Ask ten Marillion fans what the band’s best album is, and it’s possible that you’ll get ten different answers. By now, I think I’ve heard every one of their eighteen albums proclaimed to be the height of their mammoth career (even the sometimes maligned marillion.com, once staunchly championed to me in a concert lineup by a large, loquacious man in a denim jacket so adorned with Marillion patches, I almost didn’t notice that it didn’t fit him – and probably hadn’t since Fish fronted the band.
While some albums are surely more popular choices than others, it’s a safe bet that 1995’s Afraid Of Sunlight, the band’s eighth album, finds itself on a very high percentage of listeners’ lips when the question is posed. A even broader group of fans will tell you it’s in their personal ‘top three’. And it’s not hard to see why, as it contains so many of the elements that drew people to the band in the first place. If recent albums had been dense and challenging (Brave), transitional (Seasons End) or downright poppy and commercial (Holidays In Eden), Afraid Of Sunlight was a return to form in many ways – a flashback to the sometimes dark moodiness of albums like Misplaced Childhood and Clutching At Straws, but with just enough humour and gentleness to bring it a greater balance than the previous three. Besides, who can’t love an album with a song title like Cannibal Surf Babe? Singer Steve Hogarth really comes to the fore on this album, as if announcing that since it’s now his fourth with the band (as many as Fish had done before him), he is no longer tolerating the ‘new boy’ moniker. His vocal ability is perhaps at its all-time height as he spins a series of eight diverse tales dealing with topics such as the tragedy of fame, loss, death, abuse, excess, poignancy, and beauty. The album was an exquisite and dynamic coming-of-age moment for Marillion, and possibly their strongest statement to date, oddly enough appearing smack dab in the middle of that weird decade when many people seemed to dismiss anyone who sounded remotely like they did – particularly the record labels themselves.
Who can’t love an album with a song title like Cannibal Surf Babe?
Fast-forward almost a quarter century to the latest volume in Warner Music’s ongoing deluxe reissue series, and the album sounds as spectacular as ever. Five discs comprise this mighty and expansive set (there is also a five-LP edition for the vinyl folks), with an accompanying book of interviews, musings, photos, and lyrics. Disc one is a brand new stereo remix by Michael Hunter. Disc two is the original 1995 Dave Meegan mix, for those who like to compare and contrast, or for those who want to sell off their old, redundant copies (or even for those who might prefer some of the new mixes and some of the originals, and want to compile their own hybrid version). Truth be told, in some cases the choice is obvious, but with others it’s a tough call as to which version I prefer. Either way, there’s simply no denying the weight of this collection – you can’t even glance at the list of titles without seeing multiple classics: Out Of This World, Beyond You, Gazpacho, Beautiful, the iconic title track, and of course the stunning King, perhaps the greatest album closer in the band’s catalogue (yes, I know how stiff that competition is).
A full live concert from Rotterdam on the 1995 tour takes up the whole of discs 3 & 4, a terrific, two-hour performance of many favourites from their career up to that point – including six of the new Sunlight tracks (it’s noteworthy that Out Of This Word, later to become a wildly popular stage number, was not in the set at this time). The show features cracking renditions of songs from then-recent Brave, and a healthy serving of older material sure to please the die-hards and long-time supporters, even going back as far as Garden Party.
The jam-packed blu-ray disc features multiple versions of the new stereo mix and the new 5.1 surround mix. These sound pristine and are sure to be considered an improvement over the job done on the Clutching remixes from the previous set, which some fans felt stripped the songs of their essence and their punch. With Hunter at the helm this time, the focus is less on changing the sound, and more on improving it. The nine bonus tracks first released on the 1999 2-CD remaster are also included here, plus a further seventeen previously unreleased jams and early versions. This wealth of material adds up to an interesting journey throughout the creation of the album, and a glimpse at the little bits and pieces that ended up unused. But one of the most enjoyable additions, as always, is the inclusion of a 45-minute documentary (really just an interview with the band about the making of the album). As per usual, there is some real insight and fascinating revelations from the five Marillos, including juicy tidbits about disagreements over the original cover art, meeting Neil Armstrong, haunted cassette tapes, and how Mark Kelly really felt about the album upon its completion back in the day. It’s always a treat to watch the guys together, reminiscing and laughing about old times.
We’re now halfway through this deluxe reissue campaign, and it’s a curious thing that they have chosen to stack the first half of the series with arguably the four most popular titles, but there are still plenty of fans who will be anxious to see what volume appears next (my money is on Script For A Jester’s Tear, but we shall see). Until then, it’s time for us all to enjoy and re-discover one of the band’s finest recorded achievements with this splendid edition of Afraid Of Sunlight, an attractive and worthy addition to the bulging shelves.
“Lie down, my dear… you’re going to enjoy this.”