Steve Rothery

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

REVIEW: Marillion – Christmas 2002 – Santa and his Elvis

MARILLIONChristmas 2002 – Santa and his Elvis (2002 Racket Records Christmas CD, free to Racket Club members – webfree 05)

This is the fifth of 11 Christmas CDs that Marillion released free to fanclub members.  I have physical copies of nine, and legal downloads of the others I am missing (the first two).  I thought the 2002 installment, Santa and his Elvis, would be make for an enjoyable review.

The intro “Christmas Message” seems to be delivered by an intoxicated band, recording in October!  Laughing and doing voices, the members deliver their own personal Christmas messages to fans, if you can make out what they’re saying.  For fans only!  Then of course the band do an Elvis classic, “Lonely This Christmas”.  Although it’s not too polished (it was recorded live in the studio) it does have some pretty cool performance moments.  Hogarth’s singing is like butter but Steve Rothery’s guitar is delicious.  Then, as a surprise, they do it again as a Pistols-esque punk version.  Very cool.

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Some recent live tracks round out of the album.  From 2001 in Manchester is “Fruit of the Wild Rose” representing the then-new Anoraknophobia.  This laid-back steamy number is extra slinky live.  At almost eight minutes, it’s the longest track here.  Surprisingly, this transforms into a heavy version of “Cannibal Surf Babe” and the two songs become one. Merry Christmas, indeed.

Then it’s off to a 2002 radio broadcast, with the two lead tracks from their new single:  “Between You and Me”, and “Map of the World”.  These tracks exemplify the new sound Marillion were going for at the time.  They are concise, powerful pop rock songs featuring light experimentation with loops.  I recall they were listening to a lot of Massive Attack and Radiohead at the time, among other artists, and usually this kind of modernization doesn’t work.  Marillion pulled it off.  They managed to combine the more melodic rock sounds of Holidays in Eden with a modern ethic without sounding too contrived.  As much as I prefer the progressive, darker side of Marillion, they do write really great pop rock from time to time.    It’s not like they sold out; there’s enough good playing here to satiate the old fans.  These are the singles, after all.  “Map of the World” is a particularly lush, excellent song.

The radio broadcast continues with an older track from Radiation, “The Answering Machine”.  This is a song that exists in two separate live guises equally well: acoustic and electric.  The original album version was electric, and that’s the version played here.  I’ve become so used to the acoustic version that hearing an electric one is music to my ears.  This dense rocker smokes in this version, a bit faster than usual.  Then finally a duo from Afraid of Sunlight:  the title track, and its epic closer “King”.  “Afraid of Sunlight” fits well with the set, because it too benefited from drum loops back in ’95.  It remains as powerful and classic as ever, though Steve Hogarth’s voice is raspy and hoarse in spots.  As for “King”, it sounds intimate, bare and incredible as ever.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Marillion – A Very Barry Christmas (2001)

A VERY BARRY CHRISTMAS_0001MARILLION – A Very Barry Christmas (2001 Racket Records Christmas CD, free to Racket Club members – webfree 04)

From 1998 to 2008, Marillion released annual Christmas CDs exclusively to members of their fan club, for free.  Each one was different from the previous, but you could count on some cool unreleased music every year.  Of the 11 Marillion Christmas CDs, I have physical copies of nine, and legal downloads of the others that I am missing (the first two).

Today in 2014, Marillion have released a new “best of” compilation CD of their Christmas tracks called A Collection of Recycled Gifts.   This CD also features new material, but it will be most fans’ first chance to hear some of these songs.  I thought that would make an excellent occasion to review a selection of the most interesting volumes of the past Marillion Christmas CDs.

I decided to start with 2001’s A Very Barry Christmas.  “Barry” was their mascot during the Anoraknophobia period.  This was their fourth Christmas CD, and the second I received.  The content on this installment includes Christmas music, specially recorded acoustic versions, and unreleased remixes.  (The reason I’m not reviewing the third Christmas album, the first one that I owned, A Piss-up in a Brewery, is this.  It was later reissued as a regular live non-seasonal DVD that I can review any time.  And I will, because it’s great and that one remains my favourite of these Marillion Christmas releases.)

