Do you ever remember a year in your life that is extra special? For me, 2004 was an extraordinary year of change, littered with memories I will treasure forever. 2004 was the year I got married to an amazing woman and the year I first went to Italy to enjoy a sun-soaked honeymoon, which was the best holiday I have ever had, to a “Fantastic Place”. It was also the last year with my real mother, who had a stroke in 2005 and was never the same person. Happiness tinged with sadness.
What the hell does this have to do with Marillion‘s new live album? A fair question, but this record is from the Marillion Weekend at Center Parcs, Port Zelande, Netherlands and is based largely around the album Marbles, which was released in 2004. Marbles was the soundtrack of my honeymoon and I have fond memories of listening to its smooth sounds on top a hotel in Sorrento, closing my eyes to all the pain in the world outside of my perfect holiday.
I have always had the deepest love for Marillion, a progressive rock band from the UK. I grew up listening to Script For A Jester’s Tear and Fugazi. They were one band that spoke to me, with their energetic and complex music, allied to some of the best lyrics ever committed to music. They could do no wrong with their first four studio albums until their singer and poet Fish decided to part company with them. They then recruited a very talented singer Steve Hogarth and continued to make some very fine albums, including Marbles. However, for the last ten years, they have blanded out somewhat. Where there once was fire and energy, there is now a far more polished meandering set of songs and my love has grown somewhat cold.
As for their live performances, they continue to provide a spectacle, but they are still not the same beast as when I first saw them in 1985. Therefore, I approached this live album with some hesitation. Sure, the music and professionalism cannot be faulted, but would there be any moments that would make my blood rush like I was 16 again?
Sadly, this double album is rather dull, with songs such as “The Invisible Man” and “Marbles I” merging into one another without any killer choruses or direction. The whole band is not on fire anymore and has morphed into an AOR act that is not in the least bit dynamic. There are some great songs on here, such as “The Only Unforgivable Thing” with its heartbreaking lyrics and “Sounds That Can’t Be Made“, but they are too few and too infrequent. I yearn to hear older songs such as “Jigsaw” or “Three Boats Down From The Candy” rather than “The Damage“.
Thankfully, it is not all lost. There were two standout tracks on Marbles and these are given a royal treatment on this record. “You’re Gone” was a surprise Top Ten hit in 2004 in Britain and the song has some glory in its military style drumming from Ian Mosely. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is one of my favorite Marillion songs ever and this version is awesome.
This band can still be amazing, but they need to rediscover themselves and get the guitar turned up (Steve Rothery is one of the best guitarists ever) and the keyboards back to the 80’s pomp. Poor live albums like this do not help keep the fire alive and I for one am sad. 2004 was still one hell of a year though!