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Marillion - Seasons End CD (album) cover





3.75 | 870 ratings

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4 stars Marillion's first album of the Hogarth era probably has the worst cover of any of their studio albums. The four elements concept isn't bad, but what irks me is the almost gleeful destruction or effacing various Fish-era symbols as part of the cover. Under the circumstances, it can't avoid looking like a mean-spirited stab at the former frontman - and even worse, it means that the cover ends up saying more about what the new Marillion is *not* about, when it really needed to state what the new band *was* about.

It's a particular shame because musically speaking the album is actually a pretty decent reinvention of the band's sound, evolving the direction taken on Clutching at Straws and diverting it into something a bit more esoteric and contemplative than might have been expected with Fish fronting the band. The way I see it, both eras of Marillion often come back to the same sort of subjects; you have a mix of songs commenting on various real-life issues of importance to the band, and you've got songs exploring people's emotional inner lives. In the former case, Fish had the likes of Forgotten Sons and White Russian, whilst H has Out of This World, Estonia, and on this album tracks like The King of Sunset Town, Easter and Holloway Girl. On the emotive side, you've got Fish era tracks like The Web, Sugar Mice, and Script for a Jester's Tear lined up against H-era material like, in this album's case, The Space or After Me.

What the crucial difference between the two singer's styles is not, then, the subject matter they choose to turn their attention to. Nor is it really Fish's tendency to thesaurus-like verbosity, because whilst that is a habit of his it isn't a constant - the lyrics of Kayleigh use fairly simple and effective language to make their point for instance. No, the way I see it the difference between Fish and H is that Fish's style is theatrical and performative, whilst H at his best is a lot more naturalistic and intimate. Fish always comes across as though he is putting on a drama, or giving a speech, or regaling a large group of friends at the pub with an anecdote; H, on the other hand, often sounds as though he is confessing something to the listener, or taking you personally aside to tell you a secret.

This is not a criticism of either performer's styles, but it is a fundamental difference in approach which Marillion adapt to on Seasons' End marvellously - in fact, I would not be surprised if they picked H for their new singer precisely because they wanted to move in this direction. The weakest songs on the album are probably The Uninvited Guest and Hooks In You - attempts at boisterous rocking out which don't suit H's performance and which were presumably included to present EMI with suitable material for a single. The other shorter song on the album, After Me, I think is actually quite good, transitioning from an acoustic confessional to an energetic exorcism and in doing so charting a course for the H era's more successful rock-out tracks; I do wonder whether the band's post-Fish fortunes wouldn't have been markedly improved if After Me had been released as the lead single from the album, since it feels to me like it chimes well with the direction many bands on the UK indie scene were taking at the time.

As it stands, I can't deny that this album doesn't quite hit the level of consistency of the four Fish-era releases; in particular, The Uninvited Guest is unremarkable and mildly repetitive whilst Hooks In You just doesn't sound like it belongs in the company of the rest of the material. But the other songs on here - King of Sunset Town, Easter, Berlin and After Me in particular - are so successful at charting a new course for Marillion and exploring the possibilities of what they could achieve with Steve Hogarth as a frontman that I can't not give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. It scrapes into the four-star category by the skin of its teeth.

Warthur | 4/5 |


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