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Old 07-13-2015, 02:04 PM   #2731 (permalink)
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Love it. I'm actually a bigger fan of post Fish Mariilion. Amazing how they were able to carry on (just like Genesis)


“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well,
on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away
and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”
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Old 07-13-2015, 02:40 PM   #2732 (permalink)
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I knew it! I knew you'd be reading at least! Great to have another Marillion fan here; I know I'm not writing in a vacuum.

I really like post-Fish too, but there's a special place in my heart for the early material, as that was after all what got me into the band. I'll be of course moving into the Hogarth era next, kicking off with Holidays in Eden, as I've already reviewed Seasons End for the "A New Dawn?" section earlier. Hope you're enjoying it so far!
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Old 07-14-2015, 05:33 PM   #2733 (permalink)
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The departure of Fish has been written about extensively by me, both here and elsewhere, most notably in the introduction to the “Brothers in Prog” feature, currently running but suspended for the duration of this discography, so I won't be harping on it any more. You can also read about the immediate effect his absence had, if you wish to, in the review of their next album and first without him, Seasons End, here,, which was in fact posted only a few weeks ago in a new section I called “A New Dawn?” Two years after that album, after, as it were, the rebirth of Marillion, they were back in the studio to record and release what would be their sixth album overall, and the second of the post-Fish era.

Holidays in Eden (1991)

Moving away from the darker, serious neo-prog of their first four albums, and continuing a sort of freedom I guess they felt they hadn't had since Fish left, this album sees Marillion probing more deeply the limits of the crossover into rock/pop/rock territory they had begun to explore with Seasons End, and in fact Steve Hogarth has described it as their poppiest album. There is certainly still some prog going on --- there's even a suite of sorts at the end --- but in general you can see where Marillion were now trying to reinvent themselves, not to put the Fish days behind them, but to stretch and expand musical muscles and ideas that had perhaps received short shrift from their big Scottish frontman. They probably had also realised, or decided, that the way to chart success, if this was indeed what they wanted to pursue, was through shorter, more accessible tracks and while “Kayleigh” had been a big hit, as has already been pointed out, this was more due to chance than design. Here, you definitely get the impression of songs being written in the hope that they will be hits, rather than as before, songs being written and then unexpectedly becoming hits.

But it opens proggily enough, with what as I mentioned in the review of Clutching at Straws was to become a sometime trademark of the “new” Marillion, a slow careful build up from almost silence, something they had tried with “The king of Sunset Town” on the previous album and even “Hotel Hobbies” on Clutching at Straws, as “Splintering heart” opens the album with a sort of tapping percussion and a hypnotic bass before Hogarth comes in with the vocal, Kelly joining in on the second minute, Mosley timing one heavy drumbeat with the lyric ”Makes my heart want to burst” following this up with a few more, well spaced, before in the third minute the whole band pile in and Rothery takes the tune for a nice leading solo. The melody then falls back on a guitar line quite reminiscent of “The Web” as Hogarth sings ”The same sun is shining/ On the old and the young/ On the saints and the sinners/ On the weak and the strong” eliciting a powerful solo from Rothery.

A big strong and passionate vocal from Hogarth then takes control of the song, underlined by Kelly's keyboard flourishes before the whole thing fades away, as gently and softly as it began, and we're into the first of the tracks that can be really termed as Marillion's venture into the world of pop/rock. While it would be 2001 before they would really go for it and release in effect their Abacab, the nevertheless wonderful Anoraknophobia, this album shows the path they were prepared to tread, and while “Cover my eyes (Pain and Heaven)” is a good song, it's the first time when you really step back and ask yourself, is this Marillion? Well, yes it is: the new Marillion; much less concerned, at this point, with ranting political lyrics and exploring the dark side of the psyche as they were under Fish, and more determined to, I guess, just have fun.

Originally a song written by Hogarth for his previous band, “Cover my eyes” was not surprisingly selected for single release, and whether it confused people, diehard Marillion fans did not like it and refused to buy it, or it was just too mainstream to fall into one or the other of the two camps, it fizzled out at the top end of the top thirty and did no better. In fairness, it's not a bad song, but it could have been played by anyone. There's nothing uniquely Marillion about it, which is not an accusation that can be levelled at “The Party”, riding under a doleful, almost hollow piano sound and decrying how easily innocence is corrupted under peer pressure.

”All of the people that she thought she knew/ Were never like this when she saw them in school/ She'd never been anywhere like this before/ Everybody so out of control.” It's hard to think that such naivete could exist in a girl of school-going age (I'm assuming she at least looked maybe fifteen, due to the line ”She bought a bottle of cider/ From the shop on the corner/ They didn't stop her/ Thought she was older”) but Hogarth is determined here to paint a picture of absolute innocence and chastity, and then gleefully watch as it is shattered by the roaming lothario who, vampire-like, entices the child into her first sexual experience. In concert with the girl's sudden awakening and realisation of the real world around her, the music gets more powerful and solid, culminating in a solo from Rothery as Hogarth wails, bemoaning the taking of her virginity.

Of course, at the end, she's left and cast to one side as her lover sneers "By the way/ Welcome to your first party.” A sobering tale, if a little trite. The next one up is another pop song, a simple ballad which while pleasant and catchy is again nothing like the Marillion I had known up to now. At this point, I had allowed the band some freedom to change with Seasons End, and while they had dabbled a little more than I would like liked with their sound, they hadn't changed the formula too much. Here, it just seems like they went for broke, as if they thought this album might be their breakthrough, as if writing catchy pop songs might somehow make them more acceptable to the masses, most of whom remembered them if at all from the one single which would forever be linked with their name.

Don't get me wrong: I love “No-one can”, but to paraphrase Mark Knopfler, it's not what I call Marillion. It's got a nice beat, and Hogarth sings it very well, Rothery's ringing, jangly guitar line is nice though there is less synth from Kelly than I would have preferred; it's just too, what's the word? Ordinary. That's it. Ordinary. I'm not used to Marillion being ordinary. “Holidays in Eden”, the title track, does at least get us back to some sort of semblance of prog, but it's quite confusing and I've never understood what the lyric is about. It opens nicely with the sound of birdsong and then a jet engine blasts across it before it kicks up into a really cool rocker with a nice exuberant chorus; kind of reminds me of a song that would appear on a later album called “Built-in bastard radar”. There's a pleasingly “Script”-ish guitar melody running through the verses and a lovely bass line from Peter Trewavas, to say nothing of strong, powerful organ from Kelly.

It is however just something of a break between the more poppy songs, as “Dry land”, while one of my favourite tracks of this era, and the one that follows it are pure radio fare, commercial hit single material, and indeed the first one was released. How it did I have no idea, but I'm assuming it didn't exactly scale the heights of the charts for them. It does have a really nice acoustic guitar line leading it, and Hogarth puts in one of his best performances on the album. It's kind of hard though to get used to Marillion doing ballads. I mean, real, love song ballads. They did none in the Fish era save “Lavender” and “Sugar mice”, yet on this album we have four really, this being the third. It does water down the effectiveness of the album, I feel, and seems to be something of a cynical ploy, whether by the band or their management, to appeal to a more mainstream audience. Nothing wrong with that guys, but don't forget the fans that followed you through five albums in the process!

There's a nice sort of almost pizzicato keyboard strings sound helping this along, and it is a very catchy melody, though the lyric leaves, to me, something to be desired: ”You're an island /But I can't leave you all out at sea/You're so violent with your silence/ You're an island I can't sleep”?? Lovely expressive solo from Rothery, and then we go into, um, another ballad with “Waiting to happen”, which sadly in a way describes my feelings the first time I heard this album. Again, I will admit this is a great song and I really love it. But there's just not enough of the Marillion I've grown up on at this point to keep my interest, and [i]Holidays in Eden[/[] does not come high on my list of favourite Marillion albums. Again there's the acoustic guitar and a soft vocal which slowly builds, and it's very well constructed. I particularly like when the chorus explodes, just as you've got yourself used to the fact that this is going to be a gentle relaxing ballad. Well, it is, but the chorus took me by surprise the first time I heard it.

There's a lot of romantic nonsense in the lyric: ”I keep the pieces separate/ I clutch them in my coat/ A jigsaw of an angel/ I can do when I feel low.” Hmm. Interestingly, that line contains references to at least two of the Fish-era albums; I wonder if that was deliberate? It builds up to a nice powerful ending with a searing solo from Steve, then drops off in the last few seconds, fading out for me, a bit unsatisfactorily.

I know I said there was a suite, but I'm not sure if the last three tracks are meant to be taken as such. The two last ones, sure, they run into each other, but “This town” only gets included because it's reprised at the end of the closer, so maybe, I don't know. Anyway, if you've been waiting for a rocker, here it is. With a big, stomping drumbeat, a growling guitar and police sirens, it's probably the heaviest and most straightforward rock song Marillion have ever done to this point. It's the old story of being stuck in a one-horse town, so nothing new there, but it slides gently into “The rake's progress”, which is less than two minutes long and follows the exploits of a romeo who keeps secret assignations with married women in this small town, driven mostly on Mark Kelly's thick, cold, dark synth line and into “100 nights”, which continues the exploits of the “Rake”, as he laughs about how easy it is to fool the husbands and boyfriends of the women he dallies with.

