Getting Close to Seasons End

Marillion - Seasons End

Originally written for the Marillion fanzine "The Rest of Both Worlds".

I found Seasons End on release day, in my habitual, Monday trawl of the record racks, not knowing it was due to appear. A fan since pre-Script, I'd become a little disheartened at the tour postponements and all too apparent intra-band differences of the mid to late eighties, just when I'd thought one of my more unfashionable faves had really cracked it. So, as I fired up the trusty Dual 505/2 and relaxed back on the bed, I really didn't know what to expect.

As the opening keyboards of King of Sunset Town melted into the first words from the 'new boy', I immediately felt a familiar warmth of recognition and floated into the Marillo-zone, delving into the superbly presented gatefold sleeve as the soaring vocals and their powerful accompaniment calmed down into a typically sensitive middle section, rocked out and then slipped into the beauty of Easter. Feeling rather tripped out by this point, I set the stylus back to the beginning of its spiral - what have we here then?

King of Sunset Town sets the lyrical and musical stage for a solid, melodic, coherent debut of Marillion Mk II. A familiarly styled, beautifully layered soundscape increasing slowly in volume to a guitar break that harks back to the previous era, before we drop down to Mr Hogarth's entrance. The first chorus pricks the song into action, encouraging the next verse and refrain to flow, after a little precursive flourish from our debutant, into an intense musical onslaught that still doesn't outlast its welcome, dropping down into the middle section that cements the lyrical theme. The ending soars back into a surprisingly effective fade and we know it's gonna be alright. Powerful.

Any qualms about the acoustic entrance to Easter pale as the lyrical context is appreciated - an excellent marriage. Then, right on cue, comes Mr Rothery with a solo, awesome in its studied majesty. Nuff said. Pete's bass runs us down into an extended coda beyond the guile of most bands, leaving a warm heart on the thorniest of subjects. Beautiful.

The delicious balance of the album as a whole is then manifested in the form of The Uninvited Guest, a forked-tongue rocker that still gets the crowd going ten years on. Rather than outstanding moments, highlights here are the little trademark touches, particularly the brief guitar solo that concludes the track - and the ironic nature of the lyrics of course.

The album and, in particular, its subject matter then root themselves firmly in the late 80s psyche, with the luscious lament of the title track. The 'green' lyric may seem obvious now but was of a type conspicuous by its absence from much of the contemporary scene, only just resurrecting itself from an electronic, chart-pap malaise. The unobtrusive, layered production of the album is showcased beautifully here, no instrument being allowed to dominate but all encouraged to contribute to a rich melange. And, when we thought the first five minutes were achingly georgeous enough, the track slowly resurrects itself to a climax of anticipated sorrow. Stunningly understated.

Whilst the artist latterly known as H had to wait a decade for Easter to prove prophetic, only a couple of months elapsed before Holloway Girl seemed remarkable in its prescience, with the pardon and release of the Guildford Four. If this is compositionally the least interesting track on the album it is only because of the excellence in innovation elsewhere and the song grooves you nicely into side two...

Our whistlestop world tour then leads us to Berlin, the birthplace of Misplaced Childhood. This song dances us through a complex musical maze that mirrors its subject matter in beauty and intensity; again the lyrics are unusually relevant, the Berlin Wall falling shortly after the album's release and the musical contrasts are topped by the exquisite cross-fade into the tearful outro...

...which itself gives way to the shock of the opening stabs of Hooks In You. This is why After Me shouldn't be on this album - the latter is a great song but it falls between two stools musically and thematically, and consequently doesn't fit here. Not that Hooks is a musical masterpiece - it does give a sly nod to Incommunicado but is probably the bands heaviest track to this point in time and displays the upfront lyrical and vocal attitude of the album to its full. A cleansing sorbet that allows us to mellow into The Space...

The album closer builds slowly, recapping (as if we needed further evidence) the band's textural capabilities, with the lyrical tourist glimpsing a final city before being whisked off to the stars. From here we see the world below in pin-sharp focus - whilst everything about you is so perfectly restrained, but everything inside you bites you. The only words that can adequately describe the end of this song are its own: Everybody in the whole of the world feels the same inside - everbody in the whole of the whole of the whole of the world - everyone is only everyone else - everybody's got to know - everybody lives and loves and laughs and cries and eats and sleeps and grow and dies - everybody in the whole of the world is the same this time. The intensity of this ending, with yet more superlative vocals from a man whose contribution to the previous forty-five minutes has already made him a familiar part of the furniture, leads inevitably to Mr Mosley's abrupt curtain call and we are left to marvel at a superb album.

Yes - I like Seasons End a lot! Musically rich, without the occasional glucose overdose of Misplaced, yet more cohesive than Clutching; lyrically modern, with ideas far beyond the compass of those from the recently-remastered, holy biscuit tin, yet still with a reassuringly familiar, melancholy edge; vocally both intense and exemplary - at times stunningly so; beautifully crafted in the studio to allow the band to refocus as a unit, facilitating a luscious tonal synergy.

Though only on the fringes of my all-time top ten, Seasons End survived as a regular on my playlist for longer than any other. The sort of release (no pun intended) that has something to say to you whatever mood you're in - only finally supplanted in the required, regular listening stakes by Afraid of Sunlight, a year after the latter's appearance. It also sits well with contemporaries such as Depeche Mode's Violator, Carved In Sand by The Mission and Rush's Presto.

Perhaps I was just on a roll at that time of my life? Perhaps Seasons End, even without regard to the band's own, more trying circumstances, is just a bloody good album.