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Marillion - Happiness Is The Road CD (album) cover





3.35 | 641 ratings

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3 stars Like some others, I, too, am shocked at the generally negative comments about this album. And I am as deep a Marillion fan as anyone. First, however, let me get the quibbles out of the way.

I agree with those who feel the album is not well recorded. In fact, there seems to be something amiss with the EQ, as volumes and relative volumes seem to change from track to track, and there is an overall (but only slight) "muddiness" to the recording. (In fact, had the production been better, I would have given the album four stars.) I also feel that the segues between songs on the first disk are a bit too amorphous: they could (and should) have been more "specific." Finally, I agree with those who feel that H overuses his falsetto: it is a wonderful tool, but its overuse causes it to lose its expressive power.

That said, the suggestion that this album is not "progressive" enough is bizarre: if anything, there is almost TOO much creativity going on. And although one could quibble that that creativity is not always as well-realized or cohesive as it might have been, HITR is unquestionably the most "thoughtful," creative and PROGRESSIVE album since AOS (with the sole exception of Marbles). And I agree with the reviewer who noted that the album has a sort of "melancholy" feeling about it. But that is fine with me, since that feeling is the same one I get from Brave - which to my mind is the best H-era album of all, and among the best progressive rock concept albums ever.

Re the musicianship, I agree with La Villa, who noted the superb performances. Rothery may seem "AWOL" at times, but this is a misperception. Not only are his solos among the best - and most urgent - he has ever done, but he has never been more "Hackett-like" in his subtle contributions to the overall sound. Mosley is simply amazing here, more present and "crisp" than he tends to be, and he meshes with Trewavas better than the two have in quite some time. But this is definitely Kelly's album: not only are there lots of great piano parts, but his atmospheres and textures, both overt and subtle, are among the best I have heard from him.

Although I will not go song by song, the standouts for me on disc 1 are This Train, Essence, Woke Up, Trap the Spark, and the title track. [N.B. The "Half-Way Jam" - which is superb - appears on disc 1, at track 12. Amusingly, track 11 is two minutes of silence.] The two obvious standouts on disc 2 are The Man from Planet Marzipan and Asylum Satellite #1. Both of these hark back to AOS in many ways, both lyrically and sonically (amusingly, Marzipan is the first title food reference since Gazpacho). Also interestingly, if you tweak the production just a bit, both are amazingly Bowie-ish (the Eno period) - one could even imagine Bowie singing them.

All the other songs on disc 2 are about women and/or relationships. And H (romantic that he is) is as masterful with his lyrics here as the band is masterful with its arrangements. There is the lovely Older Than Me, the weirdly Beatlesque Throw Me Out, the playful Half The World, the amusingly ironic Whatever Is Wrong With You, and the sardonic Especially True. Oddly, the band chose to put the most "depressing" song last, as Real Tears For Sale is almost too painful to listen to.

As noted, although it does not measure up to Marbles, HITR is without question Marillion's most creative and progressive album since Afraid of Sunlight. A better production would have lifted it even further. But it nevertheless stands as a solid contribution from the band, and a must-have release from them.

maani | 3/5 |


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