In terms of progressive rock, this closer is probably the nearest Marillion come to recapturing the sound they pioneered on four, maybe even five albums up to this point, with a real sense of dark humour underpinned by Rothery's gentle guitar line before it powers up for the big finish, giving Hogarth again a chance to really exercise his pipes. ”You don't know I come here” he sneers ”If you did, you would know why”. A big pounding drumbeat from Mosley and a soft bassline from Trewavas and we head into the finale, as Hogarth grins ”You didn't notice me/ When I passed you on the stairs/ How could you ever guess? / Looking in my face?/ How closely I share your taste/ How well I know your face/ Even the clothes you wear/ I've seen them when you're not there.” As I said, it fades out on a soft rendition of “This town”.


1. Splintering heart
2. Cover my eyes (Pain and Heaven)
3. The party
4. No one can
5. Holidays in Eden

6. Dry land
7. Waiting to happen

8. This town
9. The Rake's progress
10. 100 nights

I don't want to do this album down too much, because I do like it, but I still consider it vastly inferior to Seasons End, and some of the albums that came later could kick this into next week. It is, I think, the lack of actual progressive rock on the album, or at least the dearth of it, that concerns me and colours my opinion. There are too many pop songs on this, and too many ballads for a Marillion album. I get they were trying to partially re-invent themselves, I do. But it seems to me that on this album they went too far the other way, and almost ditched their prog rock credentials, on which they had built their reputation and their fanbase, to follow the path of least resistance. The fact that this album took them to number seven in the charts cannot be taken as any indication that this strategy worked: the majority of people who bought this album would have been Marillion fans. It's unlikely too many people just bought it out of curiosity or because they liked the singles. It's Marillion's fanbase who have remained loyal to them, through the split with Fish, two years of inactivity and a rebirth, and all the changes they have gone through musically over the years, and they were not going to not buy this album.

Seasons End also reached the same spot, while the next one, the inimitable Brave, would still make it into the top ten (just) despite being a return to the dark prog rock of their beginnings. So I doubt that going the commercial, pseudo-pop route really worked for them. Even now, with the band having been in existence for over thirty years, few people outside of their fanbase or who are not prog rock fans even know who they are, and if they do, it's via that single again. So they were never going to be pop stars, if that was their aim. I guess in fairness much of that popstar-wannabe attitude has to be blamed on their producer, Chris Neil, who had worked with Leo Sayer, Celine Dion and Sheena Easton, and who had turned Mike Rutherford's prog/hard rock sensibilities (have you heard Acting very strange or Smallcreep's Day?) into the almost faceless pop band that came to be known as Mike and the Mechanics. Actually, that's probably not fair, as their first album was excellent while the second began to slide, and as for subsequent efforts, well...

As I said, after this they pulled in their horns and revisited the more mature, darker and ultimately more satisfying days of the Fish era, and created what I believe to be one of their very best albums. However, I have already reviewed that here, so next we'll be skipping ahead four years to 1995, and an album that would tend to again divide opinion, especially after the superlative Brave.
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Old 07-15-2015, 12:37 PM   #2734 (permalink)
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So where to go after that amazing album? Although Brave had charted lower than their two previous releases, and in fact the lowest placing of any of their albums, including the four recorded with Fish, it had made a very definite and triumphant mission statement: that after the rather poppy excesses of Holidays in Eden, Marillion were back doing what they did best. The fans responded and the album was critically acclaimed, even if it didn't sell as well as EMI would have hoped; so where now? Did the band return to the lighter but more financially rewarding pop of 1991, or forge ahead with a revitilisation of their sound and endeavour to continue to recapture the spirit of '83 that had been evident on Brave? Did they go for chart-pleasing pop, dark prog, or try to fall somewhere in the middle, and be as it were all things to all men?

Afraid of Sunlight (1995)

In the end, they kind of went for the latter, producing a mostly prog album with some very dark elements that included the odd poppish song. Not quite a concept album (they weren't ready to do a Misplaced Childhood/Clutching at Straws again!) Afraid of Sunlight does nevertheless follow some overarching themes, such as the price paid for fame, the unreality of the world of celebrity, and how easy it can be to be lonely in a crowd. Dispensing with the services of Chris Neil, with whom they would never work again and on whom much of the light poppiness of Holidays in Eden is and should be blamed, Marillion opted for Dave Meegan, who for a time would become their regular producer, helming two more albums with them (though not consecutively). Meegan had cut his teeth under producing supremo Trevor Horn, and had also worked with U2 on The Joshua Tree: that's more like it. No pop bands here!

Many of the references to celebrity within the songs are veiled, presumably to forestall any legal challenges, but it's pretty obvious that opener “Gazpacho” is written at least in part about O.J. Simpson, with such lines as ”Did you carry out those threats I heard/ Or were you only playing macho/ And the stains on her Versace scarf/ Were they really just gazpacho?” The song opens with the announcement of a boxing match, then what sounds like John Lennon, maybe, talking before the thing gets going with a bright guitar and bass line, boppy drums and a catchy melody but still staying very much on the rock side of the fence. The contemporary lyrical theme here removes the song from being a proper progressive one, but it does have prog rock overtones certainly. Some really powerful keyboard work from Mark Kelly. More references to Simpson when Hogarth sings ”They say the king is watching his back again” and ”You think they will forgive a hero anything.” The song slows down in the midsection with a very dramatic flair, then kicks back up for the closing section and ends on some recorded television news as OJ flees the scene of the murder, fading into the distance.

I've never been a big fan of The Beach Boys, as everyone knows, so it's no surprise that “Cannibal Surf Babe” cuts little ice with me, with its homage to the surf rockers and its rather weird and trippy storyline. Still, it's fast, it's uptempo and to be fair, it's about the only real concession to pop sensibilities on an album that is far more mature than Holidays in Eden ever was, or tried to be. This song however is about as far removed from Marillion as we know them as it's possible to be, and had I heard it on the radio without knowing who was singing, I doubt I would realise it was Marillion. I suppose it's a silly little song the boys can have fun with, and pay their dues to their heroes but it does nothing for me. Far better is the first ballad, the appropriately named “Beautiful” which, while again somewhat naive and indeed simplistic in its lyric is a really nice relaxing song with some truly gorgeous soundscapes laid down by Kelly and Rothery.

It strikes me as odd that there are two songs very similarly titled on the album, one being the title track, the other merely replacing the word “sunlight” with “sunrise”, but so it is, and it's “Afraid of sunrise” that comes first, with susurrating percussion and a quiet little piano, a very laidback tune, with the vocals low-key and the suggestion of horns, though I'm sure they're on the synth. An aching vocal, like someone flailing around in the darkness, as I believe Steve Hogarth described the writing process for this album, the idea of being lost and alone and unable to find your way back. Lines such as ”Friendly fire in hostile waters” underline this sense of being subsumed by something bigger and perhaps much more frightening than anything you have encountered before.

Celebrity is as I say tackled in various ways throughout this album, though almost always looking at the way fame destroys people, or they allow themselves to be destroyed. “Out of this world” chronicles the attempts of Donald Campbell to break the sea speed record, which he did in the fifties, while losing his own life in the process. There's a sort of ominous guitar line fading slowly in and then Hogarth takes up the narration as Campbell dreams of breaking that record, the vocal slow and morose as if Hogarth knows (as he does) what is going to be the outcome. Immortality will be achieved, but at the cost of Campbell's own life. ”Make history” he breathes, ”This is your day.” Another kind of “Script”-like guitar takes up the melody before Rothery rips off a fine solo, taking us into the midsection of the song, where Hogarth really strains the bounds of passion with his vocal.

Accompanied by a lilting melody now, he bemoans the loss of the sportsman, and wonders whether it was worth it: ”I know the pain of too much tenderness” he says, then Kelly takes the tune in a dark, ambient direction as snippets of Campbell's last transmission before the accident that claimed his life play out across the music, drifting down and away to allow Hogarth to deliver the final lines: ”So we live, you and I/ By the side of the edge/ And we walk and we scream/ With the dilated stare/ Of obsession and dreams/ What the hell do we want?” A soft lamenting keyboard accompanies this and takes it down, eventually, into the sinkhole where everything vanishes but is never forgotten, though never recoverable.

Then we get the title track, which in ways certainly mirrors its almost-twin earlier, using some of the same lyrics but in a different, slightly more uptempo way and driven on a nice relaxed chiming guitar but ramps up on a big swell as Hogarth asks ”King of the world/ How do you feel?/ What is there to feel?” It's clear pretty early on that this is going to be a more powerful and passionate song; if “Afraid of sunrise” was the beginning of the road trip, then this is the screaming across the desert, wondering if you did the right thing but too late to turn back. Another great vocal performance from Steve Hogarth, proving that, though the ghost of Fish will never really rest, it has been at least quieted now, three albums later.

