Friday, October 2, 2015

Marillion From A Swedebeast's Point Of View - Seasons End

After completing their most successful tours ever, promoting 'Clutching At Straws', Marillion headed out to the English countryside to write material for a follow-up album. However, even before hitting the road with 'Clutching At Straws', Fish told manager John Arnison he was contemplating a solo album, or even leaving the band. They all needed a change and a break to recharge, but the label and the management alike convinced the guys to go for one more record. So there they were again, toiling away piecing together new songs but it wasn't to be. Not long into the sessions the end was nigh as Fish packed his bags and left for good. Years of tension had created a divide too wide between the singer and the band too repair, and the proverbial writing on the wall had become a reality.

With Fish gone and looking for a resolve to their situation, Marillion soldiered on writing music for numerous songs. Several "proper" gigs were subsequently cancelled while a couple of fan club shows still went ahead. As a stop-gap in the search for a frontman, a double live album, 'La Gazza Ladra - The Thieving Magpie', was released. Things began to take shape easier than a lot of people had anticipated, maybe even the band themselves, but two obstacles still loomed. No singer had been found and no lyrics had been written. The latter was solved when lyricist John Helmer was brought on board and he has been involved with Marillion on-and-off ever since. Not long after this, after quite a bit of courting, Steve Hogarth of The Europeans joined the ranks instead of joining The The for a huge US tour. And for the band, this was a meeting made in heaven even though it did split their fan base in half.

Opener ‘King Of Sunset Town’ is a poignant social commentary about the massacre at Tiananmen Square in China. Soft, almost inaudible at first, an exquisite keyboard passage by Mark Kelly sets off the song. It builds up until it erupts accentuated by a beautiful solo from Steve Rothery. The music slows down again as the new man finally enters the fray. And what an entrance Steve Hogarth makes. Tender and full of emotions he weaves his magic before showing his versatility, as the chorus kicks in. Quick as a heartbeat he switches to some powerful singing, expertly following the moods of the song. A beautiful, partly semi-acoustic, Irish folk-influenced song, ‘Easter’ is a creation with various angles. As sweet and dreamy as the music is, the lyrics tell a different story. Focusing on the Irish and their struggle to cope living a normal life in the shade of the sectarian violence that has haunted the country for so long. It also weaves in the 1916 Easter Rising – hence the title? Stripped down and so full of emotions, this is one of my favourite songs on this wax. Rothery fires off a fantastic solo. ‘The Uninvited Guest’ is on the exact opposite end of the spectra musically, being a stomping rocker if there ever was one. In the same vein as ‘Incommunicado’ from ‘Clutching At Straws’ but carries a heavier tone and much darker lyrics. Dealing with the horrors of living with HIV, one would have expected a more complex approach to the music. But this combination works really well as the band is going all out. The title track, ‘Seasons End’, follows next and while the tempo is brought down, and amidst carrying some dream-like qualities, it deals with the damage the human race is doing to the environment, especially the ozone layer. As always, Steve Rothery shows what an amazing guitar player he is but the real star here is Mark Kelly. While creating layers of beautiful back drop tones, his piano and keyboard parts are bar to none. A weird bass line courtesy of Pete Trewavas initiates ‘Holloway Girl’. Dealing with injustice and maltreatment of the ones wrongly incarcerated. Marillion based this song on the true story of a woman accused and imprisoned as an alleged IRA bomber to placate the public, the song still shows glimmers of hope in spite of all the cruelty inflicted upon this woman.

‘Berlin’ is the ultimate love song but not the kind with a perfect happy ending. On the contrary, it’s about impossible love in the old East and West Berlin, in the shadow of the looming wall. A man tries to reach his girlfriend on the west side by scaling the wall and is subsequently gunned-down by the guards. As he is dying from the wounds, he is clutching a photo of his loved one who turns out to be a prostitute. And his living the same horrid life as he did on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. And will carry on doing so since her glimmer of hope withered away. Sounding almost like anything off of ‘Fugazi’ at first, the introduction of Phil Todd’s haunting saxophone adds layers of misery to the storyline and it works wonders. ‘After Me’ is another love song that Hogarth wrote the lyrics for. He did so in praise of all the spouses who let their partners pursue their careers, no matter what! They take a step back suppressing their own desires so the other half can go all out. I guess you can call it the ultimate sacrifice. It builds up slowly to end with an amazing outro solo from Rothery with the rest of the band portraying glimmers of hope and pride at being the supportive character. Who would have thought that Marillion would ever include two stomping rockers on the same album, let alone one? Well, it sure happened on ‘Seasons End’. The band goes full tilt, pulling out all the stops on ‘Hooks In You’. Short and to the point it’s more direct than ‘The Uninvited Guest’ but nevertheless entertaining as it tells the tale of a black widow-kinda woman. Steve Hogarth’s debut ends with ‘The Space…’ Musically it carries on from ‘White Russian’ having a strong Eastern European feel. I can feel strong snow-filled winds beating down on desolate streets. Lyrically Hogarth sings about oppressors and their victims and how we a lot of times switches between the two. While you’re the victim in one situation, you are the oppressor in the next.

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, especially since I write this twenty six years after the original release of ‘Seasons End’. Therefore my opinion of this album changed back and forth considerably for a while. Mainly because I took Fish’s side in the split and eventually ignored Marillion for a long time. Yes, I was that stupid, instead of following both parties. But after I “rediscovered” them again, the first thing I noticed was the elation oozing from the band at having found such a formidable front man. Hogarth, or h as he is now more commonly known, did the right thing from the start and was himself. Never once did he try to imitate Fish and that alone helped the band to still sound like Marillion but with a whole new angle. What I mean is, ‘Seasons End’ sounds very much like Marillion, and many songs sound like they were written with Fish in mind but Steve made them his own.

Looking back, I actually liked this album when it was released but as I took sides with Fish and began to ignore the band, this wax obviously fell off the radar. However, when they came back to me – more on when and why in my review of ‘Radiation’ – listening to ‘Seasons End’ was a revelation. Sure, to this day, it still feels strange occasionally to listen to any Hogarth-released Marillion album because I expect Fish to be there. But these occasions are far and few between and have almost disappeared by now. And that’s how it should be. Marillion moved on from losing a brilliant front man by finding an equally good “new” guy. Also, whichever way you look at it, Hogarth has been longer with the band than his predecessor and has appeared on 13 albums to date. And that has to count for something. Enough ramblings on my part. I will end by saying, ‘Seasons End’ was the beginning of the new Marillion and it’s a fantastic new start.

- Swedebeast

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