Released: 1st Novermber 2019
Formats: deluxe 4CD/bluray, vinyl
Marillion are emerging as a worthy challenger to Jethro Tull in the spectacular re-issue series stakes. Afraid Of Sunlight hits the same sweet spot.
Yes indeed. Tull may have Steven Wilson carrying their torch in their own re-issue programme that’s just seen them release another definitive set with the Stormwatch Force Ten edition, but Marillion aren’t lagging too far behind, if at all, in revisiting their own catalogue. In fact. The Clutching At Straws edition recently won PROG magazine’s ‘Re-issue Of The Year’ award, Steve Rothery expressing the obvious sentiment that “with reissues, it’s the second or third time you’re selling people the same music.”
With Afraid Of Sunlight, they’ve delved deep and again have no excuse for leaving anything in the vault from the era. So how does the latest effort rate as we switch from the last album with Fish that was so highly rated, to the fourth album since his acrimonious departure and with Steve Hogarth by now firmly ensconced in the frontman role.
Afraid Of Sunlight is the album that in 1995 carried the slogan “this album was knocked out” on the back cover. The set starts with the album on two discs that carry the original Dave Meeghan 1995 mix and Michael Hunter’s 2019 re-mix. Both producers have played the role of ‘additional band member’ and have been trustworthy compadres on the Marillion journey so it’s interesting to hear the two mixes together. During a short tenure, the dedication to the cause by Meegan elevated him to sixth member status (now in Hunter’s capable hands) after his sterling work on Brave.
At this early point, you know there are going to be those who scrutinize the differences so very closely, especially after the Brave re-issue, when a number of fans were on the online forums getting all hot under the collar about certain sounds effects not quite in the right places (misplaced raindrops ?) on the Brave remaster. Yes, there are some who are going to go through these mixes with the sort of forensic detail that is (a) admirable and (b) slightly obsessive.
Two further discs contain alive show from Rotterdam in September 1995, some of which had previously appeared on the Made Again live album. We get the full show although the sort of fans who will be investing will likely have the very same 1995 show from the Front Row Club releases that the band ran for a short while – the new version includes Garden Party that wasn’t included on that release – so arguably, there’s nothing on the live front to excite the more enthusiastic fan.
The band’s own ReFracted release had also gathered demos and writing sessions that had been made available through the band’s fan club on their Racket Record label and proved a very thorough, warts and all, collection of some of their working drafts of the final songs. So while the likes of five pieces centered around Gazpacho from the Refracted set that contains twenty-odd similar writing snippets may have been condensed to an early version of the track on the ‘jams and early versions’ disc, you can be guaranteed that for the full available set of material from the AOS period, you may have to dig elsewhere.
The bluray disc carries a documentary, a single promo film and the bonus tracks from the 1999 re-master, some of which appeared on CD singles at the time.
However, despite the availability of much of the material, the fact that Afraid Of Sunlight has some jolly good songs shouldn’t be overlooked. There’s a case of being unable to see the wood for the trees in a set that contains a wealth of material. In fact, it’s possibly the most overlooked in the catalogue, maybe due to the ‘knocked out’ nature, yet with Gazpacho and the mighty King bookending the album the filling is just as meaty. Beautiful even made a small dent in the singles chart despite its overly trippy hippy message and in the title track and Out Of This World (the latter the Donald Campbell inspired piece that confirms the Marillion obsession with water and death) there are two songs that would grace a top ten from their canon.
Add in Beyond You and the Cannibal Surf Babe pastiche and unlike several other Marillion albums we might name, there’s hardly any filler. The themes of self-destructive nature of celebrity coming to a massive head in the final notes of King 9although personally I’d opt for the similar Cathedral Wall from the Radiation album).
Their gold and platinum days may have been well gone but Marillion were finding a new art in distancing themselves from the record industry. In 2019, they’re enjoying an Indian Summer. Still, the darlings of the prog rock press as they reach what must be the twilight years, we can look back some twenty-odd years to the mid-nineties with some element of satisfaction.
Watch a live version of the immense title track from the album here:
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