Part 4: Back on Top
It may or may not have been Mark Kelly, AKA Mad Jack, AKA the bald guy on keyboards. But somebody in the band came up with the idea to finance their next album entirely by pre-orders. A simple, daring, risky and above all revolutionary idea. For the first time, Marillion
would be their own boss. There would be no more pressure from labels to go into whatever kind of music or to finish anything in time. And above all, Marillion would be the sole owners of their own music. All it required was a leap of faith from the fans. But would they, after a string of disappointing albums, still be willing to support this once-great band?2001 - Anoraknophobia
* * * *
Of course they were. The pre-order model was a tremendous success, and Anoraknophobia came *only* a half a year overdue. The confusing title is actually a statement; we're a bunch of anoraks, and we're not afraid of it anymore.
Although this album marks the beginning of a whole new period in Marillion's career, musically it's a continuation of the previous two albums. Whatever was left of progressive rock has been replaced by trip-hop, electronics and funk. But don't let that fool you; at the heart of this album, there's rock all the way through. Between You And Me
, Separated Out
and If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill
are among their hardest rocking tracks yet, and they are all awesome.
On this album, Marillion find themselves inspired again. It is the culmination of their experimental period. The weird tracks aren't oddities anymore, but highlights. The Fruit Of The Wild Rose
is a funky, bluesy number, Quartz
is driven by a relentlessly hypnotic bass line and even sees Steve Hogarth rapping!
Hogarth is in fine shape. All songs are laden with emotion. This is most apparent on When I Meet God
, the highlight of the album and, despite themselves, the most "proggy" song. The only one I don't care about is This Is The 21st Century
(although it's Hogarth's favorite track), which features a droning drum loop instead of proper drums, and does nothing and goes nowhere for ten minutes. Shame!
Other than that, this album shows that it doesn't matter what kind of music Marillion is making, as long as they've got their hearts in it. And here, they certainly have. It may not be for everyone, but it's certainly miles better than their previous couple of albums!2004 - Marbles
* * * * *
Now, here's a joke. Through their new-found independence, Marillion, the band who went to great lengths to be anything but a prog rock band, suddenly found themselves to be absolutely free to make any kind of music they wanted whatsoever. And guess what they came up with? An all-out progressive rock album, that's what.
Marbles released a veritable hype in the world of progressive rock. And for once, the hype was entirely justified. Marbles is brilliant.
The epic opener The Invisible Man
takes you for a ride through the darkest places of Hogarth's imagination. The world has gone mad. Like the Brave album, this song has both great emotional and sonic depth to it. It seems infinitely layered, always building up, breaking down and building up again, until Hogath is screaming at the top of his lungs and Rothery is up on the high strings. Did I mention it's a great song?
There's more where that came from. The prog department also gives us Ocean Cloud
, an eighteen minute epic on a man who rows the ocean, that easily settles itself up there with the best thing Marillion has ever done.
The shorter tracks don't fail to deliver either. Marbles features both a return to Marillion's prog-pop roots, recalling Brave and Afraid of Sunlight in terms of atmosphere and orchestration, as well as a subtle continuation of the tendency to experiment. Fantastic Place
earns its place as an instant-classic, Genie
and Don't Hurt Yourself
belong to the best Marillion pop song tradition. There's the gentle, jazzy Angelina
and the psychedelic rocker Drilling Holes
. It's all there and it's all done really well. Each track seems to harbor another aspect of everything that has been great about Marillion for so many years.
Steve Rothery is back in action. He decided to go back to his signature soloing, although his sound is more varied than ever. His playing features prominently on almost every track. But never so prominently as on Neverland
, the album's closer.
And what a track this is. "Majestic" doesn't even begin to describe it. It isn't even overtly proggy, it's just ten minutes of pure euphoria. I'm reluctant to call it their best song, as there are so many great songs on this album alone. But it's definitely up there! In any case, it became the anthem of the Marillion fans and I believe the band have played it at nearly every single concert ever since.
