Marillion- Marbles (Intact)
review by Jim Clark

Track Listing

Disc One

1. The Invisible Man
2. Marbles I
3. Genie
4. Fantastic Place
5. The Only Unforgivable Thing
6. Marbles II
7. Ocean Cloud

Disc Two
1. Marbles III
2. The Damage
3. Don’t Hurt Yourself
4. You’re Gone
5. Angelina
6. Drilling Holes
7. Marbles IV
8. Neverland



It's been three years since Marillion released their latest studio album, Anoraknophobia. Three years is quite a long time by Marillion standards, considering that they released six studio albums from 1994 to 2001. But this isn't to say that the band weren’t busy over the last three years. Quite the contrary, they produced the first double album of their 20-year recording career.

Marbles, just like 2001's Anoraknophobia, was financed by preorders from their fans, and over 13,000 responded by paying close to $50 for a special edition of the two-disc set (which is sold as a single disc version to retail outlets). While not as good as Marillion's finest releases, Brave and Afraid of Sunlight, Marbles is the strongest disc that the band has released since those two mid-nineties classics.

Starting things off is the menacing “The Invisible Man.” Beginning with a sci-fi like intro with Pete Trewavas' pounding bass, the song goes through numerous changes in its 13+ minutes. While not an immediate number, the song grows on you after repeated listens and there is so much going on that you need those repeated listens to take it all in. Keyboardist Mark Kelly shines on this track as he pulls out all of the sounds from his keyboards, ranging from mellotron to Hammond organ to tons of special effects. Lead singer/keyboardist Steve Hogarth even adds some hammered dulcimer to the track. And Hogarth gives an impressive vocal performance with his voice literally straining during the closing section. At first, I wondered why producer Dave Meegan left this broken vocal take on the disc, but then it does fit in with the tortured theme of the song and works rather well. Quite a risky way to open the album, but quite a rewarding one if you give it the chance.

“Marbles I,” the first of the four-part Marbles suite, follows. It has sort of a loungy feel to it with Hogarth crooning about losing his “last marble.” The song ends with some more fine keyboards and effects from Kelly.

This leads into “Genie,” a track that’s not featured on the retail version, which is quite unfortunate because it’s a lovely number with some fine singing from Hogarth. Despite a somewhat weak opening, the number picks up considerably and features a fine guitar solo from Steve Rothery. Of note is that this song was mixed by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson.

“Fantastic Place” is next and quite simply is a beautiful song. With Kelly providing a fine string backing, Hogarth delivers some superb vocals and Rothery adds some of his most evocative solos of the disc. An instant Marillion classic!

“The Only Unforgivable Thing” follows with a church organ intro, which leads the listener into thinking that Kelly’s gone mad and is trying to channel Rick Wakeman. But alas, the song doesn’t go on to be a prog cliché. Instead, mood-wise, it follows along the same subdued path as “Fantastic Place.” A pretty solid song (and another not on the retail version) which really picks up about four minutes in with some excellent instrumental work from Rothery and Trewavas. The song ends the way it began, with some fine organ playing from Kelly. The only problem with this track is its placement on the disc. As it’s the same general length and mood as “Fantastic Place,” this song would have been better situated on, perhaps, the second disc. Still, a very strong number.

The second part of “Marbles” comes next and features Hogarth singing to, at first a piano and bass backing before some acoustic guitar kicks in. Probably the weakest of the four-part title track.

The longest song that Marillion has ever recorded closes the first disc – the 18-minute “Ocean Cloud.” Telling the story of the late Don Allum, a man who rowed across the Atlantic Ocean twice, this song perfectly captures the emotions tied in with this with Kelly delivering, yet again, tons of magical effects. But the whole band shine on this song – Hogarth provides superb lyrics and an equally superb vocal to match. Rothery breaks out some of his patented classic guitar solos and Trewavas and drummer Ian Mosley hold the track together with their perfect rhythm accompaniment. While I still think that “This Strange Engine” ranks as the finest epic that the band has ever released, this one isn’t far behind. Again, it’s unfortunate that this track was left off of the retail version of Marbles, but given its length, it’s entirely understandable.

