Tracklist: The Invisible Man (13:37), Marbles I (1:46), You're Gone (6:27), Angelina (7:41), Marbles II (1:55), Don't Hurt Yourself (5:48), Fantastic Place (6:12), Marbles III (1:51), Drilling Holes (5:11), Marbles IV (1:25), Neverland (12:09), You're Gone (Single Mix) (4:00)
Disc 1 [53:43] : The Invisible Man (13:37), Marbles I (1:43), Genie (4:54), Fantastic Place (6:13), The Only Unforgivable Thing (7:13), Marbles II (2:03), Ocean Cloud (17:58)
Disc 2 [45:14] : Marbles III (1:51), The Damage (4:36), Don't Hurt Yourself (5:48), You're Gone (6:26), Angelina (7:43), Drilling Holes (5:11), Marbles IV (1:26), Neverland (12:11)
Introduction by Bart
Three years ago Marillion released their album Anoraknophobia. Our roundtable review of said album started with a rant by yours truly - A rant that was mainly triggered by the arrogant stance of the band towards their fans.
In three years a lot has happened it seems, as for their new release the band adopted a new strategy, which so far seems to have paid off very well indeed.
Once again they used the pre-order system to finance their album. Fans could buy the new album seven months in advance and the band would use the money gained from these pre-orders to finance the writing and the recording.
Once again the album could be pre-ordered at an inflated price, which at US$50 this was twice as much as the already expensive Anoraknophobia. However, unlike three years ago, when the high price was seemingly needed for the fuel of Steve Rothery's sports-car or the additions to Steve Hogarth's wardrobe, the band promised that all profits made from the album would be invested in a special 'campaign-fund', to be used for promotion of the band. Furthermore the new album would appear as a double album, in a very special casing - not an album with a bonus disc, like Anorak, but a full-fledged double album of new music. At the same time the decision was made to release Marbles as a single disc in retail, because of the fact that double albums don't seem to sell all that well in most European countries.
So was the price justified then? In my opinion it was. I do own a fair amount of DVDs and I often shell out some extra cash for a limited edition. So in my opinion, if you can pay 70 bucks for a limited edition Lord Of The Rings DVD, then 50 for your favourite band doesn't seem all that much anymore.
And expensive as it may be, the packaging of the limited edition is absolutely stunning and well worth the extra dough. It comes as a 128 page hard-cover book in a carton sleeve, with the book containing the two discs, lyrics, very Pink Floyd-ish artwork and the names of some 13,000 loyal fans who pre-ordered the album before January 1st - oddly enough no liner notes though.
And the campaign fund seems to have hit off really well too, Marillion has had more airplay this past month than in the previous ten years combined, proving that in the current music business money does indeed buy fame.
Unfortunately not everything was easy-peasy with the new album. As said, the band spent more time in the studio than ever before and a full three years have passed since their last album! Yet somehow three years were not enough, and while the initial idea was to release a double album with two hours' worth of music, they had to announce in January that four songs would be left off the album, thus reducing the running time of the album by 20 minutes.
Furthermore, they were running so late that producer Dave Meegan would not be able to meet the deadline for the album, so they called in the help of their old friends Steve Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame, who also produced some of the tracks on Marillion.com) and Mike Hunter (former sound-engineer of the band), who both produced a couple of songs on the album - which songs these were are kept in mysterious secret and no mention of it is made in the liner notes.
In the end, with the tour already booked and the promotion campaign in full swing, the band had to rush the album out to the fans that had pre-ordered, after all, they had promised that the album would be shipped out a least a month before the official May 3rd release date. And at exactly that moment the British Royal Mail decided to go on strike and literally lose the Marbles... To this day there are still people who have not received their pre-ordered 50 dollar limited edition version of Marbles (including yours truly, hence the slight 'lateness' of this review) and you can imagine their reaction when these people, having paid for the album seven months ago, could see that very album they have not received for sale in the merchandise stand at the current Marillion tour. Though most of this happened beyond the band's control, it may well have put an end to the pre-order system, as I think that these people (and I know there are quite a few) won't be as excited to pre-order the next album.
Anyway, on to the reviews. Four reviewers and four very different opinions...
The Invisible Man
ED: A long song which is actually built up out of 4 or 5 different bits, which is immediately the main problem because the cross-overs from one section to another don't always work. This results in the same cut-and-paste feeling I had with If My Heart Were A Ball on Anoraknophobia. The first part is a rather mesmerizing, Porcupine Tree-like segment with percussive effects which remind me op Peter Gabriel's last album Up. After two and a half minutes the second section starts, another quiet piece featuring hammered dulcimer (there's another Porcupine Tree reference for you). After six and a half minutes the third part starts. This part has a Brave-like feel and reminds me of Now Wash Your Hands. The tension is build up in this section before it changes into part four after nine and a half minutes; a section with piano and bluesy guitar with the same atmosphere as Now She'll never Know. Finally after about twelve minutes we get the closing section which could be considered This Strange Engine Part III (Interior Lulu being part II) since it once again features the same screaming vocals. The song ends very (or should I say 'too') abruptly.
