earMUSIC (Release date 17.09.12)
It appears that there have been a few last minute hitches with the new Marillion album, it failed to hit the reviewer’s inbox before the band’s tour and before they started selling it. For a band that normally has this sort of thing nailed down it is surprising. However, in truth, for the vast majority of fans it doesn’t matter, at least for those who go to any gig on the short promotional tour.
It is not fair to call Marillion predictable, but even if this album is late to market and fails to pull in the plaudits, it still reflects their characteristic good taste and overwhelming musicianship. I don’t think they would ever knowingly let their fans down.
The band have trailed the album as close in spirit to ‘Afraid Of Sunlight’ and of course they probably feel at the moment that this is the best album they’ve ever made. It’s good, but their tour set-list opens up the suggestion that where they really excel is in the short sharp commercial ditty.
‘You’re Gone’ from ‘Marbles’ is a prime example but their 1991 album ’Holidays In Eden’ for me still takes some beating even if the band thought they were being put in the EMI corporate straitjacket. But those were at least happier days when there was a bigger budget.
Much has been made of the long opening piece ‘Gaza’ and I don’t think Steve Rothery has been so animated since ‘Hard As Love’. It’s a suitably dramatic piece where Hogarth rails against modern wartime futilities and it makes an arresting start.
Four years ago, reviewing the last studio offering, I noted that a feature of many albums is where Rothery merely colours the canvas rather than rips it open. No doubts here, even the V&A would have problems repairing it.
After that, the title track is very accessible with a memorable and infectious chorus and propelled by a persistent synth hook and topped off with Rothery’s expected melodic coda.
As in the live arena, the album is charged throughout with the emotive and frankly quite startling vocals of Hogarth.
But the real gem is ‘Power’ which has the immediacy of an old friend and must surely now take its regular place in the setlist along with ‘You’re Gone’.
Frankly, I think Marillion are at their very best when dealing with simple tales of love and longing, it’s what made ‘Holidays’ such a satisfying listen. Here ‘Pour My Love’ is in that vein and – surprise, surprise – it features lyrics from earlier collaborator John Helmer.
The second longest track, the 14 minute ‘Montreal’, makes me think of a kind of latter-day, and more progressive, 10cc vibe; there is the same attention to detail in the lyrical and musical imagery. ‘Invisible Ink’ could be the more acceptable face of Coldplay whilst ‘Lucky Man’ sounds like it could have been recorded at Abbey Road as the band soaked up the atmosphere of former ghosts.
‘The Sky Above The Rain’ is another long track with another great Hogarth vocal but probably needs to bed in a bit with the listener. Bravely, this is included in their current set-list.
On the current tour, it’s intriguing that ‘Splintering Heart’ is the first track over the PA at the start – heard for a tantalising brief few bars – and maybe in a strange sort of way this new album harks back to that classic second Hogarth album, rather than ‘Afraid Of Sunlight’ which is a bit more edgy.
And as you sift through the band’s sometimes patchy backwaters, it is the less meandering output that the band seemingly return to over time. ‘Somewhere Else’ in 2007 may have received wider criticism but it still fits well with this more concise approach.
This latest album is immediate enough to suck in the doubters and expansive enough for the hardcore. All in all, Marillion just keep doing what they do, and as ‘Sounds…’ confirms, they do it very well indeed. ****½
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT
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