The album commences with “I Saw Three Ships”, a studio recording of the traditional carol.  Of Marillion’s Christmas music, this is my favourite song.  When it opens you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a vintage outtake from Clutching at Straws or Seasons End.  In fact there is even an echo of “Easter” in some of the instrumental melodies.  They also segue into “O Come All Ye Faithful”, keeping things delicate but electric.  “I Saw Three Ships” is, in my opinion, an undiscovered gem of the Marillion back catalogue.  Then, even though it’s not listed as a separate track, Marillion’s annual Christmas message is included at the end of the song.  This time only Mark and H showed up.  They describe “I Saw Three Ships” as a Christmas carol hybrid, and I agree with that description.

Then, onto the presents!

A VERY BARRY CHRISTMAS_0003The first batch of songs are taken from a 2001 acoustic session at Marillion’s home base, the Racket Club.  Every tune is a brand new song from Anoraknophobia, giving fans an early opportunity to hear acoustic renditions of the new material.  “This is the 21st Century” is reduced to piano and voice (presumably both by Steve Hogarth).  It works well in this setting, even though the album track is long and complex.  “Between You and Me” is complete with the whole band, including keyboards and drums, rendering a catchy sorta-unplugged version of their new single.  “Map of the World”, co-headliner of that same single, is the stronger of the two songs, but not necessarily in this setting.  I think “Map of the World” works best with all the bombast and vocal glory of the studio version.  It needs to be let loose, like the character in the song who wants to see the whole world.  “Separated Out” was originally the heaviest song on Anoraknophobia.  It’s certainly an interesting choice to do acoustically, but I like the way it builds.  It’s actually quite cool.

“Number One” is an interesting selection, because it was first unveiled on 2000’s Christmas album, the aforementioned A Piss-up in a Brewery as a preview of Marillion’s new music.  The studio version was later included only on the limited deluxe edition of Anoraknophobia, so it’s a bit of a hard song to come by.  The cello part is captured nice and beefy, and this ode to artificial pop singers is flawless.  The thing about Hogarth’s lyrics is, he’s not really bitching and complaining.  Indeed, he compares the precision of a #1 pop performance to that of a figure skater aiming to hit a 9.5.   What he does is use his words to get you thinking about the subject, and I like that.

The album closes with three remixes.  From the difficult to appreciate marillion.com comes the jazzy dubby trip-hop of “House”.  This interesting remix by Marc Mitchell spends a couple minutes just focusing on the muted trumpet, which is never a bad idea.  This is a 12 minute remix and it runs the gamut, but it certainly proves that Marillion can and do anything they want musically.  Also from marillion.com is “Go!” remixed by somebody called Size 9 Cooperative.  It has been robbed of its lightly throbbing pulse; it has sadly flatlined and been reanimated as a dance-bot.  This is, quite honestly, terrible.  If I was doing a joke remix of a song in order to make fun of remix cliches, this is how it would sound.  This is one Christmas present you’ll wish you could return to the store, only to find you weren’t given a receipt.  An instrumental mix of “This is the 21st Century” is more my speed.  This is the album version stripped of lead vocal and laid bare.  I enjoy this kind of track because you can really hear the interplay of the instruments.  With Marillion, that is never really boring.  This is a full-length track by the way, all 11 minutes of the song.  Treated instrumentally, it has a nice ambient quality that would work well on an album such as Pink Floyd’s recent Endless River.

3.25/5 stars

 

A VERY BARRY CHRISTMAS_0002

REVIEW: Marillion – Less Is More (2009)

MARILLION – Less Is More (2009 Intact)

I’ll be honest here: I haven’t been into Marillion much, post-Marbles. 2004’s Marbles is my favourite H-Marillion album, and I wasn’t into the two studio followups. I found Somewhere Else to be a rushed and somewhat uninspired, and the sprawling Happiness Is The Road all but impenetrable. Therefore I’m not as familiar with Marillion’s recent more live output as I am with the pre-Marbles stuff, so that’s my problem reviewing Less Is More.  The song “Wrapped Up In Time”, I couldn’t tell you how the song goes until I hear it again.

I am, however, extremely enamored with Marillion’s previous acoustic CDs, the double Live At The Walls, and the fanclub exclusive A Piss-up In A Brewery. Marillion are a band that truly shine in an acoustic setting, but I wasn’t all that excited about another one.  How badly do we need more acoustic Marillion?  I didn’t think I needed another one, but I bought it anyway, because…the collection you know?

