I reviewed the original 1998 recording of 'Radiation' on here, advising people to avoid it. It was an album I never really cared for, and one which I thought would signal the death knell for the band. Marillion's desire for cross-over success saw them trying to emulate the 'cool' bands of the time, such as Radiohead, rather than cut their own groove. The end result was awful. 'Radiation' was poorly recorded, poorly produced and way too radical.
When I heard that long-time Marillion producer and engineer Mike Hunter was going to remix the album, I could hear the sound of turds being polished, but being the sucker I am, invested in this re-imagined version of the record. Thank god I did.
'Radiation 2013' is an absolute revelation. The fade in of samples of album tracks, culminating in Steve Hogarth's primal scream, which opened the original album is gone. Instead, we simply have the tongue in cheek, bluegrass style intro that leads into 'Under the Sun'. This track gets things moving in some style. Whereas the original version sounds congested and noisy, this version is vibrant, has layered vocals and a good, clean balance of keyboards and riffage.
'The Answering Machine', to be fair is still an awful track in my opinion. Why Marillion didn't stick with the Tull-esque, acoustic guitar based version of the song (as featured on 'Unplugged at the Walls') is a mystery. The song is just a racket with no focus. That being said, the annoying vocal effects have been removed and we have a better, cleaner performance.
I always thought that 'Three Minute Boy' was one of the only highlights on 'Radiation', so I was curious as to what a different mix would do to an already good song. What Mike Hunter has done here is take a good track and turn it into a great one. Every nuance and subtlety in the music is there and the backing vocals have been enhanced, giving the song a lovely, open sound and a real, widescreen feel. The Reeves and Mortimer impersonations at the end of the track have also been thankfully, edited out.
'Now She'll Never Know' has never been one of my favourites. I felt that the original was too sparse and minimalist. Lyrically it was way too personal for comfort and Hogarth's vocals were barely audible. This version has Hogarth front and centre with the backing a touch louder, allowing for little touches that were lost in the original recording to shine through. It's now a better song, although nowhere near a classic.
Like 'Three Minute Boy', I always thought that 'These Chains' was already a decent track that perhaps didn't need tinkering with. How wrong I was. Again, this song has been opened up and has more colour. The orchestral sweeps that were so low in the original mix, now come bursting through, giving 'These Chains' the rousing, uplifting finale that it deserved.
Next up is 'Born to Run' which is a bit of an oddity. The idea of Marillion doing a blues song should be the stuff of nightmares. As it happened, the original was ok, but nothing special despite a great guitar solo from Steve Rothery. This version is a slight improvement in so far as Steve Hogarth's vocals take centre stage and you can here Rothery's guitar a lot clearer in the verses. The problem with this track is that it's just a bit too dreary and being a Boltonian, I find Hogarth's idea of 'people of the north' to be a touch cliched! Not Marillion's finest hour song-wise by a long stretch, but not a complete disaster either.
'Cathedral Wall' is next and truly benefits from a new mix. The song is less distorted and more powerful. The dual layered vocals are cleaner, more audible and effective and the track is slightly bassier, giving it some much needed beef in the louder moments.
'A Few Words For The Dead' has always been a track that I've never been able to decide whether or not I like. I always felt that it took too long to get going and that when it finally got moving, it ended too quickly. This mix is just fresher and like most of the new mixes, brings out little nuances that weren't there in the original recordings. The 'payoff' in the track also sounds better with a much sharper attack and a smoother fade.
All in all, 'Radiation 2013' finally sounds like a Marillion album. The songs are allowed to shine without the constraints of pointless studio effects. There's a new energy to the tracks that gives the album a whole new vibe. Even the cover artwork is improved.
It's amazing what a new mix can do to an album and it can't be underestimated what Mike Hunter has done with this music. He has achieved the feat of actually making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Thanks to him, the individual performances are there for us to hear in all their glory; Steve Hogarth's vocal performances are astonishing, Steve Rothery's guitarwork is incredible, Mark Kelly's keyboards and effects add wonderful texture and the rhythm section of Pete Trewavas and Ian Mosely hammer the music home with their usual technical precision. The frustrating thing is that all those elements were already there. They were just buried somewhere undetectable in a shoddy original mix. It's just taken a new, more discerning ear to find them and bring them out.
Marillion fans should discount the original version and go with this. The band themselves should thank Hunter on bended knee for helping to put what was a real duffer right up there with some of the band's most satisfying output.
I'd now like to see him unleashed on 'Fugazi' and 'Marillion.com'. Now that would be interesting.