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Old 04-27-2011, 02:18 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Playlist of Life --- Trollheart's resurrected Journal

Yes, I was here before, spouting on about everything under the sun with a musical bent, but that was years ago and my Journal has, sadly, somewhat like my life, turned to dust, so here I am again, with version 2.0.

The first album that really "grabbed" me was Genesis's double-live "Seconds out", from which I gleaned my first taste of this band, as I had heard nothing prior to that, other than a scratchy cassette copy of "Foxtrot", and not much of that.

From this album I also learned the rather canny (to me) lesson that if you wanted to check out a band or artist and knew little about them, a live album was a pretty good way to decide whether or not you might be into them. It worked with Supertramp, Bob Seger, Dire Straits and more. It was, at a time when we had no real Internet to speak of, and certainly You Tube was still gestating in whatsisname's brain, as indeed was itunes in the mind of its creator, a good way to decide whether or not you liked an artist before shelling out what at the time would have been a lot of money on his, her or their repertoire. Needless to say, after listening to "Seconds out" I made it my business to buy the whole Genesis back catalogue (yes, even "Genesis to Revelation"!), though money was scarce back then so it took me some time.

So, in deference to the effect that album had on me, and its role in basically pushing me towards other bands of the ilk of Genesis, I'd like to present here a review of that double-live offering. Yes, I'm sure you have all listened to it inside out and know all there is to know about it, but you'll find that what I intend to do here anyway is just review albums that are not in any way new (though some may be), but which mean a lot to me, or which just had a particular effect on me. Also, my tastes are a lttle eclectic (though compared to the likes of Jackhammer they're positively humdrum!), so you can expect to see anything reviewed here from rock to metal to pop to classical and even instrumental, soundtracks maybe, the likes of Vangelis or Gandalf, even Country for godssake! Basically, if I like it, I won't be pigeonholing it, but it will be a candidate for review. Comments and suggestions are of course welcome.

So, without further ado, and about three years since my last entries, here we go with the first offering in my new journal. Hope you like it!

Seconds Out --- Genesis --- 1978 (Live) (Charisma)

I love the darkness of the sleeve for this album! It's very broody, full of stagelights and dry ice, the band shadowy figures in the foreground, almost dwarfed by the huge stage. Definitely gives you the sense that something big and dramatic is going on here, and so it proves, as the cheering dies down and is replaced by the opening strains of "Squonk" blasting across the stage. It's an interesting start: I didn't know it at the time of course, but it's the opener to 1976 classic "A Trick of the Tail", and it pounds its way across the stage, Phil Collins in fine form as he belts out lines like "In season, out of season / What's the difference when you don't know the reason?" and "All the while, in perfect time/ Your tears are falling on the ground / But if you don't stand up you don't stand a chance".

The cheering has barely died down after the powerful ending (on "Trick" the song fades out, which I was somewhat disappointed to hear when I got around to listening to the album, some time later) before the mood changes as the much more subtle, slower and almost classical in feel "Carpet crawlers" comes drifting in like a babbling brook, carried on the twin melodies of Steve Hackett's twelve-string and Tony Banks's electric piano, creating a lush backdrop against which Collins lays an understated, almost mumbling vocal to create one of the standouts from the band's first real concept album of the time, "The Lamb lies down on Broadway".

Of course it's all edited after the gig, but the juxtapositioning of the next track, also from "Trick" --- unsurprising, as they were touring to promote both that album and "Wind and wuthering", which came out in the same year, 1976 --- seems just right, as the jaunty "Robbery, Assault and Battery" toe-taps its way across the stage. I must admit, this has never been one of my favourite Genesis songs, being what I would call a frivilous track, where I preferred my Genesis laced with heavy doses of pomp, imagery and drama, but it's a crowd-pleaser, and you can clearly hear them all clapping along as Collins leads them in the verses. Slowing down then for the closer to side one (yes, records --- not CDs! --- had TWO sides, and a double album would of course have four. You had to flip it over to continue: no "shuffle" or "repeat play" in MY day!), taken from the other aforementioned album, "Wind and wuthering", "Afterglow" is a perfect set closer and just the sort of song to wind down to, I imagine, after you've bopped all over the place to "Robbery"! Always one of my favourite Genesis songs, the extended ending really did it for me, and again I was annoyed later to find out that it fades out much more quickly on the studio album.