Look at me. This is already the longest review I've written and I feel I have only scratched the surface of this many-faced album. I'll suffice to say that it's one of Marillion's very best, recommended to anyone who likes music at all. Be sure to get the double album from the band themselves rather than the one-disc retail edition, you don't want to miss out on the full deal.2007 - Somewhere Else
Each Marillion album is a reaction to the previous one. Obviously, Marbles wasn't going to be topped any time soon. As if they knew in advance, the band decided to (temporarily) drop the pre-order model for 2007's Somewhere Else.
As expected, Somewhere Else doesn't even try to live up to its illustrious predecessor. It is a much more stripped-down and pop-centered affair.
It starts out promisingly enough with the wonderful The Other Half
, which starts off as a rocker but opens up into a majestic, soaring melodic piece. See It Like A Baby
is the obligatory single; not bad, nothing special. Thank You, Whoever You Are
, Somewhere Else
and A Voice From The Past
are the album's highlights. Curiously, they all more or less follow the same pattern; each starting off as a piano-based ballad that gradually builds and ends in a soaring guitar-driven finale.
Unfortunately, the rest of the songs are lacking in overall quality. Out of all of Marillion's throwaway rockers, Most Toys
might be the most throwaway of all. No Such Thing
is simply dull. The Wound
is an interesting failure; it consists of one half of Marillion-rocks-out and one half of Marillion-does-Radiohead. Both halves are good enough, but they simply refuse to be wedded into one song.
What really makes the album fall short of a more favorable rating is that Marillion doesn't really bring anything new to the table here. They do nothing on this album that they haven't done before, and better. It's actually not a bad place to start if you're new to the band, but to the longtime fan, it fails to deliver.
Fortunately, the subsequent tour was one of the best in their recent career, with a completely different set list every show. These songs work much better live. It brought forth Somewhere in London
, which is without a doubt the best among Marillion's many live DVD's and comes highly recommended.2008 - Happiness Is The Road
* * * * *
Shortly after Somewhere Else, the band pretty much had their next album written. But something happened; the boys went on a creative songwriting spree. Suddenly, they found themselves with enough material for not one, but two albums. They were released as a lavish double album.
If Marbles recalled Brave, then Happiness, surprisingly, brings Seasons End to mind. It sounds similarly fresh and inspired, and the overall feeling is definitely on the lighter side.
It does the prog thing, as evident on songs like Essence
, The Man from the Planet Marzipan
and, particularly, Happiness Is The Road
. The latter is one of those huge sing-along anthems to be sung in concert halls for quite a while.
It also does the pop thing, particularly on the second disk. Half The World
, Whatever Is Wrong With You
and Especially True
could be big hits, if it weren't that there's no place for these old rockers on the singles market today.
It does the songs that are typical of Marillion, the kind of prog-pop crossovers like This Train Is My Life
(my #1 track on LastFM!), Thunder Fly
and Real Tears For Sale
It also has lots of Marillion's specialty of creating atmosphere and building up. This quality can be found throughout the first disk. Liquidity
is actually Marillion's first instrumental studio track in a career spanning thirty years!
And then there's some experimenting with new styles; Nothing Fills The Hole
comes eerily close to black soul, Happiness Is The Road
has traces of Jamaican Reggae, Older Than Me
could be a lullaby and Asylum Satellite #1
is as psychedelic as anything they've ever done.
There's of course fine performances, a high quality of composition, top notch lyrics and crystal-clear production. For an encore, it's 110 minutes long and doesn't sport a single weak song!
I do have one point of criticism, though. There's another bonus track; the so-called Half Full Jam that is, as one might expect, rubbish. This stuff should be reserved for fan club releases.
Other than that, I see no reason not to give Marillion's latest outing a full five-star rating. It's right up there with their best work; thirty years into their career, they are still at their prime.
So there you have it; all of Marillion's albums until now. They have led a turbulent career with more highs than lows, in which they always tried to reinvent themselves, while at the same time remain true to themselves. To all those who still think this is a one-hit-wonder from the eighties, and to all who have become stuck in the Fish era: you are seriously missing out. Marillion are still alive and kicking, and releasing great and significant material. They still show no signs of wanting to quit, so let's hope there will be much more great music to come!