This is one of my favourite tracks on the album, perhaps my favourite, with a gorgeous little piano run from Kelly to run into a superb trumpet-like synth passage and a great solo from Rothery, the whole song then ending on a soft vocal and piano reprise of the opening line. After that, “Beyond you” is a pretty simple ballad really, nothing wrong with it, and indeed a lovely melody, more prog than pop certainly, but it kind of fails to measure up to the greatness of those last two tracks. Something very special indeed was needed to follow that performance, and this is not it. That's not to say that it's not a good song, because it is --- very good in fact and I really like it --- but if there's another weaker song on the album, though it's nowhere as bad as “Cannibal surf babe” it's definitely down there with that song. It is interesting lyrically when Hogarth explores the simple world of a child and how they get what they want: ”If I were a child” he says ”I would refuse to leave/ I would sit down on the street/ Kick my legs and scream.” Not really an option for an adult.

Nice sort of almost orchestral/choral vocal buildup ending, and the album closes strongly as it opened, with the tremendous “King”. This opens with first a very grunge guitar (see where this is going) much dialogue, snippets of conversations, interviews, then it all drops back to a sad and tired vocal backed by acoustic guitar as Hogarth asks the crucial question ”How long can you stand?” This song is written about both Elvis and, in some ways more importantly, Kurt Cobain, and examines again the way fame can take a person apart until they have nothing left, and nowhere to go, only one way out. In places, this is one of Marillion's heaviest songs ever, and beats previous contender “This town” into the ground, then stomps on the remains. It alternates between soft acoustic guitar and hard, sharp electric, with some fine organ adding its voice.

But the centrepiece of the song is undoubtedly Steve Hogarth's voice, tinged with tragedy and sympathy, compassion and realisation, as he tries to get inside the heads of these greats. Powerful solos from both Rothery and Kelly add to the song, but in the midsection it breaks down into a really quiet digital piano line from Kelly and an almost muttered vocal from Hogarth. Everything stops for a moment, then it rises on a slow, deliberate guitar and Hogarth's vocal getting progressively fiercer and more angry as he snarls ”You're sick to your stomach/ Of the sound of your voice/ And the shape of your face/ And the sound of your name.”

I guess it's easy to say “Ah boo hoo! He had all this money and couldn't handle it. Poor baby!” but it must have been hard to cope with all this sudden fame, and the massive responsibility piled on your shoulders as you carry the hopes of a generation and become so much more than a role model, perhaps even more than a god. The closing section reflects this as, similar to the end of “In the flesh” off The Wall the music gathers pace and power, getting more and more confused and chaotic, even bringing in the sound of a plane going down, building to a terrifying crescendo when suddenly it all just .... stops.


1. Gazpacho

2. Cannibal surf babe
3. Beautiful
4. Afraid of sunrise
5. Out of this world
6. Afraid of sunlight
7. Beyond you
8. King

In terms of tracks, it's back to the old original Marillion format with only eight on the album, and none are what you would describe as epics, the longest coming in at just under eight minutes, and yet, track for track, this album is probably better value than any of the post-Fish era albums prior to it, with the exception obviously of Brave. It's a powerful reaffirmation of Marillion's musical prowess and indeed their last for EMI, which would thereafter allow them much more creative freedom and release them from the constant pressure of having to come up with a successor to their most accomplished and successful album. After this, Marillion would take two years off before coming back with a series of albums that would re-establish their progressive rock credentials in no uncertain fashion, up until about 2001 when they would begin to wobble again slightly, heading again in a poppier direction for a time.

Steve Hogarth is on record as saying he believes this to be the best album Marillion ever made. Even leaving aside the Fish albums, I'd have a problem with that as I don't think this comes anywhere close to Brave or even Marbles, but it is certainly an album that showed that Marillion were back heading in the right direction and intended to stay on that path for as long as they could.
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Old 07-19-2015, 05:59 AM   #2735 (permalink)
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What's more prog than an album with a fifteen-minute track? In 1997 Marillion returned with their ninth album, to much excitement and perhaps trepidation, as they had just parted company with longtime label EMI, on their slow path towards becoming an independent, self-releasing and eventually self and fan-funded enterprise, turning how the music business worked on its head. But for now, they were with Castle Communications, which meant that the heady days of big advances, grandiose locations for recording and endless expense accounts were over, and the band had to knuckle down and really try to write to a budget. The result was another eight-track album which, due to its comparative lack of exposure and marketing by their new label, would fail to trouble the charts in any significant way, something that would remain the case mostly for the rest of their careers.

This Strange Engine (1997)

Although I led by saying the fifteen-minute track is pure prog (and it is) it has to be admitted that little of the rest of the seven tracks here could conceivably fall under that title. And yet, the album does not feel contrived or cynically constructed to yield singles, probably due to their having been released from the never-ending demands of EMI. I don't know for sure, of course, but I'm assuming Castle Communications were a little more laidback, a little less rabid for chart success, and allowed Marillon more freedom in the creation of their music, so that they could explore other avenues, such as the almost Mariachi-style of one of the tracks, a close-to-acapella performance on another, and a heartfelt ballad the likes of which we had not heard since “Easter”.

Once again it's Hogarth who takes the helm solo as far as the lyrics are concerned, with some help from John Helmer, who had assisted in the writing of the last few albums. That must, I guess then, make this almost as personal an album for Hogarth as Clutching at Straws was for Fish, especially when you consider that the closer, that fifteen-minute epic, is an autobiographical tale of his own youth.

We open on a jaunty acoustic guitar from Steve Rothery, Hogarth's vocal coming in very early as the song takes a somewhat historical direction, with lines like ”You see my face in the stones/ Of the Parthenon/ You hear my song in the /Babble Of Babylon” and a great organ backup melody from Mark Kelly keeps the song moving nicely. Lovely little lilting piano line halfway through before Hogarth revisits Brave again for a moment: ”Took a leap/ And I landed on the moon” and then in the midsection the song breaks into a kind of anthemic chorus, driven on a romping synth melody very reminiscent of the “old” Marillion and grows in intensity, picking up backing vocals --- and indeed a full children's choir --- as it goes, basically cherry-picking phrases from what has already been sung till it rises in a triumphant roar and then just stops, fading away on a sort of electronic echo.

A really expressive guitar riff opens “One fine day”, a slow song and yet not really a ballad, a sort of sad realisation that all our hopes and dreams when we were young have failed to come to fruition, and the urgency and optimism of youth is replaced with a cold hard fatalism and realism as Hogarth admits he's ”Beginning to wonder/ If we'll wait in vain/ For one fine day” and a really lush little piano run from Kelly underlines this. The vocal is sung much quieter, not the energy of the opener, to denote how tired he is waiting for that sunny day. Midway we get a strings-style keyboard (unless it is strings, but I don't think Marillion ever used them) followed by a sublime solo from Rothery to take the song close to its conclusion.

“Eighty days” looks at the wonders of modern transport and how you can literally now go around the world in eighty days, or indeed much less. It's a nice mid-paced song that wonders ”What kind of a man/ Can live this way?” surely a question asked by many musicians as the grind of the touring schedule becomes too much. It's a nice song, with a nice refrain, but it's nothing terribly remarkable I feel. Much different though when we get past it, as “Estonia” is that ballad I mentioned. Completely in error, I assumed it was about the country, and perhaps their fight for independence from the USSR, but it appears that the Estonia of the title is in fact the name of a ferry that capsized in 1994 on the Baltic Sea.

With a very lonely, desolate feel, swirling, drifting piano and murmuring keyboard against a soft guitar melody the song takes shape slowly, the lyric becoming even more poignant now that I know what it's about when Hogarth sings ”You would give anything/ Give up everything/ Offer your lifeblood away/ For yesterday.” The usage of the balalaika really adds to the song, played by guest musician Tim Perkins. There's a great sense of space about the song, and you can certainly feel the expanse of the hard, cold, unforgiving sea all around you as breath becomes short and you realise you're not going to survive this. A very heart-rending song in, as I say, something of the vein of “Easter” from Seasons End. Kelly does a great job of making his keyboard sound like the flow of the slow, advancing waves, and the song fades out as you would expect it to. Definitely one of the standouts.

It's followed by another, as Steve Hogarth sings without any accompaniment the opening lions to “The memory of water”, a soft, reflective ballad of loss and regret. What sounds very like violin or cello soon joins him, but as none are credited I assume it's Mark Kelly making the sound on his synthesiser. It really adds something to the song, a sense of drama and grandeur, but the song is very much a showcase for the considerable vocal talents of Hogarth. It's a short enough song, just over three minutes, but it really leaves an impression when it's finished. So much so that when we then get “Accidental man”, it just seem so meh that it's almost a disappointment. I mean, it's a good song, and it rocks along nicely on a thick organ line from Kelly with some fine percussion, but it's just nowhere near as good as either of the two tracks that precede it.

