** Introduction **
I am that rarest of creatures, a casual Marillion fan. You see, this is a band whose followers are legendary for their devotion - at least, those among them who didn't stomp off in a huff when oddly-named singer Fish departed for normally-named singer Steve Hogarth. (Though the latter is sometimes known as "H", which helps a little in the weirdness stakes.) However, I haven't been sucked into the Marillion vortex and simply like a number of their songs because I think they sound quite nice. All right, better than that makes it appear, but you get the idea.
Holidays in Eden is sometimes castigated by the more hardcore fans for being "too commercial", which may or may not mean "has songs ordinary plebs like me can actually understand". I don't care too much either way, as long as it's not a euphemism for "full of horrible songs that our record company forced on us". (Actually Marillion once launched a top-ten album - Marbles - by soliciting donations from their fans rather than going down the usual route, so I don't think the "too commercial" charge necessarily sticks in any case.)
** Disc 1 **
Disc 1's contents are the ten tracks from the original single-CD album, albeit somewhat remastered. I have mixed feelings about remastering, which can be annoying when it subtly but nevertheless obviously changes the sound, and more to the point, feel of music you've enjoyed in its original form. The remastering seems to have been done with a relatively light touch here, though, and there's no doubt that the clarity of reproduction is impressive. Disc 2, which I'll come to later, contains B-sides, live tracks and demos.
Unlike many fans, I'm not an enormous fan of the opening track, Splintering Heart. It takes ages to get going (even by Marillion standards) and has never been a song that's successfully insinuated itself into my memory. Cover My Eyes (Pain and Heaven), which follows, is a much better prospect, with a real sense of occasion from the opening bars, and personally I'd have made this track one. "She's like the girl in the movie when the Spitfire falls" is a line I love, and this is an all-round excellent rock number. I'd have made it track one.
A band with Marillion's prog-rock heritage probably couldn't live with themselves if they kept all their songs to under four minutes, so it's no surprise that for The Party we're up to 5' 36". It doesn't feel too long, though, and this fabulous epic about the loss of innocence contains some really memorable lyrics ("the succulent light from the little fires in his eyes / Pulling shapes out of the night / She was enchanted") and a really skin-crawling quieter piano section leading into a very fine guitar solo by Steve Rothery. "And then it was yesterday..."
One of my two favourite songs on the disc, No One Can, comes next. It's probably a fair charge to say that this one is more or less mainstream pop - Hogarth considered it "probably the softest song [they'd] ever done" - and it's a little on the sentimental side, but it's nicely crafted all the same. It's followed by the album's title song, Holidays in Eden, which disappointingly is a rather weak effort: the spark of interest and/or innovation that characterises so many other Marillion songs simply isn't in evidence here, and that stops it from being particularly memorable.
Dry Land is a sort of semi-cover: Hogarth co-wrote it while in his pre-Marillion band, "How We Live". Unfortunately this song isn't all that interesting either. It was released as a single, but didn't do very well: in fact, all three singles from this album (the others being "Cover My Eyes" and "No One Can") peaked in the 30s. Had all the songs on Holidays in Eden been like this, then the "too commercial" attack might have had rather more merit, since - unusually for Marillion - this one does sound as though it was made for an assault on the mainstream charts.
Another somewhat sentimental song, Waiting to Happen, follows, and this is the one I would select as my personal highlight from the album. It provides some truly beautiful lyrics - "Spend so much of my life / in the spiritual third world" - and the contrast between the quiet, reflective verses and the joyous, exuberant chorus with its talk of something "on the edge of exploding / something wild and alive" is actually rather thrilling. I do declare an interest here in that I associate this song with a very close friend, but even without that link I think it would have a fair shot at being my overall pick.
This Town also possesses some wonderful lyrics, difficult to quote here because almost every word is so right, though "The cars leave their trails of hot and cold light inside my head" at the very start has to be a contender for the standout line. Perhaps the strongest rock song on the album, and one of the strongest in Marillion's entire catalogue, its tale of the way in which the big city can seduce someone so strongly as even to weaken a relationship is deeply heartfelt. Rothery's guitar work is especially impressive on this track, and he's justly allowed a fine solo right at the end.
The last two songs, the two-minute The Rake's Progress (the name inspired by William Hogarth!) and the seven-minute 100 Nights, can be considered as two movements of the same symphony. Unfortunately I'm not entirely enamoured of either of them: the first seems vague and unstructured, while the second is simply too long. Lop off the frankly pretty dull 90-second coda and, though it undoubtedly wouldn't be the same song, I think it would be a considerably better one. It's really a rather uninspiring way to end the disc, and perhaps contributes to my mixed feelings about it.
