I'm going to continue to start off this year as I mean to go on when it comes to musical offerings by sticking with my favourites and some of their best albums. Last week saw Clark Datchler, and this next one concerns Marillion and their first record with Steve Hogarth, 1989's Seasons End.
In terms of its backstory, Seasons End has quite the interesting one, not least when it comes to its composition. It's essentially a morphing of Steve Hogarth and John Helmer's lyrics with music from the lost fifth Marillion album with Fish, some of which was written in a castle in the Scottish highlands in the summer of 1988. The story goes that the lyrics for that record went the way of Fish and the music went the way of the band, and it's evident that throughout Seasons End's duration that this is the case.
For instance, The King Of Sunset Town that opens this album borrows some of its melody from the Fish-era demo Sunset Hill but its lyrics are all penned by both Steve Hogarth and John Helmer, who the band had roped in to help fill the Fish-shaped hole that had been opened in 1988. As introductions to a new incarnation of a much-loved band go, there's little better than The King Of Sunset Town. It sticks with the traditional brooding atmosphere that had come to characterise the Fish-era albums from 1982 onwards but soon transitions into the lighter sound that Hogarth's tenure has been marked by for the last thirty years. There's elements even of Hogarth's former band How We Live creeping in, but instead of being backed by just Colin Woore, it's the whole of Marillion that help to bring Hogarth's lyrics alive. The story goes that the song had been demoed at H's audition in Pete Trewavas' garage with Hogarth adding his own lyrics to the band's already-composed backing. John Helmer's original lyric concerned poverty in Britain and events over history through the yes of a 'wanderer'. However, following the horrible events of Tiananmen Square that year, the lyrics were rewritten and made it onto Seasons End.
This mixture of Fish and Steve Hogarth is nicely contrasted by the now fan-favourite Easter, a track which Ian Mosley recalled as the first thing of Hogarth's that the band took on to record. Over the course of the first three Hogarth-era albums, Seasons End, Holidays In Eden and the fantastic Brave, Hogarth-penned compositions from years gone by would be demoed and reworked for the rest of the band, the most famous of which is Easter. Others included Cover My Eyes (Pain And Heaven) which had originally been on How We Live's Dry Land album that I've discussed before in a track entitled Simon's Car. Moreover, both This Town and Dry Land, two staples of the Holidays In Eden record have come from that much under-appreciated followup effort with Colin Woore. Anyways, Easter is as brilliant as Hogarth-era Marillion gets with its soaring guitar riffs, pleasant and powerful vocal and marvellous instrumentation. Right from the get-go, he'd make his mark on the band in an incredible way. As H himself wrote in a memo to The Web fanclub in the Spring 1989 issue, "After such a long wait for the next Marillion album you deserve something special..." - Easter really is something special.
The Uninvited Guest that follows has a rather interesting story. First and foremost it's one of Seasons End's best offerings bar none, carrying on with Marillion's signature darkness, both in terms of music and lyrics. As much as the song literally suggests an unwanted intruder, it's about exactly that. There's been a couple of ways that the band and Helmer have discussed its topic, with them relating to both AIDS with The Uninvited Guest simply being a metaphor for a virus that nobody wants, not least one that would take the life of eminent musicians such as Freddie Mercury a couple of years after Seasons End's release. As with a lot of the work of Hogarth and Helmer, the ideas for lyrics and some of their references came from classic literature and religion, and the idea for The Uninvited Guest stemmed from Edgar Allan Poe's Mask Of The Red Death where 'Death' would dress up as an unwanted intruder in a red cape and take the life of friends of a rich prince in the form of the plague. As an aside, the original idea with Fish was that the lyrics for his solo hit Lucky would have been paired with the music of The Uninvited Guest - a rather interesting combination to say the least. Hogarth also called the track a bit of light relief by comparison to some of the album's darker moments where they could "inject a note of humour". It's an absolutely fabulous track and one that I've loved for several years and really is one of Season's End's proper standouts.
