Happiness Is The Road, Volume Two: The Hard Shoulder


MVD Audio, 2009


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When I finished listening to Happiness Is The Road, Volume One: Essesnce, I hoped that what Marillion had done was saved all the more upbeat numbers for the second half of this two album release.

Well, I can’t say that I got what I wished for, as there is still a lot of melancholia abounding on Happiness Is The Road, Volume Two: The Hard Shoulder. But where the first disc of the set seemed to be more experimental, this collection of nine tracks is a little more mainstream, though it’s not exactly the antithesis of the first disc.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t musical experimentation still going on here. If there wasn’t, you’d be at a loss to explain a track like “The Man From The Planet Marzipan,” a song which lyrically is not quite as silly as the title would suggest, and even dares to venture a toe into the world of funk. It’s a pleasant enough song, but doesn’t really get me terribly excited about the album in general. The same can be said for the true musical experiment on this disc, “Asylum Satellite #1,” which continues the gentle sadness that permeated the first disc of this set without really getting the listener excited about what they’re listening to.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But Marillion does create songs that are more accessible and even ones you can hum and tap your foot to on this disc. “Half The World” is one that screams “single” to me, and shows that after all these years, Steve Hogarth and crew have not lost their ability to turn a musical phrase into something significant. Likewise, the album closer “Real Tears For Sale” belies its seven-and-a-half minute length by combining powerful lyrics with good musicianship and a solid chorus that will remain with the listener long after the CD has spun to a stop. If radio still took a chance on songs that were longer than four minutes, “Real Tears For Sale” would be a chart-buster.

If I thought there might have been a storyline holding some of the songs on Happiness Is The Road, Volume One: Essence together, I could make the same argument for this disc. The thing is, I am having a hard time deciphering just what the theme is – it a pure love story (“Older Than Me”), or is it a tale of love lost (“Throw Me Out,” “Half The World”), or is it even a tale of unrequited love (“Especially True”)? I’ve made no secret over the years that Marillion albums, at least for me, tend to be multilayered, taking numerous listens to fully appreciate the story behind the words. And unless Steve Hogarth himself is reading this and wishes to educate me, it may remain a mystery.

Happiness Is The Road, Volume Two: The Hard Shoulder is the more approachable of the two discs, and while it has some very solid moments, doesn’t quite live up to its true potential. Had Marillion boiled the two volumes down into one album (and maybe left the extra tracks for a “bonus” disc), it may have rivaled even Marbles as being one of their best. It’s still enjoyable and worth your time to check out, but it’s not quite up to their high-water mark.

Rating: B-

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© 2009 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MVD Audio, and is used for informational purposes only.