We're keeping in the Christmas spirit and getting into December with prog-rock legends Marillion and their Christmas compliation A Collection Of Recycled Gifts, from 2014.
For a good few years now, Marillion have been releasing fan club Christmas albums, featuring outtakes and the odd Christmas tune, such as A Piss-Up In A Brewery and Chile For This Time Of Year. They're always merry affairs and this compilation takes some of the best Christmas songs from those fan club releases and puts them all onto one album.
We're first greeted with a newly-recorded version of John Lennon's classic Happy Xmas (War Is Over). It's entirely true to the original and Steve Hogarth on lead vocals does the iconic tune justice. I'm a great lover of the original anyway, and seeing Marillion cover it in the way they have done is nothing short of marvellous. Gabriel's Message comes from 1999's Christmas.Marillion and acts as a modern interpretation of the thirteenth century folk carol. With the reverb on Hogarth's voice and the ominous bells, it does act as something haunting and left-field of your typical Christmas album fayre, but in all due seriousness, fits in perfectly with the progressive nature of the album.
The Christmas Song strips things back, with a sweet piano and drum beat from Ian Mosley allowing Steve Hogarth's crisp vocal to fly wonderfully. The light notes from Mark Kelly's organ really do add substance in the little interludes and it's a great inclusion on this album. A cover of Jona Lewie's Stop The Cavalry follows, with a bit more of a spoken-word vocal suiting the song right down to the ground. Despite the darker topic, it's a song that the boys have a laugh on, which only makes it all the more appealing to listen to at this time of year.
That's What Friends Are For only continues the boys having a laugh, with a barbershop quartet style arrangement making this one of the album's standouts. It's a great little tune and also might make a good drinking song during this festive season. Let it Snow follows on, featuring a deeper vocal from Steve Hogarth and some fantastically placed kazoos! Also worth noting are the changed lyrics to the original composition such as "Found some booze in a flight case/And I'm afraid that we're all shitfaced!" which does give it a bit of edge over other covers and makes for a right laugh.
I Saw Three Ships is perhaps the song that I know best, having been on the family's Christmas CDs for as long as I can remember, and also the song where the band kick up into another prog-rock gear. Steve Rothery's fantastic guitar work is really something to be proud of and makes this version a lot more rocking than the original, as well as Hogarth's choral vocal. A cover of Mud's Christmas classic Lonely This Christmas is also a great inclusion, staying true to the original and keeping things a little slower, meaning that this version wouldn't sound out of place at a smoky jazz club, complete with a marvellous organ sound.
The Erin Marbles is Marillion's own Christmas tune, from all the way back in 2005, featuring an upbeat folk-like tempo, complete with erratic accordion. It's a bit like an Irish drinking song that could easily be done by The Pogues and over around four minutes, is sure to get everyone up dancing and drinking! Little Saint Nick is a Christmas version of Happiness Is The Road Volume 2's Thunderfly from 2008, with Marillion putting a festive spin on one of their own tunes. As fabulous as the original is, this rather Christmassy version fits nicely on A Collection Of Recycled Gifts. The final song on this fantastic compilation is Marillion's cover of The Carol Of The Bells, featuring some prominent bells entwined with a great guitar solo to round off a severely underrated Christmas record, as well as the James Bond theme too!
A Collection Of Recycled Gifts is a Christmas album that'll probably pass a lot of people by, but if you're looking for something that's infectiously festive whilst having a damn good laugh at the same time, then it's an album for you. Let's make no bones about it, I love Marillion, and I think that after listening to this, you will too.
More merry musical magnificence to come next week!