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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
Hits: 3781
Language: english

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