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Marillion’s Happiness is the Road, a review

Update: forgot to mention, if you live in the US and/or UK, you will be able to get the release in stores, otherwise head to http://www.marillion.com/home.htm to purchase.

 

I won’t go through every single song, since there are 20(21 if you count the hidden track) of them, but I will do a fairly full review.

1st digression: I find it massively annoying when someone uses simply pop psychology to analyze a popular work.  One thing I have learned through life is that the intentions and motivations of almost all human psychology is complicated, and so almost by definition, trite and clichéd pop psychoanalysis is just that.  “He’s unhappy because he never earned the respect of his father”, “she’s unhappy because she never had the love of her father” (as a side note, bad fathers are a major cause of unhappiness….I’m perhaps more attuned to this than some because I had a good one, but it’s a common cause/thread in the lives of so many people that I’ve met/know that Dad was a schmuck..but I digress again), but these are usually all simple explanations for more complex situations.  And very annoying.

Now that I’ve said that, a lot of my review of Happiness is the Road will revolve around somewhat simplistic analysis.  I’m added in that Steve Hogarth, lead singer and lyricist of Marillion, has talked publicly about some of the motivations/intentions behind some of his songs, and the public marketing for Happiness is the Road has mentioned a book that Hogarth found inspiring (called 'The Power Of Now' by Eckhart Tolle, which I haven’t read but am inclined to think from the description is complete twaddle).  So, I’m not completely pulling all of this out of my behind.  I also want to make clear that in my review when I am doing some trite pop psychoanalysis, I am absolutely *not* talking about myself in any way, shape, or form.  Absolutely not.

One other digression before I get to the actual friggin’ review:

When I taught Intro to Philosophy, I often started off the semester by listing something like the following three propositions on the chalkboard;

- The Earth rotates around the Sun.

- Capital punishment is immoral.

- The Beatles are a better musical group than Duran Duran.

I did so because I wanted to get the students to think about whether there was any difference in the objectivity of any of the statements.  They would typically be willing to accept the first statement as objective, sort of mixed on whether the second statement was objective, and generally resistant to the idea that the third statement was objective.  Until the last day of the semester, I never revealed my own opinions on the matter (ignoring the examples I gave, I believe statements about physical facts, moral positions, and ‘artistic’ positions are usually equally objective.  It would take too long to explain all the reasons why, but focusing on the statement that “The Beatles are a better musical group that Duran Duran,” I pointed out what seems to be an obvious fact, that I can personally prefer something while also accepting that my preference does not contradict saying one group is better than another.  This explains why Mystery Science Theater 3000 worked so well.  The movies they spoofed/ridiculed really did suck, but you could prefer to watch them precisely because watching them being spoofed/ridiculed was enjoyable.  Similarly, to refer to a recent blog post, I can say that I enjoy “Midnight Blue'” by Lou Gramm while at the same time acknowledging that the enjoyment is a ‘guilty’ pleasure, because I also know the song kind of sucks.  If there was nothing objective about judging musical groups or songs or whatever, I couldn’t say this.  Since this is a blog post, I won’t go more into the philosophical defense of this, but just leave it as is.

I include this because almost all of the songs on Happiness is the Road are about relationships.  If you aren’t in the mood or aren’t inclined to like songs about relationships, then the lyrical content of this work is probably not necessarily going to be something you think is the greatest thing in the world.  Disregarding how I think about relationships, I think that a lot of popular music is at its greatest and most impassioned when about failed relationships.  There’s a reason for this:

Next digression: Stephen Wilson is the lead guitarist and creator of Porcupine Tree (among other bands…more on that in another post) and in some webcast interview, the interviewer remarked to him that a lot of his songs seemed to be about failed relationships and dealing with the outcome of them.  From outward appearances, Wilson is not a depressing sort of guy.  He’s engaging, somewhat upbeat, etc.  Wilson’s response (and I’m paraphrasing of course) was brilliant, or at least I get it: “When life is going well, I don’t feel like writing music about it.  I enjoy living it.  When it isn’t going well, I feel more like writing music about it.”  Exactly.  Not that I know anything about this, of course.

So, on to the review.

Almost. 

There are (at least) two themes that have shown up in recent Marillion works that re-appear in Happiness.  The first requires revisiting ‘Neverland’ from their Marbles release:

“Some people think I'm something
Well you gave me that, I know
But I always feel like nothing
When I'm in the dark alone

You provide the soul, the spark that drives me on
Makes me something more than flesh and bone

At times like these
Any fool can see
Any fool can see
Your love inside me”

From webcast interviews, this was a love song to his wife of (however many double-digit years at the time). 

You can immediately guess that they then got a divorce.  Life is fun, isn’t it?