As mentioned, there's a bit too much unrelated stuff happening in this song, nearly every section reminds you of something the band has done before and it's a bit too cut-and-paste for my taste. Then again, I have to admit that this song keeps growing on me, whereas I really didn't like it when I played it the first time. Also, I have found the live version to flow much more natural and thereby be much more enjoyable than the album version.
TOM: Marillion certainly take a, ahem, brave step in kicking off the album with one of the least immediate tracks. The Invisible Man is a somewhat bleak and sombre piece which, whilst having a definite modern feel, also has (admittedly fairly distant) echoes of the Fish era, noticeably the darker material to be found on Fugazi. Initially, I felt that the song suffered from the fact that it sounded like several separate sections which had been rather clumsily edited together – with the move, about two thirds through, from a pulsating, ever-intensifying section where Steve Hogarth's vocals are at their most powerful and emotional, to a laid-back, bluesy section being especially jarring. Added to this the fact that Hogarth's voice sounds distinctly strained in places, with him even coming close to losing his voice during the primal roars he utters as the song closes out, and you have what could be termed a 'difficult' track.
Yet, like some of the best of the band's material, The Invisible Man gradually reveals its strengths after repeated listens, and is now amongst my top half dozen tracks of the album. A complex piece, with a lot going on in places, the song also shows the band's ability to strip back the sound to the bare minimum and still make a strong impact – in this they definitely draw upon the likes of Talk Talk (circa The Colour of Spring / Spirit of Eden) and David Sylvian, whilst in many ways the song could almost have come from Afraid of Sunlight, as it maintains a similar feel. A real grower, as they say.
BART: The album Radiation contained songs which were quite clearly influenced by Radiohead, the Radiohead of The Bends and OK Computer to be precise. The Invisible Man could be described as a move towards the Radiohead of Kid A and Amnesiac, with lots of electronic effects and somewhat monotonous rhythm and music. However, at the same time it is also more melodic than Radiohead and Hogarth's vocals are clearly influenced by Mark Hollis of Talk Talk (think Spirit Of Eden).
The song consists of several seemingly un-related musical themes, which flow a bit too unnaturally for my taste. It is a typical case of Dave Meeganism of creating the song from various pieces of music, long after the band has left the studio (Goodbye To All That on Brave suffers from the same thing).
It took me ages to get into this song, in fact, it wasn't until I saw the band perform the song live that I started to like it. The live version of The Invisible Man is far superior to the rather tame and frankly overproduced studio version.
ED: The album features four short 1,5 to 2 minute songs called Marbles I to IV. Three of these (I, II and IV) are build around the same vocal melody. And a rather annoying melody it is. In Part I Hogarth sings ... no, make that mumbles ... the lyrics in a rather nagging and sleep-inducing way which doesn't really appeal to me. The music could only be described as lounge or elevator music.
BART: Scattered over the album are four little pieces of music that evolve around a common theme and give the title to the album. In these bluesy, laid-back pieces Steve Hogarth reminisces about the things he used to do with his marbles as a kid (uhm...)
Though full of imagery the songs sound a bit as unfinished bits that are thrown in for fashion. On the single disc edition they do sort of tie the album together and are quite nice interludes, yet on the double disc edition they are way too far apart to give any form of cohesion.
ED: Genie isn't a bad song. At the same time it's not all that special either. It's rather mainstream and poppy. Nothing much to say about this one. One could compare it to a more subdued version of These Chains or One Fine Day.
TOM: Genie is a pleasant, slightly countrified pop-rock song, which reminds me of various antipodean bands, such as Crowded House and, in particular, The Mutton Birds, as well as the band's own Tumble Down The Years (from Marillion.com). Hogarth's vocals are nicely understated, giving the listener a breather after his intense delivery on The Invisible Man. It's not a classic, but it fits in very well with the flow of the album.
BART: Genie too reminds me of Talk Talk as the band takes a very
minimalist approach to the arrangement, with just a repeated guitarline and very subdued drums and synths, while Hogarth is singing a countermelody in a very subdued way.
The song evolves into a poppy tune, echoing the likes of The Beatles or wannabe Britpop bands and could have become a Marillion classic, were it not for the fact that Hogarth is singing as if he has just woken up and is not really in the mood for singing yet. I mean, a little excitement would have been nice.
ED: It's a good thing the big booklet that comes with the 2 CD version features all of the lyrics because Fantastic Place finds Hogarth mumbling again. It's ballad-like song with the same laid-back feel as Now She'll Never Know, Beyond You and maybe even the first half of When I Meet God. The song develops into a bluesy style and an ending that reminds me a bit of Few Words For The Dead. A 'grower'.
TOM: Fantastic Place = Fantastic Song! Simple as that really. This is a wonderful track; from a restrained, hushed beginning, Rothery's bluesy guitar and Mark Kelly's warm, lush keyboard sounds gradually build in intensity to become a thick wall of sound over which we get one of Hogarth's most measured yet uplifting vocal performances. With strong melodies and vocal lines, and a great, 'let off the leash' solo from Rothery at the end, this is a superb track that's sure to become a firm fan favourite.