MARILLION LESS IS MORE_0002I was wrong. Less Is More (a studio acoustic recording instead of a live one) is just as great as Live At The Walls, with many songs given a fresh arrangement. Some, such as “The Space…”, are the same acoustic versions that the band has been playing for a long time, but others are fresh and inspired. Truly, this album sounds like a labour of love to me. The band’s lust for experimentation has come out beautifully in an acoustic setting, with a song like “Interior Lulu” actually quite a bit better than its original 1999 (marillion.com) counterpart. The songs are subtle, with slight percussion additions, but not a lot of bells & whistles. One of the best songs is the one new one, “It’s Not Your Fault”, which outshines some of the classics. I found the acoustic version of “Hard As Love” to be even more enjoyable than the original rocking version, and quite a surprise too, because I didn’t think it would lend itself well to an acoustic arrangement. Other highlights for me included “Memory Of Water” and “This Is The 21st Century”.

The two bonus tracks on this CD, “Runaway” and a cover of “Fake Plastic Trees”, have been released before on Live At The Walls. (“Fake Plastic Trees” was also a bonus track on the CD single for 1998’s “These Chains”.) I have always been fond of “Fake Plastic Trees” and I prefer Marillion’s version to Radiohead’s. (I’m not a big Thom Yorke fan, but Hogarth really sings his heart out on this one.)

This album is so good, it really revamped by interest in Marillion. I’m glad I bought it! For non-fans, this is a great accessible introduction to a band that by all rights should have been huge. The quality of their songs, as displayed on Less Is More, is simply world-class.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion (as “Remixomatosis”) – You’re Gone (2005 promo EP)

Welcome back to the Week of EPs! Each day this week, I’ll be checking out a variety of EP releases, both famed and obscure.

MONDAY: Aerosmith – The Other Side (1990)
TUESDAY: Wolfsbane – All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! (1990)
WEDNESDAY: AC/DC – ’74 Jailbreak (1984)

REMIXOMATOSIS – You’re Gone (Promotional 2005 Intact records)

REMIXOMATOSISEager to cross over to new fans, in 2004 Marillion released an album called Remixomatosis.  It was a 2 CD set of fan remixes of tracks from 2001’s Anoraknophobia.  Hogarth-era Marillion have not been remix-shy, having done something like this on 1998’s Tales From the Engine Room EP.  Aware that chances of being played in the clubs were slim, the following year Marillion released a promo EP of three more remixes under the band name Remixomatosis.  The name Marillion appears nowhere on the sleeve.

99% of the time, I really dislike remixes, especially when songs are danced up.  I bought this for the collection, but let’s give it a spin.  “You’re Gone”, originally from Marbles, sounded very little like the “Debonair Dub Mix” on this EP.  All I can hear from the original track is Hogarth’s vocals.  Maybe some keyboards, but who knows because the dominant part of the song is an annoyingly repetitive synth & beat.  This goes on for an agonizing 7:55.  This is not a song I would listen to for enjoyment.

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The “Plasma Dub Mix” of “Between You and Me” is almost twice as long as the “Marillion Vs. Plasma” version on the Remixomastosis CD.  This track adds a new bass line consisting of four notes that repeat over and over and over and over and over.  Then a little bit of Hogarth’s vocal is dubbed over synthesizer lines.  There have been better remixes of this song, notably the Mark Kelly remix from the “Between You and Me” CD single.  After a couple minutes, the remixer Robert de Fresnes throws in some acoustic guitar from the original song, which really only makes me want to hear the original song.  If you like repetitive music made by computers, go for it.

The closing track is the best (and shortest) one, the “Into the Fire Mix” of the superb “Don’t Hurt Yourself” from Marbles.  As arguably the best song on Marbles, it is a difficult track to ruin.  The remixer Cameron Lasswell wisely leaves Steve Hogarth’s vocal intact.  The vocal hooks on this song have always been fetching.  They are now cloaked in spacey synths, which I prefer to dumb repetitive synths.  It sounds like a song by Lights, perhaps, or one of her soundalikes.

I can’t rate this EP very high.  This is a collectible, pure and simple.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: Marillion – Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other (A Singles Collection)

Wish me luck in the Minds in Motion walk today!

This is the second of two Marillion reviews this weekend. For the first, Seasons End, click here.

