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Marillion - This Strange Engine CD (album) cover

THIS STRANGE ENGINE

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

3.41 | 551 ratings

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StrafeSawdoffe
4 stars I love this album. Not Marillion's best, but one of their most underrated. Also, this is the last Marillion album before Marbles that I would describe primarily as Prog.

For better or worse, this is the first h-era album that doesn't seem to go out of its way to sound altogether different the previous record (Afraid of Sunlight). Marillion has a history of doing that, to the point that sometimes it seems like they're sabotaging themselves after a really great effort (see: Somewhere Else). One trait that does separate it from all previous releases is Rothery's balance of acoustic vs. electric guitars, with a heavy preference towards the former.

The first minute of "Man of a Thousand Faces" could easily be dismissed as mid-nineties AOR with above-average lyrics, but it soon builds into a classic Marillion anthem: Mark Kelley shines with both a cheery piano quasi-solo (2 of them, actually) and full backing chords for Rothery's acoustic rhythm. The extended "ending" section, featuring an almost- tribal beat from Mosley and endless vocal layering with the help of a full choir, is responsible for making the song something more than just rock (Rock + something more... that might be a concise definition of prog). Though it's a good opener, the outpouring of emotion inspired by the last 2 minutes of the track is probably why Marillion will usually play it near the end of a show.

h's affinity for arrangements stolen from soul music is apparent on "One Fine Day" and Rothery's acoustics continue on "80 Days."

"Estonia" took a long time to grow on me. I can't say I truly liked it until I saw them perform it live in 2012. In the keyboard-heavy ballad, inspired by a conversation h had with the only British survivor of the cruise liner MS Estonia. h once again demonstrates his criminally under-appreciated talent as a powerful, authentic, and emotional singer.

"Memory of water" contains, to my knowledge, h's longest a cappella performance on a studio recording. It seems like it should be a traditional murder/suicide ballad (Britain and Scotland have plenty), which prompted me to check the credits... nope, it's original!

"An Accidental Man" is catchy, but demonstrates a case of lyrical dissonance... the subject matter isn't nearly as peppy as the music sounds. Also, its overall sound is quite similar to that of their 2001 album, Anoraknophobia... a preemptive outtake, if you will. Sadly, some of Mosley's best fills happen during the fadeout.

"Hope for the Future" uses the same tricks as "Man of a Thousand Faces"--a heavy chorus effect (but no rented vocalists this time), a Caribbean beat, and a Mexican-sounding horn solo provided by a session trumpet player (there'd be more of that sort of thing on Radiation).

The title track has received its share of criticism for seeming unorganized, and I'm forced to agree to an extent: "Supper's Ready" this is not. But, at the risk of being repetitive, h pours so much of himself into this biography of his life (particularly his childhood) that a close listen is bound to bring you on the journey with him: a journey which is, by nature, unpredictable. The song opens suddenly with no introduction (...like "Supper's Ready," come to think of it), is easily the most dynamic on the record, and contains the album's heaviest and proggiest moments. And, we finally get a top-notch electric performance out of Rothery.

Despite my confident assessment of the album as Prog, This Strange Engine works as a "second tier" example of almost all of Marillion's styles: high-concept progressive rock, ultra- melodic mid-tempo rock, soulful pop... but it's not the best at any of them. It is, however, absolutely genuine in all that it offers.

StrafeSawdoffe | 4/5 |

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