BART: Another one of those songs that I needed to hear live before I really appreciated it. It starts as a cross between Talk Talk and Cock Robin, with Hogarth mumbling his lines very quietly, backed by a (very eighties) drum computer thingy and minimum arrangement. When listening to Hogarth sing at the start of this album you do wonder if he actually still enjoys being a singer, as he is delivering the lines in the same bored and monotonous way as he sometimes talks onstage.
The song does however develop into a beautiful tune with lush keyboard strings and a good guitar solo. The ending of the song is an almost exact copy of the ending of A few Word For The Dead though.
The Only Unforgivable Thing
ED: This song starts and ends with a church organ. When the band starts playing I immediately got that déjà-vu feeling like I heard it before. When I figured it out I realised that the guitar melody sounds an awful lot like Coldplay's In My Place.
Another subdued song. By this time you start to wonder if anything exciting is going to happen on Marbles. So far the disc has been dragging itself along in a subdued, laid-back pace, as if you're listening to a compilation of lounge music.
TOM: This song features a church organ at the beginning, but don't expect some kind of Rick Wakeman-esque prog fest on this one – The Only Unforgivable Thing is all about atmosphere, and (as per The Invisible Man) it's a rather dark, brooding, even sorrowful kind of atmosphere that the band are going for here. The song picks up a little near the end, with Rothery once again reeling off some superb guitar work, but this is emphatically not one of the band's lighter songs. That said, it is once again impeccably crafted, and it works very effectively as a mood piece.
BART: A church-organ in the background starts this song, reminding me vaguely of George Michael's Faith, though fortunately the track develops into something different. The music is based around
guitar harmonics, played in such way that it immediately reminds one of Radiohead or Coldplay.
Once again Steve Hogarth is singing in a very subdued, almost sleep-inducing way, with nothing to get excited about.
ED: Another interpretation of the nagging Marbles melody. Whereas part one was about 'loosing your marbles' this part is about the admiration you got as a kid when you had the biggest, most colourful marbles. Sometimes it's a shame that Hogarth uses Marillion as and outlet for his psychotherapy.
ED: And then finally there seems to come a shift in the music. A return to those classic Marillion compositions with Ocean Cloud. This is one of the songs which was performed during the 2003 Marillion Convention and was called Pacific Rower at the time. It is also the longest of the three epics of the album. If only they had made it the shortest .... If only the song had been 10 or 14 minutes long at most instead of 17 .....
The first half of the song can be considered one of the (few) real highlights of the album. It starts in an Estonia-like way and the tension-building which follows is absolutely excellent, until it comes to a climax after five minutes. The ambient section that follows features spoken text. As you can imagine, this conjures up memories of Out of This World. After a short outburst the music returns to the opening melody. After this things start going down the hill. It's like the band still had a couple of snippets of music left, which they wanted to use on the album and decided to stick them all at the end of this song, climaxing in This Strange Engine Part IV, if you know what I mean. The song does however end with a fine Floydian guitar solo and the opening melody. It's really a shame that the 5 minutes before the end section of the song spoil such a splendid composition. Ocean Cloud proves that more is not always better.
TOM: Let's get it out of the way now – in my opinion, this is one of the finest tracks the band has ever written. Ocean Cloud – which is based on, and dedicated to, the experiences of ocean rower Don Allum - has obvious links to two earlier Marillion tracks – Out Of This World, to which it could be compared both musically and to an extent lyrically, and (in terms of structure and musical themes) the epic This Strange Engine, but in my view surpasses even the much loved latter track.
There's too much going on here for a detailed description to do it justice, but suffice to say, from the opening sounds of seagulls and rolling waves, the band manage to evoke a particular scenario (in this case a life at sea, through both the calm and the storm) and sustain it completely throughout the 18-odd minutes of this song. Ocean Cloud effortlessly moves from dreamy, Floydian soundscapes to lurching, electric guitar-led rockier sections, to ambient washes, to acoustic, slightly folky sections, through to the kind of rather disorientating, feedback drenched soundscapes they were creating on Goodbye To All That, whilst not forgetting to pen several very memorable melodies and a strong chorus. Unlike on The Invisible Man, here the changes in pace and mood sound totally fluid and natural. The band – particularly Steve Hogarth – are obviously passionate about their subject here, and that passion shines through brightly. A masterpiece (and why this, the highlight of the album in my opinion, has been omitted from the single disc version is beyond me).
BART: A song about Atlantic rower Don Allum, who was the first person to row the Atlantic single-handedly, both ways (as is kindly pointed out by a newsreader halfway through the song). Once again this is a track that gives me incredibly mixed feelings. On one hand it is a terrific epic with interesting lyrics, while on the other hand it is another collection of themes, half of which have been tried and tested by the band before, all glued together in that typical Dave Meegan way.