MARILLION – Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other (1992 US), A Singles Collection (1992 UK)

After the mediocre pop sounds of Holidays in Eden, Marillion were about to embark on a far more interesting journey. But not before issuing the standard greatest hits CD with two new songs attached. Marillion had released a compilation of B-sides before (B’Sides Themselves) but never a collection of A-sides. As the title implies, you get six singles with original vocalist Fish, and a half dozen with his replacement Steve “H” Hogarth. Then in addition to these 12, there are two new songs: A Rare Bird cover called “Sympathy” (an excellent dramatic piece) and a forgettable pop song called “I Walk Walk On Water”, easily the weakest song on the album.

While there are two much more complete compilations out today (Best Of, The Best of Both Worlds), I still enjoy listening to Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other from time to time. Not too often, though.  It is a bit awkward, as they insisted on shuffling one Fish song after each Hogarth song.  Remember when Van Halen attempted that?  It didn’t work for them either.  It doesn’t flow. Really, old and new Marillion were like two completely different bands and you can’t just from “Garden Party” to “No One Can”. It doesn’t work no matter what universe you inhabit.

However, the tunes themselves are awesome, and you get most of the singles. Three are missing: “Market Square Heroes”, “He Knows You Know”, and “Punch and Judy”. However you do get all the Hogarth singles up to the time, and the most well-known and commercial of the Fish ones. Most of these tunes are really strong and would make it to my own car tape (just in a different running order). Others (“The Univited Guest”, “Hooks In You”, “No One Can”) would not. Swipe those three out for the three Fish singles I mentioned and you’d have a damn good comp. However, it would be lopsided towards Fish and obviously Marillion weren’t going to do that.

At this point Marillion were skirting dangerously close to being a pop rock band. The singles from Holidays in Eden are decidedly straightforward and geared towards 1992’s radio tendencies. “I Will Walk On Water” is hardly any better. Unbelievably, the band soon turned in the immortal album Brave which is so deep, so rich, so emotional, that I don’t even know how I’m going to review it. The music can change your life, if you let it.

In the meantime, if you want a sampler of Marillion’s most commercial moments, pick this up. However for a better overview, pick up one of the other comps I suggested. (Of note to collectors, the version of “I Will Walk On Water” released here is hard to find elsewhere, and there are some other single edits, remixes and whatnot included. The liner notes are also excellent.)

3/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Seasons End (2 CD remastered edition)

The first of two Marillion reviews, enjoy! Tomorrow, another!

MARILLION – Seasons End (1989 EMI, 2 CD remastered edition)

Hard to believe that Seasons End is 25 years old now. In the last 25 years, Steve Hogarth has stepped outside the impossibly big shadow cast by Derek W. Dick (“Fish”) as lead singer of Marillion. While some Marillion fans refuse to accept any Hogarth output post-Brave (I’m looking at you, Tom) many have embraced his work and the latest phases of Marillion. Seasons End was the first, tentative step in that journey. Even the great cover art reflects the change. The Jester and other visual clues from the past are there, inside Marillion’s new photographic artwork direction.

Armed with almost a full album’s worth of nearly complete music (see: Clutching at Straws bonus CD), Marillion set out to fill two enormous positions in the band: Lead vocalist, and lyricist, and not necessarily in that order. Due to the monstrous poetic talents of Fish, lyricist John Helmer was tapped to contribute lyrics to the music they had already written with Fish. (Fish took his lyrics and used them on his solo albums Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors and Internal Exile.) Then, ex-The Europeans and How We Live singer and keyboardist Steve “H” Hogarth was brought on board. Hogarth brought with him an infamous red bucket full of his own completed musical ideas. In that bucket were bits of what later became “The Space…” and the hit single “Easter”.

With that much music behind them it almost seems inevitable that Seasons End would be a winner. Indeed, since most of the music was written with Fish still in the band, it careens joyfully from progressive, moody tendencies to the brighter moments that Hogarth contributed. The result is possibly the perfect album to introduce a new singer: Just enough like the old band that people can relate, but not a copy. Hogarth himself was night-and-day different from Fish: He didn’t sing songs about getting drunk in a bar, or songs about Scottish freedom.  He had a quieter style as a frontman, and killer vocal range as a singer.

Seasons End starts off with a long moody intro before kicking in with Steve Rothery’s triumphant guitar melodies and Ian Mosely’s perfect drum rolls. From there it becomes slower, but hopeful: Welcome, “The King of Sunset Town”.

