To the Ministry's main lobby The Ministry Blog
concert setlists

13 April, 2004

Review: Marbles (Marillion, 2004)

Okay; having dealt with the lavish presentation, does the music match it?

In general, I'd say 'Marbles' is the most consistently satisfying Marillion album of recent years, with fewer (if any) weak tracks than it's predecessors.  Yet the converse also applies: while the low points aren't so low, the high points possibly aren't so high.  I'm listening to the album for the seventh or eighth time whilst writing this and the music is still growing on me, so perhaps it's too early to say.  Right now, I doubt I'd play either of the CDs specifically to hear one particular track, but I am highly likely to play the whole album without skipping tracks, which has to be a recommendation!

I'm pleased to say Marillion have put any stereotypical 'prog' history behind them, and this is very much the band of 'Marillion.com' and 'Anoraknophobia' rather than 'Script For A Jester's Tear' and 'Misplaced Childhood' (which are tremendous too, but Marillion rightfully moved on). However, if length matters, three songs on 'Marbles' exceed ten minutes, and the longest, 'Ocean Cloud' is a high point which should appeal to fans of 'This Strange Engine's title track. Incidentally, it's odd that throughout the post-1988 period, some of the best Marillion songs have been about near-death in water, including 'Estonia', 'Out Of This World', and now 'Ocean Cloud', my favourite track of the album.

Well before the release, I read somewhere that there'd be a similarity to 'Brave', but having heard it now, I think that was empty speculation, maybe wishful thinking, and I don't see the comparison.

Overall, this is a downbeat album. If you want driving, bouncy rock, look elsewhere. Several tracks have the laid-back feel of a late-night jazz bar, and there's a poignancy to even the slightly 'rockier' songs. There's little of the upbeat energy of, say, 'Hooks In You' or 'Deserve', nor the aggressive anthems of the Fish era - there'll be limited opportunities to clap, dance or sing along with this material in concert unless the arrangements are to be substantially changed for the tour. 'The Damage' might be the sole exception, and at 4:35 mins, would have been my choice for release as the single.

'You're Gone' is the single (2, 3), and has a programmed drum track that might improve its commercial appeal, but the general tone and h's delivery are introspective and downbeat (again). Existing fans, knowing what to expect, will probably like it, but I'm unconvinced that this adequately reaches out to the teen-led market of the pop charts. At 6:25 mins, it feels over-long, which is the last thing needed for a single.
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the marketing strategy. If the intention is to present existing fans with something they'll like, as a 'thank you' for buying multiple copies anyway, this is a reasonable choice. Let's face it: if the band asked the Freaks to buy three mins of silence, a silent remix and the same again on DVD, they would.
Despite my apparent negativity, I do quite like the song. All I question is its value in grabbing new fans - a full-on marketing push might get the single (any single) into the pop charts, but once there, what will 'You're Gone' achieve?

The first track, 'The Invisible Man' begins well, with a synth sound suggesting a rolling marble, but when h starts to sing, the first impression isn't good. For some reason, he sounds out of tune. If an indifferent or hostile listener only gave Marillion 90-100 seconds in which to impress, this opening would do the band few favours. It's not until the three-minute mark that the true beauty of the music emerges, and it's an excellent song.
In a few other quieter moments, h's voice is surprisingly disappointing, displaying a tendency to mumble indistinctly (especially at the start of 'Fantastic Place'). If it's a deliberate effect, it's overused.

I'm not going to review each song in depth, but one observation to close:
'Drilling Holes': Marillion does 'Sgt. Pepper'. There's a distinct feel of 'Day In The Life', both in the arrangement and lyrics. It would be possible to over-analyse and see several direct lyrical references to the Beatles song, but the repeated 'one of those days' in the final verse is fairly compelling, even if the others are coincidental.

Comments

Excellent review, great read...

Though the bit about the single - agree with all you say, though my view is that the objective is to force some media exposure ahead of the album release. As per the US fund idea - it creates a news item that justifies all the radio interviews and newspaper comments, which although not always positive tweaks the nose of the lapsed fans and the thousands of Genesis/Floydies/U2ers out there who could really love this record (Marbles that is, not You're Gone)
To an extent the job is now done irrespective of chart position on Sunday, but a TOTPs appearance would really top it all - fingers crossed for a live link to the Aylesbury gig next Friday....

Posted by Rick at April 22, 2004 06:30 AM

Great review, honest and accurate. I received Marbles yesterday and I like 'You're Gone', but I do agree with you in that it is a bit long. Perhaps the single version is shorter.