As the song has something to do with boats, Steve Rothery brings out his guitar-effect that produces a bit of a watery sound at the beginning (see also Out Of This World and Estonia). While this was clever the first time he did it, it becomes almost predictable here, not to mention the fact that he is almost exactly copying Estonia
Secondly, as the song is over 15 minutes long, it suffers from the This Strange Engine syndrome: changes in mood and music which just sound too forced and unnatural (and too much copy&paste), while certain sections have been lifted straight from This Strange Engine (you know, the heavy bit where the bees attack) and Interior Lulu (the beautiful atmospheric part towards the end).
But what -to me- makes this song such a missed opportunity is the fact that it lacks a proper climax. Three minutes before the end Rothery breaks out into a roaring guitar solo and while you brace yourself for an orgasmic climax, the band instead returns to a reprise of the chorus in almost the *exact* way, with *exact* the same arrangement as it has at the beginning of the song. This is the point where you need a massive arrangement, with big and bombastic mellotron, choirs, orchestra, multi-layered vocals, climaxing repetition of the chorus with another tremendous guitar solo seeping through the layers of music making that you keep hearing the melody in your head for at least a day, think Forgotten Sons, think Fugazi, think... what? Too prog? Well, then think Easter, think The Space, think The Great Escape, think Afraid Of Sunlight... I hope you get my drift... After the tame reprise of the chorus we get another minute or so of mellow soundscapes and seagulls providing the biggest anti-climax in the history of Marillion.
ON THE OTHER HAND HOWEVER (I did say I had mixed feelings about this song, right?) this is one hell of an emotional rollercoaster ride which doesn't bore for a second (well, perhaps just the last 60).
The music is cleverly designed to resemble the various ways of the sea, with the part where the main character of the song gets caught in a storm being nothing short of stunning. That first guitar solo is also really good and ranks up high amongst the classics of Rothers - especially welcome in the solo-lite Marillion of present day.
The lyrics are also well-written and Hogarth is indeed on top-form here.
So a song that gives me mixed feelings indeed. It reminds me of Interior Lulu, off Marillion.com, a while after the release of Marillion.com the band admitted that the song had not worked out the way they had hoped it would, and they wished they'd spent more time on it. I feel Ocean Cloud is also such a song. If only...
ED: This is the only Marbles section that uses a different melody than the other three. Fortunately it's much better and less nagging than the other three, making it the best out of four. Unfortunately the lyrical content might even be more daft; it's about young Hogarth smashing in windows of greenhouses by playing tennis with Marbles. Lack of inspiration for lyrics H ?
Bart: Well, with one disc over and not many particular highlights to get excited about, you start worrying about the second disc, is this going to be more of that laid-back stuff?
Fortunately the third part in the Marbles tetralogy bodes well, as it is a departure from the melody of the first two chapters, and develops into a Beatles-esque piece. Quite nice, despite its silly lyrics.
ED: And then it's suddenly back to the Radiation period. That dreadful Radiation period. Marillion gone Brit-pop. I don't like this song. This song, which contains lyrical references to Genie, is probably the worst songs the band ever released on an album. I could live with the verses but the choruses is just plain noise and screaming.
TOM: Something of a departure for Marillion, The Damage comes on like a cross between David Bowie circa Aladdin Sane, and the Bowie-influenced 90's band Suede, with the swooning vocal harmonies on the chorus being particularly reminiscent of Brett Anderson's mob. The song also has something of the feel of the British 'new wave', particularly early 80's XTC – perhaps having XTC's Dave Gregory as part of his solo band has rubbed off on Steve Hogarth? Whatever, a good track, and refreshingly different for Marillion.
BART: With a great transition we arrive at a completely different scene with The Damage. After the subdued and laid-back style of the first disc it is great to have some more
up-tempo tracks for a change, but unfortunately it is one of the worst tracks the band has *ever* produced.
In an attempt to create Britpop Hogarth sings every second word in falsetto, stripping the song from any form of beauty it still might possess. Next please!
Don't Hurt Yourself
ED: Another song that was played in Minehead last year. I remember that I liked it least of all the new songs last year. One year later, hearing it in the context of the full album, and following such utter rubbish as The Damage and the dragging music of disc one, this poppy song is an enormous relief and a proof that the band can still write catchy melodies. It reminds me of Marillion in the Holidays In Eden era. The only thing I can't figure out is why they opened and closed it with an acoustic melody which has nothing to do with the rest of the song.
TOM: Don't Hurt Yourself has many similarities to Genie, although I'd have to say I prefer this. It is refreshingly simple in construction, has a very catchy melody and chorus, and some nice subdued guitar licks from Rothery (who also provides the bouncy bass on this one, for some reason)
BART: Don't Hurt Yourself is a nice poppy tune such as can be found on most Marillion albums, but far superior than any of their recent attempts at pop (i.e. Between You And Me, Map Of The World, Rich or Deserve). The song is based around a nice acoustic guitar riff, provided by Pete Trewavas, and features great country-style slide guitar, reminiscing of the likes of Tom Petty. I really like the arrangement of this song, which includes accordion, handclaps and other unusual instruments. Very nice and also very welcome at this point on the album.
