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Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made CD (album) cover





3.57 | 575 ratings

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4 stars Sounds That Can't Be Made is the seventeenth studio album by the band who, when they started their long road in the 1980's, were once considered as the leading lights of a new wave of prog, and who, latterly, have created a cottage industry and business model (based around the web and a ridiculously loyal group of fans) that is the envy of many artists.

My first ever review for this site was the band's last studio album of original material, Happiness Is the Road. In a rush of utter fandom, I awarded it the maximum five stars. Now, with over 200 reviews to my name, I can look back and see that this was mistaken. HITR is an excellent album, but it is not a masterpiece when one judges it by the criteria we use on this site, certainly when you compare it to Brave & Marbles, the two albums that the Hogarth era has produced that could genuinely be given that description.

So, where are this great band, who I unashamedly call my favourite band, now?

In this review, I will go a little back to front, as it were, and commence with the final track, The Sky above the Rain. One of three tracks that clock in in excess of ten minutes (the shortest of the eight tracks is 5:47 minutes long), it is built around a very gentle Mark Kelly piano loop. What follows is a piece of music that demonstrates the power of music, and, yes, progressive rock music, to move one, and to reduce otherwise sober people, to tears. As with tracks such as Invisible Man, Sky.. Is a track in which Hogarth bears his soul. The story, and what a story, revolves around a loving couple who still adore each other, who have clearly been through the full and complete journey that most couples make in life. Except, she, who still loves him, doesn't want him physically. He still wants her physically, still loves her, and so puts up with the situation, because "what else can he do?" He yearns for the clear blue sky, above the cloud that dominates his present life, the blue sky that signifies happiness and a life that is complete.

As with all the finest Hogarth lyrics, his four colleagues rise to the occasion with aplomb. This is a performance that is wrought with feeling, from the aforementioned Kelly loop, to Rothery, who plays with such feeling that it is impossible not to be carried away, to a rhythm section that carries all with it. When the song descends into the quiet of Kelly's piano, you pause for breath. And then, as a complete surprise, the track bursts into its outré, a symphonic piece of pure majestic sound that has the subject yearning for his blue sky, his happiness, his soul, and his life.

I regard this track as the finest this great band have ever released, it is that good. It is a majestic piece of music. It is so utterly, and achingly, beautiful that you really do wonder at the genius that produced it.

So, is the rest a let-down in comparison? Not a bit of it. The opener, Gaza, is, of course, the one that has attracted the most "debate", and the band are on record for their concern that it might alienate more than a few people.

Political comment is not, of course, a new thing for the band. Fish positively oozed it. I always regarded Hogarth, though, as a little more subtle ? witness the incredible Easter from his first album with the band. And so it is with Gaza. I have, for many years, despaired at former "comrades" in the Labour Movement with their blind adherence to the "Palestinian Good, Israeli Bad" mantra, never realising the utter irony of left wing activists wishing to destroy a Jewish state.

Hogarth avoids this completely, for his lyrics are a humanitarian cry, written from the child's viewpoint of growing up in utter poverty, with the reality of death all around, whilst also making an intelligent nod to the fact that every stupid and pointless weapon thrown will result in tens more sent back. When he cries that "To live like this, it just ain't right", he is spot on the mark, because it isn't right. It is not, however, as simple as that politically, and that is where Hogarth gets it spot on, because a child simply doesn't understand the politics, he or she just knows that there is no hope, and cries out for a better life. Musically, it is a seventeen plus minute prog epic. The Rothery solo thirteen minutes in is to die for, whilst I don't think that Ian Mosley has ever been so dramatic and forceful on his drum kit. The whole piece cries out with sound, and the very knowing and intricate Middle Eastern sounds incorporated are very welcome and represent an intelligent move forward for this band.

The title track follows, and is, to me, simply the finest moment that Mark Kelly has ever had with this band. It is said, by the great man himself, that he will spend a whole day tinkering with one tiny sound in order to get that note right. Well, thank God for pedantry, because this whole track is built around his keyboards, and they have never sounded so lush. Hogarth himself gives a purposeful performance, whilst the remainder of the band collaborate to provide a massive backdrop.

Pour My Love is the one track where I pause a little to think. It doesn't seem to fit in well with all else around it. It marks the lyrical return of John Helmer (it is an old lyric), and has an almost funky feel to it. Enjoyable, but not classic.

Power is one of those tracks that the Hogarth era has produced so well. It is well in the vein of commercial tracks of the past, such as You're Gone, and was the first track released to the world via the band's website. Hugely enjoyable, and, as with a lot of similar tracks, comes out better in the live experience.

Montreal is basically a blog of the Marillion Weekend (a fan event featuring a number of live sets over a weekend, and where Marillion nuts can immerse themselves in their beloved obsession) set to music, and what stunning music it is. A definite collective effort, it provides us with a loving pastiche of a city, and set of people (fans and others) to whom the band clearly love and appreciate, whilst also giving us an insight into the wrench of leaving loved ones behind. In its feel, it is perhaps the closest track on the album to Happiness Is the Road, which is no bad thing at all. Kelly again shines, Rothery's touches are loving, Mosley thumps out, whilst Trewavas proves once again just why he is the finest bass player in the game at present, utilising his instrument as a lead. At fourteen minutes, this is another prog epic from a band who were supposed to have left such things behind when a certain Scot walked into the wilderness. That was always nonsense, and this album proves it so.

Invisible Ink is a deceptively simple track, which begins with a Hogarth monologue underwritten by some extremely good keyboard work, and is, again, a track which would have sat comfortably on Happiness Is the Road. When, two minutes in, the track bursts into life, it becomes one of those infuriatingly catchy foot-tapping numbers that the band has always done so well.

Lucky Man just about says it all for me. This is a very personal account by lyricist and band, with a musical backdrop instantly recognisable as Marillion, of just how fortunate a position they find themselves in. It is the story, set to music, of how they can continue to make creative music free from the shackles of record company interference, how they are fortunate enough to have a fearsomely loyal set of fans, how they have financial stability, and personal joy. In fact, this track is just about the perfect summary of the band in 2012, and I imagine it will also be a good hit live (it was not on the setlist I saw earlier this month). The riffs themselves are uplifting, and, all in all, this is the sort of track that would cheer up the most miserable day.

So, how to rate such an album? Well, it is easily their best since the immense genius that was Marbles. It is an extremely consistent album, one that combines some exceptional pieces of music with some enjoyable pieces, and manages to fit them together into one seamless whole, in much the same way as both Afraid of Sunlight and the criminally undervalued Radiation did.

This album is not a work of genius in the same way as Brave & Marbles were. Having said that, for a band to even produce one such masterpiece, let alone two, is a rare thing. What this album is, though, believe me, is the sound of a band still forging ahead creatively and emotionally after well over 20 years as this particular collective. It is the sound of a band not afraid to court controversy, not afraid to open their hearts (both musically & lyrically), and still, very proudly, at the heart of Britain and the world's progressive rock movement. Those, in my opinion, are reasons enough for us to count our blessings.

Four stars for this, a truly excellent piece of work, and one that I cannot recommend highly enough, and 4.5 stars if we had such a rating on this site.

lazland | 4/5 |


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