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Marillion - Happiness Is The Road CD (album) cover





3.35 | 641 ratings

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Una Laguna
3 stars I remember reading the news updates on Marillion last year about this album. I only discovered H-era Marillion last summer. I fell in love with Marbles and immediately preferred Hogarth's vocals and lyrics to Fish's.

Marbles had some truly wonderful tracks on it - admittedly some of the tracks aren't to my liking, but they are in a minority. I've only listened to parts of Somewhere Else a couple of times and didn't enjoy it half as much as Marbles. It felt musically quite bland. So I was quite excited to hear that this new album Marillion were working on over the summer was more like Marbles. Hurrah! Good music in the near-future, surely?

But as I read the updates I realised that there was inevitably going to be a difference quality-wise between this new album and Marbles. Musically being different is fine - there is little point in releasing two near-identical albums, at least from an artistic point of view. The band talked about how excited they were with the content, about how the jam sessions had been going really well and they'd have enough material for two CDs of material rather than one.

Marbles notoriously took the band two-and-a-half years to produce, and it shows. There is a remarkable amount of polish on the album. So when I realised that they were producing one hundred minutes of music in less than a year, I was concerned that maybe there wouldn't be as much polish as on Marbles.

The difference another 18 months can make is remarkable. The production is not horrible, but the songs don't feel like they're going at full capacity. The recording overall sounds a bit muggy, like they forgot to tweak their EQ settings. I get the impression that the guys were so excited to finish the album and play the songs live that they weren't too bothered about how the songs sounded on the album.

Musically, the album is a mix between Marbles and Somewhere Else, as you'd expect. The album isn't nearly as varied as Marbles, though. There are long songs, short songs, instrumental tunes, elaborate orchestral tracks, but they all have a very similar overall sound. True, the tracks on an album all need an overall sound to unite them as an album, but HITR could have remained as a cohesive album but still explored greater musical territory.

There are some great tracks on this album. The tracks which really stand out are This Train is My Life, Liquidity, Woke Up, The Man from Planet Marzipan and Especially True. The title track is also very good, reminiscent of Neverland, although the beginning feels rather drawn-out. The first three-four minutes were from an unedited recording of a jam the band did over some of Hogarth's lyrics. Okay, it sounds impressive to say "oh yeah, that was just a jam", but, you know, is it actually GOOD? It's definitely not bad, just far too long. Two minutes, maybe, but not three. The rest of the song is very good, although towards the end of the song Hogarth starts singing "Happiness is the Road" as "Her Penis is the Road" (I'm not the only one who's noticed this so I'm not a perv). Ruins it a bit.

None of the other tracks are bad, per se... they just aren't that exciting. They don't grab you and say "I'M A GOOD SONG!" Most of the songs are a bit slow and plodding. If the album was a person, he'd be old, unable to walk in a straight line for long periods of time, wear plain grey clothes and grumble to himself. Oh, and he'd have loads of stubble.

That's the real problem with this album: it's undercooked. In my humble opinion, the band should've either released half as much music or spent another year or two working on the album. The Essence of the music is there (see what I did?), and it's perfectly listenable, but most of it won't blow you away.

The lyrics are in place (although some of the parts should have been re-recorded to get rid of the unfortunate innuendo, as mentioned above), the keys and pianos are there, but the drums and guitars and bass guitars are, for most of the album, a bit plain and neglected. The guitarwork in particular is disappointing: with the exception of Whatever is Wrong with You and one or two tracks I might have forgotten, there aren't really any strong, guitar-driven parts of the album. It feels like Rothery was away when the rest of the band were recording the album, then came in to improvise some bits over the top. It almost feels like the quiet guitar mix was intended, to make you forget that this band had a guitarist.

Overall, this album feels like a missed opportunity. As it is, it's a good album, there's no doubt about it. But there's a nagging feeling throughout the album that it was meant for greater things. If you're new to H-era Marillion, this album is not a good introduction: instead, try Marbles, Seasons End, Brave or Afraid of Sunlight. This one's primarily for the fans, and those who want to dig deeper into Marillion's discography.

Una Laguna | 3/5 |


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