Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Marillion: 'Happiness is the Road' Review

I had another music related blog planned for tonight, following on from yesterday’s piece about Mansun’s ‘Six’. Then, late last night, I unexpectedly ended up with a copy of the new Marillion album – ‘Happiness is the Road’ – so have decided to share a few thoughts about that instead.

There’s so much going on in this album that it would be easy to write a lengthy full review, but I’ve only given it a few spins and I think it’s going to take a lot more plays to do the album any justice, so I’ll keep things brief here. In many ways, I can see certain similarities between disk one – ‘Essence’ – and ‘Six’, especially in terms of how each album has a coherence running through. Lyrically, however, we’re in much less dark territory here, whilst the overall sound is probably more reminiscent latter day Talk Talk.

Things get underway with the chilled out ‘Dreamy Street’, before segueing into the sumptuous ‘This Train is My Life’. With its excellently concise Steve Rothery Guitar solo, philosophical lyrics and atmospheric rising sound; the track has all the ingredients of classic Marillion. Next track, ‘Essence’, has a more experimental feel to it, veering between stripped down passages of lush keyboards and an ever growing wall of sound. Moments in the track recall the Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’, but far from being derivative, the album’s first disk has a unique feel all of its own as the band work contemporary arrangements and new instrumentation into their signature sound to great success. CD one’s highlight comes in the form of ‘Happiness is the Road’, a sprawling epic which builds from an ambient jam into a huge epic.

The second CD – ‘The Hard Shoulder’ – has quite a different sound to it, with rockier moments, and jazz influences in the rhythm sections of tracks like ‘Cornfly’ and ‘Planet Marzipan’. A few minutes in, the former even has something of a prog rock keyboard solo amid the mostly fast paced rock. The more atmospheric sections of this track recall moments of ‘Afraid of Sunlight’, as does the sprawling epic, ‘Asylum Satellite #1’. Despite nods back to their past, however, the band manage to keep things fresh and modern. The beautiful ‘Older Than Me’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jeff Buckley or Elbow record. Other highlights here include modern classics ‘Whatever is Wrong with You?’ and ‘Real Tears for Sale’, putting in a very welcome appearance after a great reception from fans on the last tour.

This is one of those albums, like ‘Marbles’, which has so many complex layers that it’s probably going to be a while before I can fully appreciate its greatness and intricacy, but, after 3 listens, it’s made a damn fine first impression.

I’m going to try and ban myself from listening to it a fourth time, until I have the actual CD in my hands now, so I can admire the artwork and appreciate it as a whole. If anyone can think of any fitting deterrents, in the form of punishments or forfeits, in case I find it too hard to resist, please leave your suggestions in the form of comments…

1 comment:

C. said...

I think Hsppiness is the Road is a great album. I just finish writing a little review and I thought that the hard shoulder reminded me of Afraid of Sunlight (and also the Strange Engine). There are a few negative reviews out there. don't listen to them and make up your own mind first!