“Easter” is next, a near-perfect ballad for 1989. While it begins quite slow, it gets brighter and more upbeat by the time H sings the, “What would you do with the wire and the gun?” section.  Irresistible song.  Lyrically excellent, musically perfect.  I find a lot of ballads wear out over time.  Not “Easter”.

“The Uninvited Guest”, to me, is filler despite its status as a single. There are better songs on the album, and this one is to me just a straightforward standard rock song. The lyrics are interesting — a look at HIV from the virus’ perspective. The lyrics also have a quiet little Scottish reference — look up “first footing” and how heavy 15 stone is, and tell me if you think it’s a shot at Fish.

“Seasons End”, Marillion’s first song about global warming (but not the last) is both lyrically and musically great. I have always enjoyed when they opened shows with this song, prefaced by “O Come Emanuel”.

Side two of the original LP began with a pair of songs I’m not too keen on, the dark “Holloway Girl” and the sax-laden “Berlin”. Some people love both, but I believe these two songs only build the tension.  It is the next song that steals the second side.   “After Me” is a bright one, a song that coulda woulda shoulda been a single.  Its music goes back to the Fish days, but the vocal melody is 100% Hogarth.

Next, “Hooks In You” is a short firecracker of a rocker and very out of character for Marillion. Its simplicity is such that it was chosen as the first single/video. Personally to me is it the most skip-worthy on the album.  It doesn’t have the longevity that the rest of this album possesses.  Whatever magic similar tracks from the past such as “Incommunicado” have, is missing from “Hooks In You”.

Finally the original album closes with “The Space…”, a longer progressive epic. I quite like “The Space…”, always have, and the band still play it live today. In fact it was recently done on their acoustic album Less Is More. Great song with interesting cryptic lyrics.

As on all Marillion remasters, the bonus disc here is loaded with treasures. “The Bell in the Sea” is a B-side and quite possibly the first song that the H-fronted Marillion have done on the subject of water — someone once said that H’s lyrics were all about “death and water”. This song could be the first of many in the water category. Another great B-side, the poppier “Release” (quite similar to “After Me” in direction) is a total winner. The rest of the disc is rounded out by a 12″ mix of “Uninvited Guest” and six demos. One demo is “Uninvited Guest” which means you have to hear this unremarkable song three times.

Personally while I always enjoy getting bonus material on albums like this, I find the demos to be tedious because they are similar to the album tracks in arrangement, but demo quality in fidelity. So, not really something overly interesting to listen to. If you want more remixes and live B-sides, be sure to check out Singles Box Set 89-95 which has them all and then some!

A remarkable reboot for a band that they had written off. The next challenge was to learn to write with the new singer. But that’s another album….

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Marillion – Holidays In Eden (2 CD remaster)

Hi, please don’t hate me. When it’s a band like Marillion that I hold to very high standards, I tend to be extra critical!

MARILLION – Holidays In Eden (1998 EMI 2 CD remaster, originally 1992)

After the triumphant return that was 1989’s Seasons End, Marillion had to sit down and actually write with the new singer for the first time! Considering that all the music for Seasons End was intact in one form or another before Steve Hogarth joined the band, nobody knew yet if the band could write with the new singer and gel. After a nervous breakdown or two, Marillion were able to complete this album. Holidays In Eden marks a fresh start — no leftover music from the Fish era, no jesters or magpies in the artwork.  New logo, new direction.  (This CD comes with both the American and the UK covers by the way, and you can display it with either.)

Even though Marillion didn’t utilize any of their old musical ideas for Holidays in Eden, the music for three of these songs (“You Don’t Need Anyone”, “Cover My Eyes” and “Dry Land”) were originally recorded by Hogarth’s previous group, How We Live. I have the CD, 1987’s Dry Land, on which they appear. “Cover My Eyes” had a different chorus, and was known as “Simon’s Car”.

Holidays In Eden is a starkly commercial album for Marillion. They had some success with “Easter” previously and the record company asked for more hits. New producer Chris Neil (A-Ha) was not the kind of guy to obsess over layers of music and unusual chord changes. He and the band stripped the songs to the basic melodies, and tried to reduce indulgences to the bare minimum.