Posted by Michael Bacarella at April 23, 2004 09:02 PM

Excellent review, very personal and honest! What can I say, Marillion's records, h Era, take a time until they grow on you - exceptions perhaps are "Afraid of the Sunlight" and "Seasons End" which were instant classics. "Brave" is still something I'm learning to love. There's some sort of link between their albums, and you cannot fully understand "Marbles" if you didn't listen at least ".COM" and "Anorak".
The good thing about them: They sound very well, they play with ALL their heart and they try to change always. Wish half of the artists today were so bold.

Posted by damian marquez at April 25, 2004 02:54 PM

Yesterday I arrived at the same conclusion you have: Marbles is consistent, which means it lacks a real tanker track, but it also lacks a stratospheric track I would repeat for hours and hours. I've only had the thing for a week, though, so we'll see.

Last night I turned to Anoraknophobia for a break (!), though. This one I loved from the first. In relief with Marbles, it's beginning to feel quite...epic?

Thanks for the great review of the album art. Great blog - I'll be back.

Posted by lawson at April 27, 2004 06:58 PM

Invisible Man may sound out of tune with the first few words, but i'm sure its supposed to be like that to give a dark mood to the song. As for the single, its only 3 mins 30, and has got them to 7th place! The shorter version is better, because it ends after the chorus is repeated twice. I thought it was a good choice for the single, as it has a relitively catchy tune. Lets hope they play on TOTP's!!

Posted by Ross Allen at April 27, 2004 07:31 PM

I'm sure you're right, and the 'out of tune' beginning was deliberate, but it's still seems a risky way to begin the album, considering that professional reviewers might be looking to dismiss the album without listening to it all.

I wouldn't say 'You're Gone' itself got them to no.7. Any track from the album could have been chosen, and would have had the same result, which was achieved by the marketing effort, not the merit of the song itself.

Posted by NRT at April 28, 2004 10:33 AM

I agree with many of your comments. I don't know if "You're Gone" was the best choice for the first single, but it is catchy in way. As far as the album goes, as a Marillion fan for nearly 20 years I greatly prefer Disc 1, especially "Ocean Cloud." You were right. When first listening to it, I immediately thought of "This Strange Engine." Overall, I love the whole album.
Great review with great insights.

Posted by Joe Casey at April 28, 2004 05:48 PM

As I listened to 'You're Gone' for the first time, I was wondering why it was chosen as the single. It is for me the weakest track, and depressing. Yes, a lot of Marillion's songs are depressing, but the fans expect and love their 'brooding' trips. but new fans might not care for it. I love 'The Invisible Man'. It just starts small and grows. 'Angelina' is so mellow and the lyrics are a little twisted. I love it, especially with the female harmony. The album from the first listen didn't hit me the way I wanted, but is growing on me.

Posted by Van Horn at April 29, 2004 09:50 AM

It's great to see that they're are so many intelligent fans out there! What a great bunch of insightful comments!
I'm really looking forward to getting the 'Marbles' CD and look forward to listening to it with your comments in mind.
Great review, by the way!

Posted by Craig Hale at April 30, 2004 04:34 PM

It's funny how people can have different views on the same thing. In your review you are commenting h's singing in the more quieter parts of the songs ("Fantastic Place" for one) as his weakness. I think it's h at his very best. He is allowing himself to be vulnerable, streched out, as butter over to much bread.. superb! Sounding a bit like Mark Hollis at times .

Posted by Folkelig at April 30, 2004 11:59 PM

I must completely disagree with the idea that this is a consistent album meaning that it's good but doesn't have a bad track as well as a soaring track. I think it's consistent in that it's great all the way through and there are several soaring moments for me on this album. I think it may well be the best album Marillion have ever done. I rate it right beside Brave and Afraid of Sunlight.
On the first listen or so, I thought I was disappointed - but that was gradually, then quickly replaced with the full power of this masterpiece. There are no scorching guitar solos, and it also annoyed me at first how h seems to whisper or sing quietly on the album in many places - but once you just stop and take the album in, there's an energy throughout every single second of it that sweeps you in and further in. Then the whispering vocals don't seem pseudo-emotional, and the mellower moments where there *seems* to not be much happening are not boring. It's like a subtle wave that you have to get onto before you're truly taken away. It's like that with Brave and Afraid of Sunlight.

And why is no one talking about the theme running throughout the album? It's about a man who's just died and is still walking among the living, watching them live, watching the people he lived with, gradually realizing he's dead - and then throughout the album, in different time frames, reviewing his life, his demise and in the end in Neverland, realizing that love was the most important thing he'd experienced while living - he was what he was because the woman who loved him while he was alive loved him and made him everything he was. He realizes this as he is preparing to move on.

I CAN listen to this album for hours and hours and hours. I don't even want to go to work tomorrow - I'd rather just stay home all day and play this album 10 times in a row. I've never experienced anything like it!