Disc two opens with the nice piano intro of “Marbles III,” a number that speaks of an incident in Hogarth’s youth when he and a friend hit marbles through the air using a tennis racket. The outcome was not a good one as he broke the windows of numerous greenhouses and his angry neighbors “formed a queue at the gate.”

This leads into the jarring “The Damage,” by far the weakest song here. With lyrics tied into “Genie,” this rocking number and Hogarth’s vocal delivery on it can be quite irritating. Fortunately, this one was omitted from the single-disc version, though it was included as a b-side to the “You’re Gone” single and the band are currently playing it live.

Pete Trewavas’ acoustic guitar starts off the wonderful “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” Rothery provides some fine fretless bass to the track, as well as some excellent slide guitar. And for as annoying as his vocal performance was on the previous song, Hogarth more than makes up for it here, delivering fine lyrics and a catchy chorus. With all of this, “Don’t Hurt Yourself” would make an excellent choice for a single.

And speaking of singles, the band’s first top-10 single since the 80’s when Fish was still in the band, follows. “You’re Gone” is a pretty solid track, though it does feature a somewhat monotonous drum loop. Hogarth delivers yet another strong vocal and Rothery breaks out the e-bow for an interesting solo.

Up next is the jazzy “Angelina.” This number is Hogarth’s ode to Angelina, an early morning DJ. Rothery gives his best Mark Knopfler performance and Trewavas and Mosley add a jazzy rhythm section to the number.

The band go for a Sgt. Pepper vibe on “Drilling Holes.” Kelly adds a sort of sound collage to the number and Hogarth’s voice features effects on it in spots. This could be described as an experimental number and it includes a sort of spaced-out orchestral instrumental break. While not one of the strongest songs on the disc, it is still interesting in its own right. Of note is that Hogarth drop’s XTC’s name, as Dave Gregory, that classic band’s former guitarist, works with Hogarth on his side project, the H band.

The last of the Marbles’ tracks leads directly into perhaps the disc’s finest song, “Neverland.” This song is superb and again, another instant Marillion classic. With Hogarth giving a passionate vocal and Rothery delivering some soaring guitar throughout, this is quite a way to close out the set. While on the first few listens it seems that the song goes on a bit too long at the end, it finally seems to all make sense after repeated lessons. A superb way to close an excellent disc.

The band is in top form on Marbles, with particular kudos to Rothery and Kelly. Rothery plays the best he’s had in years, delivering classic solo after classic solo. And Kelly sets the perfect mood on many of the songs with his synthesizers and sound effects. The two shine collectively in a way that they haven’t since Brave.

As for the other band members, Hogarth adds his usual superb voice to the mix, as well as some fine, though occasionally trite lyrics (the line “You can screw a man down until he takes to drinking” from “Fantastic Place” is not one of his most original lyrical moments). Trewavas shows his versatility, playing excellent bass throughout and adding some solid acoustic guitar to a few numbers. Speaking of solid, Moseley adds his usual solid drumming to the whole affair, though he doesn’t really stand out anywhere on the disc. Which, given the nature of the material, is actually a good thing. And special mention must go out to Meegan, for producing the whole affair and capturing all of these excellent performances.

Is that to say that this is a perfect disc? Well, no. “The Damage” is quite a weak song. And the order of the songs seems like it could have been improved. Disc one seems to include the more epic songs while the second disc, “Neverland” aside, includes the shorter, rockier numbers. Perhaps it would have been better to mix the two up better. Oddly enough, though it excludes some of the finer tracks represented on the two-disc set, the single-disc version flows much better. Regardless, these are just minor complaints as Marbles shows that, despite some of their weaker recent offerings, that Marillion still has a lot to offer. And hopefully the chart success of “You’re Gone” will help make the music world at large realize this.

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