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Marillion - Brave CD (album) cover





3.97 | 1001 ratings

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James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars First of all, I haven't followed the band in so long I really didn't know they'd changed singers...I left before Fish did. "Brave" almost makes me wish I'd paid a little more attention, for it is not the MARILLION that I remember. There are unique sounds here and an expressive quality more subtle and effective- Hogarth really changes the overall character of the band. Not that I'm in love with his voice- at best it resembles WATERBOYS Mike Scott's plaintive, wavering tenor, at worst just amateur hard rock- but it does help coax an emotional depth out of a band I previously thought was a little sterile-sounding. They are obviously an older, wiser band than they used to be.

The title song appropriately sums up the feel of most of "Brave"- after a free-flowing vocal over warm synth sounds, we get a prolonged buildup with some exotic textures- including some nice piping by guester Tony Halligan. Slower ambient passages dominate the album, with the fewer harder-rocking moments strangely more common in the middle. The opening track "Bridge" establishes a recurring piano motif (a close cousin to "The Great Gig in the Sky") and sets the album's overall melancholy tone. Added to this, the ambient environmental sounds and the texture of many passages (the more rocking parts of "Living With the Lie", the leslie-ish guitar in "The Hollow Man", and more) generate an unmistakable FLOYD quality, especially "The Wall" and "Final Cut" era, but done with enough of the band's own character to avoid being derivative.

I'm afraid I can't completely follow the details of the story even after repeated listenings, but the positive side is that the narrative never seems to take precedence over the music, which is a big point in their favor. A girl commits suicide, this I'm sure of. It seems to have the same 'streetwise' leanings that characterized "Lamb Lies down on Broadway" and "Operation: Mindcrime" (songs like "Runaway" and "Goodbye to All That", among others, definitely bring QUEENSRYCHE's album to mind) but is neither as mystically surreal as the former nor as conspiracy-cyberpunk (or as metal) as the latter tries to be. The range of the band is most apparent on "The Great Escape", which is really quite good; soaring and emotional like the best moments from "The Final Cut". And what concept album would be complete without a sensitive, climaxing coda? "Made Again" fills the bill nicely and has some nice, organic keyboard and guitar playing to finish off the experience on a good note (no pun intended).

Steve Rothery's range and skills are showcased here, from standard hard rock and blues rock basics to a surprising palette of unconventional ambient sounds, with some occasional lapses into an over-processed 80s style and tone. Speaking of which, "Hard as Love" and "Paper Lies" both start unpromisingly mediocre- maybe I'm out of line thinking of BON JOVI- but I'm sure they're live crowd-pleasers. To make things worse, "The Lap of Luxury" blasts a seeming tribute to "Spirit of Radio" before launching into an overwhelmingly 80s guitar backing ("Is This Love" by WHITESNAKE is an infamous example of this bland pop sound). Generally, production is a bit strange on the album- the pianos and guitars often sound a bit plastic, and there seems to be missing chunks of the frequency spectrum that the music never fills; I suppose it's the sound of a 70s-influenced 80s band coming to grips with the 90s.

Much of the musical and narrative territory here has been covered already, but MARILLION makes an admirable, accessible album out of aging ideas. I think hardcore proggers may want to look elsewhere for innovation; however, for classic rock folks (or 80s rock folks especially) just getting into progressive music, this is a pretty decent transition, and it's ambitious enough to impress longtime fans. I just might owe the band and the fans an apology for dismissing them for so long.

James Lee | 3/5 |


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