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Marillion - Anoraknophobia CD (album) cover





3.35 | 515 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars It took a long while for Radiation and to grow on me, and they hadn't quite managed it by the time Anoraknophobia came out. (Eventually, I would see their better aspects, though on reflection I don't think the few rough gems buried in those albums quite measure up to Marillion's best work and perhaps only look good compared to the rather dated attempt to take a poppier direction that the band were indulging in at the time.)

Since it had come out after two albums I wasn't so keen on, I wasn't feeling too good about Marillion's current musical direction when Anoraknophobia hit the streets. It didn't help that I was also turned off by the infamous press release that the band released at the time, challenging the music press to try and review the album without referring to Fish or neo-prog or any of the phrases usually used to discuss the band's earlier career. I thought the release was incredibly negative and pointlessly confrontational; it said a lot about who the band *weren't* without offering much of a vision of who they *were*, and antagonising the critics seemed at best a waste of energy, at worst a challenge to inspire them to "do their worst".

So, on the whole when I first listened to the album I was in entirely the wrong mood to appreciate it, and like Radiation and I found it disappointing at first. But like those two albums, it grew on me somewhat over time, though having come through a phase where I was quite excited by it I find its charms don't sustain themselves quite to the extent that either classic Fish-era Marillion or the best releases of the Steve Hogarth era do.

In many ways, it's like the third in a series which includes those other two albums, in which Marillion explore ways to apply their progressive songwriting skills and distinctive atmospheres to the proggier end of indie rock - much like Porcupine Tree (and to a lesser extent, Fish himself) were dabbling in at the time, in fact. I also think it's the best album in that trilogy, for what that's worth.

Firstly, it has the major advantage that it enjoys far better production standards and a much better sound than either of the two earlier installments in this trilogy - the now-famous crowd funding method of using pre-orders to acquire the recording budget really did the band proud, it seems. Add to that the fact that the shorter, poppier tunes this time around are just plain better, with a richer and lusher sound and often a few more progressive twists here and there than the simpler and more stripped-down songs on Radiation or That said, whilst they sound better, they soon wear on you and don't stand up especially well to repeated listens, and some of the band's experiments fall flat. The bit which trips up most people on the album is H's daft little not-really-a-rap on Quartz, which sounds less like a musical experiment and more like a sulky, petulant little rant. It's just terrible, entirely wrong for H's vocal limitations, and is easily the most toe-curlingly embarrassing thing Marillion have ever done; to be fair, much of the rest of the album (and indeed the rest of the song) is better than that, but I couldn't really blame anyone who just stopped listening at that point because it's just jaw-droppingly goofy.

That said, for the most part the band succeed in finally achieving the sound they'd been groping for on Radiation and At the same time, their past isn't as far away as you might think. As well as a sample from Todd Browning's Freaks (which seems to be a reference to the Fish-era B-side), at one point on the album H starts singing lyrics from Chelsea Monday! You would think that if the band were that keen to distance themselves from the Fish era they wouldn't be making direct references to songs from Script For a Jester's Tear. I suppose this illustrates the gap between the band's public statements and what they were actually doing musically: just as they vociferously denied being a prog band, at the same time they were applying the lessons of the "new prog" movement as kickstarted by Radiohead and others, giving a psychedelic pop twist to it, and crafting it into prog-tinged melodic rock trips which are certainly progressive even if they aren't neo-prog.

However, all that is water under the bridge now. Marbles would see the band leaning back towards prog, the start of a reconciliation with the term which would culminate in their 2010 appearance at High Voltage - proudly taking to the prog stage and proving more than willing to describe themselves as a prog band again. So in listening to Anoraknophobia now, I can leave all the cross words behind and let the music speak for itself. What it says is "I'm a work in progress that needed to happen" - Marillion needed to go exploring here and on Radiation and to produce the treasure they'd give us on Marbles. I'm glad they did it, but I'm less and less keen to listen to the sub-par results of that experimentation when there's truly polished albums preceding and succeeding this trilogy.

Warthur | 3/5 |


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