Album of the Week 36-2016: Marillion – Marbles


Last week, I wrote my review on Marillion’s new record ‘F.E.A.R.’ for Gitarist. Without giving too much away: I called it their best record since ‘Marbles’. Which may have been a bit lazy, because ‘Marbles’ is the designated “best since” reference for the Brits, since they’ve moved a bit too close to alternative Pop on subsequent releases. Those influences are quite prominent here as well, but somehow they blend with Marillion’s progressive roots much better here. Ironically, while it sounds less cliché Prog than some of their peers, it made Marillion one of the few bands to actually do something progressive in the 21st century.

As musicians, Marillion has become increasingly understated since the early nineties. Steve Rothery is one of the world’s most tasteful lead guitarists, but most of the time, he takes a backseat to the song and provides color through sounds that sometimes don’t even sound like a guitar. But most illustrative of the musical development is Mark Kelly. Remember the somewhat shrill keyboard leads on their eighties output? Kelly went along with the times and is more interested in laying down textures these days. The relevance of no one taking the spotlight can’t be emphasized enough.

Centerpieces on ‘Marbles’ are – maybe somewhat predictably – the three epics. ‘Ocean Cloud’ – the longest, clocking in just under 18 minutes – is perhaps the most traditionally progressive of the lot, with it’s clear movements, distinctly Pink Floyd-like ambient sections and quiet-loud dynamics. Closing track ‘Neverland’ is a downright beautiful ballad with one of Rothery’s finest guitar solo’s of all time and though the band hasn’t sounded like Genesis for the better part of three decades, I consider ‘The Invisible Man’ the ‘Musical Box’ of this century; singer Steve Hogarth’s emotional range strengthens the increasing intensity in the music and the band very creatively links highly different sections together.

The shorter songs lack the lasting power of those three monuments, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here. Influences from U2 (‘You’re Gone’) and The Beatles (‘The Damage’) are quite obvious, as is Radiohead’s influence on the sonic possibilities of the instruments, but Marillion stubbornly refuses to copy a formula and consistently turns it into their own thing. Highlighting the more concise side of the record are the jazzy psychedelia of ‘Angelina’ and the schizophrenic composition ‘Drilling Holes’, in which highly rhythmic sections with excellent bass work by Pete Trewavas are contrasted by calmer, late sixties Beatle-esque passages. The four short titular interludes are nice, calm pieces of music as well.

Make sure you check out the double cd version of ‘Marbles’, or else you’ll miss four songs, one of which being the amazing ‘Ocean Cloud’. Also, albums like these are just worth hearing the way the artists intended them to. It never was artistic vision that Marillion lacked and ‘Marble’ is one of the best examples to illustrate that fact. While it’s not their best record – ‘Brave’ will forever hold that title for me – it is one of the very few satisfying examples of a band with a “progressive” label actually still progressing. And one of the few that can make simpler songs work.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Invisible Man’, ‘Neverland’, ‘Ocean Cloud’

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