Review Summary: A strong and worthy follow on
When a much revered frontman leaves, the band will go through perhaps the most troubled time of its career. This is most likely because when it boils down to it, there are usually only three possible outcomes.
A) The change in frontman fails completely, and the band drops off the radar soon afterward.
B) The change in frontman goes well for the most part, but the band is, in a way, doomed to forever live within a shadow of its former self.
C) The change in frontman is the best thing that could ever happen to the band, and they begin reaching new heights creatively.
The answer to how this change affected Marillion lies somewhere in between B and C. Whilst the album doesn’t quite manage to reach classic status, it definitely has its moments. It's quite easy to picture "Seasons End" as being a car that has just come back from repairs at the garage, and for the most part the vehicle, quite thankfully, functions well. Though it is bound to stutter occasionally.
One of the things that Marillion hit the target on continuously throughout the album is the emotion and atmosphere exemplified by the tracks. And in the albums highlights, “Easter” and “Berlin” this is one of the ways in which the song succeeds so brilliantly. Showcasing perfectly the great vocal and lyrical talents of Steve Hogarth and the outstanding musicianship of the other members of the band, Marillion manage to create two of their classics here. On “Easter” Guitarist Steve Rothery creates some truly brilliant guitar work, such as the beautiful acoustic introduction and the solo in the middle. The reason why his guitar work is so effective is not just because of its technicality, but how well he succeeds in translating the songs meanings and emotions into musical form. Steve Hogarths voice fits the atmosphere perfectly and leaves little to be desired in filling the shoes of Fish, showcasing great range throughout and carrying the emotions created by the musicians perfectly. “Berlin” is another prime example of this, and is pretty much all the positives of “Easter” taken and spiced up a little. With other instruments, such as a saxophone, making an appearance. However instead of being a pointless addition that simply adds cheese to the song, Marillion showcase great restraint, only adding as much as the song calls for. And it is this restraint which enriches the track and makes it truly excellent. Steve Hogarth also really comes into his own on this, showcasing yet again great vocal work, the lyrics also being a stand out.
However, when Marillion fail to deliver on the emotional side, the car stutters. And on no track is this more evident than “Hooks In You” a failed attempt at 80's rock and without a doubt the low water mark for the album. The lyrical work is shallow and quite silly, Hogarths delivery is cringe worthy as his voice is most definitely not suited for hard rock, and instrumentally has little to offer but wankery. Another example of this is on the track “Holloway Girl” Where the band don’t quite manage to translate the emotion they are trying to achieve, and thus makes for a mediocre track with little replay value.
The rest of the songs here range from good (“The Space” “Seasons End” and “The King Of Sunset Town”) To Marillion by numbers (“After Me”) These tracks, although strong, do not prove to be essential listening in itself. “Seasons End” Again displays the band using atmosphere extremely well, and “The King Of Sunset Town” although not completely overwhelming, proves a pleasant listen, with some excellent keyboard work by Mark Kelly, also proves to be another strong showing of Steve Hogarths lyrics. “The Space” is probably the strongest of the three mentioned and is a candidate for the third strongest song on the album. All the Positives of “Easter” and “Berlin” are repeated here but on a smaller scale, all in all, a good closer and a strong song, but it doesn’t quite manage to reach the same peak those two achieved.
With this album, Marillion managed thankfully to survive the shaky manoeuvre of replacing a revered frontman mainly yielding good results. And although as a whole it doesnt quite manage to reach the same musical peaks as reached by some of the material from the Fish era it will, to people who give it a thorough listen, prove a strong and worthy follow on.
Overall Rating: 3.8/5
Recommended: Easter, Berlin, The Space.