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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Marillion

Less Is More

Review by Gary Hill

Marillion chose to record a collection of their Hogarth era songs with just acoustic instrumentation. Much of this era of the band is mellower and less dynamic than the Fish era of the group. Bringing it all into the acoustic instrumentation arena makes that aspect even more pronounced. It also makes the music a bit monolithic. Really you need to counter mellow music with harder rocking to make both ends of the spectrum seem that much more of each of them. Without that sort of contrast, there is a definite monolithic nature. For my money, Marillion has never done a bad album – and this no exception. It’s just a little too samey. It’s still Marillion and it’s still good, though.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Go!
This comes in very stripped down. I wouldn't really call it "atmospheric," but I'd call it "minimalist." Acoustic guitar joins after the first vocal section and brings another layer to the piece. This builds out into some powerful stuff at the end of the piece, but otherwise stays pretty mellow and constant. The vocal performance is what sells it more than anything else.
Interior Lulu
Although the opening on this isn’t that much different than the previous track, there’s a bit of a jazz-like texture to it. This piece grows gradually and is quite intriguing as it continues. It’s got some interesting changes and alterations, but is still a fairly laid back number. Around the four and a half minute mark this becomes a retro tinged rocker that’s very tasty.
Out Of This World
Based on an intricate acoustic guitar motif, this is beautiful and the most straight up proggy song to this point. I like this a lot. I’d say it’s one of the best pieces on show here, but it is still balladic.
Wrapped Up In Time
Hogarth is really the star of this mellow number. There are instrumental moments that shine, but they all seem to focus and intensify the evocative nature of Hogarth’s vocal performance.
The Space
Another mellow track, this has some jazzy elements later. It’s a good song, but by this point I’d really like to hear a little more rocking music to keep it from feeling monolithic.
Hard As Love
There’s an almost soulful element to this cut. It’s another strong piece of music, but again, I’d really like to hear something that rocks a bit more. Having some contrast in terms of mellow and rocking does a lot to make both ends of the spectrum work better. Still, this is intricate and quite pretty.
Quartz
There’s a more pure progressive rock element to this and it’s a bit more high energy than some of the other stuff – especially later in the track. I’d peg this as another highlight of the set, but again, I’d love to hear something by this point that rocks out a little more to offset the feeling of sameness here. There is some exceptionally tasty guitar work on this number. 
If My Heart Were A Ball
I love the little off-center bass line that opens this up. They take it out from there into a rather rock and rolling kind of piece. It’s fun, but perhaps not blatantly proggy – at least at first. They take this out into one of the harder rocking jams of the whole set and this is another highlight without question. It seems to have equal parts mellow psychedelia and modern progressive rock. It has some interesting changes and alterations as it carries on.
It's Not Your Fault
A keyboard and voice based ballad, this is pretty and evocative. It doesn’t do much to help alleviate the air of sameness, though.
Memory Of Water
Here we get another ballad. This is acoustic guitar based and pretty. It’s intricate and poignant, but again, not a real change.
This Is The 21st Century
Another pretty and moody balladic cut, this is actually a great piece of music. The problem is, it sounds so much like the rest of the material here – in terms of sonic intensity, that it’s all starting to blend together. That said, they bring in some serious musical drama to up the ante a bit later. In fact, it is one of the strongest pieces on show here. It just suffers a bit from the monolithic texture of the whole album.
Hidden Track - Cannibal Surf Babe (Live)
Here we get a bouncy rock and roll number. It’s a little bit harder rocking than a lot of the disc, but is still pretty mellow.  There’s a harmonica solo later on this piece.
Bonus Track - Runaway (Live)
Emotionally powerful, this is a beautiful track that reminds me a lot of some of the material on the Season’s End disc.

 

 

Bonus Track - Fake Plastic Trees (Live)
Another powerful piece, this is just too much like the ones that preceded it to really stand out. That’s unfortunate.
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