And so, the cheering fades out and the needle lifts (whaddya mean, get on with it, Grandad??!!!) and so ends side one. Flip it over and the first thing to burst through is the power chords from "Firth of Fifth", sans, as I was to later find out, this time to my joy, the exquisite piano intro. A powerful track in its own right though, and with not that much in the way of lyrics. Most of the track is instrumental, going through some time signature changes as it progresses, and ending in a rousing finale, before fading out on Banks's tinking ivories, to again rapturous applause.

The album was recorded on the Paris leg of the tour (which is interesting for me, as the next live album I got was Supertramp's "Paris" --- guess where that was recorded?) and featured, apart from the main band lineup some stalwart session and support personnel, who would follow Genesis and even later their solo careers into the next few decades. People like Daryl Stuermer on guitar, Chester Thompson on drums and even the great Bill Bruford! Sadly, by now Peter Gabriel, driving force behind the band's early success, had left to pursue a solo career, and indeed this album would also mark the last performances of Steve Hackett with Genesis; he would also go on to forge a moderate solo career.

The next track up is a reworking of one of their hit singles, from "Selling England by the Pound", which many consider Genesis's best album (though not me). "I know what I like (in your wardrobe)" is accompanied by much audience participation and has the truly weirdest lyric I had ever heard, with lines like "When the sun beats down and I lie on my bench/ I can always hear them talk / Me? I'm just a lawnmower/ You can tell me by the way I walk." It also veers off in the middle into what is basically the ending of "Stagnation", from their very early "Trespass" album, then powers up manically for a thundering finish, before the opening strains of the title track to “The Lanb” drift through the air. I have to say, having heard that for the first time, it really made me want to hear the whole album --- no bad thing, as this of course turned out to be one amazing record! The end of “The Lamb” then segues perfectly into “The Musical Box”, or at least the closing section. This track appears on “Nursery cryme” in its entireity, and really has to be heard to be properly appreciated. But the closing section played here was an excellent ending to the first record, and rises from a quiet, understated opening to a thundering conclusion, elciting roars of approval from the lucky crowd.

And so ends side two, and record one.
But if I had thought, up to then, that I had experienced Genesis live, I was about to be corrected, and in no uncertain fashion! The ENTIRE third side of the album is taken up by one song, which runs for almost 24 minutes, and is the seminal Genesis classic epic, “Supper's ready”. Starting quietly and with disarming pastoral sounds, the song soon changes and over the course of the track runs thorugh more time signature changes and concepts in one song than many a band manage over an entire album! I just sat, transfixed, as the song unfolded before me like someone reading “Lord of the Rings” for the first time, and it just didn't seem to end! I had heard snippets of the original, sung by Peter Gabriel, and somehow it hadn't really got to me, but this version, sung by Collins, really opened my eyes to the song. To this day, I prefer the version off “Seconds Out” to the one off “Foxtrot”.

Footnote: YouTube footage of "Seconds Out" is hard to come by, so my apologies but the version of "Supper's ready" posted below is from 1973, with Peter Gabriel singing, but it will at least give you an idea what the song is like, if you haven't heard it...

And so to side four, and the last quarter of the concert. Opening with “The Cinema Show” from “Selling England by the Pound”, the song is given new life here, as on the original it faded out but here is extended and finishes powerfully, leaving two tracks from “Trick” to bring the album to a close, cleverly bookending “Trick of the tail” with the opening AND closing tracks, the sultry, powerful “Dance on a volcano” (featuring the obligatory drum solo) and winding up with the appropriately titled instrumental, “Los Endos”, which very cleverly loops around to the melody of “Squonk”, which kicked off the live album, giving what I now call the “Wall” effect, where you almost feel like you're going back around for another go right through the album, as in Pink Floyd's classic.

For anyone wanting to get into Genesis for the first time, “Seconds Out” is a great introduction to their early to mid period, from 1970 to 1976, and covers albums like “Trespass”, “Wind and Wuthering”, “Foxtrot”, “A Trick of the Tail”, as well as “The Lamb lies down on Broadway”, “Nursery Cryme” and “Selling England by the Pound.” Arguably this was their greatest period, before Steve Hackett left and the band became more or less a three-piece. Their next release was in 1978, the decidely more commercial (and aptly titled) “And then there were three”, and to be honest, though this was a good album they never really regained the true progressive rock roots that they showed on the aforementioned albums. “Seconds Out” is both a time-capsule of Genesis at their best, and in many ways, the end of an era.