ED: The single, and in good Anoraknophobia tradition it comes with a 'modern' drumloop, making this the new Between You and Me. Well, modern .... this is one of the most used drumloops ever. It was first used in the early nineties by George Michael and I seem to remember that it originates in an old James Brown song. The song itself is nice but nothing special. The long album version also outstays its welcome in being a bit too long and repetitive. The guitar play reminds me of U2 and Simple Minds mid eighties.
TOM: I shouldn't have to say too much about this – after all it was a huge hit in the UK and was never off the radio ... ahem. Well, if you somehow missed it on Radio 1 and its ilk, You're Gone can be described as a amid-tempo pop rock track very much in the vein of Anoraknaphobia's Between You And Me (and, going further back, Cover My Eyes), and like those songs there are definite shades of U2 here. It's a strong, driving track powered by Hogarth's typically emotional vocal. However, there are a couple of criticisms; in an otherwise wonderfully produced and mixed album, here the programmed drum loop is far too prominent in the mix, and gets annoying after a while, whilst the song really needn't last more than 3 or 4 minutes – the 'single mix' would have sufficed. Still, a good track.
BART: The first single of the album (see also the review below) with a strong U2 feel. Not a particularly a brilliant track, but very effective mid-album and not the worst single the band has released either. It does feel a bit overlong though.
ED: Another song played (twice) in Minehead, and one that left a good impression. Fortunately they didn't change too much about it, although the intro had me worrying otherwise for a couple of minutes. Angelina still remains a warm, mesmerizing song which would not be out of place in a smokey jazz & blues bar. One of the few real highlights of the album.
TOM: Angelina starts with the familiar trick of changing channels on a radio – a trick the band themselves have pulled before, of course, on Forgotten Sons. Here however its entirely justified, as Angelina is a beautiful paean to a late night female DJ. With a wonderfully 'chilled' and laid back vibe, this song is perfect 'after hours' listening, great for winding down – to quote the song 'if you're tired or under stress, get off on Angelina'! Another highlight of the album.
BART: When I first heard this album in Minehead last year, I loved it. It was a bit like Marillion doing Dire Straits, with Rothery taking more than a page out of Mark Knopfler's book. In its final form, the song has been stripped from most of its Dire Straits references, though the beautiful vocal melody remains. A beautiful mesmerising bluesy piece of music.
ED: Another piece of worthless rubbish. Marillion doing an experimental Beatles track. Oh, and if you're wondering why the band has such a hard time writing a new album and getting it finished on time, just read the confessing lyrics to this song. Lazy bastards. ;-)
TOM: This is the one track on the album I'm really not sure about. The band are clearly going for a psychedelic, Sergeant Pepper-esque vibe on this one – in fact, in another Dave Gregory link, it sounds a bit like something XTC's alto-ego's The Dukes of Stratosphere might have knocked together for a B-side. I'm not sure it works – it sounds rather forced and unnatural and certainly doesn't hang together particularly well. Quite an interesting experiment, though.
BART: Once again the band creates a musical piece that has strong references to The Beatles, though this time it is their more experimental side. This results in a very inconsistent piece of psychedelica with terrible vocals.
ED: Another one of those throw-away Marbles pieces. If only they would have made one complete song out of the. That would have saved me a lot of skipping tracks.
TOM: The four Marbles pieces are spread throughout the album. They are deceptively simple pieces, which major in Floydian atmospherics, with each piece having a mellow, dreamy feel (the Floyd comparison being heightened by the fact that on Marbles IV Rothery's evocative guitar work almost mirrors Gilmour's during the 'spacy' section of Echoes) and simple, almost nursery rhyme-like lyrics. The David Sylvian comparison, mentioned before, is also particularly apt for these sections. Whilst I wouldn't say they are amongst the highlights of the album, they do work very well in breaking up the longer tracks and providing a common thread around which the rest of the album is organised.
ED: Neverland is an almost instant Marillion classic. This song became an immediate favourite in Minehead last year and an earlier 'sneak preview' version was released on last years Christmas CD for fanclub members. It's got everything a classic Marillion song should have. Melody and tempo changes (not too many), excellent guitar solos, you name it. My only complaint is that after 5 minutes the song continues with the same melody for another 7 minutes. Just like with This is the 21st Century on the previous album I really wouldn't have minded if the song had been shorted to 8 minutes.
TOM: The band end things on a high with the powerful, symphonic ballad Neverland. In the best Marillion tradition, this has an epic sweep, bags of atmosphere and also features arguably the best Rothery solo work on the album (and Rothery sounds better on Marbles than he has for quite a while). It's not a million miles away from the sublime This Is The 21st Century, and is certainly the equal of that track – although like that song it also commits the sin of rather outstaying its welcome by 3 or 4 minutes. However, with the band on this sort of form, that's easily forgiven.