** Disc 2 **
This 14-track second disc was not part of the original album, and it begins with Sympathy, a cover from a now-unknown band called "Rare Bird". Hogarth feels the song has great lyrics, but I'm afraid it bores me to tears, and may be my least favourite song of the whole two dozen. I don't skip many Marillion songs, but this one is, sometimes at least, an exception. Interestingly, the acoustic version (also included here) sounds much more satisfying to my ears; perhaps the lighter treatment suits its slightly hippyish sentiments better.
Next we come to How Can it Hurt, which is remarkably heavy for a Marillion song. Perhaps too much so, as it comes across almost as an extended jam session, with less than captivating lyrics, and not one I'd really want to listen to more than once. After this, though, is the vastly superior The Collection, which proves that the band are capable of providing a distinctive, if frankly quite unsettling, tale of one man's obsession in (just) under three minutes. The fact that it's based on a true story only makes it the more discomfiting. You could almost imagine Pulp doing a song like this.
The first of the disc's acoustic versions, Cover My Eyes (Pain and Heaven), follows, but in this particular case I think the electric original was the better song. Nothing wrong with the unplugged track, but it does rather lack a bit of the original's punch. The aforementioned acoustic "Sympathy" comes next, then I Will Walk on Water. This is actually a new mix of a previously-released song, but I hadn't heard the earlier version before so judged it on its own merits. A strange track, apparently inspired by magic coming out of the rain. Some fascinating imagery ("Cirrus clouds and grins / Atoms of roses") but nevertheless it doesn't strike to my heart.
The next half-dozen tracks were either live performances or demos for the Moles Club, the well-known venue in Bath. I really don't like this Splintering Heart, which has more power than the studio version but not much else. You Don't Need Anyone is a track whose lyrics (by Hogarth's own admission) were unfinished when it "fell by the wayside", and though it has the odd flash of interest, particularly in its encouragingly upbeat rhythm, it's unusual for a Marillion song in having very little in the way of interesting lyrics. It's probably for the best that it got left behind.
Four "Moles Club Demo" versions of Disc 1 tunes are up next: No One Can, The Party, This Town and Waiting to Happen. The first has a truly annoying xylophone motif underneath nearly all the way through and also seems very slightly too slow, the second is reasonably polished and in fact very close to what was finally released, while the third has a lo-fi feel to it that I think actually suits it very well. It's the only one of this group of songs which isn't obviously inferior to its Disc 1 equivalent. (The sound quality on "Waiting to Happen" is unfortunately very poor, making it impossible to judge its merits properly.)
Eric is a strange track indeed: just 2' 30" long, and nearly a minute of that is taken up with a description of some MIDI "gloves" with switches in the fingers that allow keyboards to be played. What follows is probably technically very interesting, but my goodness the actual music is vague and shapeless. Fortnuately there's one final track to come: The Epic (Fairground) - and it is, running to eight and a half minutes. Keyboardist Mark Kelly describes it as a "failed experiment" in mixing and matching bits of other songs, which include what was to become "100 Nights". Perhaps fittingly, it's possibly the least "commercial" track of the entire 24.
** Buying and verdict **
You can buy a physical copy of Holidays in Eden from the band's official website (marillion.com) for £8.99, and there's a case for doing just that in order to show support for an interesting group, but a considerable saving can be had by going the Amazon route: at the time of writing, the album would set you back £4.57 including postage. Perhaps oddly, as an MP3 download the price is slightly higher, £4.99. Marillion not being as pompous as certain other acts I could name, they don't try to prevent you purchasing individual tracks as downloads: Amazon charge 89p a go for these.
So, should you buy it? Hardcore Marillion fans, and even the band members themselves, have often sounded somewhat ambivalent about Holidays in Eden, and there's no doubt that the music that's provided here is rather uneven in quality and interest. Any collection that includes the likes of "This Town" or even "Waiting to Happen" can't by any means be called a failure, but I admit to struggling somewhat with tracks like "Splintering Heart" or "The Rake's Progress". Worth listening to, certainly, but probably not worth tracking down at all costs. As such, it rates three stars, though three and a half might have been fairer.