The album's title track follows, borrowing its melody from Marillion's Beaujolais Day. Even then, that particular demo was divvied up into another piece. - whilst the original lyrics and melody were for the lost fifth Marillion album with Fish, the guitar solo went to good use on Warm Wet Circles on Clutching At Straws. Seasons End as a song is quintessential Marillion, not least thanks to its eight minute length. It's all about the sinister nature of these songs, and Hogarth's vocal and lyrics with the repeated "Say goodbye" just before Steve Rothery's incredible guitar solo make for a case in point as to what the band are all about. You simply don't get that marriage of atmospheric instrumental with emotionally strained lyrics anywhere else in the music business in the same way as Marillion; it's songs like that that really make the album as incredible as it is. It would also mark the band's first foray into discussing climate change, a subject that they'd come back to in both tracks from the nineties and late noughties. Holloway Girl acts as a nice little bridge between the two sides of the album, with it continuing in the same vein as The King Of Sunset Town before it. With its dark subject matter, Holloway Girl's overall instrumental feels triumphant yet depressing simultaneously - even without the big man, there's a certain Fish-like quality to it, even though he had nothing to do with this - there's no demo to accompany Holloway Girl - it's all the work of Hogarth during his tenure with The Europeans.
Berlin seemed to be poignant inclusion upon its release given that it discusses the division associated with the Berlin Wall, with its mentions of guards and checkpoints. The band had recorded Misplaced Childhood in Berlin back in 1985 and with the middle section of this track, there's a certain similarity between this and the likes of Blind Curve when it comes to the way this song flows and moves from section to section. Steve Rothery, in an interview with Mick Wall in Kerrang! from 1989 recalled that he told John Helmer nothing about recording Misplaced Childhood in Berlin or the whole event of being in the divided city but just mentioned the idea of recording something about the city, and Helmer ran with that idea. The original Marillion song that it comes from, Story From A Thin Wall, eventually became Fish's Family Business in terms of lyrical content, but there's still some correlation when it comes to the fact both songs in their various guises discuss the concept of division and a wall. With Helmer's lyrics, there's even some Fish-like discussions of observations around the speaker - "The mascara'd blonde from the Berliner bar/Rises at twilight, gets dressed in a daze".
After Me follows on and there's a clear Fish influence on this particular offering with its discussions of love and the idea of wearing a heart on a sleeve that the song discusses. It's split into two distinct sections - the opening acoustic whimsy that's clearly Hogarth with a dreamy acoustic guitar that sounds like it's a direct relative of the wonderful passage that forms a part of Easter and the following transition that moves into a Waterhole (Espresso Bongo) type piece with its raw emotion and a guitar solo borrowed from Voice In The Crowd, another heart-wrenching demo that Fish would utilise for his own washed-up lover piece, Just Good Friends. It's the songs' respective emotional sentiments that tie them all together neatly. With tracks like After Me, it's very easy to forget, as Mick Wall has said, to forget that the band's lead singer changed at all.
Its final two offerings couldn't be further apart however. First comes Seasons End's most famous track it can be said, namely the punk rock romp Hooks In You that really is the first inclusion that steers away from the traditional Marillion formula. It's a lot more brash and reckless with its kick-in-the-teeth guitar riff and smashing drums that's world's apart from the suite of songs that open this particular record. This makes it a rather refreshing listen by comparison to the likes of The King Of Sunset Town and proves that even with that classic Marillion sound behind him, Hogarth would be able to take Marillion in a completely new direction. Seasons End's final hurrah, The Space sums up the brilliance of the combination of Marillion and Steve Hogarth. It's got this marvellous drive behind it in a way that's similar to Queen's later work on the likes of The Miracle and Innuendo. Come to think of it, the way that The Space sounds with its haunting synth and smatterings of electric guitar could have been a suitable substitute for Queen's own The Show Must Go Own. It's this sense of atmosphere that has marked out Marillion's career as a band, and The Space is a real case in point to prove such.
Seasons End, in short, is an absolutely incredible listen. It's best to think of it as a debut album that already feels familiar. Even with the chance in lead singer, it's the sheer power and drive of the Marillion sound that remained from Clutching At Straws to Seasons End that really does make this particular record a truly brilliant release. It's also a great one to go back and rediscover, as I've done with this column, and an album I intend to have on repeat for the months to come.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/3nwdna6
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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