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Marillion - Marbles CD (album) cover





4.09 | 1079 ratings

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4 stars Have Marillion lost their Marbles or found them again?

Note that this review is for the 2CD Campaign set.

If I was judging on CD 1 alone, I would say "For Collectors/Fans", but Good - if non- essential. If I was juding on CD 2, however, I would say that this is an Excellent addition to any prog collection. CD 2, in fact, is so good, that I will give the CD the 4 stars - even though I have difficulty considering this to be a prog album per se, or even Neo-prog. It is more like quasi-prog... however, anyone that likes prog will find something to like in this 2-CD set.

Marillion have improved since taking on H as a singer - but not consistently. I can hardly consider this album to be a masterpiece, but it is better than anything they've released since "Clutching at Straws". My personal bugbear is H's tendency to sing in the same "precious" manner as bands like Travis, Coldplay or Keane - but without the melodic sensibilities. Sadly, on first listen, I fell asleep during "The Invisible Man". 13 and a half minutes was really 10 minutes too long. This is why Marillion are The Invisible Man of the title - no one seems to notice they are still around, because the anoraks are still on, and the lyrics and music say nothing - although there is obviously awareness; "The world's gone mad and I have lost touch - I shouldn't admit it, but I have." This would be why Marillion made the masters for Anoraknophobia widely available - I bought a copy to remix, but could not find much to work with.

Much of Marbles CD 1 consists of bland but inoffensive chord progressions with boring drumming. It's not prog, although one or two tracks really stand out. In places, particularly "The Damage", I can hear the influence of Radiohead "The Bends" ("Iron Lung"), and the Beatles "Abbey Road".

Mostly CD 1 just passes by, unremarkable, and I simply wondered why they had bothered to record such tired and hackneyed phrases instead of writing the great music and lyrics I know they can write. The lyrics generally are 3rd grade sixth-form stuff - but with exceptions; "...And the edge which must be sharpened; He's losing it. And he knows. But there's a fighter in his mind and his body's tough..." ("Ocean Cloud"). CD 2 fares a lot better. I was about to give up on the entire album until I heard "Ocean Cloud" - really, we could have done without the 4 Marbles tracks and most of CD 1, and simply moved O/C to CD 2.

A notable exception is Peter Trewavas, who appears to have re-found his "bass legs", as there are some divine bass lines which hearken back to "Script...". Some have an almost Reggae flavour, which was markedly absent from "Fugazi" onwards. If only Ian Moseley could interact a bit more and help produce the strong drum and bass that could propel Marillion from MOR to TOTP (Top Of The Pile!). What else is needed is more of the lyrical keyboard playing that Kelly is more than capable of. He experiments with effects and pads very nicely, but I really miss those strong melodies. Rothery, too, is capable of far more. Much of the guitar playing appears effortless in the worst connotation of the word.

Having slated the band for not being as good as I know they can be, I'd like to turn to the album's high points;

1) "Ocean Cloud". If you only listened to this track, you might wonder about most of the comments I have made so far - H turns in a ballsy performance, and the band pull together for a wonderfully atmospheric 18-minute piece of prog. Again, the bass is particularly strong and the keyboards are sumptuous. The guitar is present, but does not make much of a contribution. Rothery always used to understate much of what he did, except when it was time to crank up and let that baby sing. Please, Steve! Let it sing again!! As I mentioned earlier, the lyrics are generally much stronger in this song - although I cringed a little at the plagiarism from Pink Floyd's "The Wall" - I'll let you spot that one ;0)

2) "The Damage". (As noted earlier)

3) Angelina. Yes! We have a quasi-jazz intro! We have amusing lyrics! We have a melody for which the "precious" voice works very well. Rothery privides some nice little fills, Kelly provides sumptuous pads, Trewavas, as ever, is solid - and Moseley feels the soul of this song. It's not prog, but it IS wonderful!

4) Drilling Holes. I'm really not sure about the lyrics - when taken by themselves they are hardly inspiring, but H makes them work with this track, which is full of exaggerated light and shade. Kelly shines with the best and most varied keyboard work thus far, Moseley and Rothery seem to enjoy rocking out, in those moments that call for it - but it's the keyboards which steal the show, albeit in an understated way.

5) Thank Goodness for "Neverland!". Now this is what I am talking about! What Marillion are capable of - some very interesting drumming that seems to echo Ringo, some very strong songwriting that hearkens back to "Script..." - and thank Rothery for the solos that I've been waiting the entire album for... although still not quite enough!!! Rothery has a delicious, almost Scottish flavour to some of his solos that distinguish him from a simple Gilmour plagiarist - when he's on form, you KNOW it!!! The sound is there, but we need your solos, Steve!! There are elements of early Genesis or possibly Supertramp in the piano sound and acoustic guitar work, but mainly the feel of this 12- minute piece of quasi-prog seems to lean more towards Camel. I have to say it's quasi- prog, because it consists mainly of a long jam around a single chord-progression, and only occasionally experiments outside that frame.

I suppose the biggest problem for Marillion after Fish left was the legacy they had created. They were their own tough act to follow - although Clutching At Straws was hardly the masterpiece that the first 3 albums were. They deserve full respect for sticking with it, and finally producing music of the quality we have on this album. If they continue improving in this manner, the next album could well be their next masterpiece; Real kudos goes to the way they successfully got a single into the top 10 without help from the record industry pigopolists! Marillion may yet be reborn (and I sincerely hope they are!).

Buy this album out of principle, and know your money is going to a good cause; putting prog back onto the lofty podium it rightfully owns, and giving the record industry a kick in the pants!!!

Certif1ed | 4/5 |


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