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Marillion: Less Is More

Live albums? Covers albums? Acoustic albums? These days they're all just stop gaps and contract obligations aren't they?

Well no actually.

Right from the opening glockenspiel intro to "Go" it's undeniable that Marillion have not taken what would appear to be an easy option with Less Is More. Instead this album represents the opportunity to not only revisit some classics from their past, but to redesign and deconstruct the chosen songs, before rebuilding them from the ground up using instruments as diverse and foreign to a "rock" record as you could wish for. With Portuguese guitars, autoharps, harmoniums, or hammered dulcimers being only a selection of the exotic instrumentation in evidence, actually recognising which track is being reinterpreted isn't always as easy as one would expect. For some this may actually be a stumbling block, however to me it is the true strength of Less = More and has led this release to be a fresh, innovative album in its own right and not just a curio to be listened to sparingly.

Surprisingly the stripped back and bare sound on Less Is More actually gives each individual member of the band more room to shine and for an outfit who very often create huge encompassing soundscapes with their music, their ability to convey those same emotions within a more restrictive setting is quite stunning. Guitarist Steve Rothery benefits the most from the sparse approach, with his contributions always coming to the forefront of the music in a way that isn't always possible within the styling that Marillion often explore. His solos are soft caresses while still making a huge impact on proceedings, whilst his rhythm playing gently holds everything together. That's not to say that Pete Trewavas doesn't make a huge impact on acoustic bass or occasion xylophone, or that Steve Hogarth's vocals aren't stark or emotional in all the right places. Neither does it mean that Mark Kelly's Pipe Organ or Piano playing isn't sublime or that Ian Mosley doesn't put in a great performance on drums, Moroccan bongos or skulls, it's just that Rothery's playing takes on a dimension not always heard in his standard setting.

"Interior Lulu", "The Space" and "This Is The 21st Century" are in places unrecognisable from the original tracks they came from and remove the vocal from them and at times they are so radically different that they really are new songs and in fact only "Hard As Love" or the untitled bonus version of "Cannibal Surf Babe" whilst still vastly different from what you know, are reasonably faithful throughout, that is if you call making "Cannibal Surf Babe" into a calypso jazz quintet really being faithful?!

One song is a new recording specifically for the album and "It's Not Your Fault" would serve as a worthy addition to any recent Marillion disc with Steve Hogarth sitting alone at the piano singing a plaintive vocal about learning to deal with the decisions and actions that befall us all at certain points in our lives. It really is a quite beautiful piece of music and it sits easily with the (slightly!) more familiar songs around it.

Of the other songs included, "This Is The 21st Century", "Interior Lulu" (not previously a favourite of mine), "Out Of This World" and "Quartz" with its irresistible tick-tock, tick-tock beat, are the stand out moments and all four benefit hugely from the naked beauty that these reinterpretations bestow upon them. However taken as a whole Less = More is a compelling and embracing listen that invites you inside the songs and allows you to reside there undisturbed until the album is finished.

I can't pretend that this is an album for all occasions and in the same way that past Marillion masterpiece Brave really needs the correct surroundings to release it's true harsh beauty, Less Is More also benefits hugely from being listened to in one of those moments when you really can give yourself wholly to the music.

None of the new versions on show improve upon their elder siblings, however that really wasn't the aim of Less Is More. Rather than an exercise in comparison, this is an opportunity to completely reappraise the songs included and in that setting it works superbly well.

Not many bands could, or indeed would be courageous enough to completely alter some of their most popular songs and present them in a radically altered form, however with this release Marillion have shown once more their ability to create wonderful expansive music with the most deftness of touch.

Track list:
1. Go
2. Interior Lulu
3. Out Of This World
4. Wrapped Up In Time
5. The Space
6. Hard As Love
7. Quartz
8. It My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill
9. It's Not Your Fault
10. The Memory Of Water
11. This Is The 21st Century
12. Cannibal Surf Babe

Added: December 16th 2009
Reviewer: Steve Reid
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 2759
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Marillion: Less Is More
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-12-16 00:12:25
My Score:

With over fifteen studio albums, many fan club releases and a countless number of live albums, Marillion have been steadily releasing material for over twenty-five years. One of the fore-runners of the neo-prog scene, a band that has roots to past seventies giants, such as Genesis, has in turn influenced many progressive bands through the years. To say they have been influential is an understatement.