BART: An instant Marillion classic. Loosely based on the classic tale by J.M. Barrie this is a very emotional thrill ride, with fantastic guitarwork by Rothery. The song starts as an emotional piano-vocal piece, reminding me of the opening to The Great Escape, when after three minutes a terrific guitarsolo kicks in. The second half of the song is based entirely around that solo, with Hogarth singing in an echoing/stuttering way - very original. The only minor gripe I have is that towards the end I keep on waiting for Rothery to break out into a fantastic roaring Dave Gilmour-style guitarsolo, but instead he just keeps on repeating the same melody over and over again. As opposed to my fellow reviewers I don't find the song too long, though I could have done with the minute of wind chimes at the end of it.
ED: Marillion isn't really breaking new ground on Marbles. The band uses styles they have used before on previous (mostly post-Brave) albums like Radiation, This Strange Engine, Anoraknophobia, etc. For instance, the style of Anoraknophobia is used again on Marbles. On one had you've got the dreamy, subdued songs like When I Meet God while you also find the modern dance rhythm and drum loop influences of Between You and Me and 21st Century on this album.
Overall, Marbles is a rather disappointing album for Marillion standards. There's several reasons for this. First of all the music just doesn't live up to the enormous hype the band has created. The best bits on the album where probably those songs that were played during last years convention in Minehead. Most of the 'new' stuff just doesn't reach the same level and some of the songs have even deteriorated. It's really amazing, in a negative way, that the band didn't come up with something better in the three years since the last album.
Second, I coughed up 45 euro's for a special 2 CD version which the band promised would be 2 hours of music. The eventual album is just 99 minutes long. Seemingly the band had a problem making the deadline and dropped several songs, among which the wonderful Faith, thereby reducing the album with over 20 minutes of music. Any other manufacturer of consumer products would never get away with this. Imagine buying a bottle of milk which turns out to be half filled when you come home, or a dining table which is delivered with only three chairs. Nobody would accept such a thing, yet Marillion seems to get away with it once more. When I pay a premium price for 120 minutes of music I want 120 minutes of music ! I didn't find an 8 euro refund in my package when it arrived. The band had 2,5 years to make this album. This is a rip-off ! Ever noticed that 'racket' also means swindle, con-trick and fraud ? Racket Records indeed !
If only the band would have dropped some of the below-par tracks like The Damage, Drilling Holes, Marbles I-IV and would have shortened Ocean Cloud, Neverland and You're Gone by several minutes each, the remains would have made a good single CD. Certainly not one of their best but still an album worth paying 20 euros for instead of 45. And while they're at it they might as well reshuffle the track order to get a more balanced listening experience. If they would have done that I might even have considered giving the album an DPRP Recommendation. In its current form the single CD version earns a 7 and the double CD version a 6 since it's a classic case of 'over-promising and under-delivering'. For those who haven't bought the album yet, you will certainly be better off buying the single CD retail version. It will at least save you some major disappointments.
Regarding the special 2 CD boxed edition, I admit it has some marvellous artwork. However .... why does the table of contents have page numbers while the pages have no such numbers ? Do they expect me to count up to page 120 ? I also expected some liner notes about the making of the album. None. Oh, and did I mention that the foam pieces that hold the CD already came off after a couple of days ?
And in the end I only have myself to blame. From the very start of the Marbles campaign I have been rather apathetic about it. Yet, I once again found myself not being able to resist the temptation and pre-ordered Marbles. As a marketing manager I find the band's approach and business model absolutely brilliant (I'm actually currently writing an article about the band's marketing approach for Holland's leading marketing magazine). However, as a fan I get more and more loathed about the band's constant fan-milking, overpromising and acts that, with any other company would be considered rip-offs. Still, if the fans continue to accept it I will probably find myself giving in to the next one as well .... And since I'm one of the few long time fans that doesn't consider all of this to be absolutely wonderful I'd better start saving enough cash for the next scheme.
TOM: Unlike, I'd imagine, many long-time fans of the band, I didn't approach Marbles as someone who'd been disappointed with Marillion's recent albums and wanted the band to come up with a classic along the lines of, say, Brave or Afraid Of Sunlight. Although I found Radiation a little flat and disappointing, I enjoyed This Strange Engine, Marillion.com and Anoraknophobia. (I will admit, however, that the latter two albums no longer make it to my CD player very often, whilst Brave and AoS still get regular outings). So when I put Marbles on for the first time I was confident of hearing something I liked. What I wasn't prepared for was the sheer quality of this album. Quite apart from the individual songs, which are often excellent in themselves, the album has been programmed (at least on the double disc version) superbly, with the different styles, moods and tones of each track contrasting each other very well.
Production (by Dave Meegan) is, as I've mentioned before, top class, whilst all the musicians put in fine performances – although pick of the bunch is Steve Rothery, whose guitar playing hasn't sounded this prominent, or indeed confident, in years.
I can't complete the review without mentioning the superb packaging that the deluxe edition comes in. Looking more like a hardback book than a CD, the colour booklet which accompanies the album is extremely well done, with wonderful artwork and photo's – the idea of each song getting its own design, more often than not tying in perfectly with the mood and feel of that song, is especially effective. The book is bulked out with the names of all those who pre-ordered the album. I was a little late for that, but it's a nice memento if you did.
