The EMI Singles Collection (DVD)
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/31/2011
Chances are, if you’ve been reading this site for some time (or you’ve been following the series of DVD reviews that this particular piece is a part of), you’ve at least heard of the band Marillion.
Chances are, also, that a good portion of the populace would be among the unwashed masses who have either never heard the band past their single “Kayleigh,” or, worse yet, have never heard a note this band has played at all.
For the latter, The EMI Singles Collection is an interesting yet flawed portrait of roughly the first 15 years of Marillion’s history, and could well be seen as a primer for just who they are. Yet this set paints the picture of Marillion as a singles band – and, yes, they released a lot of them in this stage of their career – but, to be fair, Marillion never really was a singles band, nor were they necessarily cut out for the faux-glam world of music videos.
In my eyes, this collection covers four distinct periods of Marillion’s history: two with original lead singer Fish, two with Steve “H” Hogarth. The first phase is the – hold on, here comes the dreaded phrase – neo-prog phase that made up Script For A Jester’s Tear and Fugazi. Capturing the early days of music videos, tracks like “Market Square Heroes” and “He Knows You Know” utilize Fish’s natural instincts to play towards the band’s audience (in this case, a video camera) to draw the most attention to the music.
However, other videos such as “Assassing” and “Garden Party” all show early signs of the weakness of the music video format. The fault isn’t with the music, here…or even with the performance of the band members. Instead, whoever came up with the concepts in these two storylines has some explaining to do. I mean, seeing schoolboys almost conjuring up spells to befall upper-class partygoers? Please…
Phase two is the commercial-slash-popular phase with Fish leading the band. This, naturally, is where “Kayleigh” and “Incommunicado” fall. And, 25 years after it was filmed, “Kayleigh” is still a powerful video. However, quite possibly its thunder is stolen by the underlying pain of “Sugar Mice,” a hauntingly beautiful effort that enhances the song itself. I’ve thought for some time that “Sugar Mice” could well be one of the greatest songs that Marillion ever recorded; this video solidifies that opinion with me.
Phase three features Hogarth stepping into the role of lead singer, and Marilliontrying their hands at a more pop-oriented sound. This isn’t the most popular opinion, I know, but I still have a soft spot for songs like “Cover My Eyes” (even with the surprise way the video ends) and “Easter,” though I can see how people could rail against songs like “Hooks In You” (which, I have to admit, is against the grain for Marillion).
What I don’t necessarily like about the videos from this particular period is that, to me, it seems like Marillion is trying too hard (or perhaps was being pushed too hard) to be a “Top 40” band. And while videos like the one for “The Uninvited Guest” do have a distinct charm to them, I can’t say that these are the most accurate pictures of who Marillion was at the time as a band, or who they’ve been all these years. To me, they’re most comfortable in a studio making music or on a stage, not taking part in storylines.
Phase four has Marillion essentially saying the hell with “Top Of The Pops” and deciding to take on both music and videos by combining catchy hooks with intelligence (without overbearance) of prog. Note to the fans: I’m not saying that Marillion went prog-rock on albums like Brave or Afraid Of Sunlight. What I am saying is that they took the best elements of their earlier days and combined it with the lessons they learned at the height of their popularity.
This is what makes videos like the trio from Brave more powerful and noteworthy efforts than most of the videos from Seasons End or Holidays In Eden – and, in all honesty, I have to admit I watched these DVDs backwards, as I have yet (at the time of this writing) to watch Brave, so something tells me I’ve already seen some of the movie in these videos. If I have…well, I’m okay with that.
For the “unwashed masses” who have yet to discover just who Marillion is, The EMI Singles Collection is an interesting way to get acquainted with the first decade and a half of the band (though it naturally leaves out some fantastic work afterwards). However, the flaw is that you really need to experience these songs in their natural environment – namely, the albums themselves – to really have a true appreciation for the band. But, if watching this DVD makes some people go to the store, pick up the earlier albums and really spend some time listening to them, then this disc gets a wholehearted recommendation.