Steve Rothery

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 – “Made Again (2020)”

MARILLION – “Made Again (2020)” (2020 iTunes)

It wasn’t that long ago, in this sad year, that Marillion gifted us a new version of “Easter” from their lockdown spaces.  Now, from the landmark Brave album, they’ve re-recorded the hopeful “Made Again”.

“I have been here many times before, in the life I used to live…”

Poignant.  We’re all grieving for the lives we used to live, some more than others.  I’m tiring very quickly of virus-themed songs, like that damn “I know there’ll be better days” ad I keep hearing on the TV.  It’s having the opposite effect on me and making me very bitter.

Since “Made Again” was written in 1994, it doesn’t have the stench of 2020 all over it.  We know the lyrics are being repurposed but it’s not so bad knowing their old origins.

“Like I woke up from a bad dream, to a brand new world.”

Unlike “Easter” this is a bit more of a complete arrangement, not abbreviated and without shortcuts.  You can buy the track for 99 cents on iTunes or watch the video on YouTube.  The video was painstakingly assembled from the at-home performance videos and fan footage sent in from all over the world.

We all need some optimism.

“I woke up from a deep sleep,
I woke up from a bad dream,
To a brand new morning,
To a brand new day,
Like the whole world has been made again.”

I hope so, guys.  I hope so.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – “Easter” (2020 Version)

MARILLION – “Easter” (2020 video recorded in quarantine)

Count on Marillion to bring the light in the dark.

It has been over 30 years since Steve Hogarth and the Marillios first serenaded us with “Easter”.  As a surprise gift in 2020, they’ve re-recorded the track from isolation.  All five guys with their home setups recorded and filmed their parts for a new video.

“As it’s Easter Weekend, Mark [Kelly] had the cool idea of us virtually-getting-together to record a new version of Easter in our homes. Hopefully it will put a smile on your faces.”

It’s poignant, watching the guys play from their personal spaces, unable to connect in person just like us.  While “Easter” has always contrasted light and shade, this time the contrast is sharper, though that may simply be in the minds of the listeners.

A bare acoustic version with a shortened and re-arranged ending (probably due to necessity), “Easter” soothes.  Even under these circumstances, Marillion pulled together a new recording of an old classic and did it quite well.  (Meanwhile behind closed doors they continue to write for their next studio LP.)  If Marillion can use technology to stay connected and celebrate creativity and ingenuity, then so can we all.

Happy Easter.

5/5 eggs

 

REVIEW: Marillion – With Friends From the Orchestra (2019 2 LP set)

MARILLION – With Friends From the Orchestra (2019 2 LP set)

Marillion have released so much product at this point that it takes quite a lot to get me excited these days.  Whether it be live records, new albums, reissues, or re-imaginings of old songs, the last decade produced dozens.  Though the concept of With Friends From the Orchestra (new versions of old songs re-recorded with orchestra) left me cold, the finished product is surprisingly stunning.

The songs chosen are a mix of Hogarth hits and epics.  Each one is supplemented with a fully-integrated orchestra, upping the “wow” factor considerably.  Tracks like “Beyond You” have gone to a new level.  Previously mixed in mono (for that Phil Spector “wall of sound”) on Afraid of Sunlight, the explosive new version is three-dimensional.  Tracks that sounded incomplete, perhaps, in their original studio versions now seem fully fleshed out.  “Estonia” is a song that always needed some more vitality.  Elements that you didn’t realize were missing are now in their proper places.

The track selection is unexpected.  “A Collection” is an acoustic B-side, albeit one that gets periodic attention.  There are also a couple long-bombers.  “Ocean Cloud” is a side long epic, while “This Strange Engine” is twice as vivid as before.  As for “Seasons End”, it’s possible that 30 years later, the boys have finally laid down the definitive version.

Marillion With Friends From the Orchestra isn’t an easy album to categorize, but what it delivers are the most iridescent versions of these nine songs.  They’re not the most recognizable songs, but when you hear the end result you’ll recognize they were wise choices.

5/5 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