To be honest, it's a sort of precursor to the kind of thing that would crop up later on Anoraknophobia, seen as their most commercial and least proggy album, and it sounds a little out of place here. Not so much though as “Hope for the future”, which features trumpet and a very Mexican/Salsa rhythm and structure, almost like a song composed while sitting around a fire after or during a beach party. It starts on a nice acoustic line with the guitar then kicks into a very funky retread of “All night long” by Lionel Ritchie (I'm not kidding: try singing it to the melody, you'll see how close it is at times) with conga rhythm and piano giving way to the trumpet which comes in happily. Again, it's not what I consider a real Marillion track; if they want to have fun and go a little off the reservation once in a while, who can blame them, but it's not what I would have advised on an eight-track album. Flute too? Yeah.

Thankfully the closer makes up for all this divergence and what I would call non-Marillion music. As I said at the beginning, it's Steve Hogarth's personal experiences of his life set to music, and while much of it is probably rightly only decipherable by him, there's a lot you can glean from the lyric. Opening on a soft flutey keyboard line the song speaks of Hogarth's childhood, and we're told that his father was in the Navy but came home to take care of his children --- ”Came home from the Navy/ To the mines/ From the horizon/ To buried alive.” A peppy keyboard line now slides in before Rothery takes the song with a chimy guitar which also includes a snippet of what sounds like a children's nursery rhyme and then Kelly's piano comes in to take over.

It seems Hogarth may be an only child, as he mentions ”No children to fear/ Or to play with” and his attraction to an upright piano, as well as being involved in the local choir. Appropriately a choir attends this section until Rothery bursts through with some very rocky guitar, the tempo jumping considerably as Kelly joins in with a superb keyboard passage that in concert with the percussion builds to a crescendo and then suddenly stops, falling back to lone piano, bringing back in the vocal. Mind you, I'm not sure about the only child theory now, as he mentions "Daddy came home from the Navy/ And took us away to/ His dirty grey hometown.” Hmm. A boogie rhythm now infuses the song, led by Rothery's jaunty guitar and some upbeat keys from Kelly and then a super sax solo (only, I think, the second time they've used that instrument) from Phil Todd before we head into the big finale.

With a soft chiming keyboard from Kelly, almost like a clock ticking down the hours or sand running in an hourglass, gentle jangly guitar joining the lyric seems to fall into a travellers' tales idea, perhaps the young Steve asking his father to recount his adventures and the sights he has seen while at sea, leading into a lovely guitar solo with accompanying choir before we wind up for the final section, as Hogarth's voice finally comes strongly, resonating through the final minutes of the song as it hits its climax, led there by a powerhouse performance by Rothery.

The song is listed as over thirty minutes long, and this confused me the first time I heard it, as it very definitely ends as just over fifteen minutes. If you leave the track playing for another fifteen minutes you will hear nothing but silence, until the very last few seconds before it cuts off, when you'll hear some acoustic music and Steve Hogarth laughing. Now this may be clever and funny, but I must admit at the time it pissed me off, and sort of still does. If I buy an album with a track listed at thirty minutes, I goddamn well expect thirty minutes of music! This is like buying a packet of crisps (chips, to you Americans) to find it's mostly filled with air and there are only a few crisps in the bag! Talk about a rip-off! I've never been able to see the logic behind these ideas of tracks that extend and then have a little bit tacked on at the end, and I guess I never will. It soured me a little, as I was then listening, convinced something would happen, that there was something I was supposed to hear. Eventually, after more or less giving it up as a bad job, I heard the final bit, and all I could do really was roll my eyes. Didn't ruin the track, or the album, but I could definitely have done without it. Bit of a bummer.


1. Man of a thousand faces
2. One fine day
3. Eighty days

4. Estonia
5. The memory of water

6. An accidental man
7. Hope for the future

8. This strange engine

I'm never really sure about this album. I mean, about sixty to seventy percent of it is pretty damn excellent, but when it lets you down it really lets you down. The added annoyance of the supposedly thirty minute track that turns out to be only (!) fifteen makes it difficult for me to give this album as much love as I would like to, and yet it is, perhaps not one of Marillion's crowning achievements, but still up there with some of the best. Over the next three years they would release three albums, each getting more and more away from the pure progressive styles they had been known for, culminating in 2001's Anoraknophobia, after which they would take a break and begin to reexamine the road they were travelling, how they had diverged from it, and try to get back on the right path.
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Old 07-20-2015, 09:16 AM   #2736 (permalink)
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And so we reach a landmark, as Marillion released their tenth album. At this point they had been together as a band for almost twenty years, with eleven of those being sans Fish. The pressure was probably on them to make their tenth record something really special, and though it's not a perfect album I feel they pretty much aced that intention.

Radiation (1998)

This album has been compared quite a lot to Radiohead, but having heard little of that band's material I can't comment on that. All I know is that Hogarth did mention that they had been listening to a lot of Radiohead yes, but that they had not based their “new” sound off of them, it was more an extension and continuation of exploring new sounds and technologies, now that they were off the EMI treadmill. They also changed producer again, opting this time for Stuart Avery, a situation which would continue over the next few years as they alternated producers. However Hogarth was keen to point out that generally speaking, they produced themselves (preparing, it would seem, for the day when they would dispense with producers altogether and fly solo, as they do now) and that Avery was more a “sounding board”. Sounds like fun. I doubt Martin Birch or Steve Lillywhite would have approved.

Right from the off, there's an odd sort of mechanised sound about much of the album, as opener “Costa del Slough” features a big Peter Gabriel-like chant and orchestral crescendo, which would recur on one of the later tracks, before we fall back to a simple acoustic guitar with a mono vocal in a sort of twenties style piling into “Under the sun”, which I would really consider the first proper track, with a rocky guitar led rhythm, some nice whistling keys and a very upbeat melody. Good snarly little guitar solo from Steve Rothery, but again it's very straightahead rock with little if anything of the progressive in it. It's a song of pretty much abandonment and throwing caution to the wind, the idea of sunbathing even though studies have proven you're more likely to contract cancer from doing so kind of tying in with the question in the opener, ”What's wrong with the odd melanoma/ If it gets us all out of a coma?” I assume it's not meant to be taken as a serious comment on the dangers of skin cancer of course.

Another hard rock track (for Marillion) is “The answering machine”, which again features a mechanised stylised vocal (probably appropriate, as I guess we're supposed to be listening to an answering machine --- think old-tech voicemail kids!) an a driving guitar line, the tale of a man who comes to talk to his girfriend ---- ”We flew here to see you/ My feelings and i” --- but can't get an answer to his calls and spends his time leaving messages on her system. ”We walked and we talked/ And my words were absorbed/ Into the answering machine.” Don't get me wrong: it's a great track, as is the one before it, but it's only really once you've got past these two songs, plus the opener, that the album really starts to come together.

Nodding back to the themes on Afraid of Sunlight, “Three minute boy” borrows its opening a little from the title track to the previous album, and tells the story, set against initially lone piano, of a kid who becomes famous and then a rock star. Some lovely violin and soft guitar then joins the melody as it begins to build slightly. It's obviously not autobiographical, as Marillion would never be seen as, nor consider themselves rock stars, but is instead a fictional star in the making, though Steve Hogarth has said it is partially based on the Liam Gallagher/Patsy Kensit relationship, especially when he sings ”She's a pretty girl/ Don't know how it started/ She made a movie/ He almost remembered.”

But like all these kinds of relationships it's put under strain by the constant touring, groupies and the uncertainty when your lover is far away, perhaps even tipping the hat a little towards Fish on Clutching at Straws, and before long the music has got more powerful, the whole band involved now, a big chorus going as Hogarth sings ”Your girlfriend's gone off with the Jag/ Went back to her mum and dad/ Curled up on the studio floor/ You just can't do it anymore...” He also nods to Brian May when he sings ”Too much love will do you in” as Rothery growls off a big guitar solo and we head into the big finish. I'm not happy about the ending though: sounds like they weren't sure how to bring the thing to a close and it just sort of tails off.

Really though, from this song onward this album can do no wrong. After that powerhouse we have a quiet, introspective ballad, sung almost in a whisper by Steve Hogarth against sweet acoustic guitar --- played by Pete Trewavas --- as "Now she'll never know" presents a man in the deepest of despair, wishing to right wrongs but knowing he cannot go back. ”She told me go to Hell/ And here I am.” Says it all really. You can hear the pain in his voice, and the soft passion and regret he puts into it is quite stunning. Some singers need a full band and pristine production, and a big booming bombastic chorus to get their point across, but Hogarth has that way of making you feel what he feels, of drawing you into his world, as if he's singing directly to you and you alone. You almost feel like putting your arm around his shoulder and trying to comfort him. The next track, oddly, is also a ballad, or sorts, but with a lot more power and energy. “These chains” opens on pizzicato strings with swirling synth and another soft vocal that really doesn't resolve into anything more audible until the second verse as piano and guitar join in, a sort of Country feel to the former.

