else.  This is another one of Hogarth’s environmental commentaries, set to a slow dance this time.  An effective song, the seriously bummer lyrics are punctuated with the sarcastic chorus of “So God bless America, I mean it!  God bless the UK, I mean it!”  Elsewhere he says to “Climb into the car, I know that makes you happy.  The sound of your laughter will get you so far.”  Without turning this review into a debate, a song like this is a bit of a slap to the face, a wake up call.  I don’t have a problem with that.  Additionally I think it was one of the better songs from Somewhere Else.

SOMEWHERE ELF_0004“Afraid of Sunlight” is a song that doesn’t need much rehearsing, but I don’t mind hearing this bombastic ballad again.  One of H-era Marillion’s strongest songs, “Afraid of Sunlight” is a personal favourite of mine due to the quiet verses and explosive, anthemic choruses.   Hogarth is understated, and then wailing in top voice.  Then from 1997’s This Strange Engine is the old concert standby “Estonia”.  I always get a little bored during this long mellow trip, but it does benefit from this intimate setting with just the fortunate few fans.  They applaud politely between songs, contenders for the luckiest people in England at that moment.  A third long slow bomber, the title track from Somewhere Else, is another favourite of mine.  There are some Steve Rothery solos here that rank among his best.  Live, dare I say better?  This dramatic tension-filled song is one of the highlights of their recent career.

The Marbles album is represented by two excellent songs: “Neverland” and “Fantastic Place”.  Much like “Somewhere Else”, “Neverland” is a long dramatic piece with different sections and moods.  It’s not an easy nut to crack, but worth getting to know.  This live version is intense, and again Rothery is the star.  After that much drama, there can’t be much air left in the room, but “Fantastic Place” soars.  It’s a bit of a brighter number, beginning quietly, but culminating with the kind of melodic guitar work that Rothery does best.

A studio version of “Faith” was finally released on Somewhere Else, but the song saw first release on Before First Light, a live DVD from 2003.  It was one of many songs initially written for Marbles, but its lullaby quality did not fit the vibe.  “Feel inside the atoms where the science breaks down,” sings Hogarth on what amounts to a statement on reality, love, the universe and the human experience of it.  In a 4 1/2 minute pop song.  Is it any wonder why the mainstream shies away from these guys?  Too cerebral.

The set closes with “See It Like a Baby”, a rocking upbeat new track that they were hyping at the time.  Here in an acoustic guise, I think I prefer it to the original album version.  It’s a little more special, and the acoustics chime clear inside the walls of the Racket Club.  It’s also the shortest song they played at this very special gig.  I’m glad special shows get commemorated and made available to people in this way.  People who are truly fans got an opportunity to own a CD of a concert that only a handful witnessed, and will probably never be physically issued again.  That’s mana to the collector.  Since this CD was intended as a Christmas gift to the loyal, I rate it:

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Marillion – Sounds Live (2012)

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MARILLION – Sounds Live (2012 Racket Records/Abbey Road LiveHereNow/EMI)

This is one of those “Instant Live” type discs.  While the discs have art pre-printed on them, they are CDRs.  There is no track list on the case, probably because the setlist wasn’t set in stone!  (I have a Slash “Instant Live” style disc with the setlist printed on the back, which was completely wrong, as the singer had a sore throat and they had to change up the set!)  The label is Racket Records/Abbey Road LiveHereNow, licensed to EMI, but even though Racket has their name on it, you can’t buy it from them.  You can buy it from Abbey Road Live, however.

The show was recorded on 16 September 2012 at the Forum in London, on the Sounds that Can’t Be Made tour.  The sound quality is excellent!

Marillion bravely opened the show with “Gaza”, the powerful, swirling, 17 minute new song from Sounds that Can’t Be Made.  I don’t know how many new fans were in the audience that night, but if there were any, they must have been in utter confusion and shock.  Hogarth delivers the song with all the passion he can muster.

Not letting up for a moment, Marillion follow this monster with another 10 minute epic:  “This Town/100 Nights”.  Incredible.  And once again, H imbues the song with so much emotion it literally leaks out of the speakers.