1. Squonk
2. The carpet crawl
3. Robbery, assault and battery
4. Afterglow
5. Firth of Fifth
6. I know what I like (in your wardrobe)
7. The Lamb lies down on Broadway
8. The Musical Box (closing section)
9. Supper's ready
10. The Cinema Show
11. Dance on a volcano
12. Los Endos

Suggested further listening: "Trick of the tail", "Nursery cryme", "Foxtrot" "Wind and wuthering" by Genesis, plus the rest of their catalogue (!) "Three sides live" is another good live album of theirs.
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Old 04-27-2011, 04:59 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Welcome back!

“A cynic by experience, a romantic by inclination and now a hero by necessity.”
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Old 04-27-2011, 05:22 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Thanx man! Good to be back! Expect to hear a lot more from me in the coming days...

One thing: is there any reason why the YouTube tags won't work for me? Drp in your YT link, highlight/select and wrap the YT tags around it, should work, no? Anything I'm doing wrong, or has it all changed since I was last here?

Thx for any help!




The Adventures - The Sea of Love
a-ha - Analogue
Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe - Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe
Aslan - Feel No Shame
Axxis - Paradise in Flames
Balance of Power - Perfect Balance
Blackfoot - Marauder
Bon Jovi - These Days/Have a Nice Day
Bon Jovi - The Circle
Boston - Third Stage
Chris de Burgh - Crusader
The Cars - Door to Door
Nick Cave - No More Shall We Part
Diamond Head - Borrowed Time
The Divine Comedy - Casanova
Eagles - Long Road Out of Eden
Steve Earle - Copperhead Road
ELO - Out of the Blue
Agnetha Faltskog - I Stand Alone
Fish - Raingods with Zippos
Fleetwood Mac - Behind the Mask
Peter Gabriel - Us
Rory Gallagher - Photo-Finish
Genesis - Seconds Out
Glass Tiger - Diamond Sun
Nanci Griffith - Late Night Grande Hotel
Josh Groban - Closer
Heart - Brigade
Faith Hill - Cry
Hooters - One Way Home
Gary Hughes - Once and Future King, Parts 1 and 2
Iron Maiden - Brave New World
It Bites - Once Around the World
Jadis - Fanatic
Billy Joel - The Stranger
Journey - Arrival
Lana Lane - Lady MacBeth
Marillion - Happiness is the Road
Millenium - Hourglass
The Moody Blues - Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
Mostly Autumn - Storms Over Still Water
Narnia - Long Live the King
Night Ranger - Dawn Patrol
Pandora's Box - Original Sin
Alan Parsons - On Air
Pendragon - Believe
Pink Floyd - The Division Bell
Gerry Rafferty - Night Owl
Rainbow - Rising
Chris Rea - Water Sign
Savatage - The Wake of Magellan
Bob Seger - Like a Rock
Shadow Gallery - Tyranny/Room V
Silent Edge - The Eyes of the Shadow
Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
Ten - Babylon
The Ten Tenors - Here's to the Heroes
The The - Mind Bomb
Thin Lizzy - Thunder and Lightning
Threshold - Subsurface
Tiamat - Judas Christ
Twelfth Night - Fact and Fiction
Tygers of Pan-Tang - Wild Cat
Judie Tzuke - The Cat is Out
Vangelis - Oceanic
Tom Waits - Small Change
Jeff Wayne - Musical Version of "The War of the Worlds"
Robbie Williams - Escapology


The Secret Life of the Album Cover: Script For a Jester's Tear by Marillion
The Secret Life of the Album Cover: Still Got the Blues by Gary Moore
Taking Centre Stage: Steve Earle
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Old 04-27-2011, 05:37 PM   #4 (permalink)
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All that needs to be wrapped in the tags for the video to work is the string of characters at the end of the URL after v=
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Old 04-29-2011, 03:38 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Pedestrian View Post
All that needs to be wrapped in the tags for the video to work is the string of characters at the end of the URL after v=
Thanx for that: works fine now. Much obliged!
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Old 05-02-2011, 09:58 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Default The Great Album Cover Quiz

Posted this in the main Rock/Metal forum yesterday, but for some reason it's not there today?
So trying again through my journal.

Can you recognise famous (and not-so-famous) album covers when the titles and artiste have been removed? Try my quiz and see!


Post here, in the main forum or email for any hints or with any questions/comments you have,


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Old 05-03-2011, 09:36 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Default The upside of judging a book (or record) by its cover: discovering a fearless heart.

