The Web UK

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 – 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 – 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

 

 

REVIEW: Marillion & the Web Christmas 1998 – Happy Christmas Everybody!

MARILLION – & the Web Christmas 1998 – Happy Christmas Everybody! (1998 Racket Records)

Marillion have always been a fan-friendly band, offering up special rarities for the most dedicated.  In 1998, fan club members received the very first Marillion Christmas CD.  It’s one of the least satisfying of what turned out to be a long-running proposition, but since it was the first, we’ll let it slide.  At just 30 minutes, Happy Christmas Everybody is also the shortest.  Most of the music consists of “Karaoke mixes” for a contest they were running.  Record your own vocals, send it in, and win!

The first-ever “Christmas Message” track from Marillion explains the origin of the CD, as the guys crack up themselves in the background.  This is mixed into “The Christmas Song”, a festive version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” by Marillion.  (A standalone song would have been better.)

Exciting at the time, the next tracks are excerpts from the next Marillion album, marillion.com.  Hey, it was 1998, what are you going to do?  Jethro Tull had an album called J-tull.com.  Regardless of the title, this CD had sneak previews of “Interior Lulu” (two snippets) and “Tumble Down the Years” from the next album.  The mixes are not the final ones from the album, which is interesting to fans, but they’re so damn short.  They’re also samples of very mellow sections of songs, which may (or may not) have given false impressions of the new album.

The four Karaoke mixes are all but full length, with one done by Marillion producer Dave Meegan himself.  The instructions are so quaint.  “We’re inviting you all to make tapes!”  Tapes!  Just mail them in!  It’s a little odd to hear landmark pop rockers like “Cover My Eyes” without the massive hook of the lead vocals!  All you get for vocals are some backing tracks on the chorus.  Fabulous drums on that track, by the way Mr. Mosley.  “No One Can” is cool because you can hear the backup instrumentation a lot more without the syrupy singing.  “Beautiful” is the one by Dave Meegan, and as such it’s the most listenable.  He mixed in new elements, making it more like an interesting instrumental arrangement.  The more recent “These Chains” is probably the least appealing of the Karaoke songs due to its minimalist approach.

We’ll cut Marillion some slack.  It was the early days, their first Christmas CD, and the exclusive mixes are appreciated even if the album previews are not.  There aren’t any really usable Christmas songs on this album, a problem they’d fix next time out.

2/5 stars

 

Gallery: Marillion Christmas Comes Early

It’s that time of year again!  When Marillion fans gather around post boxes and anxiously check on message boards.  “Has it come yet?  Do you have yours yet?”

Yes, it has come, and yes we have ours now!  What is “it”?  Why, the annual Marillion Christmas release and Web UK Magazine of course!  Since 1998, Marillion have offered free Christmas exclusives to those who sign up for the fan package.  This year’s is a DVD:  Christmas at the Club.  This was a private fan gig at the band studio The Racket Club.  It was an invite-only crowd, treated to live versions of the latest tracks from 2016’s Fuck Everyone and Run.  Tracks like “The Leavers” and “Living in FEAR” sit among old favourites like “The Great Escape”, “Splintering Heart” and “Real Tears for Sale”.  Can’t wait to get this one on the big TV screen.

The magazine is also a treat.  Marillion recently conquered the Royal Albert Hall, and inside is the glorious photographic proof.

The Christmas season never feels like it has begun until the Marillion CD or DVD arrives.  I am happy to announce that it has now officially started!  Time to enjoy some Christmas at the Club.

 

GALLERY: I am once again a Marillion Web UK member

 

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Greetings!  Last month, we took a detailed look at four of Marillion’s annual Christmas releases:

A Collection of Recycled Gifts (2014)
A Very Barry Christmas (2001)
Christmas 2002 – Santa and his Elvis (2002)
Somewhere Elf (2007)

With the exception of A Collection of Recycled Gifts, these Marillion CDs were a free gifts exclusively for members of the official Web UK club.  I ceased subscribing and collecting a few years ago when they switched format to DVD releases.  Video is way further down on my collecting priority list.   In 2014, however, I learned they switched back to CD!  A double CD in fact: a live concert recorded in Chile called (heh heh) Chile for the Time of Year!

I re-subscribed just in time to get it.  And it has arrived, along with the 48 page glossy Web UK magazine.  This is a heavy mag, printed on good quality paper.  It’s nice that some bands’ fans still value such niceties.    There are four issues per year.

Below are a selection of pics.  For more on the Web UK, and a better way of life, visit marillion.com.