...and with volume two in the "Happiness is the Road" series, Marillion has the ship back on course. Kicking open the door with "Thunder Fly," The Hard Shoulder will have you feeling bad that you ever doubted the band in the first place. Way back in the early days Marillion struggled to separate themselves from comparisons to Gabriel-era Genesis, which at times, they were guilty as charged, particularly with neo-poet Fish as their frontman. "Thunder Fly" is the closest they've come to bringing those whispers about again. If people nowadays knew who the hell Genesis was, that is.
The tempos are a little faster on The Hard Shoulder, but the atmosphere is a little bit darker, with a dichotomous double shot of "Older That Me" and "Threw Me Out." The former is an affirmation of a new found love set to a melancholy backdrop as if the narrator knows it won't have a happy ending after all, and the latter is a bitter diatribe set to a jaunty little hum-along. The first single, "Whatever Is Wrong With You," continues to move things along at a quick pace, giving guitarist Steve Rothery time to really kick out the jams. Final track "Real Tears for Sale" brings the album back down to earth for a slow, deliberately paced life-lesson.
Why Marillion chose to release these albums separately is beyond me. Granted, they were released together as a double album through the band's website, but if you live in North America, ordering from the U.K. can be a pain in the balls. Marketing shouldn't be an issue. After all, we're talking about fan loyalty the likes of which are unheard of in this day and age. Whereas most bands will begin their pre-sale a couple of months before the album's release, Marillion are able to sell thousands of pre-sale albums months before it's even been written. The first time they did it, everyone thought they were batshit, but their last couples of releases have proven that kind of blind faith can be justly rewarded if you back the right horse.