Nice rising choral vocal idea in the synth, the song building in layers as it goes, Hogarth's voice swelling and strengthening as he declares ”These chains are all your own/ These chains are comfortable” and it's clear the idea in the song is that if you don't go out and seek your dream it won't come knocking on your door. Excellent guitar solo halfway as the percussion pounds in, great organ adding a sense of majesty and grandeur to the piece, then some really nice violin or cello as we head towards the end, with the vocal getting really passionate. When Hogarth sings ”Will you die never knowing/ What it's like outside?” you can hear the urgent plea in his voice.

Another ballad, would you believe, and a gorgeous blues tune driven on a sublime organ from Kelly with reflective guitar from Rothery, and taking the same title as Springsteen's classic, “Born to run” is another standout on the album. I'm not sure of the wisdom of having three ballads (even if “These chains” gets a little more intense than a ballad is normally expected to) come one after the other, but it actually seems to work on this album. There's a guitar solo then to rival some of the best blues players around, as Rothery demonstrates a little-seen side of his talent, then it pretty much winds down as it began. Other than the solo, it never really rises above the level of laidback but with Kelly's sonorous organ helping out it really plucks at the heartstrings.

After all that soft and gentle music though, you're about ready to rock out, and “Cathedral wall” does not disappoint. Opening on a big, punching keyboard stab and guitar assault with added drums, it quickly falls back to a cool bass and guitar line as the vocal comes in relatively quietly, with a double-track echoing in the background, very reminiscent of Waters on The Wall. For the chorus it powers back up again, and Hogarth's vocal gets much more animated with vocal harmonies added in. I honestly have no clue what the song is about but it's really a return to serious progressive rock, and helps to end the album strongly, though it never really stumbles at all.

The midsection is a reprise of the opening salvo, with a descending synth line that leaves us with only acoustic guitar and vocal and begins a superb buildup which, when it comes, features a fine organ solo from Kelly, Mosely's drumbeat driving everything towards its staggering conclusion. Eventually at the very end we get several fast hard guitar chords and Hogarth wailing as if in pain or frustration, then a very quiet reprise with piano of the ending of “These chains” before we head into the closer, and indeed the epic.

With a low, trumpet-like synth opening and someone speaking who sounds like maybe Gandhi ( I know, probably someone else but I'm a little rusty on my Indian philosophers, assuming he is Indian; he sounds it) it bubbles very slowly to its beginning. Soft percussion, skittering keys and wailing guitar takes it into the second minute before any vocals come in, and when they do they're quiet but firm, as “A few words for the dead” gets going properly. A ten-minute composition, it is nevertheless not broken into parts really, and features some sitar and some other ethnic instruments that give it a very Indian, transcendental feel. Most of the song is pretty reserved and quiet, until it gets to the midpoint, where Hogarth offers mankind a choice: ”Tell all your family/ Tell all your friends/ Teach your brothers to avenge/ Or you could love.”

At this point it ramps up with the full band for the big finish, keyboard flourishes, sharp guitar, triumphant vocal and then fades out on the promise of hope: ”You could love...”


1. Costa del Slough
2. Under the sun
3. The answering machine
4. Three minute boy
5. Now she'll never know
6. These chains
7. Born to run
8. Cathedral wall
9. A few words for the dead

I never quite realised it before, but this comes close to being one of the most complete post-Fish Marillion albums they have ever recorded. There's hardly a single bad track on it, and even given the odd grouping of three ballads together, the structure of the album works really well. There's a lot of prog in it, though not too much, and enough rock to satisfy those not into the longer intricate songs. I had actually forgotten how much I love this album, and it would definitely be in my top ten. It would be top five but, you know, the Fish era is hard to beat and there are four of them.

Still, aside from Brave, for me, definitely the best thing Marillion had put out since the split.
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Old 07-26-2015, 11:28 AM   #2737 (permalink)
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I'm not entirely sure if they could claim to be the originators of crowdfunding, even if you just confine that to the music world --- I'm pretty sure Radiohead did it too, whether before or after I don't know --- but with this, their eleventh album, Marillion definitely set a new precedent when they asked their fans to pre-order the album after this, which they did, a model which would serve to free them from the shackles of record labels and finally take the final giant step to full independence.

This, then, would be their last album recorded with Castle Communications, leading to a totally self-produced and self/fan-financed future for the band. It's also another interesting mix of basic rock and pop as well as some really progressive tracks that almost nod back to their origins, and their first real attempts to integrate the burgeoning trip-hop genre into their music. (1999)

Tapping into the massive influence the internet was exerting over every aspect of life as the century and millennium began to turn (this album was released in October), this was possibly the album that should have come at just the right time to spark interest. Unfortunately, nobody outside the progressive rock world cared, and with the album being released on an independent label there was little chance it was going to become an impulse purchase for anyone. But it remains a fine example of their work, and opens with a dreamy Hogarth vocal backed by swirling synth and soft guitar until it kicks up on the basis of Rothery's harder guitar and Mosley's driving rhythm. “A legacy” is a good opener, but there's nothing really of the prog about it, and for my money you really have to wait for any of that till nearly the end of the album. It is worth waiting for though.

Oddly, many of the opening tracks would have made good singles and could have gained Marillion radio airtime, but none were released. This has a nice sort of mid-paced boogie feel to it, good vocal and it's quite catchy but you would definitely have to feel it's more towards the lower end of Marillion's songwriting spectrum. Interestingly, it's the only track on the album (and possibly ever) on which John Helmer writes the lyric solo, and there is no input from Steve Hogarth, who conversely writes the rest of the album's lyrics solo, apart from the closer, on which he has help again from Helmer. SO you could maybe blame the lack-of-progginess on Helmer, but then “Deserve” is another straight rock song and it's all Hogarth's work. Sure, his inimitable lyrics are there --- ”We get the dreams that we deserve/ The magazines that we deserve/ Page one and three that we deserve” --- but the song plays much more like something you'd have heard from REM. They even use sax again, only the third time ever in their career, which makes the song song even less Marillion-like. It's a fast rocker which hints back at the cult of celebrity, and even nods its head across the years to the Fish years, and “Garden party”. I also, to be fair, hear hints of Fish's solo “Big wedge” here.

The first ballad is where you start realising this actually is a Marillion album after all, with “Go” riding on a sort of shivering synth line from Mark Kelly, then a very Marillion guitar from Steve before Hogarth comes in with the vocal, quiet and reserved, a haunting sound that's hard not to pay attention to. Some lovely rippling piano is added as Mosley hits the cymbals with a shuddering hiss, and Hogarth remarks ”It only takes a fraction of a second/ To turn your life upside-down.” It's an interesting song, in that it really has no chorus. We go from verse one to a nice little soft guitar solo from Steve, which then hardens up and kind of snarls at you, then into verse two and then what could be regarded as the chorus I guess but is really just a refrain on which the song fades out: ”Wide awake on the edge of the world.”

“Rich” is a more uptempo, boppy song with a nice jangly upbeat piano driving it, but again it doesn't really say Marillion to me. Some lovely Fender Rhodes I believe underpinning the melody with some handclaps and kind of eighties new-wave synth, swirling effects and a catchy chorus with a nice motto ”To fall is not to fail/ Failure isn't about falling down/ Failure is staying down.” By contrast then “Enlightened” brings everything back to earth with the second ballad, almost ethereal synth and guitar line which recalls “Estonia” off This Strange Engine opening proceedings, ramping up for the chorus with a passionate vocal from Hogarth. Powerful and yet understated guitar solo from Rothery then it moves into its closing section, fading out slowly as it came in and leading into what many fans profess apparently to be one of the worst Marillion songs ever, but I really like it.

I mean, how can you not like a song with a title like “Built-in bastard radar”? It's another uptempo rocker, and explores the mystery of why women always go for the bad boys. Nice driving rock guitar from Rothery taking control, some little organ flourishes from Kelly and then Hogarth sings ”Guys who show how much they care/ Try hard to please but get nowhere/ You know that every girl on Earth/ Got built-in bastard radar!” And it's very true isn't it? One of life's mysteries, never to be solved. Treat em mean, keep 'em keen. Sorry, I'd rather be alone than act like that. The way the vocal is somewhat mechanised in parts adds to the sense of alienation perhaps of the “nice guys” who can't understand why women choose the bastards over them. Yeah, I like it, it's a good song and it's great fun. When Hogarth rolls his eyes and sings ”Thank God every woman knows/ It's piss and wind and fancy clothes/ That make a man a man/ Thank God for built-in bastard radar!” you just have to laugh at the irony of it all.