“This next song is a strange song,” says H, regarding track 3.  “‘Cause everybody claps along at the beginning and by verse one, they think ‘Shit, you can’t clap to this, it’s far too sad and tragic!”  And that is how H introduces the Marbles top ten (#7!) single, “You’re Gone”.  An upbeat pop-prog track with a drum program accompanying Ian Mosely, this was probably a good selection to follow two epics in a row!

My favourite of the new songs follows:  the title track from Sounds that Can’t Be Made, a simply great catchy Marillion track.  My only beef here is that I can hear pre-recorded Hogarth backing vocals.

And then…another 10 minute track?  The incredible “Neverland” from Marbles is up next, a personal favourite, and seemingly a crowd favourite too.  This one defines the word “epic” as far as I’m concerned.  Powerful, too.

From the 2007 Somewhere Else album comes “A Voice From the Past”, not one of my personal favourites (also not one of my favourite albums).  This is followed by “Power” from the new album.  “Power” is one of the better songs from an album I just haven’t wrapped my head around yet.  In live form, the chorus soars.

Disc 2 begins with yet another Marbles classic:  the soft and uplifting “Fantastic Place”, a personal favourite.  Steve Rothery’s solo is sublime.  Another personal favourite follows, the incredible “Real Tears For Sale” from the very dense Happiness is the Road album.  It’s an album I’ve never fully absorbed, but this song is incredibly powerful and at times is even reminiscent of older works like Brave or even Script in parts (listen to the flute-like keys).

Another new song, “The Sky Above the Rain”, is one that is really starting to grow on me.  This is the last of the new songs played at the London gig.  It’s 11 minute long, and it begins lullaby-like before H’s passionate, melodic vocals begin.  There’s a sadness, but also a brightness to the music; truly the blue sky above the rain.

It’s into the classics now!  “The Great Escape” is an undeniable fan favourite, and I never tire of hearing it.  What did surprise me was the resurrection of the lengthy “A Few Words for the Dead” from the underappreciated Radiation album.  I’ve always been fond of Radiation (it was the first Hogarth-era album I heard)  but this track is absolutely a challenge.  Over 10 minutes long, it builds very, very slowly.  As the closing track on a challenging album, it was perfect.  As an encore at a Marillion concert, it’s extremely brave and mind-blowing.  This is one of the best live versions I’ve heard.

The only Fish-era song played is “Sugar Mice”, but it is one that H seems comfortable with.  I will never tire of this classic, even though H lets the audience sing the first half of the song for him!  Rothery’s anthemic solo is the centerpiece of the affair.

The final surprise is that the show closes with the morose “Estonia”, from This Strange Engine.  H dedicates the song to the family of Neil Armstrong.  I’ve never been particularly fond of this dour song, although it has been played in concert many, many times over the last 15 years.  Obviously, many fans “get it” and love it.  I’m not one of them, so for me, Sounds Live ends with a thump rather than a celebration.  I would have preferred something like “Garden Party” or “Easter”, but I’m not complaining.

Speaking of “Easter”:  Conspicuous by its absence is any music at all from Seasons End.  You can’t fit ’em all in, and tour after tour, Marillion have always changed up their setlists.  You will never see the same Marillion concert two tours in a row.

While Marillion have dozens of live albums (especially when you include the 43 Front Row Club releases), this one is a valuable inclusion in the canon as the first physical live release of Sounds that Can’t Be Made songs.   I don’t know how frequently I will return to it, given the amount of live stuff I have, but I did enjoy it.

4/5 stars

Disc 1:

  1. “Gaza”
  2. “This Town/100 Nights”
  3. “You’re Gone”
  4. “Sounds that Can’t Be Made”
  5. “Neverland”
  6. “A Voice From the Past”
  7. “Power”

Disc 2:

  1. “Fantastic Place”
  2. “Real Tears For Sale”
  3. “The Sky Above the Rain”
  4. “The Great Escape”
  5. “A Few Words For the Dead”
  6. “Sugar Mice”
  7. “Estonia”