Copperhead Road --- Steve Earle --- 1988 (MCA)
Sometimes you just take a chance. I've occasionally bought books whose cover just drew me in, so much so that I never bothered flipping them over to read the synopsis. Sometimes that's worked, sometimes not. There haven't been too many occasions though where I bought an album without knowing anything at all about the artiste, but that was exactly what happened the day I walked into Tower Records in Dublin and set my eyes on the sleeve of Steve Earle's “Copperhead Road” album.

Steve who, you say? Never heard of him! Me neither. Not then anyway. I had absolutely zero idea who he was, what sort of music he played, even if he was a he, and not some sort of euphemism for a band name! But that sleeve! You just couldn't help but be drawn to it. Hell, for all I knew, the guy (if he was a guy!) could have played grunge or disco or even classical, but the message on the album cover did not bespeak that. A snarling, grinning skull-and-crossbones stared out of what looked like a patch on a US Special Forces jacket, with Steve's name emblazoned above in yellow on red, and the album name in a sort of scroll undeneath, done in that sort of “Old Western” type. I flipped it over and looked at the back, One MEAN mofo looked out at me: a rough, tough sonofabitch with arms like tree-trunks covered in tattoos, long wild hair, wearing sunglasses and looking like he chewed beer-bottles for breakfast, standing in the midst of what was either an explosion or a dusty Texas road. Hell, you had to know this guy was tough, and his music would be raw, powerful and in-your-face.

I had to have the album!

And so I nervously slipped the disc out of its sleeve and onto the turntable, and the first sounds I heard were what sounded like bagpipes to me, but on checking now I think maybe violin? Anyway, not the thunderous reassurance I had expected or hoped for, Mister Earle! What are you DOING to me?

But then the first few bars went by, and the violin cut off, to be pounded into submission by stomping drums, and a banjo, bass, and then that growl which I learned to love and respect, the kind of voice you can only get from twenty or thirty years' hard drinkin' and smokin'. The kind of gravelly, raspy but attention-getting rasp that can only be found in the bottom of many bottles of Jack Daniels, chain-smokin' your way to Hell astride a Harley and laughin' in the face of the Devil hisself! The voice of Steve Earle, snarling “My name's John Lee Pettimore/Same as my daddy and his daddy before”.

Disco this was not!

Even at that though, the title track (for such it was) lopes along at a relatively sedate pace, sort of like an army marching, but you just sort of know that it's building to something, and when Steve growls “You could smell the whiskey burnin' down Copperhead Road!” the song just takes off, with the drums hammering out and laying down covering fire while Steve charges into battle with his band, and the song powers to its breathelss conclusion. As Cartman would say, sweet!

The song is, as I would find out later, like most of Steve's songs, quite politically-charged. I'm not entirely sure where Steve's political loyalties lie, if anywhere, but I have learned that he vehemently opposes the death penalty, and is very much against war in general, particularly the current “war for profit” of the Bush administration, and one would have to say, the following Obama one too, so far. “Copperhead Road” tells the story of a Vietnam vet who comes back from the war and sets up a drug-still where his grandfather used to make moonshine: “I take the seeds from Columbia and Mexico/ I just plant 'em in the holler down Copperhead Road.” Indeed, the song ends with a warning to the DEA, as Steve snarls “I learned a thing or two from Charlie, don't ya know/ You better stay away from Copperhead Road!” I'd heed his advice!

No sooner have you got your breath back than he's off again, this time again fooling with a honky-tonk piano line that then quickly morphs into heavy gee-tar and thumping drums, as “Snake oil” assails the ears, the tale of those conmen of old (and not so old) who would sell the unsuspecting --- and the downright stupid! --- a cure for anything they needed, as long as they had the cash. “Snake oil” gets into the political vibe too, with Steve quipping “Ain't your president good to you? / Knocked 'em dead in Libya. Grenada too/ Now he's taking his show a little further down the line/ Between me and him, people/ You're gonna get along just fine!” The honky-tonk piano keeps a great jangling beat right through the song, and it ends on a flourish on the piano, with Steve remarking in approval at the end “I knew there was a first-taker on this album somewhere!”

The heavy vibe keeps going for “Back to the wall”, a tough-talking, no-nonsense tale of being on your uppers: “Keep yourself to yourself/ Keep your bedroll dry / Boy you never can tell/ What the shadows hide/ Keep one eye on the ground/ Pick up whatever your find/ Cos you got no place to fall/ When your back's to the wall.” It's angry stuff, and you can tell Steve knows what he's talking about here. He ain't just singing about it, he's lived it. He's had his back to the wall, he knows what it's like.