Posted by Michael McLaughlin at May 3, 2004 02:31 AM

As editor of the Annotated Passion Play, I'm very aware that listeners can find consistent themes, even narratives, in albums, creating concepts where none were intended by the authors. That's fine; people appreciate music differently, and it's a sign of a great album that it can inspire a listener.
However, I don't believe there is an overarching story in the lyrics of 'Marbles'. The album works perfectly well without a linking narrative. It'd also be critical suicide for Marillion to openly release a concept album!

Posted by NRT at May 3, 2004 12:52 PM

Yeah, but they've done that before with Brave at a time they were in need of a good seller. Invisible man - read the lyrics! It's obvious - he's died and is watching his wife/girlfriend with another man. Look at the artwork if you have the 128 booklet version and you'll see the pictures of people among other people, but some of them are cutouts, like they're dead. In Invisible man, "my body is gone/But my eyes remain... I shout my name in the public places/No one seems to notice... I stand perfectly still/In the middle of the road/I hold my nerve/But the cars don't swerve." If you've ever done any reading in the esoteric stuff, this is classic 'dead person walking among the living' stuff. I'll admit I may stretch it a bit for the rest of the album, but it's pretty obvious in this first song and it does continue somewhat in the rest of the album as far as I can see.

Posted by Michael McLaughlin at May 3, 2004 10:26 PM

I don't deny that individual listeners may find their own meanings in certain lyrics; I question whether the writer intended them, or would share that interpretation. An individual listener may find his/her own linking elements, but it doesn't mean Marillion put them there.
'Brave' was overtly a concept album, with a stated inspiration and a narrative clearly explained in the film, not to mention the lyrics themselves. I've heard nothing to suggest 'Marbles' is another. To quote Mark Kelly verbatim, speaking in the band interview on the 'You're Gone' DVD single:
"It's not a concept album."

This interpretation of a dead man reviewing his life is very similar to the story in Jethro Tull's 'A Passion Play', and possibly touches on themes in Genesis' 'The Lamb...' - I really don't think Marillion would wish to invite such parallels in 2004.

Posted by NRT at May 4, 2004 12:36 AM

To be honest, I think that you will never find a doulbe album with 100% pleasure but this comes so close to it. I hear shades of Afraid/Brave/TSE throughout the album with also some new sounds and touches.

This is the sound of a band playing together with no dominant instruments - no long drawn out guitar solos and everything simply clicking into place. There is atmosphere all over the album, fantastic vocals by H - even if the impression at the beginning of Invisible Man and Fantastic Places - mark Hollis definately comes to mind on the latter track. Ocean Cloud is the finest Marillion track I have ever heard and reminds me of TSE and even touches of Out of this World. The songs throughout do take several listens to fully appreciate everything that is going on. I am not that taken by The Damage as it kind of sits outside the general feel of the album but could be seen as a necessary track to break up the melancholy.

The musicianship throughout is stunning and the emotive hooks in most songs takes your breath away at time.

Wonderful album and clearly their finest since Afraid of Sunlight. Is it as good as Brave? Hard to say as I love that often ignored classic, but it is up there with it in terms of quality of song, musicianship and consistency. This is a true return to form for a band that I had been losing faith in over the last 3 albums - yes there were good tracks but nothing to compare to the aforementioned albums. Marillion have returned and I cannot wait to see them in Glasgow in July to hear how the new stuff sounds live. Its taken time but thanks guys for using the last 2 years to bring us my current album of the year.

Posted by Ned Flanders at May 7, 2004 04:58 PM

I am what can be termed a lapsed Marillion fan. That is to say during my uni days Fish & co. were always to be heard from my room. However having listened to this album I don't regret for one minute having pre-ordered (yes my name is in there somewhere) and I'd like to think I've turned into a Marillion bore.

It's great to read the comments from so many people who almost universally seem to have enjoyed the album. We went to see them playing in Holland and they started with The Invisible Man, it was thoroughly well received and when the song was over the audience were clearly impressed. If anyone is out there thinking they are not sure if they want to go and see them live I'd honestly say they are worth a look. For me they are worth a second look because I'm going back again in a couple of weeks.

There is nothing I don't like although Angelina seems a little out of place. For me Fantastic Place and Neverland are the best tracks but every track seems to give me goose bumps at one point or another. This album is definately a grower, give it a few listens and your hooked.

Posted by Nick Askew at May 12, 2004 08:36 PM

Mmm..On first listen i can't say that i was disappointed or impressed, it just seemed too much to take in. Now I've had Marbles for a week or so, its starting to trickle into my day..little bits of melody and lyrics. Not the strongest and most instantly grabbing Marillion album (at time of writing this), I am nonetheless discovering some real beauty here. Despite all of this, I am so damn proud of the boys for doing what they have done and shoving two fingers up at the plastic pop princesses and their corperation labels. We might be in danger of being over-critical here. The fact is, Marillion have done what others only dream of doing and for that they should be genuinely applauded.

