on 14 September 2012
I was not surprised when observing the hugely diverse opinions on previous reviews of this album; such a complex and lengthy offering is bound to produce differing views.
Those seeking immediate gratification and don't possess the patience and/or time to invest in one (albeit double) album should indeed seek their fixes elsewhere.
This may be one of Marillion's less immediate albums, however paying it a little respect and understanding is richly rewarding; this is simply a truly great album bursting with emotion, colour and texture that delivers completely. Free from the shackles of normal record label pressures and early career egos, Marillion executed a concept and delivery here that is near flawless and showcases a band at the top of their game; confident, talented, yet very eager to please. All the more remarkable bearing in mind that the quality control was spot on for the entire length of both CDs included on the complete release.
I've been a fan since the early Fish years but am not opposed to criticising their output when justified ('Somewhere Else' was highly forgettable and despite repeated listening their latest release 'Sounds that can't be Made' is patchy at best); however Happiness is the Road sits comfortably alongside Misplaced Childhood and Marbles as the finest, most cohesive works of their career.
on 26 October 2008
About this time of year, people (at least, the people who do this kind of thing) tend to start compiling their list of albums of the year, and everyone else gets ready to throw things at them. I don't do album of the year lists... but Marillion have just released their fifteenth studio album, Happiness Is The Road, and in doing so may just have released the record of their lives.
Now, as any Marillion fan knows, the difficulty in turning people onto the band isn't because their music is difficult to listen to or no longer relevant to any but a small audience, but in getting them to listen to the music in the first place. In a world where Coldplay, Snow Patrol and others sell millions of units through a combination of delicate sentiment and epic bombast, and where Bono and Dave Gilmour still only have to burp into a mic to make the top ten, there's no real reason that Marillion can't be two, three, four times bigger than they are.
Happiness Is The Road, comprising two separate albums, Essence and The Hard Shoulder, should by rights be the album that does the trick... but then we've thought that before, with the sublime 2004 double album Marbles and back in 1995 with the incomparable Afraid Of Sunlight (an album so good even most of the mainstream critics couldn't fault it). Even with these points of comparison, Happiness Is The Road is genuinely fantastic stuff, playing to all of Marillion's many strengths in 2008 and precious few of their weaknesses. If you're after cathartic widescreen angst, we have 'Real Tears For Sale', and 'Half The World', 'Especially True' and 'A State Of Mind' provide soaring, dynamic pop, while the heartfelt epic is ably represented by the stunning title track and the quixotic 'The Man From The Planet Marzipan'.
But this is to be expected from Marillion - they've made their name on the above formula, if you can call it that. What continues to delight about Happiness Is The Road is the nuance, the oddness, the left field. The deliriously Motownesque 'Nothing Fills The Hole'... the off-kilter pop of 'Throw Me Out', recalling David Byrne... the gorgeously elegiac 'Trap The Spark', which manages to pull off the Flaming Lips' brand of existential whimsy as if covered by Sigur Ros... the dub groove to 'Happiness Is The Road' itself, with a sudden and jaw-dropping John Williams-style orchestral section sitting behind the middle eight, just where a guitar solo would ordinarily be... the Bollywood strings gradually building in every chorus to 'Woke Up'... the fact that 'Especially True' can suck you in by sounding like a poppier Editors until the final ninety seconds, which descend into the kind of wall of churning guitar you might hear on a Queens Of The Stone Age record.
Lyrically, this is the most consistently uplifting Steve 'h' Hogarth has ever been - not surprising, when the first CD, Essence, has as its theme redemptive self-discovery. He's clearly had four or five epiphanies since 2007's more downbeat Somewhere Else, and it shows, his unforced clarity of vision marking almost all of Happiness Is The Road's nineteen songs - upbeat but not shallow, giving us depth without being pompous. The results are exhilarating, and often inspirational, no more so than in the title track, with the bridge "your mind will find a way to be unkind to you somehow... but all we really have is happening to us right now."
It's a testament to the unique position Marillion find themselves in that, fifteen albums and thirty years on from their beginnings, they still sound entirely like themselves while evolving and changing on every album. That's why 'Real Tears For Sale' sounds a little off closing The Hard Shoulder... recalling a Marillion of sixteen, seventeen years ago, it sits oddly with the remainder of Happiness Is The Road. But it's a halfhearted complaint when the results are so damn good, probably the most viciously self-excoriating lyric h has ever recorded ("even whores don't kiss with tongues"), as he berates himself for turning every good and bad thing that's ever happened to him into words for more songs, comparing this selling of himself to the vagaries of celebrity culture, setting out his market stall with pieces of his life to pay the bills. It's circular logic - he's just written a song about it - but undeniably powerful. I just think maybe it belonged on Somewhere Else... 'The Man From The Planet Marzipan', with its fey, arch depiction of our world seen through truly alien eyes, seems a better fit to finish this truly remarkable album. But as quibbles go, it's a ridiculously minor one. This is a masterpiece.
on 19 January 2009
A two-disc set from Marillion which really deserves a serious listen:
This disc exceeded all expectations. It is constructed on an evolving, pulsing, ebbing and flowing musical base and contains real musical innovation at its core, as it shifts from ambient jams to epic climaxes.