I'm not even now certain of Steve's stance on gun law. He has been known to introduce “The Devils' Right Hand” with the following warning: “This ain't a song about gun control. It's already too late in America for that!” It's a great little tune, sort of a country/bluegrass feel to it, about how a kid thinks having a gun is so cool, but his mother tells him “The pistol is the Devils' right hand.” Not heeding this warning, the kid buys one when he is old enough and pays the inevitable consequence. “They asked me how I pleaded/ Not guilty I said/ Not guilty I said, ya got the wrong man/ Nothin' touched the trigger but the Devils' right hand!” Whether this is autobiographical or not I don't know --- Steve has had trouble with arms dealing in the past, so maybe, or maybe it's just his attempt to de-glamourise the idea of owning a gun. Either way, it's an impressive effort from a Texan!

The anger, somewhat diluted for the previous track, returns with a vengeance for the next track, “Johnny come lately”, which features, believe it or not, the Pogues, and is almost a jig or reel (never could tell the difference), but with what has now become Steve's signature heavy rhythm. The song recounts the difference between the way the homecoming heroes from World War II were treated as opposed to those returning from the 'Nam. “I'm standin' on a corner in San Diego/ Coupla Purple Hearts so I move a little slow/ Nobody here, maybe nobody knows/ Bout a place called Vietnam.”

When “Copperhead Road” was first released we hadn't too many CDs, and I bought it on vinyl, so I think I'm justified in saying that brings to a close side one of the album, and reviews of it mostly agreed that it is, like many a football match, a game of two halves. Side one is powerful, gritty, gutsy and daring, whereas, in general, side two contains more formulaic love songs, but still good stuff.Threre's nothing wrong with a Steve Earle ballad: many appear on his other albums --- but there are far better than what's on offer here. For examples, try “Poison lovers” or the excellent “Christmas in Washington” from 1997's “El Corazon”, “I don't wanna lose you yet” or the superlative “Over yonder” from 2000's “Transcendental blues”, or even back to his second release, 1987's “Exit 0”, for “It's all up to you”. By comparison, the likes of “Even when I'm blue”, which kicks off the second side of the album, is ordinary fare. It's good, it's reasonably heavy, but after the power of the previous five tracks it tends to less than satisfy, sort of like watching a great movie to the point where you can't wait to see how it ends, and it ends badly.

“You belong to me” gets a little rockier, carried on a sold rhythm section, but it's a little sparse: even the theme is somewhat hackneyed. “Waiting on you” is better: I just like the tune, I like the keyboard/organ outro, it just sounds better to me. It's also one of the only tracks on the album not written exclusively by Steve: on this one he collaborates with Richard Bennet, longtime contributor to Neil Diamond, wouldya believe, and lead guitarist on the famous hit by the Bellamy Brothers, “Let your love flow”. On the penultimate track, the fairly sub-standard “Once you love”, Steve teams up with Larry Crane, about whom I admit I know very little, other than he's a sound engineer and once ran his own studio.

The album comes to a close on a track most reviewers called “cheesy” (well, the polite ones did!) and “Christmassy”, but while it does have a very commercial feel about it, and sounds like it was actually written for the Yuletide Season, I like “Nothing but a child”. It's very acoustic and understated, and to me, more a song of hope and forgiveness that closes an album that opened with such venom and anger, and I believe says a lot about the artiste, and the journey he has undertaken to arrive where he is now. I think the closing lines of the song (and therefore the album) say it best:

“Nothing but a child/ Can wash those tears away/ And guide a weary world/ Into the light of day/ And nothing but a child/ Can help erase those miles/ So once again we all / Can be children for a while.”

Or maybe you prefer “You better stay away from Copperhead Road”? Either way, if you know nothing of Steve Earle, you could do a lot worse than check out this offering from a true country/rock soul poet, a Man For Our Times, or, to quote him from a later album, “Just a regular guy.”

