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Marillion - B'Sides Themselves CD (album) cover





3.44 | 190 ratings

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2 stars Some bands put as much work into their B-sides as their main tracks - Suede's B-side collection Sci-Fi Lullabies is better than many of their studio albums - but we don't have many groups like that in prog. Perhaps it's because prog is such an album-focused genre, and so singles tend to be regarded as a regrettable commercial necessity it's best not to spend too much time on.

Early on in their career, Marillion looked like they'd buck that trend, with great non-album tracks like Cinderella Search or the songs on the Market Square Heroes EP being just as warmly regarded as the material from their albums. However, it seems to me that the increasingly burdensome pressures of the road and their constant gigging (which Fish and the band now blame for ramping up the tensions that led to Fish's departure) meant that the band drifted from this approach fairly soon - later non-album tracks from the Fish era tend to be dull throwaways that sound like they were cranked out by the band in half an hour tops.

The end result is that B'sides Themselves is a rather patchy collection to begin with. It's even more of a problematic release to review since almost all of the songs on here are available on the bonus discs of the 2CD editions of the Fish-era albums in one version or another - which are far and away the best CD versions to get, so many fans will find this a decidedly optional release.

The biggest draw here is the opening track - Grendel, in the version which manifested as the B-side of the Market Square Heroes EP. This is NOT the version which appears on the second CD of the Script for a Jester's Tear rerelease - that's the slightly longer Fair Deal Studios version, which in theory was a demo but in practice I think actually sounds better than this rendition of the song. The production job on it was handled by David Hitchcock, who'd also handled Foxtrot by Genesis, and his approach on Grendel really brings out the Genesis-imitating elements of the song - whilst other versions of the track make it clear that there's a bit more going on than that, here you can really see why the epic got the band written off as a Genesis clone. In addition, Hitchcock can't stop himself from applying silly effects to the vocals for the first half of the song, and the opening sections tend to be a bit wimpier and less spooky than they usually are. It's still a decent song and it all comes together by the end, but it's probably my least favourite rendition of it.

But what of the remaining tracks? Well, the other two Market Square Heroes tracks on here are not actually present in their original version, but are instead re-recordings for the B- sides of later singles. They're alright versions, though it seems to me they lack a little energy compared to the originals, perhaps because the band resented having to do a do- over. Cinderella Search is one of the best non-album pop tracks the band ever did, whilst Lady Nina, Freaks and Charting the Single are all kind of clunkers - if you think Marillion can tend to be a bit too pop on their albums, just be glad they didn't take the braindead approach to pop they did on those tracks. Tux On threatens to become something a bit more interesting but never catches fire.

And lastly we come to Margaret, the sole song not included on the 2CD rereleases. There's a good reason for that - it was only ever performed live because it's essentially a light- hearted mess-about song for encores. If you have the Early Stages boxed set then you've already got one version of it in the context of the show it was performed at, and that's a better way to experience it to be honest.

So, on the whole, very much a collector's only deal. Add another star if you don't have either the Early Stages box or the 2CD versions of the Fish-era albums. If you have either of those, you already have identical or better versions of most of the songs on here; if you have both of those, this set becomes supremely redundant.

Warthur | 2/5 |


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