There are so many musical ideas in the 45 minute journey of tracks 1-10. The music continually evolves within every track, never sitting back on simple verse/chorus. Every verse has evolved from the last, every chorus has extra bits in. Some absolutely wonderful tunes appear just a single time. This fits beautifully with the concept of the album - that you have to live for the moment and try to catch the spark in life. By far the best example is in 'Wrapped up in Time', where the beautiful 'Echo of You' section comes and then is gone - an evanescent moment. Any other band would have flayed a tune this good to death.
Choosing stand-out moments is near impossible, but 'State of Mind' is perhaps the best individual 'song', 'Essence' would be the track which best represents the spirit and vibe of the whole CD, and the musical climax in 'Woke Up' was the bit that got me spinning round the room and singing my heart out.
It's amazing that a band that has been around since the early 80s can create an album of tracks as diverse and modern-sounding as this.
It includes breathtaking musical soundscapes (Asylum Satellite 1), glorious vocal melodies (Half the World), a driving rock anthem (Whatever is Wrong with You) and complex, dense, multi-layered musings on identity and emotional exposure (The Man from the Planet Marizpan, Real Tears for Sale).
Special mention goes to the opening track Thunderfly, in which the band manage to seamlessly merge hook-laden rock with ambient oases of gentle colours and sound, to create a single track which sounds like nothing you will have ever heard before.
There are bands out there approaching their 'difficult second albums' that would kill for material this good - god only knows how Marillion manage to keep this up at their 15th attempt.
on 18 February 2009
If you have found the last few Marillion albums rather bland, and prefer either thier Fish-era output or the earlier, and superb, Hogarth albums, you will not be disappointed.
I agree with many of the comments in other reviews. The production, once again, is lacking, and there is not enough of Steve Rothery's sublime guitar work.
But this album gets your attention immediately, unlike the last two or three offerings which have had some stand out tracks but not enough strength in depth.
So, a strong recommendation for an album which will keep most (if not all) Marillion fans more than happy.
on 16 October 2008
Not content with just releasing their 15 studio album, Marillion, the music industries biggest secret have instead produced two sublime albums under the titles of Essence and The Hard Shoulder. Volume 1 is a concept album linked by the theme of "what is life all about" which begins with the thoughtful, reflective Dreamy Street before segueing into This Train Is My Life - a track which is one of a handful in my life that reduced me to tears. Through the volume one title track Essence (genuinely unique and inspiring) through to the glorious rousing Wake Up and the potential career highlight of Happiness is the Road itself I was taken on a genuinely uplifting journey of discovery with each band member performing at the height of there powers.Buy this album, cuddle up with a loved one and share the journey together: happiness ain't at the end of the road, Happines IS the Road.
on 14 November 2008
Ah, boys - you've gone and done it again. Generally the most mature work to-date from a band who continue to grow AND surprise with every album.
As with their previous best works, HITR takes a few laps to get into gear but I reckon this is what you get from a band who have the freedom to create without record company intervention. Perhaps it makes it less accessible to the wider public (and thus giving them less success than we, the lucky ones, often proclaim that they should enjoy) but that's the catch - any more 'commercial' and yes, Marillion would no doubt recieve wider acclaim but at what price? We'd be without so much that makes a Marillion album special.
I'll admit that on first (and perhaps second AND third) listen, Essence came as a slight dissappointment. What I heard wasn't the progression I had expected from Marbles (their crowning glory prior to this album...) and Somewhere Else (which is STILL growing on me - sheesh, am I a slow learner??!)
Moving on to The Hard Shoulder provided an easier learning curve - definitely a collection-of-songs rather that the concept-album of Disc 1. Personal high points (at the moment) are Asylum Satellite #1 and Real Tears.
Now though, a few days in, and Essence has me under its spell. Liquidity and Woke Up are current faves but it's an ever changing scoreline....each and every track has some sublime moments - for me, the sign of a well executed and constructed 'concept-album'. The funny thing is that now I've started to appreciate Essence for all of it's textures and flavours, things that I first considered lumps-and-bumps, The Hard Shoulder now 'fits' as part of the whole work rather than a consolation-bonus-disc-for-an-awkward-and-risky-main-offering. Clever.
I'm now convinced that this will be a long-term love affair and I'm even thinking it may be better than Marbles - and I NEVER thought I'd say that....now I feel like I've cheated on the likes of Neverland!
If you haven't yet taken the plunge and bought this album, make sure you get the whole thing. Yes, Essence and The Hard Shoulder are very different, but like I said, after a while you'll see that they compliment each other perfectly, retaining their differences yet taking Marillion in a consistent direction with no filler tracks to make up the numbers. You NEED both parts!