As a result, Holidays today is an album that often gets maligned by old fans. Not all of course; many fans have ridden the highs and lows of the Hogarth era with smiles on their faces.  One listen in, and you can understand why some find Holidays to be a tough pill to swallow.  There are a couple songs here that are interchangeable with some of the brighter moments in the Bon Jovi back catalogue. Indeed, imagine JBJ himself singing “Dry Land” or “No One Can”; suddenly you realize, this is a pop album!

Steve Rothery’s guitar is not as omnipresent as it normally was, and this time Mark Kelly’s keyboards provide little more than pleasant accompaniment.There are some more progressive moments in bits and pieces. The electronic intro to “Splintering Heart” is quite interesting albeit a bit long, before Rother’s familiar triumphant guitar begins to soar. “The Party” is a darker number, but it’s not a personal favourite.  The final three songs on the album work as a suite; a trilogy on the effect a city can have on two people. All told these three songs add up to over 10 minutes of music, providing the most “retro Marillion” sounds on the album. Unfortunately, they’re just not as good as similar extended suites on Misplaced Childhood or Clutching.

HOLIDAYS_0008The rest of the album is loaded down with pretty standard rock, vastly different from Marillion of old and not as satisfying. Only “Dry Land” with its fat cello riff, and “Cover My Eyes” and its irresistible lofty vocal melodies rise above the morass of mediocrity. I find the title track to be beneath what the band can do, and “No One Can” almost unbearable to listen to. And if you do listen to, you don’t want to be doing it in the car with the windows down.

There are some bright shining moments on CD 2, the bonus tracks. “A Collection” (the lyrics of which are kinda creepy) is a bright little acoustic number that has become a cult favourite, and has some integrity to it. This was originally a UK B-side. “Sympathy”, a cover by Rare Bird, was originally released on the greatest hits album Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other, but sonically it fits in with Holidays.  It does strengthen the album by its presence. You also get a sparkling acoustic version of “Cover My Eyes” that will leave you asking how Hogarth hits those notes.

The rest of the bonus tracks are either too pop (“You Don’t Need Anyone”, “I Will Walk On Water”), or are less interesting demos (“No One Can”, “The Party”, “This Town”). The demo of “Splintering Heart” features an interesting guitar-based alternate intro section, and there are some alternate arrangements, but nothing that you really keep going back to. One of the most interesting, but also most disposable tracks is “Eric” during which Hogarth demonstrates his new glove-activated synthesizer, seen on many a tour.

I think the band realized this direction was leading them nowhere (no songs were hits like “Easter” was).  They got right back to where they belonged on 1994’s Brave, a challenging listen that will, if you let it, change your life. Buy that, not this, unless you gotta get ’em all. Sadly, I must say that Holidays in Eden is only for Marillion fans.

2.75/5 stars, close to a 3, but not quite.

REVIEW: Marillion – The Official Bootleg Box Set Vol 2 (2010)

Part 2 of a 2 part series!  Missed Part 1?  Click here for Early Stages: the Official Bootleg Box Set from the Fish era.

MARILLION – The Official Bootleg Box Set Vol 2 (2010 EMI)

Spanning Seasons End through to Brave, Vol 2 of the Official Bootleg Box (Vol 1 is of course the Fish years) effectively captures what some believe to be the best years of Steve Hogarth’s tenure. You will, naturally, get some repeat within the 8 discs inside. You’ll hear “Easter” more than once. You’ll hear “Uninvited Guest” more than once. It is what it is.

Here’s a breakdown of the contents herein:

  • Discs 1 & 2:  Leicester, April 24 1990
  • Disc 3:  BBC Friday Rock Show, Workington, July 13 1991
  • Discs 4 & 5:  Wembley, London, September 5 1992
  • Discs 6 & 7:  Warsaw, June 15 1994
  • Disc 8:  BBC Sessions EP, 1992-1994

Obviously the BBC stuff has a higher fidelity than the other stuff. It’s called a bootleg box set for a reason! But the other discs still sound acceptably good. They are soundboard recordings, not audience recordings. Hogarth’s voice is a bit hoarse in Warsaw 1994, but that’s the reality of a live concert setting.  A reality that I love and embrace.

