Review Summary: Don't be put off by the title. This contains some of the best of Fish era Marillion.
Marillion made some waves in the relatively dormant prog rock scene of 1983 with their excellent debut release 'Script For A Jester's Tear' and spearheaded the so called neo-prog revival that danced around the heels of the NWOBHM. By this time the band had amassed a backlog of material which was not deemed suitable for inclusion on their first full album. Much of it was issued as limited edition EPs or 12 inch singles but eventually their record label decided to put out a compilation of these odds and ends and thus we have the rather misleadingly titled 'B Sides Themselves'.
There is one major reason to get hold of this album if you are a Marillion fan and that is the inclusion of the live favourite 'Grendel'. Based upon the ancient poem Beowulf this 18 minute epic is a showcase of pretty much everything the band had to offer in their formative years. In their early incarnation Marillion were always compared to early Genesis and the influence manifests itself quite strongly in parts of Grendel. The four part song begins with medieval flavoured clean guitar tones and Fish's unmistakeably theatrical voice sets the scene of Hrothgar's hall inhabited by frightened Scandinavians who dread the coming of the monster... 'They place their faith in oaken doors, cower in candlelight, the panic seeps through bloodstained floors as Grendel stalks the night'. The first section of the song builds to a peak with a great solo from Rothery before falling away to reveal a haunting melody as a backdrop for Fish to describe how 'mother nature's bastard child shunned by leaf and stream' makes his way to the hall of Hrothgar. Church organ blasts onto the scene as Grendel forces his way into the hall and the 'warriors advance, and prepare for the nightmare foe'. A bridge section which pays homage to Genesis's 'Suppers Ready' takes us through to the finale and sadly for the villagers it appears that the hero Beowulf doesn't feature at all in this particular interpretation as Grendel exclaims 'expose your throats to my righteous claws, and let the blood flow, and let the blood flow, flow, flow, flow'. Well, poor Hrothgar and his folk are ripped to shreds it seems but at least we are treated to a characteristically heart-wrenching solo from Rothery to bring the song to a close.
This album isn't all about Grendel though. The anthemic minor hit single 'Market Square Heroes' is included here in a different, and superior, version to that included on Marillion's debut. There are a couple of bona-fide B-sides to be found in the form of 'Freaks' and 'Charting the Single' which are mildly entertaining. The real jewel on here apart from Grendel though is the wonderful 'Cinderella Search' which shifts from pop prog ballad beginnings to a second half of soaring melodies and haunting lead guitar work from Rothery. 'Tux On' points the way towards the sort of music the band would be producing a couple of albums down the line and dispenses with the neo-prog sensibilities to embrace the poppier side of the band's psyche. It is a catchy little number nonetheless and shows that Marillion had ambitions beyond their cult status which were finally realised when 'Misplaced Childhood' broke them into the mainstream a few years later.
For anyone who has heard and enjoyed 'Script For a Jester's Tear' this is pretty much an essential album to get hold of. 'Grendel' still stands almost as a signature song for Fish era Marillion and is the quintessence of the neo-prog revival movement. For those who are not familiar with the band's work but enjoy early Genesis or any form of neo or melodic prog this album is definitely worth a listen.