1. Copperhead Road
2. Snake oil
3. Back to the wall
4. The Devil's right hand
5. Johnny come lately
6. Even when I'm blue
7. You belong to me
8. Waiting on you
9. Once you love
10. Nothing but a child

Suggested further listening: "The hard way", "El corazon", "Transcendental blues", "I feel alright"
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Old 05-03-2011, 05:34 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Happiness is the road --- Marillion --- 2008 (Racket Records)

Before I get to the review of this album, I have to award Marillion the prize for the most innovative development in music marketing so far. You probably know the story, but for anyone who doesn't here's how it goes:
When Marillion released their new album "Happiness is the road", they put it up for free download on a certain site, and linked those files to upload them on all the major P2P networks (Limewire, Kazaa, Filepipe etc). Anyone who wants to can download each track off the full album with NO DRM or restrictions, with two conditions: 1, that they do NOT upload the files to a filesharing network and 2, that they have to watch a small video, made by the band, in which they explain their vision and look for the downloader's email address. This is not to spam them, or report them, but to add to their database and I guess mailing list, in the hope that the downloader will buy some other merchandise, other albums, come to a gig, or whatever, but give back something in return. For those who WANT to upload the files, Marillion have even provided DRM-restricted WMA files, so everyone can follow their own conscience.
It's a bold move, and a very positive one. I downloaded the tracks, and will be getting the album, whether it's good or bad, because I feel that if the band trusted me, then I should repay that trust, and hopefully this could be the shape of things to come.

So, on to the album itself. What's it like? Well, those who know me, or know of me will know that I'm a huge fan of Marillion, having been into them from the first album and have never heard a bad album from them. I've only seen them twice (Fugazi tour in the Hammersmith Odeon in '84 and Misplaced Childhood at home in Dublin in 1985), but they were brilliant each time. I have all their albums, and up until the release of last year's "Somewhere else" I had always loved their output, bought the albums without hesitation or fear, knowing, just knowing that they would be worth it. Admittedly, "Marbles" was a slow-burner, and I took some time to get into it, but now I love it. Not so with "Somewhere else" which, despite repeated listens has failed to grow on me. I had hoped this would not start a trend, that Marillion were not becoming a band I could no longer listen to and love, that this was not the beginning of the end.

So, is it?

Well, the jury's still out on that. I must admit, from the opening of the first track, "Dreamy Street", I was impressed. Lovely tinkling piano, understated vocals, slow and relaxing, a good intro to the album. But then, it only lasts a minute or so and the track is over. So my worry then was, 20 tracks but are they all, or are most, going to be short 1 or 2-minute affairs, so that the album is not actually as long as I had thought it would be? "Marbles" had 4 short intermezzos, as it were, all called Marbles, ie Marble I, II, III and IV, but there was also a 17-minute track on the album called "Ocean cloud", so that made up for the smaller tracks. I didn't see any "epic" tracks on "Happiness is the road", so yes, I was worried.

The thing about HITR is that it's a double album, split into two parts (those who are old enough will understand when I say that this would have been two sides on an album), the first called "Essence", the second "The hard shoulder". Now, it's not really important, but I sort of don't understand the thinking behind that. I can understand the second part, as it's named after part of a road (Happiness is the road, see?) but "Essence"? If they'd called part 1 something like "Fast Lane" or "Layby" then I think I might have understood it better. However, names aside, that's how the album is split, and it seems to me that, by coincidence or design, the "slower" songs are on part 1 and the more rockier tunes (though the album seldom DOES get rocky) are on part 2. Again, I would have thought the reverse would work better: rock out on part 1 then slow it down on part 2...

All that notwithstanding, there are some lovely tracks on this album. On "Essence" there is "Wrapped up in time", "Essence" itself and the quietly beautiful instrumental (a first for Marillion? I certainly can't recall another) "Liquidity", but it's in the title track that the album really shines. "Happiness is the road" starts off as a slow, balladish song but then sort of stops halfway and morphs into a bluesy, mid-paced rocker, replete with optimism and the teachings of a band who have been together (most of them) for over a quarter of a century. The central theme of this title track, and the theme running through the whole album, is that happiness is not at the end of the road, happiness IS the road, and that once you've found happiness you no longer need to travel. Basically, I think, what they're saying is that you don't need to travel to find happiness, because it's around you every day. Cheering words, and a welcome sentiment in these dark days of wars without end, credit crunches and global uncertainty.

Steve Hogarth's voice ("H", as he prefers to be known, and no, NOT the guy from Steps!) is on top form, crooning, pleading, cajoling and dispensing wisdom like a golden-tongued sensei, exorting us to, in the immortal words of Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other. Steve Rothery can still make a guitar do ANYTHING he wants it do, and wring the most incredible emotion out of solos and even just simple plucking motions on his six-stringed companion. Mark Kelly can blast arpeggios like a lunatic Rick Wakeman or tease out the most sensitive ivory teardrops with consummate ease, and as ever, Pete Trewavas' bass keeps a deep counterpoint and balance to every song, and often has much to say itself. I find it hard generally to enthuse or even have much to say about drummers --- and I hope no-one takes offence at that, as none is certainly intended: there are good ones and bad ones, but perhaps my musical ear is not sufficiently sensitive enough to pick out one from the other. To me, a drummer drums, and though he or she is an absolutely integral part of any band --- imagine “In the air tonight” without percussion, for instance --- it's hard to be critical, either constructively or negatively about them. So all I can say is that Ian Mosley does a fine job behind the skins, and hope that's not seen as dismissive, as it's not in any way meant to be.

