Happiness Is The Road, Volume One: Essence


EMI, 2009


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


You have to hand it to Steve Hogarth and Marillion. They know they’re not a singles-based, commercially viable band, and they don’t give a damn. They refuse to simply produce cookie-cutter albums based on their previous efforts, instead choosing to push themselves into new territories and limits. They’ve never done anything the safe way, and often the end results have been so deep and layered that it takes several listens to completely understand – okay, at least come close to understanding – what the band had set out to do.

From my experiences reviewing Marilion, I’ve concluded the following: they’re at their best when they reach a safe medium of slow, melancholy songs and energetic rockers. It’s not uncommon to hear the band intermix the two styles in the exact same song, but they pull it off well.

And this is the biggest mistake that Marillion makes with Happiness Is The Road, Volume One: Essence. For the most part, they do away with that balance of power and melancholy, instead focusing mostly on the melancholic portion of their sound. This leaves the listener with a disc that, at times, is very hard to get into.

I don’t know why, but I expected a bit of the sad-sack one-two punch with the opening tracks, “Dreamy Street” and “This Train Is My Life,” but this time around, it seems like Hogarth isn’t always in his comfort zone with his vocals – at times, his singing sounds strained, even in the quiet portions (of which there are many on this CD).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It would be wrong to say that much of this disc is ballads, for there are sections that feature a more solid rhythm and a slightly faster tempo. But as the disc drags on, the overall mood of the disc remains overcast. I don’t mean to suggest that the disc is filled with plodding numbers, or that the band never knows how to raise energy levels on these songs – indeed, they try at times on tracks like “Nothing Fills The Hold” and “Wrapped Up In Time,” but for some reason, it just doesn’t take off like things would have on other Marillion albums.

Even on “This Train Is My Life,” I’m well aware that Ian Mosley has laid down a solid beat on the drums, but I pick up an overall sadness or dreariness on these tracks. Judging from the lyrics to the closing track “Happiness Is The Road,” this might have been the plan all along.

By the time “Woke Up” kicks in, the listener is in desperate need of that energy lifeline. And, had this one undergone a little more lyrical development, it could have been a powerful single, along the lines of “You’re Gone” or “Between You And Me.” As it is, it’s still a very enjoyable song, and gives the disc a well-needed boost of emotion.

And I don’t care if it is 10 minutes long, “Happiness Is The Road” is the kind of song that I am referring to when I say that Marillion can interweave brooding and powerful in the same track and make it work. If anything, this song seems to be the end of an introspective journey that the rest of the material takes the listener on (and it could be said that “Woke Up” is the beginning of seeing light at the end of the tunnel), leading to the promise of hope.

All of this said, Happiness Is The Road, Volume One: Essence feels more like an experiment that Marillion wanted to try in lieu of a regular album release, and while it’s still a journey worth taking, it sometimes seems like a dark path with very little light until the end. I just would have liked to have heard some additional balance between the dark and light – and I have to admit, at the time of writing this review, I was still working on the second disc of this set, and have not formed an opinion yet. So, perhaps disc two provides the excess balance that was missing on this one.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2009 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EMI, and is used for informational purposes only.