This Strange Engine

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

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”