In short, Marillion are a tight-knit group, a well-oiled machine and a band who are still at the top of their game, 26 years on, and 22 years after losing what could have been their biggest asset as Fish left to fly solo. They've output consistently brilliant albums, and I do think that in the end, for me at least, "Somewhere else" will either become an unfortunate blip on an otherwise flawless repertoire, or will end up taking its place, belatedly, on my record shelf somewhere between "Script", "Brave" and "". It's probably just a matter of time.

Anyway, on to the second half, or "side" of the album, "The hard shoulder". As mentioned before, this seems to be where the rockier and uptempo tracks live, and so is more louder and generally faster than its sister side. This is not to say it has NO slow tracks --- "Older than me" and “Throw me out” are very acceptable ballads, and in that regard would not be out of place on “side one”. But it's more tracks like "Whatever is wrong with you" (released as a downloadable YouTube before the album came out, and which by all accounts had thousands of viewings very quickly), "Especially true" and “thunder fly” that make up the majority of “The Hard Shoulder”, and they do keep up the old Marillion traditions, but the standout tracks so far for me are "Asylum Sateliite 1" and the closer "Real tears for sale". To my ears, so far, this side complements the other side quite well.

My fear is, and this may not be the case, that Marillion are turning more and more not into just a pop band, but almost a lounge band. There are very few tracks on this album that I could honestly see myself rocking out to, or even dancing to, and it all seems to me a little laid back, perhaps too much so. Okay, in fairness, Marillion were never a band you'd put on at the disco (can you imagine trying to dance to “Script” or “Emerald lies”?), but where they really gelled was as a serious progressive rock band, and to my ears they have definitey begun to stray from this model. Certainly, "Happiness is the road" seems to bear little resemblance to opuses like "", "Brave" or "Afraid of sunlight", and you would definitely be hard pressed to believe this was the band who produced "Script for a jester's tear", "Fugazi" and "Misplaced childhood".

That said, the change in direction could very well open up new avenues for the band, gain them new fans, but I hope not at the expense of old and faithful ones (very old, in my case!), who just may not "get" this new Marillion.

Whatever happens, you have to give them kudos for if nothing else trying to change the way bands and the music industry do business, how they treat their fans and how they protect their intellectual property without locking it behind huge DRM gates. I just hope that, in their zeal to push back the frontiers of music marketing, they haven't forgotten the simple and important truth that, money and advertising campaigns and record labels aside, in the end, it should be all about the music.

So, in the end, the question is, is happiness the road? Or are they on a road to nowhere? Have a listen and perhaps you can decide for yourself.

Volume I: Essence

1. Dreamy Street
2. This train is my life
3. Essence
4. Wrapped up in time
5. Liquidity (instrumental)
6. Nothing fills the hole
7. Woke up
8. Trap the spark
9. A state of mind
10. Happiness is the road
11. Half-full jam (hidden/bonus track)

Volume II: The Hard Shoulder
1. Thunder fly
2. The man from planet Marzipan
3. Asylum Satellite #1
4. Older than me
5. Throw me out
6. Half the world
7. Whatever is wrong with you
8. Especially true
9. Real tears for sale

Suggested further listening: (Fish era) "Script for a jester's tear", "Fugazi", "Misplaced childhood" (Hogarth era) ", "Marbles", "Afraid of sunlight", "This strange engine", "Radiation"
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Old 05-06-2011, 09:56 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Night owl --- Gerry Rafferty --- 1979 (United Artists)

Note: this review was originally written for my first journal back in 2008, and was therefore of course penned prior to the tragic death of Gerry Rafferty. It goes without saying that the man will be sorely missed, and that his music will live on. I'd like to think that perhaps in some small way this review would contribute to the continuation of that legend.

I’ve loved Gerry Rafferty’s music since hearing him on “Baker Street”, way, way back in my youth, and I think this is perhaps one of his best albums. There are hit singles on it, but that’s really incidental: the great music is that which is not heard everyday on the radio, and though everyone can say they know “Baker Street”, or know of it, how many can say the same of “Wise as a serpent” or “The royal mile”?

