Marillion - Script For A Jester's Tear 2020 Boxset Review (Part 1)
If you remember the eighties or a UK Top 2 single named Kayleigh from 1985, then chances are you've heard of Marillion. A band once compared to Gabriel-era Genesis would emerge at the end of the decade as one of the most cool uncool bands of the last century, bringing with them a renewed interest in the progressive genre, all started by the release of their debut Script For A Jester's Tear way back when in 1983.
As you might've guessed by our coverage in the last year, we're pretty big Marillion fans so it only made perfect sense to review the recently released and remastered boxset of this magnificent debut. It's one that I'd class as one of the most underrated debut records of all time. In this first part, we'll take a look at the first two discs in the four-disc set, namely the original album remaster, as well as one of the Market Square Heroes EP, featuring the infamous magnum opus, Grendel.
One of the most noticeable components of the remaster of the original album is the immense soundstage that's been created with this new mix, offering a greater emphasis on the usually unheard elements from the original record. The title track has had Fish's vocals lifted to be put right in the middle of the soundscape, where before it would have been lost in the rolling piano from Mark Kelly. Pete Trewavas' spooky and skilful basslines have been pushed further forward on all songs present, making this remix more sinister than any other version ever was. This sinister nature is something that was carried with the original pressing and has only been heightened with the new remix and it's certainly all the more welcome.
As well as sounding marvellously sinister, this new remix has offered up something a lot cleaner and more slick than its predecessor. He Knows You Know sounds less muffled than it used to, with Fish' backing vocals now more prevalent on the verse, whilst Steve Rothery's haunting guitar riff now blends with the seething vocal more so than ever before. The Web is undoubtedly a marked improvement over the original mix, with a slicker sound overall, most noticeably on Steve Rothery's absolutely brilliant guitar solo, further helped by Mick Pointer's thumping drums. As much as Ian Mosley fits in with the classic Marillion sound, there's something charming about Pointer's drum tracks.
Garden Party is one of the best songs this album produced and this new remaster brings out the very best in it, giving a fuller sound and bringing the overall volume of everything up. It's now possible to hear the little pieces of speech as the song begins and in the musical breaks, the new remixing is evident. Everything sounds a lot cleaner here, and it's all the more welcome, from an original mix that by contrast sounded distant where speech sometimes sounded unfathomable. The turn-up in the bass is evident, making this remix sound more like a live cut than a studio rendition, which makes it especially refreshing when stood against the original.
The same can be said for Forgotten Sons as everything once again has been pushed to the front, especially the bass, meaning that the sudden and harsh instrumental breaks now sound groovier than ever before. Moreover that classic Marillion soundscape at the six minute mark reaches new heights with Rothery's soaring solo and Trewavas' deep underpinnings. It's an absolute masterpiece of a remix and sums up the best of this new version in a few minutes - punchy, sinister and slick.
In terms of the remastering of the debut single and EP, that too is a masterpiece. Market Square Heroes is as rousing as it's always been, with the punchier and rhythmic bass seeming appropriate for a protest song. It's a nice juxtaposition from the lengthy soundscapes on the actual record, as is the first B-Side, Three Boats Down From The Candy. That too has seen a production masterworks and everything pumped up to create that fuller sound. The introspective guitar's been turned up to offer a bit more grit, as has the bass to make this seem fitting with the whole remaster.
Marillion's magnum opus Grendel arrives next, immediately drawing comparisons to Genesis with its mythical subject matter and seventeen minute length. You could argue this entire album is influenced by Genesis, but to say that would be facetious and dismissive. This song in particular offers a macabre sentiment that Genesis never had. Whilst Supper's Ready was plain absurd, Grendel acts as its antithesis, using myth as the vehicle to shroud well-timed lyrics on religion, the destruction of resources and war amongst other topics. Its epic instrumentals are well-captured by this remaster, making them sound darker and yet somehow fuller at the same time. Charting The Single as a final song wasn't on the original EP and was instead a B-Side on the following He Knows You Know single. Compared to the other tracks here, it doesn't seem like this one's been fiddled with as much with a more defined groove present, as well as more echo and jangle on the guitar riff. It's a welcome change, offering a sharper song overall, but thankfully, none of Fish's clever lyricism hasn't been lost and has instead been raised to allow listeners to marvel in some playful poetry.
As first impressions of a remaster go, this is one of the best. Sure, it's following in current trends with the bass turned up and spacing components out, but it's a different listening experience for every record. This is certainly one I'll be listening to extensively in the future, not just for its sheer power, but also for all the little intricacies that the remix has helped to bring to life. Absolutely marvellous.