I am a big fan of Marillion‘s first four albums — the ones they recorded with Fish as their lead singer. In the late ’80’s, (right about the time I got into the band), Fish left and was replaced by a guy named Steve Hogarth, and for whatever reason, I never picked up any new Marillion albums after that. Last week, I was buying the new Rush album from amazon.ca, and decided to pick up the first Marillion album with the “new” (almost 20 years ago) singer, “Season’s End”, as well as another newer one, “Afraid of Sunlight”. I listened to them for the first time today at work, and, well, I’m not sure yet. The music is unmistakeably Marillion (moreso with Season’s End), but it really sounds weird with someone other than Fish singing.
Changing lead singers is far more significant a change than any other band member, and this is magnified when the singer has as distinctive a voice as Fish. This was evident when David Lee Roth left Van Halen, but Van Halen’s music wasn’t terribly different from other hard rock bands at the time, so Van Halen’s first album with Sammy Hagar just sounded like another new band with a great guitar player. In this case, Marillion’s musical sound is so distinctive, changing singers is even more significant, possibly similar to AC/DC replacing Bon Scott with Brian Johnson, though that happened before I really paid much attention to popular music. In that case, both Scott and Johnson had distinctive voices — Johnson’s is similar to Scott’s, but different enough that it was obvious that he was a good fit with the band without being a Bon Scott clone. When I Mother Earth replaced Edwin with, um, whoever they replaced him with, the result was a pretty good band with a fairly average lead singer. The newer stuff is still great musically, but I’m not as thrilled with the vocals, and that’s what I’ve found so far with the “new” Marillion. Steve Hogarth’s voice is not very distinctive, and I’m not sure it fits with the band as well as Fish’s voice did. In fact, every now and again Hogarth sounds like he’s doing a bad Fish imitation.
I’ve learned in the past that immediately writing off an album after a single listen is frequently a bad idea — I didn’t like Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory when I first heard it, but it grew on me, and is now one of my favourite Dream Theater albums; same with The Tragically Hip’s Trouble at the Henhouse. I’m very glad to be listening to new Marillion music, for the first time in almost twenty years, and I hope I really start to get into it, because they have eight more albums that I don’t have, plus a new one coming next year. I get very excited about new music!
Note: The title of this post is a lyric from “Kayleigh”, a song from Marillion’s amazing 1985 concept album “Misplaced Childhood”. According to Wikipedia, the success of this song has significantly increased the number of girls given the name Kayleigh in the UK. I know a woman (here in Canada) who would have named a daughter Kayleigh because of that song. She ended up having two sons, neither of which, thankfully, is named Kayleigh.