In conclusion, a superb album by a band which, as much as some of the mainstream critics might want them to, just won't go away, and in fact just keep getting better. (As a side remark, I wish the band themselves would just learn to ignore the mainstream critics rather than try to curry favour with them – that's never going to work). Whatever, this is easily up there with the likes of Season's End, Brave and Afraid of Sunlight as my favourite Hogarth-era Marillion albums; only time will tell if it has the longevity of those three releases, but I strongly suspect it will. Highly recommended not just to those who are already Marillion fans, but to all lovers of intelligent, emotional and passionate rock music.
BART: As with all Marillion albums it needed time to grow on me. I first heard the album at a special listening party for press and selected fans and though I knew I liked what I heard there, I didn't quite know just how much I liked it. I wanted to have the album in my hands before I'd form an opinion. Well, the fact that I spent the first two weeks of preparing for this review with MP3 versions of the songs didn't particularly help either. It took a *long* time for me to start appreciating this album, and even now, while I like the album as a whole, I find it difficult to do this track-by-track review as most of the songs - especially those on disc one - aren't all that strong when listened to out of its context in between the other tracks. But also within that context, the album is difficult to rate as a whole. I do find the single disc edition to have a far better flowing track-order than the two-disc edition. The first disc of the two-disc edition is in danger of becoming 'boring' upon repeated listening and is definitely not something I would listen to regularly. No, the band would have done better releasing it as a single disc only. Ocean Cloud would still have fitted on the single disc... That would only have left three songs: Genie, The Only Unforgivable Thing and The Damage, neither of which are what you call unforgettable gems (and I would prefer The Damage over Drilling Holes on the single disc as well).
Yet despite my somewhat negative review of the album (blame it on the track-by-track format) I do find myself enjoying listening to it and I would still recommend it to both fans of the band and newcomers, mainly thanks to the three epics and tracks like Fantastic Place, Don't Hurt Yourself and Angelina. However, in time I probably will stick to playing the single disc edition, as the double disc just drags on for too long.
Martien's Review of Marbles
The two CDs contain 15 songs of which the three epic ones The Invisible Man, Ocean Cloud and Neverland are without any doubt the absolute highlights. Especially Ocean Cloud is a progressive masterpiece, a so-called stream of consciousness composition. It starts with an almost a-capella part of Steve Hogarth, followed by acoustic guitar and mystical keys in the best tradition of Pink Floyd. After approximately 4 minutes Steve Rothery comes up with a breathtaking guitar solo and the song only gets better and better... It lasts for more than 17 minutes, but there is never a dull moment. The song is over in a jiffy and before you know it you want to listen to it again and again; a true prog epic with sometimes hypnotic guitar melodies and an aching guitar solo at the end. Can it get any better than this?
The Invisible Man is the second long track and this one is rather experimental, with a lot of splendid musical parts and superb singing by Steve Hogarth. The third epic Neverland opens with piano and soft vocals and later on the song is build up dramatically by guitars and a majestic chorus. But what actually makes this song brilliant are the magnificent guitar solos of Rothery; he really makes the difference here. This song definitely reminds me of one of my favourite Marillion albums Brave.
The other "shorter" songs on the album are also, at least many of them, of a very high musical standard. You're Gone, the first single and already a hit, is a catchy song again with a lead role for Steve Rothery. This song, just like Don't Hurt Yourself, another radio friendly track with a super chorus, which I cannot get out of my head for days, are songs that could be from the time that Marillion recorded Holidays in Eden. Angelina however is a rather melancholic, bluesy song, while Fantastic Place has some Radiohead influences.
The Only Unforgivable Thing starts as a laid back rock song, but after a few minutes Steve Rothery "saves" this song with one of his amazing guitar solos that dominate this album. Steve really does some astonishing guitar picking on Marbles. Drilling Holes is probably the most experimental song, where the spotlights are on Kelly and Trewavas, and probably also the most boring one. The really "odd" one however is The Damage, a true rock (almost rock and roll) song with some high-pitched vocals by Steve, which makes this a rather un-Marillion like song. But this album is a grower, every time you listen to it you start to appreciate it more and more, till you are hooked. Marillion is back and hopefully they will continue to make marvellous albums like Marbles in the future.
My top three of Marillion albums however has not changed, this because of the two mediocre songs Drilling Holes and Genie on Marbles. So it still is: 1. Misplaced Childhood, 2. Brave, 3. Clutching At Straws, but hey that is only my humble opinion, there is no account for taste. Looking forward to their live gigs in Tilburg and Utrecht!!
Tracklist: You're Gone (single mix) (4:05), The Damage (4:37)
Tracklist: You're Gone (single mix) (4.05), Faith (live) (4.00), When I Meet God (Spirited Away Mix) (4.44)
Tracklist: You're Gone (single mix) (4.05), You're Gone (album version) (6.27), You're Gone (video) (4.03), Marbles EPK (12.13), Quartz (8.39)
Releasing a single in different formats in order to end up higher in the charts - a marketing tool as old as singles charts itself. In the eighties bands would release a 7" single for the people who just wanted the one song, a 12" single for those who wanted a longer running time (and often great remixes of said song) and then an array of picture discs, cut-outs and limited editions for the fans.
