Sanctuary Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/03/2000
I freely admit that there is still so much I have to learn about the British progressive-rock group Marillion, especially seeing that I started getting into their music just over two years ago with their album This Strange Engine. I missed out on being there when albums like Script For A Jester's Tear and Misplaced Childhood came out, when the music was brand spanking new. (I've been meaning to review Misplaced Childhood here... and the day that I can decipher the entire story, I'll run the review.)
But something about Marillion's recent development has kind of bothered me. I mean, I loved This Strange Engine, the way that it sonically wove its web, surrounding me with musical textures. I noticed the shift on their last album, Radiation, but it didn't really register with me that something was happening.
On their latest release, marillion.com, the change is evident: Steve Hogarth and crew seem to be moving away from the prog-rock arena and more into the mainstream with their music. Two words: bad idea.
Now, I"m aware that Marillion's music has always had the potential to be considered pop music in some vein; check out "Kayleigh" off of Misplaced Childhood and tell me that song wouldn't fit nicely on top 40 radio. (For the record: I love that song; I'm not bashing it.) But there has been something very special about the lengthy numbers that Marillion have developed over the years; it allows each member to express their musical concepts without sacrificing the common good. And, above all, it was damned interesting to listen to.
Listen to marillion.com, though, and that kind of writing is almost gone. (We'll get back to the "almost" in a moment.) Tracks like "Deserve" and "Enlightened" all seem to turn themselves closer to the sun of mainstream rock, daring to put aside partially the progressive complexities that they've honed for so long.
One question: why? Granted, tracks like "Deserve" are catchy, but something is lost in the overall picture - and that's magic. I found myself getting less excited about tracks suchas "Tumble Down The Years" and "Built-In Bastard Radar" (insert your "music critic" comment here) the more that Marillion seemed to move away from a more hard-core progressive vein.
In that regard, however, all is not lost; the album's closer, "House," gives the band a chance to stretch things out and return things (at least in some people's eyes, like mine) to a sense of normalcy. Yeah, this one might never make "Top Of The Pops," but it's the Marillion signature that we all know and love.
The one thing I found with marillion.com is that it was a more difficult album to get through - shocking, considering those who think I'm anti-progressive music would claim I'd make that comment against an album that was purely progressive. With earlier Marillion albums I've listened to, I've gotten so into the musical development of the songs that the time passed quickly. In the case of this album, though, I didn't find myself getting sucked into the music like before; in turn, it was easy for me to find myself losing interest in the songs, to the point where I'd end up starting the whole album over because I couldn't remember the last track or two.
I know I'm gonna catch shit from the diehard Marillion fans - any suggestion that something the band did that isn't perfection organizes the troops faster than the infantry landing on the beaches on D-Day. To them, I say: relax. Calm down. Have a Pepsi. I'm not saying that marillion.com is a bad disc, but it is a shift in their style. All I question is why move away from something they do so well into a more uncharted territory, at least for them. Like any "first step" - and I'm willing to concede that they might have attempted this before, and I'm not aware of it - it's tentative. Coming off of two stronger albums, tentative just wasn't what I expected.