Essence is partly based on ideas from a new age/self-help book recommended to Steve Hogarth during the Somewhere Else tour, called 'The Power of Now' by Eckhart Tolle and concerns the notion of embracing the moment rather than dwelling on the past or future.
The album is a continuous piece of music a la Brave, with linking pieces connecting the main songs. Stylistically, the music is extremely lush and dense, taking in a myriad of different styles including soul and dub as well as more traditional Marillion territory. There is a lot of textures, particularly from the keyboards (some obvious reference points being Blue Nile and Sigur Ros), and not huge amounts of trad-style Rothery soloing - though what there is, is fantastic.
There's also a lot of vocal harmonies; it'll be interesting to see how this works live. Will Mark have a mic again..? This is possibly the most overall upbeat album the band have ever released, yet it contains so many moods that it's very difficult to put it into words with any real expectation of doing the music justice. Not all of the songs on this album require explanations.
The second CD is entitled The Hard Shoulder, and is a collection of unconnected songs of a generally more rocky nature. It would be a strong standalone album in its own right. There's much more rocky stuff on this album, but the lush orchestration remains a major feature of the word. There's also a sixties vibe to some of the stuff here, though not necessarily the obvious touchstones.
Lyrically, both albums contain some very intimate words, and Hogarth frequently uses sotto voce that gives the songs a feel of a confessional. This is greatly aided by some of the subject matter; there are songs that anyone with even the slightest intimacy with Hogarth's life must necessarily interpret as personal revelations and they can be uncomfortable. It's for this reason that the album ends with a song about the dangers of packaging your pain for consumption as art; Real Tears for Sale.
Not all the songs on these albums warranted explanations.
Cover notes: The cover is taken from the illustration for Asylum Satellite #1 by new artist Antonio Seijas. Antonio had previously created work for Gazpacho, who release records on Marillion's Intact label. Antonio's website can be found here.
The Essence cover features a glowing white satellite shape covered in what look like domestic TV aerials superimposed in front of a red photo manipulation that recalls the backgrounds used for the No One Can single from the Six of One album. The Hard Shoulder cover, is identical save that the background is purpley-blue.
The music is to be issued as two separate albums with the colours as above, and also in a boxed set, featuring both covers.