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Marillion: Happiness is the Road

Marillion are one of those veteran bands that you just can't ignore, a prog-rock icon that has delivered plenty of great music since their inception nearly 30 years ago. After the successful Marbles in 2004, the band came back with the disappointing Somewhere Else in 2007, so they now find themselves once again in the position of having to again prove themselves to their loyal fanbase. Happiness is the Road is the latest release from the band, a 2CD set made up of two parts, "Essence" and "The Hard Shoulder". Is it a return to the more adventurous sounds of Marbles, Afraid of Sunlight, or Brave, or a continuation of the bland pop of Something Else?

Well, I'd love to say that Happiness is the Road is a resounding success, but I'm afraid it's not, though there are some very solid songs here. On the first CD, there are a couple of catchy numbers, like "This Train Is My Life", the dreamy "Essence", or the quirky pop of "Nothing Fills The Hole", but too many of these songs are overly atmospheric, bland, and really go nowhere, especially the epic title track, which has its moments, but for a 10 minute piece those are few and far between. Mark Kelly's keyboards are more upfront in the mix than we've heard from him in a while, but rather than coming across in a symphonic style he's sounding introspective and ethereal, which might please fans of Chroma Key, but certainly not lovers of the 80's era of Marillion. An upbeat rocker like "Woke Up" or the lush pop of "Trap the Spark" briefly provide moments of sizzle, but ultimately it's not quite enough. Steve Hogarth's vocals as always are solid, but at times he's crooning just a bit too much and you just want to hear him cut loose and rock out a little more.

Over on CD2, things take a bit of a different approach. "Thunder Fly" kicks off with some meaty guitar riffs from Steve Rothery (finally) and playful synths from Kelly, the band as a whole seeming to want to rip it up a tad, and the results work on what is the liveliest track in this set so far. Rothery even drops in a tasty solo towards the end which is great to hear. The next two pieces are longer tracks where the band stretches out a little, "The Man From The Planet Marzipan" and "Asylum Satellite #1" showing the psychedelic, proggy side to the band, spacey keyboard effects and textured guitar work floating beneath Hogarth's understated vocals, but it doesn't last, as the band returns to blandness on the stale "Older Than Me". The Beatles-ish "Throw Me Out" is kind of fun, as is the soaring pop of "Half the World", which leads into the bombastic tension of "Whatever Is Wrong With You", a song that ebbs and flows very nicely and one of the successes of the album. "Especially True" once again sees the appearance of some jagged Rothery riffs, and the near 8-minute "Real Tears For Sale" closes out the set with some nice proggy moments and a stunning Rothery solo.

In the end, Happiness is the Road features some strong tracks, and quite a bit of filler. Much like Judas Priest's 2 CD Nostradamus, this one probably would have been better off as a single album release. There's just too many tunes that meander and lack any sort of effect here, but the eight or nine solid numbers would have made for a very strong album. So, if you are still grasping on to the Fish era of the band, stay clear of this one, but if you like what Marillion have done since Steve Hogarth joined, chances are you might enjoy a good portion of Happiness is the Road. Just be prepared to weed through some stuff that is pretty lackluster to get to those gems. A solid 4 for Part2, and a 3 for Part 1.

Track Listing
Volume 1-Essence
01. Dream Street
02. This Train Is My Life
03. Essence
04. Wrapped Up In Time
05. Liquidity
06. Nothing Fills The Hole
07. Woke Up
08. Trap The Spark
09. A State Of Mind
10. Happiness Is The Road
Volume 2-The Hard Shoulder
01. Thunder Fly
02. The Man From The Planet Marzipan
03. Asylum Satellite #1
04. Older Than Me
05. Throw Me Out
06. Half The World
07. Whatever Is Wrong With You
08. Especially True
09. Real Tears For Sale

Added: January 14th 2009
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 3295
Language: english

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Marillion: Happiness is the Road
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-01-14 10:05:37
My Score:

Marillion is definitely proving themselves to be a band that not only continually keeps their fans in releases but also by being a band that confuses these same listeners with the apparent on and off strength of the material they choose to dish out. I say this not as a "Fish Head" even though I loved those years, but as someone who chose to maintain course with the band as Hogarth joined in and delivered a number of amazing but different sounding albums. It was clear from his beginnings in the group that a different direction was being taken and for the most part these early albums were incredible. Steam was lost several years ago with "Radiation" and "" and it seemed to be business as usual with the incredible "Marbles". Then came "Somewhere Else" and to say that this placid and tedious album was boring would be an understatement. The bands follow up would have to impress me quite a bit I felt and I anxiously awaited the release which came to the listeners this time as two distinct CD's; Part One being "Essence" and Part Two being "The Hard Shoulder". My copies were not together like some editions are so I adventured into them one at a time. Here goes nothing.

"Happiness Is The Road, Part 1: Essence" (referred to as "Essence" from now on) starts off with solemn piano and the always passionate voice of Hogarth and while it sets the mood of the release it didn't snare me for the brief moments that it played. The album tracks are sewn together and the release plays like one long movement and when "The Train Of My Life" begins it still is setting up mood and is rather slow. To me this was not at all exciting and I was worried only two tracks in. Parts of the track pick up towards the end but it is quite the dreamy and atmospheric piece that you either love or hate from them. I was really bored with "Essence" and felt it went nowhere fast and this continues more often than it does not with Pt1 of their new music. I guess I can be accused of just "not getting" what the band is out to do these days, but they really kicked me back into the game with "Marbles" so I didn't understand why all the over the top atmosphere and ethereal stuff was coming into play. For me I was finding the ups and downs of this album being like that of a rollercoaster and I was really thinking I had been on the ride too long at certain points. If you wanted the band to be music that you relax too to then there is a lot of great stuff on "Essence" to help you find that mental space but if you are longing for what they boldly did on "Brave" or even "This Strange Engine" you will be a bit disappointed. "Nothing Fills The Hole" starts off again slow, and then picks up with a very repetitive chorus and it was not until "Woke Up" that I found myself doing the same. This could very well be my favorite number on the very difficult to work through release. There are a couple of moments here and there on "Trap The Spark" but it is back to airy and spacey stuff with the one after it. The CD appears to close with the full title track of "Happiness Is The Road" and it's a lengthy epic but not one that falls into the typical epic definition. Hogarth talks through much of it as opposed to singing and I really wanted to hear him belt out the notes for a change which he is still more than capable of. Thankfully he raises his pitch for the chorus. Many will notice how Mark Kelly's keyboards are more up front in the production for a change but instead of letting it loose Mark keeps it to these dreamy sound scapes and sadly I didn't find Rothery wailing anywhere. The drumming offered up by Mosley is solid but will not call to mind the past of the impressive player as he now seems to be merely keeping time.

The CD lists ten tracks but once this finishes we have silence for track eleven (done on purpose and not by accident) and then on comes a song as track twelve. It's not listed anywhere on the booklet, but based on the lyrical content of the tune I am guessing that it's called "Half Empty". It starts off slow with Hogarth repeating over and over "I used to be half empty, but now I'm half full" and I thought that this would remain the way the track went but instead they raise it up a notch in volume and tempo. As this ended the soothing atmospheric and heady groove of "Essence" I felt as if the band was shaking me awake after I had nodded off in my chair. There are lyrics provided in the booklet and from them you can take that this was very philosophical at times. Marillion's audience has changed with them over the years and while some have moved on there are those who brought people who loved the new sounds into the fold and the band has maintained a cult level following and underground status as result. This is not for everyone but does have some redeemable moments albeit not enough for someone like me. I cannot say that I hated it, but I can say that it didn't really excite me as much as I had hoped it would. Now let's see what Part 2 "The Hard Shoulder" is all about.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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