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Marillion: This Strange Engine
It's hard to imagine a world without Marillion. From their perilous perch at
the outskirts of the territory that connected progressive rock with more
accessible mainstream rock, they have subtly influenced musicians in countless
backgrounds, and inspired the careers of many of our most essential bands. If
you ask most of today's prog giants who their influences have been, most of them
will list these guys prominently on their list.
For many of us, it was even harder to imagine Marillion without Fish, the poetic
and charismatic vocalist and songwriter who led the group through many years and
many essential albums, notably Misplaced Childhood and Clutching at Straws. When
he left the band to pursue new avenues for lyrical delivery, many of us felt
that the band's best days were over.
But you know, those of us who follow progrock really ought to know better. After
all, we've watched King Crimson travel through three (some would say four)
completely distinct periods, and each of them is cherished by us; we've seen
Genesis travel from crucial prog to abysmal radio fodder and slightly back
again; we've seen Jethro Tull move through seemingly unlimited shades of their
sound, none of them dispensable. So why not Marillion? Why should the end of the
Fish era signal the end of the band?
Well, it didn't. Marillion is, in fact, a completely different entity from the
days of Childhood, though most of their members haven't changed. The crucial
post of vocalist was filled by Fish himself, who oversaw the audition process,
and the man he found, Steve Hogarth, has been responsible for one of the
brightest stars on the modern rock scene.
Modern is a good word to describe the sound on This Strange Engine, a
bright and serious work with some soaringly high moments and very few
disappointing ones. The first track, "Man of a Thousand Faces", might just go
down as one of the band's best songs ever - it's lyrics are up to the
stratospheric standards the band has set for themselves, and the instrumentation
is lush and dense, allowing Hogarth's vocal melody to fill rooms. Also notable
is "Memory of Water", a hypnotic bit with some captivating vocal lines.
The only real disappointment here is the slightly cliched "Estonia", but even
this song is not without its merits. Hogarth has a gift for taking any set of
words, no matter how hackneyed or corny, and making them sound poetic and deadly
serious; he pulls this off on "80 Days", a song about how hard it is to be a
touring musician. (I don't exactly feel sorry for you, Steve - I'd love to know
that my creative output has changed the lives of tens of thousands.)
It's an incredible feeling, when taking the headphones off after completing
Engine, to realize that this band has been doing this for as long as they have;
and it's a tremendous testament to their ongoing talent when you realize that
their music feels as if they're just getting started.
Added: January 1st 2004
Reviewer: SoT Archives
Related Link: Web Site
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