Album review: MARILLION – FEAR

This hour special was broadcast in the first hour of David Randall’s weekly show ‘Assume The Position’ on Sunday 18 September at 22:00 GMT on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio.

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The Best of 2016

MARILLION - FEAR

earMUSIC [Release date 23.09.16]

Is it really nearly 30 years since Derek Dick handed the microphone shaped baton to that young upstart Steve Hogarth?  Since 1989 when  the one-time European joined for ‘Seasons End’ the albums have challenged and cajoled.  They are always eventful.  As we have said in the past, Marillion keep doing what they do, and their fans love them for it.  Given their database -  on my last understanding this totalled more than 45,000 – they really can do no wrong and are in an unrivalled position.

Indeed in despatches the band emphasise that this puts them also in an enviable position of being able to stretch the envelope, to comment on current events; injustice, capitalism, politics .  Don’t worry, whilst these are all themes that emerge on FEAR the basic Marillion template of impassioned vocals, superior and uplifting musicianship, and basic accessibility are all present and correct  in smaller or greater measure.

Of course, when reviewers get early album promos they come without lyrics so I won’t dwell on this aspect.  However, the immediate feeling with the five-part opening track – ‘El Dorado’ – is “I have heard all this before”.

The piece builds in time-honoured fashion: a spoken lyric to start, Rothery’s guitar cuts in at the appropriate time, Mark  Kelly’s synth orchestrations empathic and energising as ever.  The resolution  achieved through a rousing  finale (‘FEAR’) and Hogarth’s reflective coda (“The Grandchildren Of Apes”).

This perception of déjà vu is confirmed by ‘Living In Fear’ which is, though, not really distinctive enough to demand repeated play.

The second long piece (including the fragmented sixth part at the end of the album) ‘The Leavers’ is a nice concept reflecting the life of those who are always on the move and the opening part is memorable but typically the rest descends in to a part spoken/part sung diatribe which is very much where Marillion are at in 2016.  Even Steve Rothery’s guitar work echoes passages from ‘Somewhere Else’ (although one of their better millennium albums).

My guess is that the band have worked really hard on the lyrical content in this album and the “messages” in order to challenge and provoke, but might have have lost sight of the wonderful commercialism – and romanticism – we know they are capable of.  The album is – dare I say it – the worse for it.  A good independent producer might have brought them back on track, but then that’s not how they work these days.

The closing track ‘The New Kings’  – in four parts – rails against the rampant capitalism epitomised by the Russian oligarths and new found, ill-gotten wealth.  Personally I would have loved to have heard more in the style of the mid-section of ‘White Paper’ and the play-out on ‘Russia’s Locked Doors’ – but any sumptuous, extended, instrumental passages are few and far between with the focus now very much on Steve Hogarth’s admittedly superb vocals.

Marillion’s last album – ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’ – was more immediate and with a sense of urgency lacking on this opus and the more mellow, rambling, FEAR will take more time to reveal its undoubted charms.  This is no bad thing of course and the Super Audio-CD limited pressing will ensure we get the best audio quality short of a 5.1 surround mix.  One for fans, definitely.  ***1/2

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

Archive features

Album review (A Sunday Night Above The Rain, 2014)
Album review (Sounds That Can’t Be Made, 2012)
Steve Hogarth (Book review and interview)
Album review (The Singles Vol.2, 89-95)
Gig review (London, 2014)


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