Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made CD (album) cover

SOUNDS THAT CAN'T BE MADE

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

3.57 | 587 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Warthur
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Living in the UK isn't without its advantages; it means, for instance, that when the pre-orders of Sounds That Can't Be Made got mailed out my copy arrived with great speed. I spent the whole weekend giving it an in-depth listen, and at the time felt that it was the top-flight followup to Marbles with Somewhere Else and Happiness Is the Road weren't (though to be fair to those albums, I don't think they were intended to be).

You can't, of course, predict how the passage of time will affect an album, though, and as I look back at Sounds with a bit more context I find it somewhat... wanting. You could guess from a look at the track times that Marillion are back in one of their proggier moods this time around, with three songs at over 10 minutes (and the first song on the album a 17 minute monster!). These three songs are effectively the tentpoles that hold the album up, being long proggy pieces in the tradition of The Invisible Man or Neverland from Marbles.

It's only after getting a bit of perspective that I've realised how much they are in the tradition of that album - not in the sense that this is an outright soundalike, of course, but it feels like Sounds attempted a similar return to prog-oriented songwriting that Marbles did, but doesn't quite turn out anything as powerful as that album's major pieces - musically speaking, at least, it seems to be an exercise in each of the band members chugging away delivering the sort of product we've got used to them delivering over the years, creating an album out of creative inertia.

Album opener Gaza might well prove to be one of the most controversial tracks of Marillion's career - not for its musical content, but for its lyrics and themes. Directly tackling the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians is a profoundly difficult tightrope to walk, but to Steve Hogarth's credit his lyrics are unusually nuanced when it comes to rock songs about Gaza. It helps, I think that he's spent time talking to both Palestinians and Israelis (as he is careful to state in the album booklet) about the situation, and that though the lyrics show how a character born into a hopeless situation can be radicalised and turn to violence, at the same time it's fairly clear that H considers violent action utterly counter-productive at best, and directly contributing to the continuation and escalation of the cycle at worst ("For every hot-head stone ten come back").

As the song says, the situation documented has no easy answers ("nothing is ever simple"), and H is careful to note that there are "grieving mothers on both sides of the wire", and the main thrust of the song seems to be a lament that there have been so many generations of children born into and growing up in this conflict. I think on the whole these are sentiments that only the most hardline partisans in the conflict could disagree with, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of people from all sorts of backgrounds who find the song distasteful - some will say it's too sympathetic to the Palestinians, some will say it's not condemnatory enough of the Israelis, and so on. At the same time, I think Marillion were right to tackle the subject matter, since in many respects the song is a thematic descendant of Forgotten Sons from Script For a Jester's Tear - both taking a "peace first, ask questions later" approach to the conflicts they centre around.

Some may question the booklet's endorsement of the Hoping Foundation, which is an organisation whose declared aim is to fund projects providing aid to Palestinian children; it seems to be something of a prog cause celebre, with David Gilmour and Roger Waters having got together in 2010 to support it, but on the other hand I get very mixed messages about it when I try to research its position; I suppose this just illustrates how difficult the subject is.

My major problem with Gaza, actually - aside from the fact that the message seems to outweigh the music just a little - is that the more I listen to it, the more I become a little uncomfortable with the way that H sings the song from the point of view of a Palestinian resident of the area in question. Not only does this rather undermine the song's attempt to be at least somewhat neutral and acknowledge the problems on both sides (just how impartial can we really, credibly expect the song's narrator to be when they're right in the thick of it?), but it also seems to be an attempt by H to identify with the protagonist of a song which kind of worked on Brave (partly because H was singing about a British girl growing up in a culture he was part of and could observe from the inside) but feels somehow kind of presumptuous here. Forgotten Sons issued its criticism from the mouth of a third party; Gaza claims to be speaking for someone involved in the conflict, but I think if Marillion really wanted local people to have a voice, they'd promote the voices and music of people from Gaza rather than trying to step in and be that voice. Peter Gabriel did a great art rock protest song with Biko, but he didn't presume to speak as Biko.

The rest of the album is somewhat less heavy going, but ends up feeling kind of trivial as a result. The middle tentpole, Montreal, is a 14 minute tribute to the city written as an account of one of the band's visits there on tour. The more I listen to it, the more massively self-indulgent it is - it's a gushy blog post in the form of a song, a "thank you" that would perhaps work better as a fan club special release rather than the centrepiece of an album. The general theme of discovering a city which is so welcoming and so supportive of you that it feels like a home away from home means at least goes some small way towards delivering something a bit more thematically deep than "thank you Montreal, we love our Canadian Marillion weekends", but it isn't that much more deep, and the musical accompaniment feels kind of phoned-in. Ultimately, H is at his best when he is singing songs that, even if they are about a specific subject (Estonia, Out of This World, Easter, etc.) can touch on something a bit more universal, but Montreal is so personal that it feels difficult to connect to. Listening to the song certainly tells me how it feels to be Steve Hogarth visiting Canada for a Marillion weekend, but that is an absurdly specific experience and I'm not sure why anyone who isn't Steve Hogarth or another Marillion band member would ever care.

Closing number The Sky Above the Rain is an exploration of relationship difficulties and lack of communication, where the two protagonists are a woman who's stopped loving her partner but doesn't want to talk about it and the man in question, who's desperate to communicate about it and despises living a lie. Fairly regular subject matter for Marillion, and for neo-prog, and for grumpy dadrock for flabby-bottomed divorcees in general, but nothing which really stands out from any of the other times Marillion or various Marillionalikes have tackled the subject.

All three of the tentpole songs are packed with the sort of treats that usually satisfy Marillion fans - including me - on the instrumental side of things with Mark Kelly's keyboard soundscapes and Steve Rothery's guitar solos given their usual spotlight, but somehow they increasingly fail to satisfy me in this context and there are a few too many points where it feels like they're just going over old ground more excitingly explored on previous albums.

As for the shorter songs, the most notable one is probably Pour My Love, which features lyrics from John Helmer, who helped H out with the lyrics for the albums from Seasons' End to Marillion.com and makes a welcome return here to provide the words for this rather soulful song - I don't think it's quite the "Marillion meets Prince" song that it's been described as but it's certainly creeping in that direction. The band don't seem to have been tempted to include any songs which don't support the generally fairly progressive tone of the album, with even lead single Power having some occasionally rather Steve Hackett-sounding guitar from Steve Rothery (who offers his own take on Hackett's distinctive "weeping guitar" sound at points).

In short, if you're a fan of H-era Marillion and consider Marbles to be one of their better albums, you're highly likely to see this one as a return to form at first. It hasn't stood the test of time with me, however. Possibly I have reached Marillion saturation, but it feels to me like the band are continuing for the sake of continuing rather than having any major new contribution to make to the music scene. Goodness knows they've had a long enough career that they could rest on their laurels for a bit if they wanted to.

Warthur | 3/5 |

MEMBERS LOGIN ZONE

As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this MARILLION review

Social review comments () BETA







Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: JazzMusicArchives.com — jazz music reviews and archives | MetalMusicArchives.com — metal music reviews and archives