The album that saw Marillion reborn, revitalized, and ultimately saved…
What was once a brand new chapter in the chronicles of Marillion is now the tattered and yellowed pages of legend. It’s been nearly 35 years since the final lineup change in the band’s long history took place (and it was a big ‘un). The resulting album, simultaneously timeless and traditional, was brimming with instant and future classics which still raise roofs and prompt emotional singalongs, and is still widely considered one of the most historically important releases of the Marillion catalogue.
Surely also the most transitional record of the band’s career, Seasons End was rightly saved for last in the roster of deluxe reissues, and it seems they’re going out in style. Jam-packed with goodies, the set bears new stereo and surround remixes of the album, b-sides, three(!) live concerts, demos & early versions, two documentaries, and the original promo videos of the period (lest any of us forget Steve Rothery’s dodgy ‘Easter’ hat). Oodles to take in, really, so best to start at the beginning.
The stereo CDs in these expanded sets have been hit or miss, but this one easily lands as one of the better ones, perhaps second only to last year’s fantastic Holidays in Eden remix. There are no jarring changes to be heard in these classic pieces, and thankfully the sound is not overly compressed. The focus is simply on sonic improvements that address the album’s originally murky mix; bringing the vocals more to the forefront and opening up the midrange for more clarity and breathing space. A definite thumbs-up here as these familiar songs come alive once more, crisp and sparkling and with an extra punchiness to the rhythm section (I’m always up for hearing more detail in Ian Mosley’s excellent finesse drumming, and I will forever think of him as one of the most underappreciated rock players of my lifetime). All of this is noticeable straight away when the band comes roaring in following the atmospheric intro to The King of Sunset Town, and continues on throughout the many key moments that follow. Berlin, The Space, and the title track have never sounded better.
The second and third CDs are comprised of a live concert from the 2022 Marillion Weekend in Leicester, where Seasons End was played in its entirety. This modern-day performance gives a chance to compare and contrast with the other two shows given by the younger chaps of 1990. The Leicester crowd’s roaring plaudits confirm how beloved these songs still are, played with a fiery verve from the sixty-something Marillos of today who remain an impressively commanding live act. There was griping online (I know…shocking!) when the track listing for this set was first announced. Some fans felt the inclusion of this show was too much of a flashforward, especially since it includes Gaza and The Leavers, two epic pieces from much later Marillion albums that are quite different in sound and structure to the music they were writing back in the late 1980s. But considering that an equal (if not larger) number of people would have balked had only a partial concert been issued, it does seem the best decision was to opt for completeness over chronological preciseness. You can’t please everybody, and those who don’t want to hear the later material simply don’t have to pop in disc 3.
The wealth of bonus material on the Blu-ray disc includes numerous archival recordings which extend beyond the crop originally found on the out of print 1997 remaster. Among the most interesting of these works-in-progress are the ‘Strings Groove’ tracks from Dalnagar Castle in August of ’88, which mainly highlight the coming together of album finale The Space (working title: Amsterdam) which at this stage also featured the emotional climax of 100 Nights from the future Holidays. Another rendition reveals the band trying the song at a faster tempo with trademark widdly-widdly synth parts from Mark Kelly. Early runthroughs of Easter, Hooks in You, and The Release are among the other new rarities unveiled, and it’s interesting to hear all of these in various stages of emergence. I would have liked if these tracks were also on CD however; it seems odd to have so much of the bonus material exclusive to the Blu-ray. Surely the album’s b-side tracks at least should have been on CD, even just for the sake of convenience for those who are not only listening at home.
The 5.1 surround mix of the album itself is not a particularly wild one from an immersion standpoint; I would probably place it somewhere around the middle of these eight volumes as regards the ‘surround experience’. But fun little flourishes do crop up here and there, and it all sounds full and clear with the volume cranked as high as you’d like (ask my neighbours). The mix is perfectly good, but I don’t think it reaches the heights of the best surround jobs in this series like the stunning Brave and Misplaced Childhood.
An audio ‘bootleg’ from February 1990 shows the band in prime form, proudly delivering their new material and plenty of older classics to an appreciative Montréal audience (always a stronghold for Marillion since their earliest visits overseas). There’s a cautious blurb in the booklet about how every effort has been made to ensure optimal sound quality of this show, but as someone who used to collect cassettes of live shows like they were stamps, I can say this is actually an excellent recording. Would that all bootlegs sounded this good! There’s a wonderful ambience to Seasons End‘s title track, particularly with Steve Hogarth doing his best choirboy impression with a few bars of O Come O Come, Emmanuel as a lead-in. Other new tracks like Holloway Girl and The Uninvited Guest, and crowd-pleasers like Lavender and Heart of Lothian are all played with a tireless enthusiasm, with the crowd eating from the hand of the shiny new front man who seemed to win them over with ease everywhere he went.
Over four hours of video content ensures this box is not one to be filed away on the shelf too quickly. For starters, there’s the 83 minute Seasons Change, a spanking new documentary comprised of typically candid and engaging interviews with the five Marillos and producer Nick Davis, sans the timewasting trappings of narration and irrelevant talking heads that have soiled other band documentaries over the years (no names mentioned, let’s just say ‘rhymes with Grenesis’). For those who enjoy such in-depth looks at these classic albums, these documentaries have been one of the best features of all eight boxes to date. Rewinding back to 1990, the home video documentary From Stoke Row To Ipanema is slotted in next, as well as the Rock Steady Concert Film: Live At Leicester de Montfort Hall 1990 which features Hogarth’s famous MIDI gloves (and Trewavas’ bouncing mane). By the way, if there’s one Marillion custom both these 1990 concerts drive home, it’s that Slàinte Mhath was always played at a hyper-caffeinated tempo. Just what was their hurry with that song, anyway?
Overall, this set provides sizeable bang for the buck, and anyone with old copies of the aforementioned home videos can feel safe tossing them in the sell pile. Whether or not to hang on to the old CD however is a more considered choice; I likely will, because I like having the other tracks readily available – like the excellent Bell in the Sea for instance – rather than waiting for a Blu-ray menu to load (I know… first world problems). I’m also not convinced that so radically reimagining the cover artwork was the right move. Personally, I like the original which seemed to indicate a look to the future with respect for the past. As attractive as this new one may be, the modernization feels a bit Greedo-shot-first. And dammit, I’m still a sucker for what Hogarth disdainfully calls the ‘old curly logo’! But I enjoy the sound of this new mix, I love all the extras, and even the booklet makes for a fine read, with further history of the period and plenty of photos.
Such a thorough revisit of Seasons End reaffirms not only the record’s high ranking position in the band’s canon, but its tremendous and indisputable significance. Without it, we would never have had Brave or Marbles or Afraid of Sunlight. This, the music that came so quickly and easily, revealed a Marillion reborn, revitalized, and ultimately… saved.