Marillion- Happiness Is The Road
review by Jim Clark

Track Listing

1. Dreamy Street
2. This Train Is My Life
3. Essence
4. Wrapped Up In Time
5. Liquidity
6. Nothing Fills The Hole
7. Woke Up
8. Trap The Spark
9. A State Of Mind
10. Happiness Is The Road
11. Half-Empty Jam (hidden track)

1. Thunder Fly
2. The Man From The Planet Marzipan
3. Asylum Satellite #1
4. Older Than Me
5. Throw Me Out
6. Half The World
7. Whatever Is Wrong With You
8. Especially True
9. Real Tears For Sale



Ever since the release of 1995's brilliant Afraid of Sunlight album, I find buying Marillion CD's like rolling the dice. 1997's Strange Engine was uneven (though it does contain perhaps the band's finest moment in the title track), followed by a bunch of good songs with horrible production on Radiation. Next up was the abysmal followed the improved Anoraknophobia. The band continued with the very strong Marbles, though any momentum was killed by the dreadful Somewhere Else. So what now? Marillion has released two separate albums of new material and while neither disc would rate among my favorite by the band, they're definitely an improvement over Somewhere Else.

The first disc, titled Essence, is a largely mellow affair while the second disc, The Hard Shoulder, rocks out a bit more. While Essence can be a bit dull in places, it does have some highlights. "Happiness Is The Road" starts off with a "Brave"-like intro before the rest of the band kicks in. The chorus rates among Marillion's finest. "Liquidity" is a lovely, though short piano-based instrumental interlude. The opening "Dreamy Street" is a nice mood setter that sets the tone for all of Essence while "This Train Is My Life" is another decent tune with a cool guitar solo by Steve Rothery. Overall, while a tad boring at times, I'd say Essence is a grower. The only real clunker is the hidden track - "Half-Empty Jam," a truly awful piece of music. That said, it is a hidden track and can easily be viewed separately from the rest of the disc.

"The Hard Shoulder" is probably the stronger of the two discs, though it starts off on a weak note with the Marillion rocker-by-the-numbers "Thunder Fly." Things quickly pick up with "The Man From The Planet Marzipan" and "Asylum Satellite #1." Both extended pieces contain some excellent singing by Steve Hogarth and more solid fret work from Rothery. The album's single, "Whatever Is Wrong With You," is good enough. While nothing to write home about, it's not dreadful like past singles "The Damage" or "Most Toys." And things close out on a high with "Real Tears For Sale," another Marillion classic.

I had extreme reservations about these albums when I first heard they were largely written during the Somewhere Else sessions. Those reservations have been put to rest, though, as I like (but do not love) both discs. All around, but especially the production, arrangements and lyrics, the discs are a vast improvement over Somewhere Else. And both (especially Essence) gain from repeated listens. But, as usual, I do have concern about what the next Marillion release will bring. Guess I'll have to keep those dice ready.

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