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Marillion - Happiness Is The Road CD (album) cover





3.35 | 641 ratings

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4 stars the two-face...

first of all, when "Happiness is the Road" came out... it did not come out. At least not for retail-buyers like me. ( Don't have a credit card - can't order from the net, so now you finally know it, I'm a poor musician ). And if Marillion would not have made a few exceptions, I'd not have had it in its year of release. But in Canada the Album had been released as two separate discs on MVD-records, and that's where my ( by now ) favorite retail-shop ( I'm glad there are any in my hometown still, this one's a pretty good one, especially when it comes to order imports ! ) had got them from for me. Needless to say I was happy that it worked, it did not take too long and it wasn't too expensive, either. In the meantime, though, "Happiness is the Road" has been officially released in Germany as well, as a double-disc.

As far as I'm concerned, in terms of quality this is a real two-face release and I think it quite fits that I'm owning it as two separate discs, but I don't mind reviewing them as "one", though the final rating has to be a "mixed-up" one... and, still, sometimes I wonder that other people do not share my impression when it comes to... "The hard shoulder".

As a "Volume 2" to the utterly magnificent 5-star effort of "Essence", it's such a immature and unfinished affair, bits & pieces, some okay, some seem to have been left at the state of rehearsal and are truly suffering from the production that, has to be said, is absolutely right for Part 1 ( Michael Hunter, see my review for "Somewhere else" ), but is a let down for Part 2... which means, well, "The hard Shoulder" is my personal nadir in the work of Marillion and, in this shape, I could have easily done without it, though it grew on me a bit since the first listen. It's straining me, still. More of an attitude than a finished collection of songs, with the exception of "Asylum Satellite # 1", a tune that, given better treatment to make it sound big and lush like f.e. "Marbles", would be outstanding. "Thunder Fly" is nice but, this time, far too close to U2's immature efforts on "Pop" to really impress me, "The Man from the Planet Marzipan" works as an experiment but does not groove like any of "Anoraknophobia", though it does belong to the better ones here, still. If there weren't "Older than me"... I'd have to struggle to give that album a second star. But "Older than me" is only but a nice short piece of song that, for once, seems to have been worked out well. But the last three should have stayed in the rehearsal-room and taken somewhere else, no, really, in spite of their good basic ideas they simply dissatisfy me - perhaps it was intended to keep " a raw edge" to these recordings, but that raw edge is nothing but the desperate sign that the band should have invested quite some more work in order to finish them - and, as a producer, I honestly believe that Michael Hunter should have told them to do so.

"Threw me out" is not much better, but for once we can take the self-pity while we must be embarrassed with "Half the World". This is a song I'd take and bash it onto Hogie's face - if I were his ex-wife. "I've cheated and left you but you're so wonderful" ? He, for once, would have been better off to simply confess "I've been an asshole, please forgive me, you really deserve better". Or just keep quiet, If you're asking me, it's annoying... disgusting... I'd be as angry as the woman must have been that "threw him out", really, and the music is a cheater, too. Please no more, the words may be right but he's the wrong man to say, even SING them ( being somewhat pitifully poured out, aren't they supposed to be the falsest of words to ever be heard ? ), a failure... shame on you !

But all is forgiven. because...

"Essence" is nothing less than the "essential masterpiece of progressive rock music" that "Marbles" seems to be for so many of you out there. It doesn't have a single flaw. It's magnificent. I can't say much more about it cause you have to listen for yourself. Marillion at their very best ! Inspired, mature, divine. Their best album since ".com" and, if you don't follow me on that underrated one, for sure their best album since "Brave". Cohesive, emotional, astounding, disturbing at times, full of beautiful melodies, a must-have. Love it... love it... love it... love it entirely, including the hidden "Jam" !

"Essence" is ESSENTIAL ! And it's prog, my friends, in terms of progressive as music can be, but you oughta like Marillion, of course, or else you may not get it - once more. Hard to name an outstanding track cause they all are... my personal faves being "Trap the Spark", "Woke up" and the title track(s), but the others are of no lesser impact. They must have given their all into "Essence" - and that's why they didn't have the power, nerve and sensibility to take "The hard Shoulder" any further. I guess they wanted to give too much - so, instead of keeping it in, they "knocked it out" once more. They would have been better off to think twice...

Given that, just treat "The hard shoulder" as a "bonus disc" of left-overs while "Essence" is the real album, then you won't be disappointed ( and you'll understand my rating ). Compared to U2, and I think I'm forgiven to do so cause the Marillos more than often have revealed a soft spot for that band, It's like "Essence" was "Achtung Baby"... and "The hard Shoulder" is "Zooropa", an EP that appeared to be an extended one but better not be counted as an album of its own right... cause by no means it can stand the comparism. But let's compare Marillion to Marillion, cause I know that there are many out there who think of "Afraid of Sunlight" as a masterpiece, too... so maybe "The hard Shoulder" can do the same for you, but beware, cause while AOS, at least, manages to sound like a shimmering diamond, "The hard Shoulder" does not. It's dull. Sorry. It's dull and my personal low-point in the history of that band. I'd even prefer "Fugazi", and you better read my review to that one.

rupert | 4/5 |


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