Marillion: Sounds That Can't Be Made (special edition)
There's simply no denying that Marillion split opinions these days - just look at the range of views that the Sea of Tranquility writers offered when the latest Marillion opus, Sounds That Can't Be Made, emerged into the light in 2012 - scores ranging from the middle of the (happiness) road, to the top marks available. To put my allegiances in plain sight, I'm a card carrying (if they issued them), member of The Web UK (Marillion fanzine magazine) and therefore a fan of what this band has continued to offer as they've journeyed further and further away from the more traditional Prog of the Fish years. Although even I must admit that the odd blip (Marillion.com, or a decidedly under par acoustic show in Glasgow a few years back, immediately spring to mind...), has undoubtedly appeared.
To me, STCBM is a superb piece of modern day Marillio-goodness and ranks as one of the strongest releases of the band's modern era. Different in places, reassuringly familiar in others. Emotional, honest and large in scope, yet still claustrophobic, secretive and intimate. It also courted controversy through a decidedly one-sided telling of life in Gaza, although the band and their singer, Steve Hogarth, claimed it was all taken slightly out of context, being instead a comment on a situation innocent families find themselves in, rather than a political statement. I was asked to write a review of the original release of the album for the UK publication Fireworks and rather than reappraise the original eight track release, I've added those thoughts below for anyone looking for more detail on the album itself, and the aforementioned other SoT opinions are available from the link above. However, a year and a bit down the line and Ear Music/Eagle Rock are re-releasing Sounds... as a "special edition", containing a six track bonus disc, so for now, I'll concentrate on them...
The first three bonuses come in the shape of a Radio Session containing two Sounds tracks, "Power" and "Pour My Love" as well as "Wrapped Up In Time" from Happiness Is The Road. All three have an intimacy and deftness of touch here that draws you in and engages you completely from start to finish, the latter possibly rivalling the full version. Hogarth is as vocally engaging as ever and guitarist Steve Rothery illustrates the robust fragility of his style quite superbly. "Wrapped..." comes across as a little more assured than its two newer companions, but all three still sound complete, even though these are stripped back versions where guitar, piano and vocals alone set the scene. A demo arrangement of "Lucky Man" shows up next, with this early reading being more introspective, before the bare arrangement makes way for oddly synthetic beats which give a strange dub-flavour. Obviously this is a really early and different take on what came to fruition and while I'd never choose to listen to it over the finished article, having the opportunity to compare and contrast is interesting indeed. Then finally we have live takes on the Sounds... title track and its album mate "Invisible Ink", both of which positively thrive in this setting and prove what an exciting live prospect this band can still be. To top all this off, this "special" version also arrives with "enhanced artwork", although having reviewed this from, mores a pity, a "live stream", I can't comment on how it looks.
As you'll gather, I'm an unashamed Marillion fan and if you too class yourself in this category, then this North American only release is something you'll want to own (I'm currently working out how to source a copy...). However is there enough here for more casual followers of the band who already own this album to re-purchase? Possibly not, although if you haven't taken the plunge into those Sounds That Can't Be Made, then this is the version to plump for...
And here's my original review of Sounds That Can't Be Made from Fireworks Magazine, 2012...
2012 has been a ridiculously fertile year for UK progressive music, with from the top of my head, stunning releases from Galahad, It Bites, Threshold, DeeExpus, Hogarth|Barbieri, The Pineapple Thief and many more. Well, add to the list those veterans of the UK progressive scene Marillion, who have released another stunning, beautiful album that also packs a few surprises. None more so than the uncompromising, seventeen minute opening track "Gaza", which is fresh and challenging, finding singer Steve Hogarth being more pointed, political and scathingly blatant than before, while guitarist Steve Rothery riffs and stabs with more ferocity than I can remember. This song is a defining statement from the band, being something genuinely game changing from them, while still somehow sounding like Marillion - deep, dark, heavy, abrasive. This is Marillion pointing in your face, shouting with such force that they'll make you flinch and exercising your brain in a way that will make it throb with pleasuring pain. Stunning stuff, although if I was to have one complaint, placing it as the opening track leaves an awful lot for the other seven tracks to live up to, which they do, but only after giving an investment of your time.
Following a more similar path to the band's recent material, "Montreal" shines and shimmers as it evokes images of a city that Marillion are growing strong links with through their now legendary "weekends". The slow steady build reeling you in with dreamy determination. However the more resilient stomp of the title track, while still relying on Mark Kelly's ghost like keyboards and Rothery's punctuating melodies, adds a new dimension through a surprisingly uncomplicated beat. Possibly taking inspiration from his side project with Porcupine Tree's Richard Barbieri, Hogarth talks his way through much of the enigmatic "Power" adding even more atmosphere to a song that builds and grows in only the way Marillion know how. Although "Pour My Love" does fall into the trap of being Marillion by numbers - a fate that "Invisible Ink" also flirts with, being saved by Pete Trewavas's throbbing bass lines and Ian Mosely's confident and ever shifting beats. That's not to say that either of these songs are bad, but compared to some of their album mates, they just sound slightly safe and expected. "Lucky Man" on the other hand swoops and soars, with Hogarth, Rothery and Kelly once again in complete control, creating layers and layers of sounds to lose yourself in, especially when the sumptuous guitar solo is peeled off in sublime style. Leaving "The Sky Above The Rain" to end the journey through Sounds That Can't Be Made in fantastic, refrained style, where guitars and percussion once again create a thrilling climax.
Shockingly good and different in places, Sounds That Can't Be Made illustrates that Marillion are a band still growing and expanding what they are capable of delivering. Captivating and thrilling as they do so.
2. Sounds That Can't Be Made
3. Pour My Love
6. Invisible Ink
7. Lucky Man
8. The Sky Above The Rain
1. Wrapped Up In Time (Radio Session)
2. Power (Radio Session)
3. Pour My Love (Radio Session)
4. Lucky Man (Demo Arrangement)
5. Sounds That Can't Be Made (Live In Holland 2013)
6. Invisible Ink (Live In Holland 2013)
Added: February 21st 2014
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Marillion Online
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