BOOT BOX 2_0003The highlights are many. “Sugar Mice” is always great, regardless of who sings it. It was also nice hearing “I Will Walk On Water” and “Sympathy” during the Wembley 1992 show; both are from the then-recent Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other compilation album. Attentive listeners will even hear Marillion strumming away on an embrionic version of “Made Again”, a full two years before it was released! You will get to hear all of Brave performed live in 1994. I liked the moment in the Warsaw show when Hogarth asks security to go easy on the fans, “they are not animals”.

Some people bitched that it’s not a full length CD, but I dug the BBC Sessions EP.  It’s just a four song acoustic EP, but it sounds amazing. Today, Marillion have a ton of acoustic work (Less = More, Unplugged at the Walls, Los Trios Marillios to name some of many), but this is the earliest acoustic set that I think I’ve heard. The only problem is, it’s mastered way louder than the other 7 discs. Kind of jarring when you have them on continuous play and you have to jump for the volume knob!

The box set includes each CD in its own fully illustrated cardboard sleeve, as well as a booklet. The box itself is slim but sturdy.

If you’re a Marillion diehard, you will obviously want to somehow save enough pennies to add this to your collection. Even though I have already somewhere in the neighborhood of…God, I don’t know? Over 50 live albums from the Hogarth years alone? Many of them 2 and 3 disc sets? I’ve lost track of how many I have, and that doesn’t include their download-only instant live albums! But this is still a great package to own, especially because the older live Hogarth albums are getting harder to find. (Don’t know how you’d get a copy of Front Row Club #1 at this point, for example.)

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987) / The Highlights

This review dedicated to the great Uncle Meat.  Part 1 of a 2 part series!

MARILLION – Early Stages (Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987) (EMI)

This is the first of two Marillion Official Bootleg box sets.  The second covers the Hogarth years 1990-1994.  Mine came with an autographed print!

I listened to this box again over the course of a week.  I chose the car as the setting.  I’ve spent a lot of time driving to Marillion in the past (lots of great memories) so this setting works for me.  I enjoy loading long box sets onto my car MP3 player.  I did that recently with the 12 CD Deep Purple Bootleg Series box set.  As soon as I was done with that one, I dove into Early Stages.

I also acquired the recent compilation Early Stages: The Highlights.  Why, you ask?  Well, like many “highlights” packages, they usually stick on one exclusive song to get you to buy the same thing twice.  The bait is “Market Square Heroes” Fife Aid 1988, the final song of the final show with Fish.  OK, I’ll bite.MARILLION_0009

I don’t have a lot to say specifically about any of the concerts included in this box set.  There are a lot of songs from periods before they were recorded on albums, and that’s cool.  There are four different drummers on this set*, representing the rarely documented transitional periods in Marillion’s lineup.  The discs are all of great sonic quality considering the years they were recorded.  Fish is a great frontman, usually funny but occasionally serious, and always entertaining.

Here are some observations about some of the set’s highlights.  From The Mayfair, Glasgow, 1982:  “He Knows You Know” is not quite as slick as we’re used to, a little tentative, but no less powerful.  An early version of “She Chameleon” is quite different musically from what it would become, although the lyrics are mostly in place.

When you get to the Marquee show (December of ’82), Fish is especially talkative and sentimental.  The gem here is obviously “Grendel”, a song which never ceases to amaze me.  Fish’s expressive voice has me hook, line and sinker.  You’ll be treated to the complete workout of “Grendel” again in 1983 (Reading).  The 1984 Hammersmith concert has emotional classics like “Jigsaw” and “Cinderella Search”.  The real treat is an early version of the first track for the forthcoming album Misplaced Childhood; a track Fish calls “Side One”.  It’s an early version, the lyrics still not all the way there, and it’s missing the entire “Lavender” section.  But you can hear the shape of things to come.

Hey Uncle Meat! Who’s your favourite lyricist?

The box set closes with a late period show, and a big one:  Wembley, 1987.  A good chunk of Misplaced Childhood (all of Side One) and Clutching at Straws are presented.  There are only a couple oldies:  “Fugazi” and “Incubus”.  This is a slicker, more commercial-sounding band, much more skilled at writing complicated yet catchy music.

Of note:  there are a whopping 15 pages full of liners notes by one Derek W. Dick, aka Fish, and new cover art by Mark Wilkinson!  If that doesn’t sell this set, then nothing will.

5/5 stars

* Mick Pointer, John Martyr, Andy Ward, and Ian Mosely.  Only Jonathan Mover is not heard on this, although he is on the 6 CD Curtain Call box set.