techno

REVIEW: Marillion and the Positive Light – Tales From the Engine Room (1998)

TALES FROM THE ENGINE ROOM_0001MARILLION and the POSITIVE LIGHT – Tales From the Engine Room (1998 Big Eye)

Remix projects: Often dicey, usually over-indulgent cash-grabs. I always give Marillion the benefit of the doubt where integrity is concerned. In the liner notes, singer Steve “H” Hogarth says that the art of the remix at its best is to produce a cerebral trip, and I think that was the aim here. He refers to this as a “reconstruction” and that sounds about right.

Having just completed the This Strange Engine album, Marillion handed over the master tapes to The Positive Light (Marc Mitchell and Mark Daghorn) for creative reconstruction. The duo had impressed them with some early work on “Estonia” so they decided to go all-in. That track is the first on the CD, Tales From the Engine Room. It’s a swirly, heavenly version but not a drastic departure. Hogarth’s vocal isn’t chopped to bits, the melodies remain the same, and the overall structure is unchanged. It is as if the body of the song were played by Jean Michel Jarre instead of Marillion.

“Estonia” folds neatly into “The Memory of Water”. This experiment turns the song into a light dance number. It’s not nearly as great as the pounding “Big Beat Mix” on the Radiat10n CD.  This version just kind of circles around without going anywhere.  It’s always risky, extending a three minute song to almost ten!  Sorry Positive Light, I have to give you a D on “The Memory of Water”.

TALES FROM THE ENGINE ROOM_0002If you like long bombers then you’ll love “This Strange Engine”, all 20+ minutes of it!  That’s not too much of a stretch, since the original is over 15.  Of this one, Hogarth says, “[it] reduced me to tears.  I would advise you to listen to it on a Walkman whilst walking through the town on a Saturday afternoon.  It makes everyone move in slow motion!”  While it is cool, it has never given me that exact effect.  It really starts to swell into dramatic waves when it gets into that “tall tales of Montego Bay,” section.  A solidly trippy remix.

Onto “One Fine Day”, which was never one of the strongest tracks.  With the Positive Light, it acquires a trippy jazzy slant.  I don’t know what “Face 1004” is, except perhaps a Positive Light original?  It bears no resemblance to the fine Marillion song “Man of 1000 Faces”, but it’s a beat-heavy dance track much in the style of the rest of this CD.

The original CD ended with track 5; reissues also contain “80 Days”.  Since there’s no point in buying an incomplete version, you may as well look for the reissue.  “80 Days” is far removed from its jaunty, celtic origins.  Now replete with electronic beats and tribal singing, it is still a celebration of touring the world.

Tales From the Engine Room turned out to be an apt title for a successful experiment.  The Positive Light took the songs down to their cores without losing what made them the songs that they are.  They re-presented the tunes in a new way, in a different genre.  While this is far from an essential purchase, it will be appreciated by fans of latter-day Marillion.

3/5 stars

Part 239: Music for Your Mental Health

MENTAL

RECORD STORE TALES Part 239:
Music for Your Mental Health

Music can be absolutely vital to the human psyche.  I don’t know why it is, but the auditory sensation of vibrating air molecules that we call sound has an undeniable effect once modulated into music.  Some people find themselves drawn to the music, some the singing, others just the words.  Nobody experiences music exactly the same way, but for many of us, it has the ability to lift our spirits high.

I had a customer, who had been coming in for many years, who was diagnosed with a fairly common mental disorder.  He didn’t find it a  pleasant disorder to deal with.  The young man who I’ll call Billy had made a suicide attempt.  I didn’t see him for a while.  When I did see him come back, he had changed his appearance.  Gone was the long hair and beard.  What did not disappear was his love of music, which seemed to manifest itself even stronger after his attempt.

Billy had suddenly rediscovered 80’s new wave music, and with it modern electronica, techno, and trance.  He became extremely passionate.  He was especially fond of any and all New Order.  These artists in turn introduced him to the relaxing sounds of New Age music.  I couldn’t say it for certain, but if I had to make an observation, I would conjecture that the music gave him more focus and something to feel good about.

Soon, listening to music wasn’t enough anymore.  Billy wanted to make music.

His family were supportive.  Over the few years that I knew him, his family purchased for him the best computers, the best synthesizers, and encouraged him every step.  He dad acted as his manager.  They would come in periodically, looking for electronic music, and eager to update me on his musical progress.

“The CD is coming along well,” Billy would say.  “It’s going to be very relaxing, very dreamlike, and calming.  It’s great music.  I’m very excited.  My dad is helping me, we’re going to put a CD out.”

And put a CD out he did.   I’m far from the most knowledgeable person about electronic music, but it sounded good to me.  I could tell he put a lot of work into the tracks.  He did it all himself.  His extraordinary story got him some newspaper coverage too.  The best part was, the CD was really good.  I wouldn’t let him just give me a copy, I made a point of buying one.  I had to support my customer!

Music can be such a positive force.  It’s one of the few things I know of that can bring 100,000 people together.  It can change brain chemistry, and it can help us feel all kinds of emotions.  It can make you want to get up and dance, or make love, or play air guitar.  It can make you feel better and draw you in deeper.

Sometimes, I think about what music means to me personally.  I know it helped me survive.  Would Billy would have survived without music?  Would any of us?  There’s no way to know.  I do know that I am glad I got to know Billy.  He taught me that music really can change the world in powerful ways.