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Marillion - Happiness Is The Road CD (album) cover





3.35 | 641 ratings

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4 stars Unlike when Somewhere Else was released and felt I wanted to get a review in immediately, I wanted to give Marillion's 2008 release Happiness Is The Road a good long soak (probably a bit too long). I thought people were hasty and a bit harsh on Somewhere Else, but the popular opinion was that the follow-up to the masterful Marbles (2004) fell way short, so everyone was wondering if Marillion would 'right the ship', so to speak.

Happiness Is The Road is divided into 2 separate albums: Essence and The Hard Shoulder. As both embody different characteristics, I feel it's only fair to judge them separately rather than a cohesive whole. The first disc, Essence, is more conceptual touching upon spirituality and the search for something more. Much like numerous Marillion albums (especially since Steve Hogarth came on), the listener is eased into a warm tranquil state with "Dreamy Street", which is a short meditation that leads directly into "Train Is My Life". A brilliant track that isn't very musically dynamic, but flows very nicely and picks up a bit. The title track "Essence" is a very interesting track, while Hogarth implores us to 'Choose life. Choose living,' the song acts as if it's going to really kick in, but relaxes a bit. And if anyone thinks that Hogarth's vocals have diminished only needs to hear this song with it's triumphant climax. Beautiful track.

The middles section of Essence gets trippy with "Wrapped Up In Time" through the Motown (Yes, I said 'Motown') influenced "Nothing Fills The Hole". "Wrapped Up In Time" is absolutely stunning, yet unassuming. The music just sort of sways for 5 minutes. Funny track as I can't say it's a favorite, but so very pleasant. Sandwiched between this and "Nothing Fills The Hole" is the cohesive "Liquidity", which is a musical interlude between songs.

Essence finishes off strongly with "Woke Up", "Trap The Spark", "State Of Mind" and "Happiness Is The Road". Up until now, Marillion haven't really let it fly. "Woke Up" is my personal 'sleeper track', with swirling keyboard work from Kelly and the undeniable slide work of Steve Rothery. Just absolutely killer! "Trap The Spark" continues with exquisite arrangement that solidifies what I love about this band. Hogarth has been exercising his right to the falsetto throughout Essence, and the guy can still hit those high marks.

The album closes with one of my favorites in "State Of Mind", which starts off a bit jazzy (like maybe a Keane song), but really changes into a sonic orgy for the senses with the band exploding at the end with Rothery's guitar cutting right through and powerful lead vocals by h. Not played on the Happiness On The Road tour, Marillion did perform this live at both conventions and it works brilliantly in a live setting. This and "Real Tears For Sale" are instant classics for me.

Side 1 closes with the soft and soulful "Happiness Is The Road", a 10 minute therapy session pumping us with optimism. The first few minutes showcases the synth heaven of Kelly and h's voice. Mark Kelly gets my MVP vote for this song, as his orchestrated textures add so much to the meaning of this song.

Wrapping up Essence, I find it to be masterful, exciting and yet another layer explored by Marillion. I find it funny to hear people refusing this incarnation of Marillion because Fish is no longer a part of this band; however, Marillion continue to push the envelope, refusing to become a dinosaur band by trying new things and refusing to settle. Essence is unlike anything they've ever attempted. Highly respect this band. 10/10 rating.

Disc 2, The Hard Shoulder, still remains an enigma with me. As some songs just strike me immediately with exhilarating musicianship, production and arrangements, some songs just seems like throwaways and I tilt my head in wonderment on how they could've made it. These songs keep Happiness Is The Road as an album to be considered a masterpiece like Marbles, Brave and Misplaced Childhood.

The first three songs start off very promising with the rocking "Thunder Fly", "Man From The Planet Marzipan" and "Asylum Satellite #1". From what I've gathered with talking with others is these three songs will ultimately be favorites and live staples for a while. These songs confirm that Marillion still have the 'it' factor with progressive bands--exploring other ways of making a statement without dipping into the same old bag of ingredients. "Asylum Satellite #1" is especially interesting, and hopefully not a true prediction of the future where people of different viewpoints are exiled to a far off satellite because they no longer belong on Earth. And while I agree that we need more Rothery, he does pull off one of his most memorable solos, and one that he truly enjoys playing live.

Now, this is where The Hard Shoulder starts to lose me. Sprinkled in the next several songs are some gems, like "Half The World" and "Whatever Is Wrong With You". But songs like "Older Than Me", Throw Me Out" and "Especially True" just leave me cold. I've tried and tried, but feel they have no place being included. "Especially True" shows promise with some nice guitar work from Rothers, but the lyrics are 'silly', for lack of a better word. This is where I lose a step with this album. But, it does end on a very promising note.

I'm reserving this spot for the amazing "Real Tears For Sale", which could be in my top 5 Marillion tracks of all time. About the pitfalls of losing oneself into a world of glamor and fame, the song is like a razor and it cuts through with some harsh lyrics ("Even whores don't kiss with tongues"). So relevant in today's society of placing these 'stars' on a pedestal and assigning them God-like status; however, strip away the make-up and designer clothes, they're no different than the rest of us. Marillion do a brilliant job in expressing this in both lyric and music. And for me, "Real Tears" is a tried and true formula where a powerful song has an exclamation mark stamped firmly on it with an absolutely killer finish (like "Somewhere Else" before it). This song saves The Hard Shoulder from falling completely off the tracks after starting off so strongly. Rating for The Hard Shoulder 7/10.

Although VERY solid, Happiness Is The Road still doesn't measure up with Marbles. I do believe Mike Hunter did a brilliant job with the production and keeping it simple; whereas, Dave Meegan likes to tinker a lot with little nuances. Meegan is in a class all by himself, but Hunter handled this beautifully. As for Marillion, I still hold on to the fact that they could've easily cashed it in and played "Kayleigh" at festivals and sleep walked through the remainder of their career. I don't believe I see a band out there today working nearly as hard as Marillion in keeping their music fresh, relevant and alive. Most bands don't make music THIS good this far into their career. Yes, some spots on this album comes up way short, but as a whole it's still a brilliant album.

E-Dub | 4/5 |


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