Anyway, on the otherwise forgettable Somewhere Else release, the one great song was, well, ‘Somewhere Else’ where Hogarth reflected on what had happened:

“And I have time to look at myself
Look at myself
Look at myself

And I've seen enough
I've seen enough
Everyone I love lives somewhere else
Everyone I love lives somewhere else”

I didn’t appreciate the song half as much when first listening to it as when I watched the YouTube live performance.  Hogarth ‘emotes’ the hell out of the song, if that makes sense, and Rothery’s guitar work is brilliantly done (it’s a Gilmour-esque performance in the sense that he never plays a million notes a second (which has never been his style), but what he plays is perfect for the song, expressing the desperate hurt of the lyrics).

So, on Happiness, ruminations on failed relationships abound.

The second theme involves the notion of living for the moment, which appears on Marbles in “Don’t Hurt Yourself”:

“Put it away this dream you can't stop dreaming
Put it away this anger and desire
The open road is infinitely hopeful
Take all those memories and throw them in the fire

And don't hurt yourself
Don't hurt yourself
Don't hurt yourself anymore”

As I’ll discuss later, I think this theme is garbage, even harmful psychologically , but, it is there.

With all that in place, the actual review.

Happiness is split into 2 CDs.  The first, Volume 1 : Essence, takes up the first 12 tracks (I thought previously that it ended with “Happiness is the Road” but there is a hidden track to provide space and then “Half Empty Jam” ends it.  The second is Volume 2 : The Hard Shoulder.  The first CD is the ‘concept’ album, while the second is the collection of songs that didn’t fit into the first, or whatnot. 

I will talk about individual songs.  If I don’t talk about a song, it doesn’t mean I hate it (though I’ll mention if I do hate a song), it just means I have even less useful things to say than normal.

Essence, Track #2 - “This Train is My Life”

A very nice song about embarking on a journey with someone (see, there’s this train, and….you get the idea).

“So take my hand
Squeeze it tight
Make some light
In the darkness
I'm glad you came on this trip
Don't lose your grip
Don't lose your grip
This train is my life
This train is my life”

Rothery unleashes a nice solo toward the end of the song, but it seems like it should be a bit more than it is.

Essence, Track #3 - “Essence”

As the title song to the volume, one might expect it would emphasize a fundamental theme, and yes, it does.

“Aint one damn thing means a thing in this life 
til you get close to Essence, til you try
Every man and woman listen to me, hey
Live in the moment or you'll never be free“

When i get to the ‘summation’ part of this review, I’ll have more to say about this, but I like the song in spite of the theme.

Essence, Track #4 - “Wrapped Up in Time”

Probably my favorite song on the entire release, it starts with a nice piano intro and then Hogarth pegs the feeling/experience/whatever of reminiscing about something that used to be but is now gone, exactly.  Not that I know anything personally about the experience, but it pegs it.

“Things come wrapped up in time
Like the past in a present
Or the perfect line in a song

They take their time
And when they're gone
They take their time with them

And you can't have them back
Because the time for them has gone
And their time has gone with them”

I think it captures perfectly the experience of regret.

Essence, Track #6 - “Nothing Fills the Hole”

If there seems to be a recurring theme, well, that’s because it is a recurring theme.

“I wanted it til I got it
Believed in it til I saw it
I needed it til I had it
Then I wanted something else”

Essence, Track #9 - “A State of Mind”

The music for this is really good, somewhat compensating for the lyrics.

“We came a long, long, way with each other
We’re goin nowhere til we see we’re only
Sisters and brothers

A state of mind
A state of mind is a contagious thing
Spread it around you never know what the future brings..”

Essence, Track #10 - “Happiness is the Road”

As the title track to the entire release, one might think it would emphasize a fundamental theme, and yes, it does.

“You're a slave to your mind
But you are not your mind
You are not your pain
Say it again
You are not your pain
Say it again
You are not your pain

Happiness aint at the end of the road
Happiness aint at the end of the road
Happiness IS the road“

I’ll get to this in the summation, but there is a desperation to the song that I’m not sure Hogarth is aware of.  Along the lines of ‘Happiness *has* to be the road because if it isn’t, I’m screwed.’

Essence, Track #12 - “Half Empty Jam”

A basic statement of rebirth, “I used to be half-empty/but now I’m half-full” as one moves from a failed relationship to a new one.  The fact that both sides are described as ‘half’ indicates the tentative nature of it.

 

“The Hard Shoulder”, which is volume 2 is a lot less interesting and so I won’t spend a lot of time talking about it.  Hogarth on occasion likes to sing about politics, and the end result is usually not that great.  “The Man from Planet Marzipan” and “Asylum Satellite #1” are generally pretty bad.  “Especially True” is pretty good, and, whatever one thinks of world affairs, has an effective line “America/Shock and Awe/Not anymore” surrounded by good music.

“Older Than Me”, “Throw Me Out”, “Half the World”, and “Whatever is Wrong With You” all deal with relationships in ways that you can probably figure out from the song titles.

The last song, “Real Tears for Sale” comes across to me as pretty bitter (I can guess that it has to do with various real life celebrities).

“All the hurt, All the secrets, All the damage, All the shame,
All the dirty cuts and bruises, All the rage, All the rage
All the rage.
Boo hoo.”

But the music is solid.