The song ends on a slowly descending organ which then merges with a sublime little guitar line as for me, the album finally starts to get going, and it makes a strong showing at the end with three amazing little tracks. “Tumble down the years” is a delightful bittersweet romp through memories and love, with a very catchy hook all through it. Hogarth remembers as he sings ”I took her hand and said/ Let's go together/ You and me against the world” and then goes on to recount the way hope like that, the first blush of romance and infatuation, and all those plans and dreams, slowly fade away and vanish --- ”Down the years/ We disappeared.”

The album then really picks up steam for the big finish, with two epics closing it out, and the lack of prog rock is firmly addressed as we head into “Interior lulu”. I've tried to find out what the title means but without success, and I have not been able to discern it from the lyric, so if you know please end my misery and tell me. It begins on a slick little bass line from Pete and a guitar line that would not be out of place on a Tom Waits song, sort of bongo style percussion and a soft vocal from Hogarth against now just the rhythm section. Kelly comes in with some Fender Rhodes and fades back out, leaving Rothery to take over before he joins back in again with a nice piano melody. The song, one of the longest Marillion have written, runs for over fifteen minutes, and at a length such as that, you would expect it to go through some changes. You would not be disappointed. In the fourth minute it explodes on a big guitar assault and organ flurry, as well as a thunderous attack on the drums before it drops down to a slow, almost melancholic, very dramatic guitar solo well into the fifth, which for me brings back the days of Script for a Jester's Tear.

Hogarth comes back in with a strained vocal then, backed by howling synth and chimy guitar as the melody pulls into a harder, more intense vein and we move into another instrumental, this time taken by Kelly on the synth. Another Script-like solo in the eighth minute, also recalling “Berlin”, then “Man of a thousand faces” peeks through on acoustic guitar as the song takes another shift before descending on a drony, eerie synth line with echoes of “Forgotten sons” leaking through, and a very it must be said Genesis synth backing with dark keys shrouding the tune. We're now in the tenth minute. Hogarth breathes ”We rejoice in being connected without touching/ Thank God for the internet!” and then at the sound of a storm Rothery grabs the melody by the scruff and nods to Kelly, who both then head off at a gallop, taking the song towards its conclusion.

Like the previous song, this one fades out in a long instrumental and slips very slowly and neatly into the next one, the closer, and one of my very favourite Hogarth-era songs ever. Marillion have done ballads before of course, but never as good as this. “House” rises on a gorgeous piano line and shimmering guitar, taking the best of Massive Attack and laying their own sound over it, drawing the stark image of a man left alone after his wife has left him --- ”After so much noise/ Freedom is silence/ Half the house is missing/ Taking half of me with it” --- as he wanders the now-so-huge home they used to share and tries to come to terms with being its only occupant.

I don't know if this is all Hogarth's lyrical genius or if Helmer had much to do with it (this being the only other song on the album he's involved in) but lines like ”Our eyes stare out/ While we hide inside” just strike such a chord with me, and bring home (hah) the utter desolation left in the wake of a divorce (maybe a death? But I think she just left him) and the refrain ”Looking at it not seeing it” really underlines this. Some excellent trumpet from Neil Yates and a final plea ”We built this house on solid ground/ Now it's crumbling, tumbling down/ Will nobody even cry for help/ As it slowly collapses into itself?” just bring tears to my eyes, as it does now. A stupendous closer, and if the rest of the album was as good as this and the previous two tracks it would be a lot higher on my personal list of favourite Marillion recordings.

As it is, it's not as if these songs save the album, but without them it would be something of a rather ordinary rock album. With them, it's more what we expect, and should be able to expect, another great Marillion album.


1. A legacy
2. Deserve
3. Go!
4. Rich
5. Enlightened
6. Built-in bastard radar

7. Tumble down the years
8. Interior lulu
9. House

As their final release on Castle, or indeed any label not controlled by them, this is a pretty special album. The pristine production is helped by having Porcupine Tree supremo Steven Wilson along for the ride, and though Stewart Every is here again, he's only credited as sound engineer, which ties in with what Hogarth was saying about the previous album; the main producer is shown as Marillion, with Wilson co-credited. The next album, as I mentioned, would be totally fan-funded and continue their progress towards a more commercial sound, but despite that would fail entirely to even enter the charts, as did this one.

But then, when have Marillion ever been about charting the single?
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Old 07-29-2015, 07:34 PM   #2738 (permalink)
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And so we come to what I like to think of as Marillion's Abacab, their most commercial and poppy sounding album, and one on which they strove to do almost away with the progressive rock influence that had stubbornly clung on to their music for the past decade, despite their attempts to move in new directions. I have mixed feelings about this album. I do like it, but it's not top high on my list, and I feel that Marillion almost gave the finger to the fans, if not consciously then certainly subconsciously. They seemed to be saying “there's more to us than a progressive rock band or a Genesis clone”, but they had already proven this with the release of by this point eleven fine albums, some of them real classics. Why they felt the need to turn away from prog rock in the sort of manner that many heavy metal bands would at some point thrust their metaphorical hands in their equally metaphorical pockets, sulk and mumble that they weren't a heavy metal band, is kind of beyond me.

Steve Hogarth did say at one point “that's your label, not ours” when referring to prog rock, but with the greatest respect to him, he wasn't there when Fish and the lads were building their reputation, their success and their fanbase on progressive rock, and nobody said then that they were something else. Perhaps it was okay when they were in the vanguard of a new revival, but as progressive rock began to slide somewhat back into the shadows and fall out of favour again, the word may have become tainted for Hogarth and the band. But they should all remember that it was from one of Marillion's most proggy records, and indeed their most successful ever, that their biggest hit singles and the one they will always be remembered for and linked with came. It just strikes me as something of a slap in the face to be told “Marillion don't consider themselves prog.” I know every band has to develop and nobody wants to stagnate and stand still, but you still need to remember where you came from.

Which is something that, largely, I believe Marillion forgot on this one.

Anoraknophobia (2001)

(Note: if anyone cares enough to wonder why I've given this album a "Love" rating overall, when I go on to bitch so much about it below, well, what do you expect? I'm a Marillion fanboy! Even their worst album I consider to be better than some by other bands. With one possible exception...)

For a band so savvy about their self-image, marketing and branding, Marillion made two huge mistakes I believe here, music aside. Out of nowhere, so far as I can see, they acquired a mascot, a logo, a symbol for their music. Here he is, standing with all his mates on the front of the album, and they call him Barry. What Barry has to do with Marillion is anyone's guess. From 1982 to 1987 they relied on the Jester as a sort of trademark figure, then for a few albums (well, one) they retained the Marillion logo before ditching that. Fair enough I guess, you're starting out somewhat afresh and you don't want to be associated with the trappings of the past. Move on. But not only did Barry only appear on this one album and never again --- and never be associated, as far as I know, with the brand after that --- he also bears a rather striking resemblance to Kenny from South Park, doesn't he?

So much so, that when I brought the album into work one day and someone saw the CD they thought it was a disc of South Park tunes. When I told them it was Marillion, I was greeted with the inevitable “who?” and I didn't even bother to mention “Kayleigh”. I wasn't surprised nobody knew who they were. I wasn't surprised that they thought the character was Kenny. What I was surprised by was how the resemblance to an already-established cult figure could go unnoticed by Marillion, and also how, to some degree, Trey and his buddy didn't sue them for ripping off their copyrighted work. I guess they dodged that bullet.

But using “Barry” as their new mascot confused me. Who the fuck was this guy? Did he figure in a song on the album? No. Was he your guide around the artwork inside? No. Was he in the videos? I don't know, but I'm gonna say no. Was there anyone in Marillion called Barry? No. So where the fuck did he come from? I suppose as he's technically wearing an anorak on the sleeve (though it's really more of a duffle coat) that might go some way towards tying in with the figure. I'm sure there's some explanation for him on the Marillion website somewhere, but it's been revamped and I think they're as anxious to forget old Barry as I certainly was from the moment I saw him. I didn't like him, I didn't respond to him and I didn't identify with him. So before I had even heard any music I was already in a bad frame of mind vis a vis this album.

Did it turn out to be as bad as I thought it might be? Well, yes and no. It's not the worst Marillion album, but it is a close second. Again there's a lot of the attempt to ditch not only prog music but prog themes, with more mundane, earthy concepts, which I'll get into in due course. IN the press release to accompany the album, and to try of course to further distance themselves from the idea of being a progressive rock band, or at least only a progressive rock band, Marillion challenged reviewers to write their articles using none of the following words: Progressive rock. Genesis. Fish. Concept album. Dinosaurs. Predictable. Heavy Metal. I will now try to tackle each one of these in relation to this album. Here goes:

Progressive rock: despite Marillion's attempt to betray or abandon the core sound and the principles on which their music was founded, there is some progressive rock in here, but less than in the previous outing.

Genesis: Like the band they have been compared to for at this point twenty years, Marillion have followed Genesis and created their own Abacab

Fish: Fish would have hated this, and were he still with Marillion it's very doubtful they would have gone in this direction.