To those who have expressed any dissatisfaction in other reviews here, I'd urge you to take your time and let HITR grow on you. It's an album that has evidently been made with a huge amount of honesty and pride while pandering to just about no-one. It's an album with too much on offer to dismiss - you owe it to yourself to get your head round it.
Appreciation IS the Road.
on 16 October 2012
One year after release of "Somewhere Else" band releases new album. Marillion have even decided to release double album following fantastic success of "Marbles" which was double release as well and received more than positive feedback from fans and critics. Fans demanded another double album and Marillion decided to meet that demand. While double "Marbles" is very coherent and I can't really find song that was typical "filler", "Happiness is the Road" doesn't do the same. First of all it seems like two discs mean two separated albums. Volume 1 has been called "Essence" and is more or less concept album. Volume 2 has been called "The Hard Shoulder" and is collection of non-connected lyrically or musically songs. Those two volumes deliver massive amount of Marillion music. And that is exactly my problem with "Happiness". When I have listened to double "Marbles" I have had impression that all music and lyrics are in perfect balance and album can last forever. "Happiness is the Road" however because of the separation for the two volumes and its length can't be treated in the same way. There are no bad songs on this album. I find some very good songs and some "average" Marillion songs but there is nothing I would really don't like it. It is just too long. For me it could be one of the best Marillion albums if band decided to compile the best songs from both volumes on one disc i.e.:
2. Wrapped Up In Time
3. Nothing Fills The Hole
4. Woke Up
5. Trap The Spark
6. A State of Mind
7. Happiness Is The Road
8. Thunder Fly
9. The Man From The Planet Marzipan
10. Asylum Satellite #1
11. Older Than Me
12. Whatever Is Wrong With You
13. Real Tears For Sale
That would be (my) perfect 77 minutes of "Happiness Is the Road". I think it would create fantastic and compact collection of some of the best songs written by the band. Those are my highlights of the album. "Woke Up" and "Real Tears for Sale" should be released as the singles to promote the album. I rate this album only for 3 starts as it has fantastic material but filled with songs that could be avoided (and released on some kind of bonus disc or as B-sides).
on 20 December 2008
I have listened to both discs quite a few times now (Vol 1: Essence & Vol 2: The Hard Shoulder)
I love it. I think its fantastic!
The more I listen to it the more I get into it. For me its one of those albums that I have to sit down and listen to...to get myself in tune with and to get absorbed into it both musically and lyrically. Many elements are not openly obvious to me, at first...but when I get it, its great. To me these are very important elements of what makes a great album! The gentle and subtle things are just as important as the powerful ones. And the production.... YES! ...wonderful to my ears! :)
I'm enjoying the journey...
To the band and Mike Hunter (+Roderick & Jon & other contributors),
thanks for paving the way...
its a happy road to travel :)
Give this album a close listen and a chance. Give it time. It gets better and better. :)
on 8 February 2009
Marillion's new album is in truth a gem I have been waiting for for years. It's been a few years since the fabulous "Marbles" which was tragically released to the general public as a single album with the best tracks removed (the 2CD edition is available from the band's site). The previous effort "Somewhere else", alas, was a let-down.
In my opinion "Happiness" is the best we've heard since the colossal "Brave" and "Afraid of Sunlight" of the mid-nineties, and those two are the best of all times, I find. Consistency has been a weak point of some Marillion albums, which have tended to contain magical moments, but also the occasional poodle-do. "Happiness" is consistently top level all through the double album, both musically and lyrics-wise. A massive achievement!
Disc 1, "Essence" is atmospheric and should be listened to in one go. It will take a few runs to get you into it, but when it opens up the world becomes a better place. Like "Brave" it's the kind of album you can listen to a thousand times and always find something new. Mark Kelly has has done a marvelous job with the synthesizers on "Essence" and gives it an emotional depth few other bands can match.
Disc 2, "The hard shoulder" is a more standard, collection-of-songs-kind of album. It's not quite as strong as "Essence" to me, but still contains some excellent tracks, and none that I wish to skip. The style is very diverse, ranging from the catchy rock of "Whatever is Wrong with You" to the tender beauty of "Older than me" to more progressive and intricate stuff.
If you know what's good for you there is nothing for it; you have to experience this album!
on 2 February 2009
Never posted a review before but felt the need to do so this time.
Marillion continue to innovate and produce music that bypasses the brain and goes straight to the emotions. Add that to lyrics that make you realise that its not just you, that someone else out there knows how you feel and what it is that moves you, and you have yet another superb album from the best kept secret in music today.
Like all Marillion albums, Happiness is the Road needs to be listened to a few times to allow it to reveal its true beauty but it is most definitely worth it.
Trouble is, if you are one of the faithfull you already know this and if you are not, you won't be reading this review.
Tough luck - its your loss. Go on - prove me wrong.