 

Summation

Of all the bands I like, Marillion is by far the most hit and miss of the group.  The Fish era had Misplaced Childhood which hasn’t aged as well as Clutching at Straws and the rest is okay.  The Hogarth era has had good to great releases like Brave and Marbles with the rest being pretty bad.  Happiness is somewhere between good and great.  As a so-called progressive rock band, there are no 13/8 time signatures in this release.  Rothery doesn’t unleash anything like the solos in ‘Sugar Mice’ or ‘Easter’ anywhere here.  But overall, it’s a good release.

The whole ‘live for the moment’ theme is troubling though.   Aristotle introduced the notion of catharsis, and it is clear that Hogarth rejects it.  The common theme is that you should just ‘live for today’ but this is a vapid way of living life.  There is a desperation that exists throughout the release, that one can or should just ignore one’s memories.  There is empirical evidence that different people process grief differently, and Happiness is clearly a work involved with grief and how to handle it, but its basic message seems to be to just ignore one’s past, which I don’t think is a sustainable way of living.  I mean, it’s a complicated topic (I think). Not to be flippant about it, but I am not unconvinced that there aren’t times when, for a shorter or longer period of time, repression isn’t a bad thing (I think that’s a triple negative), especially when memories are debilitating (if you’ve ever experienced anything like what Hogarth is expressing in ‘Somewhere Else’ you might have an idea of what I mean).  But I don’t know how to interpret ‘Live for today’ in a way that isn’t trite.  But that’s too complicated a topic for a blog post that’s a review of a double CD.

But, overall, I would recommend this work.

All lyrics by Steve Hogarth, copyright held and all that.

posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2008 9:50 PM Print
Comments
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# re: Marillion’s Happiness is the Road, a review
Shawn
11/14/2008 8:02 PM
You obviously just don't get it...
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# re: Marillion’s Happiness is the Road, a review
jdn
11/14/2008 8:09 PM
Highly possible.

Define 'it'.
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# re: Marillion’s Happiness is the Road, a review
remy
11/16/2008 5:06 AM
"like Brave and Marbles with the rest being pretty bad".

You are writing this like it's the truth. This review is totally crap in my opinion.

A lot of blabla. You just like to hear yourself a lot i guess. Glad to have a degree in something probably, and everyone has to know it.
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# re: Marillion’s Happiness is the Road, a review
jdn
11/16/2008 9:47 AM
Well, it is a review based on my opinion (what else would it be), and from the Hogarth era, yes, I think most of their work has been mediocre at best, except for Brave, Marbles, and this release.

There are exceptions like 'Easter' and 'Somewhere Else' but too much has been of the 'If My Heart Were a Ball, It would Roll Uphill' variety.
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# re: Marillion’s Happiness is the Road, a review
someone
11/26/2008 9:13 AM
Good review!

I liked your psychological/Filosophical approach.
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# re: Marillion’s Happiness is the Road, a review
becca
12/4/2008 9:40 PM
It's interesting reading your review, thanks for taking the time to write it.

However, I for one thought that, in addition to Brave and Marbles, Afraid of Sunlight was an incredible album. I also enjoy Season's End and parts of Holidays in Eden. There wasn't much from the Fish era except Sugar Mice that appealed to me.

As for the theme of Happiness vol 1, I like it. You may think it's all hogwash, but I think it's right: All we really have is THIS moment, right now, and while how we perceive it is based on what has happened and what we envision for the future, if all we do is mope about what is already done or worry about what is going to happen, then we're not really living, are we?

I happen to be one of the most unobservant people I know (not that I would have noticed if anyone else were moreso, lol), and it's probably because of spending so much time worrying about times already past. I have always had the feeling that time is just slipping away from me faster than I can grab onto it and it's because I'm never HERE and NOW. My mind is always mulling over something that has happened or might happen, and I'll be on autopilot in the meantime. So, for whatever it's worth, I really appreciate the message that Steve is trying to send, and I believe it's relevant.

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# re: Marillion’s Happiness is the Road, a review
jdn
12/5/2008 7:51 PM
@becca

Thanks for the response.

I guess we'll just have to disagree about this. It's one thing to just mope about the past or the future, and I agree that that isn't a good thing.

But thinking about the past and the future is part of what it is to be a human being, and going to the extreme of just 'living for the moment' seems to me to be avoiding reality.

Plus, I don't really know what 'living for the moment' actually means.

Outside of 'Beautiful' (which really needed a Rothery solo) and 'Easter' (which I think is brilliant), Season's End and Afraid of Sunlight didn't do anyhing for me.
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# re: Marillion’s Happiness is the Road, a review
Tracy Affleck
1/28/2009 10:27 AM
Hey there...sorry don't know your name or whatever but I think you have written a decent, honest and interesting review for this...I really enjoy your style of writing.

I am a writer myself, and it has helped me think about construction etc...anyway that aside it was a good review of this album and fair to say that marbles was great and brave well not so great I would say...anyway thanks...Tracy x
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# re: Marillion’s Happiness is the Road, a review
jdn
1/28/2009 10:44 AM
Tracy,

Thanks.

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