Concept Album: This is not a concept album.

Dinosaurs: Dinosaurs are cool, and I am looking forward to Jurassic World

Heavy Metal: (?) Marillion never were, never could be and never will be even spoken of in the same breath as the words Heavy Metal.

Predictable: It was predictable this album would sell very poorly, despite the pre-orders.

So, that's that then. On with the review.

It starts off very promisingly, with a lovely progressive rock style sad piano intro from Kelly, then Rothery's guitar kicks in and we're kind of in “A Legacy” territory, with another uptempo rocker. “Between you and me” is very much a jangly, guitar-driven song, and anyone who thought this might be a return to prog rock is generally disappointed here, although this is by no means a bad song. I actually really like it; it's just that it continues the trend Marillion were pursuing around this time away from what I regarded as their core sound, trying to appeal to a more commercial, radio-friendly market, and after seven albums of this, with some notable exceptions, it should have been clear this direction was leading them nowhere.

The song changes in the middle on a slow guitar and piano with what could be violins or cellos, probably synth-created, and it does contain one of my favourite lines on the album in ”Feeling like a kid/ Swinging on Heaven's gate/ With no God to complain/ Or point the finger of blame”. It then slides back into the fast guitar melody and continues more or less that way to the end, with some fine organ being added by Kelly, and ending on a sprightly little solo from Rothery. I actually like “Quartz” a whole lot more. It has a deeper progressive feel about it, starting on a very sleazy, jazzy bass line and slow, measured percussion before the vocal comes in, the song being a depiction of the vast differences between two people, enshrined in the lines ”I'm clockwork and you're quartz”. Very clever. Nice Genesisesque (sorry guys but it is) slow rising synth line underpinning the melody, reminds me of that band's self-titled brief return to form in 1983.

After driving the previous song, Steve Rothery is a little more restrained in his guitar histrionics here, sort of emulating Andy Summers on “Walking on the moon”, with the track mostly riding on Trewavas's almost mesmerising bass and Kelly's keyboard flourishes. Here though in a very inadvisable move Hogarth decides to, um, rap. Yeah. It does not end well. Still, it introduces a sublime little guitar passage with some again very Genesis keyboards from Mark. Also some very passionate and achingly yearning vocals from our man Steve. A whole lot better, even given the godawful rap. What were they thinking?

Things continue to improve with “Map of the world”, which, although it hasn't got a prog bone in its body, is still a very decent rock song, taking again a more earthy approach to the lyrics, as we listen to the plans of a girl to save up her money and go around the world, seeing all the places she has never seen before. A far cry from Fish's anti-heroine in “Chelsea Monday”, some twenty years previous! Another really nice strings accompaniment from Kelly, but again the song exists on the guitar of Steve Rothery. Some good lines: ”The lights of the city/ Pushin' a good time/ Are asking her out tonight”. Ultimately though the song is a little straightforward and again you could hear any rock band singing it; it just hasn't got the special Marillion touch about it that I tend to look for from their music.

So far, so not so bad. Now we get one of the absolute standouts, as the first ballad, but so much more than that, hits in the shape of “When I meet God”. Opening on a soft orchestral style line with sharp yet gentle guitar as Hogarth asks ”If the bottle is no solution/ Why does it feel so warm?/ And if that girl is no solution/ Why did she feel so warm?” It's a desperate plea for there to be something, someone, anything to make sense of this world, as he promises ”When I meet God/ I'm gonna ask her/ What makes her cry?/ What makes her laugh?” and asks ”Why do the gods/ Sit back and watch/ So many lost/ What kind of mother/ Leaves a child in the traffic/ Turning tricks in the dark?”

It's a beautiful, fragile, stark and heartbreaking song with its open honesty and its raw emotion, and possibly one of the greatest accomplishments of the post-Fish era. It's really that good. It gets me every time, especially the newsclips that fade out over the end, one of the discovery of the body of Sarah Payne, another of the crash of Concorde. Had they made this album a few months later, no doubt 9/11 would have been one of those clips. A beautiful midsection is driven by soft guitar and a voice saying “Don't do that/ Stay in”. It's something of a slight return to form for Marillion, the song one of the three epics on the album, edging over the nine-minute mark.

Sadly, after that it really takes a nose dive, only slightly rescued by the penultimate track. “The fruit of the wild rose” does nothing for me, with its slow bluesy/funky guitar and its seventies organ. There's nothing really wrong with it I guess, I just have never liked it. The construction of the song seems a little off to me. What the hell would I know? True. But if there's one track on this album I really don't like then this is it. I particularly hate the way it ends. “Separated out” has a lot more balls, though it opens with a pretty disturbing clip from one of those movies about carnival freaks, and indeed ends with another. It's a hard-rocking guitar track, though honestly what it's about I have no idea, unless it's simply the idea of being alienated because you're different. It certainly has a lot of energy and Kelly gives it his all on the synth, though he does rob a descending riff from “Light my fire”. The vocal I feel could be stronger, and the chant ”We accept her/ One of us! One of us!/ Gooble gobble!” (or something) is just weird and offputting to me.

Making a valiant effort to save the album, as I said, “This is the 21st century” brings back in those trip-hop influences we first heard in “House” on the previous album, with a nice whistling keyboard line and a dark guitar sound that really suits the track. It's slow, but I wouldn't call it a ballad: the melody is far too ominous and dramatic for that, and the lyric concerns the woes of the world, as Hogarth sings ”A wise man once said/ That everything could be explained/ With mathematics” and ”The universe demystified/ Chemicals for gods”. There's a real shimmering synth line winding through the melody, echoey and hollow sounding, which gives it a kind of ethereal feel. Hogarth's vocal is really up to snuff here as he wails ”I cried 'What's it all about?'/ And she kissed my hair/ She said 'There, there...'”

It's by far the longest song on the album at just over eleven minutes and in ways I hear snatches of “Out of the blue” from Afraid of Sunlight here in places. Great extended instrumental ending, but then it all comes crashing down with a bang as they close with the distinctly sub-par “If my heart were a ball it would roll uphill”. What? I have seriously tried several times to listen to this song but I still couldn't tell you how it goes. I'm just bored by it. Okay, so there's a powerful guitar opening with strong percussion in a sort of slow blues/boogie rhythm and an impressive rising vocal from Hogarth, but it's just never impressed me as a song, and as a closer it's weak and limpwristed and does nothing for the album, which seriously already needs all the help it can get. I do like the idea that they throw in the line ”She was only dreaming” which attends the fadeout of “Chelsea Monday” on Script for a Jester's Tear (never noticed that before; see? I told you I couldn't listen to the song all the way through) and a sort of dark synth with a military rolling beat finishes the song off as Hogarth becomes a parody of Michael Hutchence or something. Again, it ends badly and leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.


1. Between you and me
2. Quartz
3. Map of the world
4. When I meet God

5. The fruit of the wild rose
6. Separated out
7. This is the 21st century
8. If my heart were a ball it would roll uphill

I feel that here, Marillion kind of reached their creative nadir. No, that's completely unfair. This is not a terrible album by any means. But it does contain probably the least amount of tracks per album that I enjoyed, with quite a lot of what I would have to regard as filler, and that's not normal procedure for a Marillion album. It struggles to maintain my interest as it goes along; starts well, dips rather badly, recovers partially and then drops over a cliff. It's unfortunate that they didn't switch the last two tracks, as if the last song I had heard listening to this had been “This is the 21st century” I might have been better disposed towards forgiving some of the sub-par material here. But you basically (or I do anyway) tend to judge an album, initially anyway, on its closing track as this is the one you will be humming to yourself afterwards, and I can't even hum “If my heart were a ball if would roll uphill”.

This album could have been great if three tracks had been left off and one or two other better ones added. As it is, the bad tends to drag down the good, and there really isn't enough excellent material to countermand that. They had stated at the release of the album that they wanted to create something totally different to anything they had written before, and they certainly did. Unfortunately, it seems to me that they were just a little too clever this time, and kind of outsmarted themselves.

Oh, and fuck Barry. And they did. He never again appeared on any Marillion sleeve or remained connected with the band, from what I saw. Good riddance to the little cunt.
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Old 08-09-2015, 10:26 AM   #2739 (permalink)
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Perhaps oddly, this will be the last in the discography. It's not their last album, but it's followed by Somewhere else which I reviewed already here Somewhere Else , then Happiness is the road, one of the first albums I ever reviewed, you can read that here Happiness is the Road. Less is more was released in 2009, and no I haven't reviewed that (or indeed, if I'm honest, listened to it) but as it's a collection of acoustic covers of some of their material I feel there would probably be little I could say about it, having already covered the songs on their various albums. Their final album to date, 2012's Sounds that can't be made has been extensively reviewed by me of course, and it's available here Sounds That Can't Be Made.

So this then is in fact the last Marillion album I'll be reviewing.

