Many fans divide Marillion into two eras, the Fish era and the Steve Hogarth era. This is a fair assessment. Marillion has been fronted by two extraordinarily talented and different singers. After Fish left the band he, nor Marillion, was ever the same. As a long time fan I see some crossover of the Fish era sound into the early part of Hogarth’s stint. The band’s first seven albums fall into the symphonic/neo progressive sub genre of progressive rock. Marillion’s seventh album, Brave, was a strong conclusion to the first chapter of their career. The followup album, Afraid Of The Sunlight, saw the band embrace alternative/post rock sounds and influences. This was the beginning of a new era in the band’s sound. Below you will find my ranking of the first seven Marillion albums. This ranking is not a definitive best of list. It is the assessment of a longtime Marillion fan. The ranking is simply my favorite to least favorite album. Having said that, I love these seven albums, so being the least favorite is not a negative.
Clutching At Straws (1987) – My first Marillion album and still my favorite. Shortly after its release I read a review of the album. The reviewer, in a negative fashion, stated that the album sounded just like Genesis. I am thankful for that negative review because it prompted me to go out and purchase the album. Right from the opening song I was enthralled by Marillion. I had never heard music like this before. From start to finish the music is filled with passion and conviction. The band lays down a foundation of musical progressive rock perfection. Fish builds his intricate verses of lyrical poetry on top of that foundation. One could not properly exist without the other. Everything fell into place on this nearly flawless album. Not only is Clutching At Straws my favorite Marillion album, it is also one of my favorite progressive rock albums. For me Marillion was never better.
Standout Songs: Hotel Hobbies, Warm Wet Circles, Just For The Record, White Russian, Slainte Mhath and The Last Straw
Script For A Jester’s Tear (1983) – Marillion’s debut album is an incredibly bold statement. In 1983 progressive rock was barely alive. The genre’s heyday of the 1970’s was over. Genesis had streamlined their sound. ELP had broken up. Pink Floyd was on the verge of breaking up. The newly reformed Yes was a few months from the release of the highly commercial 90215. A very different sounding King Crimson was making 1980’s art rock. Into this musical arena Marillion releases the 1970’s inspired, but 1980’s sounding, Script For A Jester’s Tear. The influence of Genesis is all over this album. Discerning listeners will hear a band taking their love for 1970’s progressive rock, most overtly Genesis, and putting their own stamp on it. The band was not imitating Genesis, but using that sound to create a bold new one.
Standout Songs: Script For A Jester’s Tear, He Know You Know, The Web
Holidays In Eden (1991) – I had a hard time with Steve Hogarth’s early tenure with the band. The Fish era of the band, especially, Clutching At Straws had such an impact on me. I wanted to like the new version of the band with Hogarth on vocals. I purchased Seasons End in 1989 and I overall I did not like it. I purchased Holidays In Eden in 1991 and overall I did not like it. I purchased Brave in 1994 and overall I did not like it. I keep playing the albums, desperate to like this new version of the band. I almost gave up after Brave. One day something about Holidays In Eden just clicked and I was in love with the Hogarth era as well. Holidays In Eden has great production, well written songs and a perfect balance of pop, rock and prog. There is a not a weak song to be found. I love equally the slickly produced pop of Cover My Eyes just as much as the epic prog bombast of Splintering Heart. Holidays In Eden is one of the bands more mainstream albums, but that does not mean that it is lacking in progressive rock sounds. There is also a harder edge on display during some of the album’s rockier moments. I do believe that this is an album that Marillion fans have grown to appreciate more and more as time goes by.
Standout Songs: Splintering Heart, The Party, Dry Land
Brave (1994) – Most bands have one great concept album in their arsenal. Marillion has a few and each one could not be more different. Brave sounds like a band brilliantly saying goodbye to their past. The follow up album, Afraid Of Sunlight, was the band’s next step in their musical evolution. Brave is not a rehash of the past, but the band taking their established sound to its logical conclusion. After the opening soundscape Mark Kelly sets the stage with keyboards that evoke a sense of mystery and wonder. Brave is a very special album, that requires a delicate ear and a degree of patience as the story unfolds. I do consider it one of the great concept albums of progressive rock.
Standout Songs: Runaway, Goodbye To All That, Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury, Paper Lies, The Great Escape
Misplaced Childhood (1985) – For many fans this is THE Marillion album. Within the first few notes of the opening song you know that this is a special album. It is definitely among their best work and one of the great progressive rock albums from the 1980’s. As a concept album it is an exceptional achievement. But at a lean forty one minutes long I always felt that it was a bit short. The album does not feel incomplete, it just fells like there could have been more. Misplaced Childhood does take the listener on a musical journey. It is a short one, but it is an emotionally charged one. The influence of Pink Floyd and Genesis loom large throughout, but this is Marillion truly coming into their own.
Standout Songs – Pseudo Silk Kimono, Bitter Suite, Heart Of Lothian, Lords Of The Backstage and Blind Curve
Seasons End (1989) – As I mentioned earlier, it took me a long time to appreciate this album. Once I did I fell deeply in love with the music. This may well be one of Marillion’s most underappreciated albums. Hogarth’s debut is a successful, if slightly uneven, musician transition. Musically the album sounds similar to the sound of Fish era Marillion. There is a subtle evolution of the band’s sound that allows Hogarth to interject his personality into the music. The biggest change for the band was the lyrical content. Gone was Fish’s angst ridden lyrical poetry. Hogarth brought a very different lyrical perspective to the band that was no less dramatic and just as poetic as his predecessor. From start to finish Seasons End is an amazing musical journey as Steve Hogarth began to put his unique stamp on the sound of Marillion. Fish moved on to a lackluster solo career and Marillion, with Hogarth on the microphone, never looked back.
Standout Songs: Easter, Holloway Girl, Seasons End and The Space…
Fugazi (1984) – The band’s flawed and inferior follow-up to Script For A Jester’s Tear. The album sees the band move a step closer to forging their own identity. The Genesis influences are present, but less overt. If one listens with discerning ears the influences of bands such as Pink Floyd, Van der Graaf Generator and The Who can be heard. Some of the tracks are too long and the songwriting suffers a bit in places. Musically some of the songs are not as compelling as others. When everything was working the music was prime Marillion. Fish shines throughout vocally and lyrically. As a whole the album may be inconsistent but it is still a great listening experience. Unfortunately for Fugazi it is book-ended by two of Marillion’s best albums. Its position in the band’s catalog causes its flaws to stand out all the more. Script For A Jester’s Tear is a near flawless debut album. Misplaced Childhood is a classic of the progressive rock genre. Fugazi is a very good album, but it can not complete with the band’s more accomplished and consistent albums.
Standout songs – Jigsaw, Emerald Lies
The first seven Marillion studio albums are my favorite from the band. What an incredible run of albums within an eleven year time span. I fell in love with Marillion in 1987 and they remain one of my top five favorite bands all these years later. The albums that followed the first seven have been a bit of a roller coaster ride. There are several that I love and a few that I feel indifferent towards. I do applaud the band as they continue to explore different sounds and genres. They truly continue to embody the sound and spirit of a progressively minded rock band. It is that spirit that helped produce the incredible music found on the band’s stellar early albums.