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Marillion - Marbles CD (album) cover

MARBLES

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

4.11 | 790 ratings

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Andy Webb
Forum & Site Admin Group
Site and Forum Admin
5 stars Where do I begin?

Marillion should be no stranger to the common prog listener. They virtually created the controversial sub-genre of neo-prog and in many ways, at least in their early career, held the defining sound of the style. The band, however, was a laughing stock for most rock critics of their early years. In the digital age, there was simply no room for posh prog rock revival acts, and critics made no effort to hide their disdain of Marillion's fawning of Genesis, Pink Floyd, and the other big prog acts of the 1970s. However, after their iconic lead singer Fish left the band in 1988, the band's style began to shift dramatically. The exaggerated retro- progressive sounds of Script for a Jester's Tear and Misplaced Childhood that were accentuated with digital synths and an 80s outlook faded as the new headman, Steve Hogarth, entered the scene.

At first it was only a slight shift towards a more alternative sound rather than their typical grind. However, Hogarth seemed to push the band with more albums towards a broader audience, and the band began to lose sight of their progressive origins as they ventured into uncharted territories, for good or for bad. While Seasons End was a nice transitionary period, Holidays in Eden seemed to put the band on the path of a far more accessible sound. However, with 1994's Brave, Hogarth and co. seemed to have forged a new path entirely from the Fish era. Hogarth brought on a slew of his own stylings and compositional tricks and the band took into full consideration the new sounds that were emerging from the experimental scene of the 1990s to create the band's most well composed and most emotionally performed album yet. The band rode the waves of the album's success for their next few albums, but at some point along the way they seemed to stagnate in style. After 2001's Anoraknophobia, the band yearned for something new. So, they set out writing what would become their 13th opus, Marbles.

This album was a personal effort for the fans. The album was entirely funded by pre-orders and fundraising, and what a job that funding did. On the basis of production, the album is essentially flawless. The production quality is clean and transparent; each instrument, track, and voice is expressed to its fullest and warmest extent in a meticulously examined and particularly crafted mix. Nothing seems muffled, over-present, or overwhelming. But of course, an album should not solely be judged by its production value. But this album's production value is neck and neck with the content value.

When I said Brave was the band's most well composed and most emotionally performed album to date, that record was clearly broken by this album. This album, which sadly comes in two editions, a one CD and a two CD (the one CD version really shouldn't exist), is a delicious pseudo-concept album spanning nearly 100 minutes. The album has some of the band's longer songs, including the 12-minute "Neverland," 13-minute "Invisible Man," and my personal favorite, the 17-minute "Ocean Cloud." While these take the bulk of the album, the album is more dominated by the little tracks, especially the four-part title track, which is comprised of four vignette-type tracks that explore a touching concept of marbles as a symbol of innocence and the loss of this innocence over the four parts. But it's truly the individual tracks of the album that take the cake for this album. Songs like "Fantastic Place," "The Only Unforgivable Thing," "The Damage," and "Angelina" show Marillion in their most tender, emotional, powerful, dynamic, energetic, touching, and inventive mode. Hogarth shines as a lyricist, the compositions are incredibly well developed, and the band plays with a careful air of musicianship that accentuates feeling rather than simple virtuosity. The power that is held in many of the compositions, especially "The Only Unforgiveable Thing," "Marbles II," "Ocean Cloud," "Invisible Man," and "Neverland," is remarkable, showing a maturity in music not seen by most other bands of today.

After listening to the album 20+ times, many of the tracks take on a near drugging nature. A dark sense of mystery fear comes attached to "Invisible Man," a blissful state of comatose is inevitable while listening to the vast oceanic mass of sound that permeates the beauty of "Ocean Cloud" (my favorite Marillion album for those wondering), a deep sense of melancholy takes hold of me when I listen to "The Only Unforgivable Thing," a tender feeling of nostalgia is seemingly sewn onto "Marbles II," a playful sense of cool comes with "The Damage," a wistful and energetic nature seems to be energized by "Don't Hurt Yourself," an interestingly upbeat yet feeling of longing is associated with "You're Gone," an acute sense of loneliness permeates the airy flows of "Angelina," and a significantly dark and almost angry sense of aggravation comes with "Drilling Holes," and a feeling of satisfactory finality and determination is obvious while listening to the genius of "Neverland." While that's not every song, it's not hard to see how dynamic and controlling emotionally this album is.

If Marillion were ever to top this piece of art, I would simply be in shock. This album is truly their greatest work yet, exploring the band's most expansive creative ability and musical skill. The band, with this album, seemed to have found their marbles again after albums of losing bravery with experimentation after Brave. The band has discovered again the joys of taking risks, the profit in trying new things, and the best sound that they could possibly attain at this point in their career. I patiently await for Marillion to one-up this, but in the meantime I'm certain willing to spin this album time and time again. 5 stars.

Andy Webb | 5/5 |

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