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Marillion - Marbles CD (album) cover

MARBLES

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

4.11 | 775 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Well, they've gone and surprised me again. Usually an established rock band deciding to incorporate more modern sounds, especially trendy electronics, is a sure sign of impending doom...except for a select few like RADIOHEAD. Indeed, I was reminded of "OK Computer" more than once, and also of various periods in U2's development- quite unusual comparisons to make to a band which has, up to now, shown almost exclusively classic progressive rock pedigree. Some of the resemblance is due to Hogarth, who like Thom Yorke sometimes foregoes enunciation altogether and mumbles his vocals in a surprisingly effective way. Most of the time, though, the instruments just sound better; more tastefully played, with more creative tone colors and more organic than ever, even with the modern electronic additions. The band has increasingly focused on a PINK FLOYD influence over the last decade, and that is still to be found in abundance, but there are also some unique flavors I'd never expected to hear on a MARILLION release.

If "The Invisible Man" had been the first thing I'd ever heard from the band, I would have been even more impressed (and I was pretty impressed). The song has a long, slow build with a number of unique and sometimes unidentifiable sounds; instead of complicating rock structures, they break them down here, and make the component sounds more interesting. After a relentless, pounding crescendo, a 90 degree turn into somber FLOYDian territory and then a cathartic finale confirms that this is actually a MARILLION song- but a remarkably raw and heartfelt one, with an urgency and passion I usually associate with "Unforgettable Fire"-era U2 songs. Hogarth even sounds like a decent singer much of the time, letting his voice burst out of him without the usual narrative urge. "Marbles I" begins the rather curious series of abstract recollections that tie the album together, against a shimmering, soft-jazz flavored backdrop. "Genie" is more familiar in sound, a anthemic rock number, slightly spacey, with just a hint of electronica in the burbling fliter sweep. Some of the lyrics seem clumsy here, but not enough to really hurt. "Fantastic Place" croons reflectively, and then hits you with the big sounds; on "The Only Unforgivable Thing" guitars and synths echo and swell pleasantly around an almost Beatle-esque structure that again makes me think of U2 (in some of their better 90s songs this time). "Marbles II" continues the theme, this time more retro-psychedelic than jazzy but still very pleasant. "Ocean Cloud" is more moody and adventurous, alternately painting drifting, abstract sonic landscapes (or rather, seascapes) and launching into a more FLOYD- influenced wall of sound. The composition is wrenchingly expressive and wonderfully paced (despite a quick relapse to classic MARILLION hard rock after the sampled narrative segment) and resembles "Invisible Man" in both tone and structure- a nice round trip for the first disc.

The second half begins with the lovely, too-brief "Marbles III". "The Damage" shows a more playful modern-retro side, once again suggesting a fab-four current beneath the thunderous guitar and vocal movements. "Don't Hurt Yourself" is a well-crafted pop rock number, a bit average but redeemed with fine instrumental performances. Their best shot for commercial release,"You're Gone", unfortunately bases itself around a variant of the timeworn 'funky drummer' loop (well why not, everybody else has done it!) but puts a good "Zooropa"-type mixture atop it to make the most of the song. "Angelina" is liquid-smooth and shimmeringly, deceptively laidback; pretty but slightly eerie, with some nice harmonies and a Glimour-guitar sensibility in the solo. The Sgt. Pepper comparisons are unavoidable on "Drilling Holes", which has a definite "Day in the Life" impulse in the lyrics. The music, however, is quite adventurous, often hard- edged like a segment of "The Wall" (or even "Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking", but I'd prefer to be complimentary) but also featuring quiet, suspenseful breaks that broaden the dynamics. The last "Marbles" installment returns to the whispering jazzy feel of the first and then slides into the passionate closer "Neverland", with its shuffling drums and "Great Gig In the Sky"-style piano. There's some ill-advised echoing vocal lines, and maybe it goes on a bit too long, but there's no denying the cathartic power of the album's conclusion. It's slightly less satisfying than the first side, but the fact that they can get so much out of the usually deadly double-album format is impressive on its own.

I never would have thought I'd be giving such a high rating to a MARILLION album; I never called myself a MARILLION fan, I didn't care for them during the Fish era and while "Brave" convinced me not to totally write them off, I was unprepared for the stylistic and sonic explorations on "Marbles". The last decade of development in rock has finally made a mark on them, and they ride a dangerous edge between attempting to modernize their approach and coming off as crassly trendy. Luckily they generally emerge with their dignity intact and the character of the band unblemished. Die-hard fans may be as troubled by these changes as they were when you-know-who left, but it's hard to imagine anyone who isn't afraid of a more modern sound (PORCUPINE TREE, for instance) really disliking this album.

James Lee | 4/5 |

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