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Marillion - Happiness Is The Road CD (album) cover

HAPPINESS IS THE ROAD

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

3.35 | 641 ratings

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Magog2112
5 stars During the 'Somewhere Else' tour, Steve Hogarth's mental health was suffering from his domestic situation (recent divorce) and professional (touring). His body mutinied, causing him to need surgery. On the afternoon of a show in Holland, Hogarth was referred to a doctor in Utrecht who performed a minor operation. The doctor was also a healer and after the surgical operation, he held his hands over Hogarth. He noticed that there were tears rolling down the doctor's face. Afterwards, the doctor said that the tears were Hogarth's, not his. Vicariously, he had felt the pain that burdened Hogarth. The doctor then recommended a book for Hogarth to read and wrote the name of it on his prescription pad. The book is 'The Power of Now' by Eckhart Tolle. The book resonated with Hogarth as it aligned with his own intrinsic views of the meaning of life. 'Happiness Is the Road,' specifically the first volume, 'Essence,' was directly inspired by the book.

'Happiness Is the Road' is Marillion's 15th studio album, released in 2008 as two separate volumes entitled 'Essence' and 'The Hard Shoulder,' respectively. Overall, the playing time for 'Happiness Is the Road' is 116 minutes, making it the longest Marillion album in duration. Due to the format, 'Happiness Is the Road' feels like a more logical album to follow 2004s 'Marbles' as opposed to 2007s 'Somewhere Else.' Like 'Marbles' and its predecessor, 'Anoraknophobia,' the recording for 'Happiness Is the Road' was financed by pre-ordering.

'Essence' is somewhat of a concept album in the sense that each of the songs hang together loosely from a general concept, rather than a narrative story. 'The Hard Shoulder' is a collection of songs that was intended to be the complete album. During the recording sessions of 'Happiness Is the Road,' the band experienced a surge of inspiration which resulted in the writing of 'Essence.' Both volumes have a yin and yang relationship. 'Essence' is mellower and similar in style to 'Somewhere Else,' whereas 'The Hard Shoulder' is played more in the style of rock. Personally, I prefer 'Essence' to 'The Hard Shoulder.' I wonder if it would've been more beneficial for Marillion to release both volumes as separate albums, rather than using 'Happiness Is the Road' as an umbrella for both. Nevertheless, the final product is beautiful beyond words.

'Essence' opens with the shortest track, "Dreamy Street." The opener acts as a prelude that smoothly transitions into the album. "Dream Street" contains just Mark Kelly's piano and Steve Hogarth's vocals. The chord progression of the song has jazzy elements that surprised me on first listen. The first proper song, "This Train Is My Life," is a beautiful song that manages to compact so much emotion and power in less than five minutes. I like the metaphor of our lives as trains, which is what the title and lyrics convey. 'Essence' is one of my favorite Marillion songs with a wonderful climax at the end during the "sit in silence and watch the sky" lyric. I love the lyric, "live in the moment or you'll never be free." The memorable melodies and temporal lyrics of "Wrapped Up In Time" are beautiful. The syncopated keyboard ostinato paired with the opposing rhythm section on "Liquidity" creates a strange, but interesting groove.

