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Marillion - This Strange Engine  CD (album) cover

THIS STRANGE ENGINE

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

3.42 | 371 ratings

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The Prognaut
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Determinant album to understand most of the changes MARILLION suffered in the years to come regarding its self-committed instrumentation, pure composition and resources implementation. It all started back in 1981 during one of the incessant arguments FISH and Steve Rothery used to hold when the songwriter from Edinburgh wanted drummer Mick POINTER to leave the band and Steve at his turn, wanted him to stay. Changes were made, decisions were taken and the sound of the newly born band started to project differently. Mark KELLY and Peter TREWAVAS joined the band afterwards. And you all know the rest of the story. "This Strange Engine" is in the middle of all those changes experienced, beholding the prog scene quite nervously. Steve HOGARTH decided to "hold" the reins of the band and decided to adventure it to a complete different experimentation by co-writing the lyrics with John HELMER again like when he did on "Afraid of Sunlight", by adding up special features to the musical arrangements like the sound of a saxophone played by Phil TODD on "This Strange Engine" (on HOGARTH's debut album with MARILLION, "Seasons End"; they used the sax for the first time and was played by Phil as well), an intrepid almost disturbing trumpet on "Hope for the Future" and the depurated sound of this three-stringed triangular musical device, that closely appeals to a lute; used in Russia when executing popular music named balalaika (marvelously played by Tim PERKINS on "Estonia") and by daring to sing in a more pop rock vein. At least, the music composed in here claimed to do so.

September 27th, 1997. That was the first time I ever listened to anything regarding the "This Strange Engine" experience. MARILLION was touring North America under the self-titled recently released album, and that day, the band commanded by Kendal's "favorite" presented its show at one of the most important stages in Mexico City. Obviously, I was supposed to attend since I did the same thing back in 1994 and I kept repeating myself "this is gonna be way too much better than the last time". Well, I was mistaken. Everything started to go wrong when Steve HOGARTH started to dramatize FISH's work throughout the microphone by singing some of his works from the past ("Garden Party", "Kayleigh" and "Forgotten Sons" to be more precise) and when approaching to the end of the show, when he drowned the remains of his voice that night in a sea of confusion and deceit when attempted to sing a couple of "the new songs". To be perfectly honest at this point, I didn't pay that much attention to the "new recordings" and decided to give it another try in the quietness of my home. When playing the CD for the first time, I just couldn't wait for the next song to twang off when I pulled it out the stereo. It took me severe sessions of constant listening to this album to perceive the bright side or whatever.

The thing is, I just couldn't stand the band going that "commercial" and "accessible" to anyone's ears. I used to think of MARILLION as this band filled of complexities and musical challenges, I used to look up to them considerably but maybe as to many of you happened, the magic started to disappear right after "Seasons End" and "Holidays in Eden" ("Brave" to the ones who put up with HOGARTH's work all the way there) to me. "This Strange Engine" is truly plain and unsurprising. There are few progressive elements lingering around the album, the MARILLION essence can barely be perceived and the lyricism is quite unreal and insensitive. For instance, there's this song on the album I cannot stand at all and whenever I play the CD, I rather skip forward just to avoid listening to it, that'd be "Hope for the Future". The "progression" (if I may call it such) is irreverent yet unusual in MARILLION, the carnivalesque touch is rather despicable, almost an issue of mockery.

So, to wrap this up already, buy this album at your own risk. Some of you may end up disappointed and worried, some of you may like the turn of fate described in here. It goes from mellow, to crappy in seconds. It drives the way through several unexpected landscapes, but I think in the end you may come up with your own conclusions. (Truth be told, the album lasting doesn't go over the 70 minutes. Around minute 29:35 of "This Strange Engine", you can listen to Steve HOGARTH bursting into laughter along this soft piano music in the background).

The Prognaut | 3/5 |

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