** Track listing **
1. Splintering Heart
2. Cover My Eyes (Pain And Heaven)
3. The Party
4. No One Can
5. Holidays In Eden
6. Dry Land
7. Waiting To Happen
8. This Town
9. The Rake's Progress
10. 100 Nights
2. How Can It Hurt
3. A Collection
4. Cover My Eyes (Pain And Heaven) (Acoustic Version)
5. Sympathy (Acoustic Version)
6. I Will Walk On Water (Alternative Mix)
7. Splintering Heart (Live At The Moles Club)
8. You Don't Need Anyone (Moles Club Demo)
9. No One Can (Moles Club Demo)
10. The Party (Moles Club Demo)
11. This Town (Moles Club Demo)
12. Waiting To Happen (Moles Club Demo)
14. The Epic (Fairground) (Mushroom Farm Demo)
'Holidays in Eden' from 1991 represented Marillion's continued attempts to understand life without their original vocalist, Fish. The new vocalist Steve Hogarth was still battling to win over the original fans of the band, who were now considering the relevance of the outfit. The subsequent two albums (Brave and Afraid of Sunlight) would see the band re-establish themselves as a creative force. Therefore 'Holidays in Eden' can be viewed as an important, although often overlooked, series of steps on the road to Marillion version 2.0
I was first struck and initially disappointed by the album's cover, because it was the first Marillion album not to feature their distinctive band logo. This was the right thing for the band to do, but many fans saw it as a betrayal at the time. Original album illustrator Mark Wilkinson had followed Fish on his solo career, so the band decided the time was now right for a clean break from the past. Musically, this album has very little in common with Fish-era Marillion. The band - many years later - stated they regretted retaining the name Marillion and 'Holidays in Eden' certainly sounds like a completely different group to the one who gave us big hits like 'Lavender' and 'Kayleigh'.
The albums opens with a keyboard theme, building into 'Splintering Heart'. The opening lyrics are all very well; however the style of lyric is very different to those of Mr Derek William Dick (Fish). As the song builds there is a sound like a door slamming. It sounds like mid 80s UK pop / rock at this stage, not unlike Go West. Suddenly Steve Rothery's soaring electric guitar and Mark Kelly's piano take us back to familiar Marillion territory. The song is not a memorable one; a bad choice to start this important album with. The old fans were still needing to be convinced and this track doesn't do it. Track 2, 'Cover My Eyes' begins with classic Marillion bass from Pete Trewavas. It's fast and rolls along nicely. Suddenly, the chorus is here and it's a belter. This one has got Top of the Pops written all over it. The number 33 chart position was partly due to the likes of Radio 1 ignoring this band.
For track 3, 'The Party', the tempo is way down; stripped bare piano and a heart felt introduction from Hogarth sets the scene well. A young girl is on her way to her first party. She's got the cider from the corner shop and is on the bus. She sees people from school but has never seen them act like this before. The song builds. The girl is in a back room full of weird aromas (drugs, etc). She is spotted by a man and innocence is lost. From the lyric, it is clear the man at the party has either persuaded her to take a drug or has spiked her with the likes of LSD. The song swirls along with the girl's head as she experiences an Alice in Wonderland moment. Then there is the comedown. The song slows. A new day has dawned and girl opens her eyes. The man is there: 'Oh by the way, welcome to your first party'. In the hands of others, this could have been clumsily done, but the quaintness of the lyric with its references to cider and corner shops, keep the song valid.
Then comes 'No One Can' - another candidate for the hit parade. A mid tempo love song; bold and assured. Before love, days were boring and meaningless: 'A Greyness I used to call Freedom'. The chorus helped get this one to number 33, but it deserved so much more. All manner of people could cover this song, from Annie Lennox to Take That and it would sound great. The title track comes next, introduced by the sounds of birds as if in a forest and for a moment we are back in an earlier Marillion song, 'Garden Party'. Just then a plane is heard and we are in a song about going on holiday. But this is no package affair; it sounds more like a song about gap years and backpacking. The track is fast and rammed with energy. The character in the song feels no guilt; no one back home can see them now. But eventually the money is gone and they head back. Neighbours and friends now look suspiciously at them, as if they have changed. And maybe they have. I have never been to Goa or Ibiza, so I couldn't really confirm this. Things drop in pace for 'Dry Land' - yet another UK hit single, but number 34 was a travesty. It is a mid-tempo song which Duran Duran could have released. Track 7 is 'Waiting to Happen'. It is delicate and acoustic. Just Hogarth backed by a guitar. He is awake and listening to a loved one sleep. He spent his days in a 'spiritual third world' and is trying to move away from 'the famine of our days'. Now the rain is here and he feels rejuvenated and anything is now possible. Musically, I felt it never lived up to expectations, falling short of grandness.