Marbles (2004)

The album came in single and double-disc formats, and though I purchased the latter I was intending to review the former, due to one song on this which I absolutely hate. But if I do that, I miss out on reviewing other songs I really like, which are not on the single edition. So I'll have to stick with doing the double. You'll know the song when I get to it, I can assure you.

It's not this one though. There's a big thick bass and a sort of ominous moaning guitar to introduce “The Invisible Man”, a laconic vocal from Hogarth perhaps giving the image of someone who has lost his place in the world, in society. There's a lot of desperation in the lyric, and it seems to confirm a man who has lost his lover, possibly died, and has to watch her with someone else, powerless to do anything about it. Maybe he has literally become invisible, possibly though the removal of the affection of his lover? Hard to say. But it's a good opener, and a very long one, at over thirteen minutes. Again, perhaps Brave to start an album off on such an epic, but I think at this stage Marillion know the kind of people who are going to buy their albums; they're not courting the casual, pop-chart-obsessed kids, nor the impulse purchaser. Anyone who wants this album is a true fan and will forgive, even be perhaps expecting this kind of indulgence.

In fairness, it's not just that length to fill up time; the song goes through some changes along the way as the title character relates his story, getting more and more desperate as it proceeds, and at the end just seems to fade away. Some really expressive guitar work from Steve Rothery, as Mark Kelly's swirling synths flow all around him, like smoke or mist. Halfway through it slows down to almost a crawl then comes thundering back in on Ian Mosley's steam-engine drumming and Pete Trewavas's steady bass which began the track. You can almost feel the invisible man's heart quickening, beating faster and more panicky as he realises nobody can see him, accompanied by keys from Kelly which mirror Genesis's classic “Watcher of the skies” from thirty years ago. A really nice expressive guitar solo from Rothery now as we head into the final two minutes, and then Kelly takes the tune on Cavesque piano before we move into the big finish.

This album contains four short tracks labelled “Marbles I-IV”, which seem to look back to Hogarth's childhood, much as he did on the title track to This Strange Engine. Each of these lasts for no more than two minutes, and the first one, “Marbles I” is a nice piano-driven piece with a short lyric about, well, losing marbles, before we head into “Genie”, which has a nice almost nursery-rhyme sort of rhythm (though why the lyric is ”I let the genie out of the box” rather than the bottle, the traditional vessel genii are meant to be found in, I don't know) and seems to address the choices we make in our lives, and the reasons we make, or don't make decisions. It has a really nice melody, but to be completely fair it can't hold a candle to some of the standouts on the album, one of which is next.

“Fantastic place” opens on a soft piano line joined by some lovely guitar, and forms the first ballad on the album. There's a lot of Afraid of Sunlight here I feel, and it's very definitely built on the post-Fish sound, with a really laidback, relaxed theme, and the desire just to leave everything behind and go somewhere where you don't have to worry about anything, where there is no pressure, no responsibility, no work, no decisions to be made. Sure we've all felt like that from time to time. A really orchestral keyboard line leads the song, with Rothery's contributions more minimal really until near the end, when he lays down a really nice passage to take the song out. Great as that song is, it's actually followed by one as good, or better, as we get “The only unforgivable thing”, with a very abstract lyric but a lovely rolling melody again, this time driven on Rothery's sublime guitar work, backed up by fine organ from Kelly.

It's in fact a second ballad in a row, and gives Hogarth a chance to really put the passion into his vocal that he can, and he does not disappoint. The song has no real chorus, just verse after verse, and each of these begins with the title. It mostly maintains the same melody structure throughout, and yet manages to be one of the absolute standouts on the album. It leads into “Marbles II”, which picks up the story from the first part on a rolling little piano line as Hogarth talks about the marbles collection he had as a child. Bit more uptempo this time, and then we hit that goddamn track.

“Ocean cloud” drives me mad. Not only is it terrible, it's almost eighteen minutes long! Now, I'm just going to exercise my veto here and not listen to it or describe it. I see no reason why I should waste just short of twenty minutes talking about and listening to a song I completely despise. It just does my head in. So on we go. We're now on disc two and this opens with “Marbles III”, which again is piano driven, but in quite a different way. A soft, swaying kind of rhythm and quite frankly a lyric I do not pretend to understand. For me, after that, the album dips slightly, with “The damage” sounding to me too much like a George Harrison song, with extra Jeff Lynne for good measure. It's just not one I like, and it recycles lyrics from “The Genie”, which I feel is lazy, unless there's meant to be a link between the two, which is something I have yet to figure out. It is the first time Marillion really rock out on this album (the awful “Ocean cloud” excepted; we're pretending that doesn't exist) but I really feel it's a letdown after what has so far been a really great run. There's a kind of acoustic REM feel to “Don't hurt yourself”, and again it's not one of my favourites, but it is a lot better than the previous track.

The next one actually became their first hit single in nearly twenty years, as “You're gone” hit number seven in the charts. Actually, once again Marillion shot themselves in the foot vis a vis the album charting. Having learned nothing from including a sticker with the previous album and thereby disqualifying it from chart inclusion, they did the same this time, so that even though the sales of Marbles were enough to lift it into the top thirty, it could not be counted because of the damn stickers. Again. Jesus guys! Get it together, huh? The song? Oh yeah it's okay but it's kind of like something off Holidays in Eden and I can't see how it was such a big hit. Not begrudging them the success of course, but there are tracks here which would have make so much better singles. But there you go.

Another ballad comes next, and there's a sort of flashback to “Forgotten sons”, as we hear a radio being tuned, various stations coming and going before the listener settles for the sound of Steve Hogarth singing, and “Angelina” indeed concerns a female radio presenter, who seems to be something of a sex symbol as Hogarth remarks ”Get off on Angelina /Lonely man's best friend.” The song has a lovely laidback blues feel which I feel owes a lot to Dire Straits in the guitar work, with some shimmering and swirling keys floating around, and really gives you the idea of just kicking back and listening to late night radio. I would say the best ballad on the album, but it's a close run thing. There seem to be female vocals but they're not credited so I have no idea who is guesting. Some really beautiful laidback guitar here for certain.

That leads us to “Drilling holes”, which just provides Hogarth with some great opportunities for clever wordplay, as in the first line, ”A man came to drill some holes in the afternoon/ And by the evening, most of the afternoon was gone”. It's hard not to see a Beatles influence here, circa Sgt Peppers, and the song has a nice sort of psychedelic rhythm and melody to it, with Hogarth more or less shouting the lyric over the music, though it breaks down into some really nice instrumental passages along the way. At the end it seems to be just more or less a celebration of being able to be with your friends in “unimportant moments” that you remember long after they've gone. “Marbles IV” completes the quartet with shortest of the four, again piano driven with some nice guitar, and takes us to the closer.

“Neverland” is another epic, clocking in at over twelve minutes, which I think makes this the first Marillion album to begin and end with tracks over ten minutes each. It opens with a sweeping strings synth and a soft vocal which then dovetails with a lovely slow piano, percussion pounding in then as Hogarth seems to take the persona of Peter Pan (hence the title) and proceeds to adult-up the tale, while at the same time creating one of the best and most enduring of his songs, and surely a favourite among the Marillion camp for years to come. Some aching guitar work from Rothery, driving the final section of the song, as Hogarth takes the odd step of stretching out each line of the verse, repeating it in an echo, so that you get ”Wen-Wen-Wen-Wen-Wendy, Stand-stand-standing in the kitch-kitch-kitchen..” etc. It's very effective and a great way to close the song, with some lovely Fish-era keyboard work too from Kelly. A superb closer to a really excellent album.


1. The invisible man
2. Marbles I
3. Genie
4. Fantastic place
5. The only unforgivable thing

6. Marbles II
7. Ocean cloud

1. Marbles III
2. The damage
3. Don't hurt yourself
4. You're gone

5. Angelina
6. Drilling holes
7. Marbles IV
8. Neverland

This was pretty much the album that restored my faith in the band after the somewhat overly commercial Anoraknophobia, then they went and released Somewhere else three years later and my faith was again tested. Since then it's been a bit of a struggle, but I think they've managed to steady the ship and the last few releases have certainly shown a band returning to the top of their game. This however in one way marked the pinnacle of a period that began with Brave and lasted right up to about the time was released.

So that's the end of our Marillion discography. If you're one of the two people who've been reading it I hope you enjoyed it, and that I managed to get across just why I love this band so much. If you've been patiently waiting for me to get this out of my system so I can get back to other entries in this journal, then your wish has been granted, as we'll be moving in a totally different direction for the next entry.

Thanks for sticking with me, if you did, and don't forget there's still the Genesis discography to come later in the year. Who groaned? Frownland, is that you?
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Old 09-28-2015, 07:18 PM   #2740 (permalink)
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And God said... Let there be light!

Then Satan said: "Fuck that! Let there be METAL!"

And so it was, evermore...

Three Days To Go....
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