Posted by russell grooms at May 12, 2004 10:18 PM

Great Blog. Very insightful reveiw. Everyone's comments are fantastic; thanks for sharing. This American doesn't usually get to have Marillion conversations.

Not since Songs in the Key of Life has there been such an inspired double album. The story and music are very compelling, especially when experienced together, in track order. I don't think I would enjoy the music as much if I shuffled the tracks.

Rothery is truly brilliant on this one, h is much more expressive than ever before, Pete and Ian are incredibly tight and make would-be flat ballads come alive and groove and Mark really adds welcome color and depth to an already complex collection of music. The band sounds great, the songs are some of Marillion's best. The instruments don't compete, and the overall production is good, though flat and "washed" at times. I was hoping for a more dynamic mix.

I don't get to see them much anymore here in the US, and it's a shame they still haven't shook the prog rock stigma from their touring days with Rush. If anyone has ideas for helping to raise their populary here, please post or eMail. Perhaps we can help organize a push.

In any event, they are doing what they want, their way, with an unbelievable grass roots effort. The fans are truly a driving force behind Marillion, which makes the whole experience much more rewarding and real.

Posted by David Levine at May 18, 2004 01:04 AM

This album should have been called 'Best of Both Worlds'. For those who appreciate the lengthy epic tendencies of Brave and AOS, Disc 1 is for you. For those who enjoy the more pop/rock vein of Radiation, Com and Anorak, Disc 2 is for you. I think this was their strategy. I have to say that h truly excels himself on this album. His voice permeates with beautiful melancholy. The sadness and hoplessness he conveys in Fantastic Place and the bubbling anger, loneliness and futility of The Invisible Man are amazing. (Disagree with the mumbling....it's emotive. Check out Talk Talk...they're emotive too!) I can't understand why people aren't going nuts over Drilling Holes....that's a killer track! It took one listen to like this album. I'm glad that my favourite band had started to sound like themselves again. I think the reason why it's so hard to find a high point is because it's so consistently good. The whole experience IS the high point. Well done lads, this is your niche...

Posted by Paul Flood at May 19, 2004 11:06 AM

Marillion are showing signs that they are almonst back on form with Marbles - but I do not think there is enough quality material here for a double CD.

Also, there is no stigma in being a "Prog" band, except in the eyes of the flock of the majority. Bah!

Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge fan of Marillion and want them to succeed - as they rightly deserve to. I just don't think they've got the formula as good as they CAN get it!!!

Posted by Certif1ed at May 24, 2004 09:29 AM

Where 'prog' is the music of Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, and clones thereof, 'prog/art/symphonic rock' is a major stigma.

See my earlier thoughts on the distinction between 'prog' (ugh) and 'progressive' (yay!).
To try for a 'prog' sound in 2004 would be retrograde, and thankfully Marillion have left that behind.

Posted by NRT at May 24, 2004 10:11 AM

This CD has been in my player for 4 weeks straight. I listen to at work, at home, and on my walks through the streets of NYC. Not only is it one of their most consistent recent works, I believe that it is possibly their best work with Hogarth. Rothery has taken his guitarwork to another level and has so much feel through the CD that it is incredible. Pete plays some excellently musical basslines. Kelly's keyboards are perfect in the mix and very inventive, and Ian's drumming has a new level of feel and skill. I had been losing interest over the last few years with what I perceived to be less-than-stellar work, since Afraid of Sunlight. This CD has pulled me completely back into the fray and I eagerly anticipating seeing them in October.

Posted by rubthebuddha at July 24, 2004 02:25 AM

I must admit you've made it very personal with your review (both the packaging as the music), but there's one thing I'm not agreed on...

That's the fact you say H's voice would scare people of that only listen 60 sec's of the album (you mean the critics? ;) who else?)
My opinion about the more tainted voice of Steve Hogarth at the beginning of The Invisible Man is just away of expressing the feeling an invisible man has, feeling down and out (no, I'm not quoting Angelina, an other track on Marbles) feeling worthless "the world's gone mad and I've lost touch, I shouldn't admit it, but I have..."

That's about it I think, just one thing left, too bad you didn't mention Ocean Cloud, which is by far their most progressive rock track since Brave (except maybe TSE and Interior Lulu (the song that has been my favourite for years!)

Well, chears, I hoped I've somehow been of any help...

Posted by TrˇzZ at September 2, 2004 03:57 PM
.
Site Home Tull Tour History Annotated Passion Play
.
Day in the life... Page design and original graphics © NRT, 2003