Gerry has a great way of painting scenes with music: listen to the title track and you’ll see what I mean, as he sings about nightclubs and bars, strangers and friends, sunsets and sunrises, with the haunting music floating over and through the soundscape like some sort of friendly ghost. The opener, “Days gone down”, is one of several pieces that recall Gerry’s youth; reminiscences and memories, some good, some bad, all viewed through the eyes of maturity. It’s driven by a nice saxophone line throughout, and is really bright and breezy, as is most of Gerry’s music --- “You’ve still got that light in your eyes / And our day is coming by and by / I’m travellin’ this long road / Here with you / Still got a long way to go”.

Both “Night owl” and “Get it right next time” were hits for Gerry, and they’re great songs: the latter espouses a really optimistic attitude towards life, which is refreshing if somewhat simplistic if taken at face value, but it’s the tracks that never made it as singles that really shine on this album. “Family tree” is another great chance to look back on a man’s history and life, and a bow to the ties that bind, while “The tourist” is a wry look at Gerry himself, jetting from place to place, gig to gig, where he considers himself a gawping onlooker in most cities he goes to, shaking his head and admitting “Come a long long way from Baker Street!”

“Why won’t you talk to me” reflects a situation familiar to most if not all of us guys, when we’re in the doghouse but can’t figure out why --- “It feels like a bad dream / It feels like a game / I swear this is one time / That I’m not to blame!” Oh yeah --- been there, done that!

All in all, this is never an album that’s gonna set the world on fire, but it’s one I love to trot out occasionally and give a spin --- reminds me of why I love Gerry’s music so much!

Here’s the title track: have you ever felt like this?

1. Days gone down
2 Night owl
3. The way that you do it
4. Why won’t you talk to me
5. Get it right next time
6.Take the money and run
7. Family tree
8. Already gone
9. The tourist
10. It’s gonna be a long night

Suggested further listening: "City to city", "Snakes and ladders", "Sleepwalking", "North and south"
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Old 05-06-2011, 10:02 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Brave new world --- Iron Maiden --- 2000 (EMI)

Maiden were the first metal band I ever got into, and they remain my favourite by a long way, even today. This is one of their very best releases, certainly in recent times, with 9 killer tracks, and one somewhat limp one, the only cut which lets the overall excellence of the album down, in my opinion.

For me, Maiden began to flag when Bruce D1ckinson left, and the albums following on from his departure were some of the weakest in their catalogue --- “The X Factor” and “Virtual XI” remain albums I can never get into --- but all is well now, the Man is back!

Kicking off with classic Maiden riffs, you know you’re back on familiar ground when “The wicker man” blasts out at you, and how good it is to hear that raw, powerful, air-raid-siren voice again! The songs on BNW are longer than classic Maiden, betraying a leaning towards what might perhaps be more properly described as prog-metal, the themes a little deeper than some of the older songs, the songs a bit more elaborately structured, more epic. But let us not forget that Maiden already ventured into this area on 1984’s “Powerslave” when they recorded the 14-minute masterpiece “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, so it’s not exactly a new direction for them.

The songs are still heavy --- ballads usually have no place on an Iron Maiden album! --- and ripe with imagery and metaphor: the thinking man or woman’s heavy metal? Songs like “Dream of mirrors”, with its many different parts, as well as “Blood brothers” (a metal waltz?), and the menacing, steel-edged “The Nomad” stake this album’s claim, and it’s just a pity “The Mercenary” lets it down so badly: Maiden have done this song before, called both “The fugitive” and “The assassin” (yes, they’re not quite the same song, but I find them disturbingly familiar), and I really don’t think it needs a third outing. Beside songs like the abovenamed, and the excellent “Out of the silent planet”, it just sounds mundane and uninteresting.

But that one track aside, this is one killer album, and if you’re a Maiden fan, you will definitely not be disappointed: if you’re not, there’s a brave new world for you to discover, just waiting behind the album sleeve!

This track is “Blood brothers”, recorded live and sung by a Bruce with short hair!!!!


The wicker man
Ghost of the navigator
Brave new world
Blood brothers
The Mercenary
Dream of mirrors
The fallen angel
The Nomad
Out of the silent planet
The thin line between love and hate

Suggested further listening: "The number of the Beast", "Piece of mind", "Powerslave", "Fear of the dark", "Seventh son of a seventh son" and "No prayer for the dying"
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