Marillion – Happiness Is The Road Volume 1: Essence

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Marillion Happiness Is The Road Volume 1: Essence

Marillion have often been compared to early period Genesis, and for good reason. After Genesis lost members and turned towards a more commercial pop sound, Marillion continued their proggy side in the 1980s. Similarly, when lead singer Fish left in 1988, the band also went for a more pop sound, which they still maintain today. The first volume of their new double album, Happiness Is The Road, is definitely not as progressive as their early stuff, but it’s not nearly as bad as what Genesis became. It’s somewhere in the middle.

On this release, Fish replacement Steve Hogarth still provides vocals. The rest of the group consists of Steve Rothery (guitars), Mark Kelly (keyboards), Peter Trewavas (bass), and Ian Mosley (drums & percussion). This first part of the double album is subtitled Essence, which fits with its overall mixture of psychedelic atmosphere and simple melodies.

“Dreamy Street” is a short opener with piano that transitions perfectly into the album’s best track, “This Train Is My Life.” The guitar arpeggio has the wobbly, spacey timbre of the more experimental Porcupine Tree tracks. Hogarth’s voice has the unique, honest quality of Flower King’s vocalist Ronnie Stolt. The melody is one of those short but sweet things you’d wish you wrote, and gives the track a lot of replay value. “Essence” is like a religious choir roaring about its message. The dynamics between the verses and chorus range from sparse spirituality to lush harmonies. “Wrapped Up In Time” has a sad, soft melody of redemption. There is a general desperation in the singer’s plea. “Liquidity” is a short instrumental with swirling keyboards over a piano. It’s a nice lead in to “Nothing Fills The Hole.”

This track is a gospel, slow number that is honestly one of the weaker tracks. It’s just not very interesting. Luckily, things pick up with “Woke Up,” an optimistic entry with warm vocals. It would fit perfectly on the newer releases of Spock’s Beard. The various electric guitar tones make it very intriguing. The Indian style string fade out fades into “Trap The Spark,” which is also one of the best tracks here. The chord changes complement the vocals perfectly. “A State Of Mind” is also very bombastic and energetic. “Happiness Is The Road” is, at ten minutes, the longest track. It’s not a tricky piece in terms of virtuosity, but it does go through several changes before its very involving closing melody.

Finally, there is a bit of silence before the “hidden track” of “Half Empty Jam,” which is, as you can guess, a freer, more improvisational piece. It’s also the heaviest, most complex track. Obviously, the focus is more on the musical performance than the vocals, and Marillion doesn’t disappoint. They prove that they can still rock out when they want. As a closer, it’s invigorating and leaves the listener wanting more (which is a good thing).

As the first half of Happiness Is The Road, Essence is quite good. Many fans think Marillion sold out, and to some extent they have. Nearly all progressive rock bands eventually lean towards commercially simple pop tendencies, especially, as history has shown, when the original leader leaves. The difference is some acts, like Spock’s Beard and The Flower Kings, were always good songwriters, whereas Genesis and Yes eventually became very weak and corny (though they were amazing in their prime). Marillion are more like the former example. True Essence isn’t very complex and there is only one suite (the title track), but so what? As a more pop oriented band, they succeed, and that’s all they need to do. This disc has a very positive energy, nice melodies and you can hear that they had fun making it. Let’s hope volume two, The Harder Shoulder, is as good.