Review by Brian McGowan
Over the years, Marillion’s fiercely loyal fan base have raised the money for the band to tour the US, and most recently, to fund their latest recording. With ‘ Sounds . . .‘, those fans have been rewarded with an album of real artistry and unsurprising breadth and depth, on which the band let loose every great thing they’ve ever learned – intellectually, emotionally and musically it would seem – in a finely tuned collection of new material. This is their seventeenth studio album. One that is decidedly unacquainted with the law of diminishing returns.
The opening and key track is the politically charged polemic, ‘Gaza’. A song that describes the anguish and stoical endurance of the Palestinians, in 17 minutes and in time signatures that come and go with the mood. It‘s clearly aimed to prick consciences, not make radio playlists. Steve Hogarth delivers a terrific, heartfelt vocal on a moving lyric that offers no way out of the pain. Musically, it hangs onto Marillion’s unique progrock style while embracing middle eastern modality, alternately reflecting and leading the emotional churn of the lyrics.
It’s a challenging way to launch an album, and its noble objectives are certainly destined to win admiration, if not hearts and minds. It speaks also to the band’s evolution as artists – the album as a whole is probably their most cohesive and indeed inspired effort since ’Marbles’, though there are hints here and there of other career highlights, like ’Somewhere Else’ and ‘Afraid Of Sunlight’.
At track level, ‘Montreal’ and ’Lucky Man’ are arguably more emotionally complex, at least on a personal level – the work of a diarist proclaiming his good fortune. Both songs could only have been written with the benefit of experience, adding a spiritual feel to incisive observations. As usual, Hogarth shines on this material, wringing every drop of heartache from the title track, ’Sounds That Can’t Be Made’, climbing easily into its ghostly falsetto before the song trips into a short segment of ELO styled orchestration. A standout track among many.
It’s not all about the frontman of course. Bassman Trevawas and drummer Mosely provide spare, uncluttered rhythms, building a foundation for Mark Kelly’s cinematic keyboards and Rothery’s poetic codas and tangential solos. Together, they paint from a huge sonic palette, colouring and detailing the music with filigreed fills and frills, ensuring that on tracks like the Bowie-sque ‘Power’, you don’t feel cheated by a climax that never quite happens.
Elsewhere, ‘Pour My Love’ and ‘Invisible Ink‘, at a surface level, are the most accessible tracks here – perversely matching up the same type of fairground-ride tunefulness to grown up lyrics as that classy Oz band they‘re frequently compared to, Crowded House. The album closes with the softly sighing, pastoral beauty of ‘The Sky Above The Rain’, with Hogarth sounding a lot like Mike Scott at his most achingly articulate. It’s a song that gains in strength and power as it unfolds, before suddenly ending with a solo piano, plinking out notes like drops of rain. It’s a magnificently apposite closer to an outstanding album.
8 out of 10
- Sounds That can’t Be Made
- Pour My Love
- Invisible Ink
- Lucky Man
- The Sky Above The Rain