This leads us to their brand new CD Less Is More, a mostly acoustic reworking of tunes from the Hogarth era. On first listen I thought it was pleasant enough although it did not really catch my ear. However, subsequent listens have proved very rewarding as the subtle nature of this music began to take its hold. I was surprised how well some of these songs came across in an acoustic format. The stripped down arrangements allows the listener to really get to the inner core of these tunes. Never before has Marillion sounded so vulnerable. Hogarth sings these thirteen songs with a heartfelt sense of passion, baring his soul for all to hear. The rest of the band equally step up to the plate giving excellent performances throughout. Mark Kelly provides some beautiful piano melodies and Rothery's acoustic guitar playing is stellar. The rhythm section of Mosely and Trewavas is understated and subtle as both play with a softer touch than on anything they have done previously.

One of my personal favourites is the melodic "Interior Lulu", taken from and featuring Portuguese guitar and some neat acoustic sounds that keeps things interesting. Hogarth gives a very emotional performance and Kelly's somber piano melody provides a perfect ending. Another gem is the poignant "Out Of This World" where the dual acoustic guitar of Trewavas and Rothery gives the song a more fuller sound and the vocals of Hogarth have a delicate beauty matching the music perfectly. "Wrapped Up In Time", the only song taken from Happiness Is The Road, has an almost Country flavour, but do not let that scare you as this song really works. Rothery's crisp electric guitar intermingles with Kelly's piano all the while subtle Hammond organ can be heard in the background. A couple more songs to check out is "The Space", where a sparse acoustic arrangement lets the acoustic bass of Trewavas steal the show and "Hard As Love" featuring some lovely background vocals and a wonderfully melodic chorus. I will stop there as I have done enough writing. Suffice to say, the rest of the album is not too shabby either.

Also included are two live bonus tracks including the Radiohead classic "Fake Plastic Trees".

Thank you Marillion for putting out an album of beautiful music. For those of you who believe progressive rock lacks a soul you need to listen to Less Is More and discover this wonderful band for yourself.

Marillion: Less Is More
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-11-16 08:00:11
My Score:

Simply put "Less Is More" amounts to Marillion coming off as an Easy Listening artist since its content finds the band taking a number of their tunes and minimizing them to the bare bones by not only slowing them down, reworking the melodies and delivering them acoustically as well. Based on this, it becomes an album that only a few choice fans of the group will be interested in giving a listen to. Before I continue on I must declare to the world that I am a long time Marillion fan and have been supporting them for a couple of decades now but lately their releases are making it harder and harder for me to do this based on how much distance they keep putting between the legacy listener and their own musical adventuring. The band originally formed in 1979 and had had singer Steve Hogarth at the helm since 1988. Over these past thirty years they have slowly morphed from an intensely lyrically visual Prog-Rock band into something more like Atmospheric Experimental Rock and as result lose fans from the past while making some new ones that would not have liked the old stuff anyways. Hearing these compositions acoustically is "nice" at best for me, but this is based on my wanting to be set straight by the group once again after the ill-received "Happiness Is The Road" double album that they last gave us. That release lost me, and I had hoped that its follow up would get back on track like they showed us could be done with "Marbles". They followed that release with "Somewhere Else" which was uhm…..let's move on shall we.

Sound and production wise this is a very solid release and the melodies and lyrics are crystal clear. I've always enjoyed how Hogarth sings and his powerful range works well within this context. I just wanted more of an exciting album from them as opposed to another brave experiment. Highlights come via songs like "The Space", and "Hard As Love" which is the "heaviest" of the albums offerings. I also rather enjoyed how "This Is The 21st Century" transferred into the acoustic realm and I was impressed that the band chose not to try their hand at any of the legacy Fish material. Of course it's probably safe to say that they no longer feel the need to do much of it since H has been fronting the band for more than three times the amount of years that Fish was in place. The release closes up with a few bonus live tracks and while not listed on the liner notes or packaging they begin with "Cannibal Surf Babe" which I always enjoyed and found amusing in the acoustic sense when it came down to it. They also do a soulful version of "Runaway Girl" and "Fake Plastic Trees" that finds some Hogarth banter to the audience before the band plays. Knowing Marillion there is most likely some video footage of the putting together of this release or the live shows that presented it to their fans and that we shall see this being released sometime in the future. For me, the strongest points for the album were in the bonus tracks and that is why my rating stands were it does.

I didn't necessarily mind hearing how the band did some of their tunes acoustically, but the downside of this is that is comes off as so restrained that it can become boring to listen to for some people. That fact bothers me quite a bit since this is a band that used to excite me with each and every melody and has not been able to do so for quite some time now. Marillion has moved their sound away from a lot of the expectations that their fans had for them and with "Less Is More" surely don't seem like they intend on stopping any time soon. That much is good for the ones who are interested in the constantly changing painting that they are musically putting out there but this is not for those fans who are longing for Prog-Rock mastery. Good at best in my opinion and for a strictly defined Marillion fan base.

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