In the nineties it became common practise to release multiple versions of the single on CD, all with different B-sides. Marillion already did this with the single Alone Again In The Lap Of Luxury, which was released as three different CD-singles, *and* as a limited edition 12" picture disc. However, better known is the scheme by a certain ex-lead singer of theirs who released four different versions of his single Fortunes Of War in four consecutive weeks.
The main difference in the nineties however was that for some reason such schemes didn't seem to work anymore. At least, not for bands who normally wouldn't sell that many singles anyway. That all changed two years ago with the band Coldplay - a very successful band album wise, which never really had a hit single due to the fact that their audience isn't particularly the single-buying public. They released their single Clocks in three formats, with an entire concert as B-sides on the singles. By this time single sales had dropped so much, that after all the fans had bought all three formats, the band saw themselves having their first top 10 hit.
Marillion were fully aware of the relatively low sales needed to enter the singles chart nowadays and never too shy to try anything controversial
marketing-wise, they released their first single off Marbles in three different formats: a two-track single, a four-track maxi-single and a DVD single. Steve Hogarth: By our calculations, in the current UK single market, if you go out
and buy one single each, we'll go Top 40. If you go out and buy two versions, we'll go Top 20. If, however, you'd like to make an old dog
very happy, you could dig-deep, get into eight quids-worth of debt and buy all 3 versions of our single, in which case, we'd almost
certainly go into the Top 10 and I'd have my first ever Top 10 single just before my 45th birthday!! (bizarre, or what?!)
However, as not all record stores in Britain are so-called "chart-return" shops, the band made this plain failsafe by telling the fans when and more importantly where to buy their singles. As Marillion items generally aren't stocked in these chart-return stores (read: the large chains) the band urged their fans to pre-order the single in the weeks preceding the release date.
And guess what? It worked! An HMV spokesman was quoted saying that they had never had such a high amount of pre-orders for a single before and the band entered the UK charts at a staggering number 7. Their first top 10 hit since 1987's Incommunicado and their first with Steve Hogarth on vocals. Their triumphant 'return' certainly got them plenty of attention in the media. Suddenly all radiostations, newspapers and magazines were eager to explain just how Marillion had managed to find its way into the charts again - some in a very constructive and positive way, others by slagging the band off as 'buying' themselves a hit and completely ridiculing the album pre-order system.
In other countries the single was successful as well. In Holland there were special discount vouchers for Free Record Shop where you could buy two different versions for the price of one. Unfortunately for the band, charts in Holland are determined by both sales and airplay (on very specific radio stations), so the single entered at a somewhat disappointing 24th position in the Mega top 50.
However, in the sales-only chart they were the highest new entry at 8th position, which bagged them a performance at Top Of The Pops, and in the Pepsi chart, a chart determined by the sales in the Free Record Shop, they were in 2nd position.
Let's have a look at the various formats
First there is the two-track single, which features The Damage as B-side. As The Damage is not on the retail version of Marbles this may be of interest to the average Joe Public that has bought the album in the shop and wishes to have an extra track. To the owners of the double album it offers no other value than that from a collector's point of view.
The second single is a lot better. This features the track Faith as a B-side. Faith was written during the Marbles sessions, but in the end left off the album as the band just wasn't happy with its arrangement. It was performed live one single time, at the convention weekend last year, and appeared on the Before First Light DVD that was recorded there. It is nice to have this performance on a CD as well.
The second B-side is a remix of When I Meet God, which was actually one of the winners in a remix contest the band held last year, and will be featured on the forthcoming remix album Remixomatosis. It is a nice alternate take on the beautiful song, with electronics and beats added in a very delicate way - far better than the positive light project the band did a few years ago.
The best of the three single formats is the DVD single, which features three audio-only tracks: two versions of You're Gone, and another excellent remix from the Remixomatosis project, this time a very ambient remix of the song Quartz. These three audio-only tracks play with a bandphoto on the screen, nothing really fancy here.
The DVD also features two videos, the music video for You're Gone and an electronic press kit. The You're Gone video was shot by the band's regular filmcrew THE boom boom BOYS, who also shot all their recent live DVDs. The video isn't overly exciting; it shows the band in a live setting, but shot very surrealistically, with lots of very close close-ups and bright light-effects. Not exactly the video needed to support a hit-single, but then again, such videos are very expensive, and despite their hit-single the video doesn't get played on MTV anyway.
The Electronic Press Kit on the other hand is worth the price of the three singles combined, as it is a well-edited insight into the recording of Marbles. Made up from interview snippets, live footage and custom made images, you hear each of the band members give their view on the recording process of the album, while almost the entire album is previewed as well.
If you only plan to buy one of the formats, this is the one to go for, but you may as well buy all three formats and support the cause - the "cause" which can either be supporting Marillion, or just simply giving the finger to the current music industry and popular radio.
Single 1: 5 out of 10
Single 2: 7 out of 10
DVD Single: 7.5 out of 10