The coda to "Nothing Fills the Hole" reminds me of one of the title tracks of 'Marbles,' which brilliantly crescendos into "Woke Up." This is probably the most straight-ahead rock song on the album that is perfect for driving out in the country with the windows down, something I've definitely done before. Steve Hogarth's vocals soar on this song. The ending of "Woke Up" has a Middle Eastern flair due to the snake charmer keyboard melody and exotic percussion. I interpret the lyrics of "Woke Up" being about that person or thing that alone makes you want to get up in the morning. "Trap the Spark" is another beautifully melodic song about living in the moment rather than being a slave to one's past. "A State of Mind" reminds me of "See It Like a Baby" from the previous album, 'Somewhere Else.' The similitude is mainly apparent in the verse with Ian Mosley's drumming style. This is one of the weaker tracks in my opinion. However, I do love the lyrics, as one's state of mind can affect one's happiness, leading us perfectly into the ten minute title track. The first three minutes features just Mark Kelly's synths and Steve Hogarth's whispery vocals. Once the drums and bass enter, I'm reminded of "Neverland" from 'Marbles.' Marillion have always written songs through jamming. This method of composition is especially apparent on "Happiness Is the Road." The groove laid down by one of my favorite rhythm sections, Ian Mosley and Pete Trewavas, is absolute perfection. Steve Hogarth's voice soars even more on the chorus of "Happiness Is the Road." One of Hogarth's best lyrics is "your mind will find a way to be unkind to you somehow." This has always been one of my favorite Marillion songs. There is a hidden track at the end of the first volume entitled "Half Full Jam." This is probably one of the heaviest Marillion songs.

'The Hard Shoulder' opens with 'Thunder Fly,' which picks up nicely where 'Essence' ended, as this song is another jam. "Thunder Fly" goes back and forth between hard rock passages and beautiful choruses, culminating into a gorgeous coda with spectacular vocal harmonies and a grandiose Steve Rothery guitar solo. "The Man From the Planet Marzipan" is Marillion at their most zany. Pete Trewavas' slap bass and Mark Kelly's futuristic keyboard tones makes 'The Man From the Planet Marzipan" one of the most unique Marillion songs. I like the concept of a stranger in a strange land that is explored lyrically in this song and how the music reflects that. As the song progresses, the music and lyrics become more melancholic. The main refrain of "The Man From the Planet Marzipan" is quite epic.

Steve Rothery really shines on the nearly ten-minute "Asylum Satellite 1" with his chorus lead guitar playing. Steve Rothery is one of my favorite guitar players, and his contribution to this track alone makes it one of the many highlights of 'Happiness Is the Road.' Like the lyrics of "The Man From the Planet Marzipan," "Asylum Satellite 1" has a cosmic element, and the atmosphere of the music complements that theme.

There are some forgettable tracks on 'The Hard Shoulder,' such as "Older Than Me," "Throw Me Out," and "Especially True." Given the length of 'Happiness Is the Road,' I view these weak tracks as superfluous. "Older Than Me" sounds like a lullaby and lyrically references the song "Over the Hills and Far Away" by Led Zeppelin. The heavy guitar riff during the coda of "Especially True" saves the song from being completely negligible. "Half the World" and "Whatever Is Wrong With You" are the most accessible songs on 'Happiness Is the Road.' The former is a pleasant pop song with a singalong chorus. The latter, however, is one of the best mainstream rock songs Marillion has ever written. The fact that "Whatever Is Wrong With You" didn't break big (not that Marillion would necessarily want that) is unbelievable. This song is instantly catchy and makes me forget that Marillion are a neo-prog band, and I mean that as a massive compliment.

My favorite song on 'Happiness Is the Road' is the final track of the second volume, "Real Tears for Sale." The tragic lyrics hark back to concepts explored on 1995s 'Afraid of Sunlight.' I think of all the Hollywood stars whose fame, literally in certain cases, killed them. People tend to place celebrities on a pedestal like they're gods when, in reality, they're no different than the rest of us. I love the slow build that crescendos into the powerful climax at the end of the song. Steve Rothery's guitar soloing, as always, is phenomenal. Ian Mosley shows off his intense drumming side, reminding me of earlier Marillion tracks like "King."

In conclusion, 'Happiness Is the Road' is a Marillion masterpiece. Marillion tend to release their best albums when they're feeling ambitious. This is certainly true for 'Happiness Is the Road.' Parts of this album speak to the very core of my being, and I love the profound concept of 'Essence.' While there may be a couple weaker tracks on 'The Hard Shoulder,' they're not weak enough for me to rate it any less than five stars.

Magog2112 | 5/5 |

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