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Marillion - This Strange Engine CD (album) cover





3.42 | 561 ratings

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3 stars This one took a while to grow on me, and then took a while more to shrink on me again. If you'd asked me to review it after my first listen, I'd have given it three stars or so and considered it another effort by Marillion to reach out to the mainstream like Holidays In Eden. Then, repeated listens convinced me that this was actually a more than worthy followup to Brave and Afraid of Sunlight. With Steve Rothery spending more time on acoustic guitar and the songwriting taking a fairly accessible direction on some songs, you could be forgiven for mistaking this for Marillion's indie rock album, but on closer listening I think there is more to it than that.

Mark Kelly's piano solo on The Man of a Thousand Faces, for instance, might not be traditionally "proggy" but it certainly isn't a particularly commercial or mainstream move. Likewise, The Memory of Water is a minimalistic piece which is simple, straightforward, and about as far from pop as you could hope to get. Indeed, I think overall this album finds Marillion finding a place where they don't feel the need to prove how progressive they are, but they don't feel the need to conform to indie pop sensibilities the way they sometimes did on Holidays In Eden; instead, their first album free of EMI finds them exploiting this newfound freedom and trying to be nobody except themselves. What they turn out is a warm and emotionally intimate album which has plenty to offer open-minded prog fans - such as the glorious Estonia or the epic title track - whilst at the same time not letting "prog" - or anything else - define what they do.

But at the same time, in retrospect it also feels like the beginning of Marillion's extended period of experimenting with what I think of as "divorced dad indie rock". Like I said, it's undeniably soulful stuff, but there's a mixture of insularity and self-satisfaction here which ironically feels cheesier and more pretentious than their proggier years. Yes, Fish would brashly declare himself the Market Square Hero, but there was a certain irony to the song, a sense that he was playing a character that he and we alike knew was a bit clueless and full of himself. Conversely, Hogarth seems to be convinced that he is the Man of a Thousand Faces, whereas in fact he basically only has a very limited set of modes he's good at. The narrative of the title track tries to get us to identify with H's life story, except it just makes him sound dully self-obsessed rather than telling us anything transcendent. And Hope For the Future is just awful, an attempt at some sort of quasi-samba deal which doesn't work at all.

On balance, then, I think three stars is a fair rating for it. It's a competent independent work, and some parts of it can be pretty moving. but it doesn't quite scratch the itch for me any more. It's good, but it isn't as enduring as their best work.

Warthur | 3/5 |


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