“Vol. 1 – Happiness Is The Road: The Essence” by Marillion

Artist: Marillion
Title: “Happiness Is The Road, Volume 1: The Essence
Label: MVD Audio
Release Date: 10/28/2008
Genre: Progressive Rock
Rating: 3/5

Marillion is definitely proving themselves to be a band that not only continually keeps their fans in releases but also by being a band that confuses these same listeners with the apparent on and off strength of the material they choose to dish out. I say this not as a “Fish Head” even though I loved those years, but as someone who chose to maintain course with the band as Hogarth joined in and delivered a number of amazing but different sounding albums. It was clear from his beginnings in the group that a different direction was being taken and for the most part these early albums were incredible. Steam was lost several years ago with “Radiation” and “Marillion.com” and it seemed to be business as usual with the incredible “Marbles”. Then came “Somewhere Else” and to say that this placid and tedious album was boring would be an understatement. The bands follow up would have to impress me quite a bit I felt and I anxiously awaited the release which came to the listeners this time as two distinct CD’s; Part One being “Essence” and Part Two being “The Hard Shoulder”. My copies were not together like some editions are so I adventured into them one at a time. Here goes nothing.

“Happiness Is The Road, Part 1: Essence” (referred to as “Essence” from now on) starts off with solemn piano and the always passionate voice of Hogarth and while it sets the mood of the release it didn’t snare me for the brief moments that it played. The album tracks are sewn together and the release plays like one long movement and when “The Train Of My Life” begins it still is setting up mood and is rather slow. To me this was not at all exciting and I was worried only two tracks in. Parts of the track pick up towards the end but it is quite the dreamy and atmospheric piece that you either love or hate from them. I was really bored with “Essence” and felt it went nowhere fast and this continues more often than it does not with Pt1 of their new music. I guess I can be accused of just “not getting” what the band is out to do these days, but they really kicked me back into the game with “Marbles” so I didn’t understand why all the over the top atmosphere and ethereal stuff was coming into play. For me I was finding the ups and downs of this album being like that of a rollercoaster and I was really thinking I had been on the ride too long at certain points. If you wanted the band to be music that you relax too to then there is a lot of great stuff on “Essence” to help you find that mental space but if you are longing for what they boldly did on “Brave” or even “This Strange Engine” you will be a bit disappointed. “Nothing Fills The Hole” starts off again slow, and then picks up with a very repetitive chorus and it was not until “Woke Up” that I found myself doing the same. This could very well be my favorite number on the very difficult to work through release. There are a couple of moments here and there on “Trap The Spark” but it is back to airy and spacey stuff with the one after it. The CD appears to close with the full title track of “Happiness Is The Road” and it’s a lengthy epic but not one that falls into the typical epic definition. Hogarth talks through much of it as opposed to singing and I really wanted to hear him belt out the notes for a change which he is still more than capable of. Thankfully he raises his pitch for the chorus. Many will notice how Mark Kelly’s keyboards are more up front in the production for a change but instead of letting it loose Mark keeps it to these dreamy sound scapes and sadly I didn’t find Rothery wailing anywhere. The drumming offered up by Mosley is solid but will not call to mind the past of the impressive player as he now seems to be merely keeping time.

The CD lists ten tracks but once this finishes we have silence for track eleven (done on purpose and not by accident) and then on comes a song as track twelve. It’s not listed anywhere on the booklet, but based on the lyrical content of the tune I am guessing that it’s called “Half Empty”. It starts off slow with Hogarth repeating over and over “I used to be half empty, but now I’m half full” and I thought that this would remain the way the track went but instead they raise it up a notch in volume and tempo. As this ended the soothing atmospheric and heady groove of “Essence” I felt as if the band was shaking me awake after I had nodded off in my chair. There are lyrics provided in the booklet and from them you can take that this was very philosophical at times. Marillion’s audience has changed with them over the years and while some have moved on there are those who brought people who loved the new sounds into the fold and the band has maintained a cult level following and underground status as result. This is not for everyone but does have some redeemable moments albeit not enough for someone like me. I cannot say that I hated it, but I can say that it didn’t really excite me as much as I had hoped it would. Now let’s see what Part 2 “The Hard Shoulder” is all about.

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
12. Half Empty (bonus track)

Official Website: http://www.marillion.com

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