Track 8 is also somewhat below par, being the poorest track on the album. 'This Town' is a speedy rocker, with Motley Crue bass and a standard rock riff. Lyrically things are better. The city is getting Hogarth down. It has turned him into something he doesn't like. The track is important lyrically because it sets up the final 2 tracks, being connected to them, as if part of a three track suite, just like the Marillion of old. 'This Town' suddenly turns into 'The Rake's Progress' - a nod and a wink to 2 Hogarths, one an artist and the other a singer. We are challenged to imagine the original illustration. We see London, the city, and the rake within it. This song then blends into part 3 of the suite, '100 Nights'. Steve Hogarth is the rake. He recounts 100 nights of parties. The bourgeois have invited him to their parties in their fine homes. They regarded him as a bit of a 'turn' - but when he looks up at the mirrors, he can no longer see himself.
The songs is slow for the most part, with a steady Rothery theme on the guitar, before Ian Mosley's drums explode and Rothery soars. The lyrics focus on a second character; another man, the husband of one of the high society women at the parties. I can pictiure Hogarth going down the stairs, perhaps in a plush members club or casino. He passes a powerful man, surrounded by his yes men, perhaps an industrialist or a banker, politician or oligarch; a duke or viscount. He doesn't notice Hogarth or his kind, but Hogarth is having the last laugh: "She spends your money on me!" He has rifled the rich man's clothes and put on his aftershave when he is out leading the rat race. I can picture the central character of the song wearing a tie belonging to our powerful villain. As our rake leaves the building, I can see the villain suddenly stopping in his tracks; as if to say. 'don't I have a tie like that?' For me, the last 2 songs really make this album.
The rest of this release are bonus 'add-ons' - including another Marillion hit, a cover version of 'Sympathy' - reaching a surprising number 17 in 1992. On the back of that, 'No One Can' was re-released and made it to number 26. I don't see the point of the rest of the album (the bonus material of re-mixes and the like). I want to here the album, not the cast offs. Let's get back to one disc releases.
This 24 bit digital remastered disc of the album 'Holidays In Eden' includes a bonus disc featuring demos, accoustic versions, live tracks taken from tour performances, alternative mixes, rarities and songs that didn't make it to the studio release version.
It is an absolute dream package for any Marillion fan. CD 1 contains the remastered studio album and the bonus features are on CD2. The CD notes include an in-depth discussion of the origins of the tracks on the second CD and features a little diary-style message to fans from lead singer Steve Hogarth, where he describes the recording process of 'Holidays'.
'Holidays In Eden' was the band's seond album with new singer Hogarth, who had replaced Scottish legend Fish. The album's style is very pop and the tracks ultra radio friendly.
The only weak song on the album is probably the title track. The rest of the album is superb.
'Splintering Heart' shudders and throbs with tension. It is a fantastic, high quality opening track that has a strange, slightly dark atmosphere.
'Cover My Eyes' is funny, sexy, cool and slightly misogynystic. Hogarth drools over the idea of a perfect woman. The chorus is a belter - Hogarth's vocal soaring into the stratosphere.
'No One Can' is a light and fluffy love song with a pop vibe. It is enjoyable but nothing spectacular.
'Dry Land' was written by Hogarth and his former band and is the most stunning song. The rise and fall of the voice in the track makes the hair stand up on your neck. It evokes images of ghosts and lonely seashores.
'Waiting to happen' is a moving, rousing love song. It has a beautiful melody and is performed with passion and gusto.
The last three songs on the album are a third of one big epic track. This is edgier and more rock than anything else on the album. 'This Town' has an angry punk-rock feel to it. 'The Rake's Progress' is more pensive and slow. '100 nights' has brilliant lyrics and a memorable ending.
The bonus disc doesn't dissapoint. Among the gems 'A Collection' stands out as a creepy paean in which Hogarth captures the claustrophobia expressed in the lyrics very well.
'How Can It Hurt' is a heavy rock song rooted in the 1980's and explodes with attitude and rock-star arrogance.
'Eric' reveals how Hogarth performs using a special pair of gloves. The technology is fascinating and Hogarth's talent is stunning.
'The Epic' is an epic track which mimicks the tracks on the studio album but uses different lyrics.
The 2CD album overall is what you should get if you are interested in listening to this album. It is like seeing a beautiful body then peeling back the skin and flesh to see what the bones look like! Easy to listen to and mood boosting.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Splintering Heart
2 Cover My Eyes
4 No One Can
5 Holidays In Eden
6 Dry Land
7 Waiting To Happen
8 This Town
9 Rakes Progress
10 100 Nights
12 How Can It Hurt
14 Cover My Reyes
15 Sympathy (2)
16 I Will Walk On Water
17 You Don't Need Anyone
18 No One Can (2)
19 Party (2)
20 This Town (2)
21 Waiting To Happen (2)
22 Eric (2)
23 Epic (2)