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14 April, 2007

Review: 'Somewhere Else' (Marillion, 2007)

Meh.  Fifty-two minutes of blandness.

Officially released on 9 April, the pre-order special edition of Marillion's 14th studio album, 'Somewhere Else' reached me on 6 April, so I've had plenty of time to absorb it.  However, the following few paragraphs were written immediately after I'd heard the album for the first time.  Don't panic about some of it; as I say afterwards, I was mistaken on at least one point, but it's interesting to record my unalloyed immediate impression.

A little like 'Angelina', from the excellent 'Marbles', this whole album is evocative of a late-night jazz club – very laid-back, very mellow.

I don't like mellow.

This is a downbeat, melancholic album. Downbeat is good; melancholic is workable, and Marillion have proven ability in the area. However, they've always managed to maintain a certain energy before, keeping the music compelling, or at least they've interspersed introspective songs with high-energy rock music. Not this time; it's consistently maudlin. I don't mind B-sides, and accept filler in albums, but where are the catchy A-sides?

I don't expect to fully appreciate an album from the very first time I hear it, but there's usually some immediate spark, something to draw me in and make me want to listen again. I'm deeply disappointed that that didn't happen with 'Somewhere Else'; I've listened to it once, and absolutely the only reason I'll give it a second chance is that it's by a band I've liked before; had it been by a less-familiar artist, once would have been sufficient and it'd go straight to eBay.

Having heard it again, I obviously have to acknowledge that several songs do feature a 'big' rock sound and some relatively high-energy material, notably 'Most Toys', but that fact is curiously unmemorable, and the overall feel is more laid-back than I'd choose.

I still think it's an album to appreciate alone in a darkened room, rather than sing along with in a sweaty concert venue with flashing lights (which sounds like a recommendation, but somehow isn't). If that's all this review conveys, perhaps it'll prevent others experiencing the same initial misconception as me, and perhaps they'll enjoy it more from the outset.

That may be the key point: the album failed to satisfy my expectations of it, which might have been unrealistic. I thought 'Marbles' was wonderful in 2004 (and still do); a return to form after a few patchy albums. I'd automatically presumed that 'Somewhere Else' would continue that reinvigoration, without even considering it might revert to something more comparible with the under-impressive previous output.

Even after a week, no single track stands-out as a highlight. Don't misunderstand: I'm not looking for the instant gratification of an empty pop song, and I'd probably recoil from anything a 17-year-old rock fan would consider 'awesome', but it's disappointing that not even one of these songs has, for want of a better phrase, the'wow!' factor.

There are times when I'll put a CD in my player just to hear one or two favourite tracks, even if I don't listen to the whole album. Up to now, every Marillion album has had, at the very least, a couple of highlights like that, but not this one. I quite like 'No Such Thing' and 'Somewhere Else', but I doubt I'd specifically seek them out in that way.
Of the other eight tracks, seven are... okay. I haven't felt the urge to skip them (yet), but they don't really hold my attention.
That leaves only one I actively dislike: 'The Last Century For Man'. I really, really don't need to hear this environmentalist hippie sh*t.

Overall, I'm not sure about the lyrics. I presume the intention was to go for 'simple but profound', but in a few places, the result borders merely trite. "He who dies with the most toys... / is still dead". Deep, or obvious?

So; not a classic, and I certainly don't have a new favourite Marillion album, but not disastrous either, despite my immediate reaction. It's simply... meh.


And I thought it was just me! I started with Marillion but I've found myself much more interested in what Steven Wilson's doing these days.

Posted by danbee at April 14, 2007 02:09 PM

Very similar to my thoughts, too. Steve Rothery phones his parts in, Mark Kelly is reduced to providing background texture, the bass is largely anonymous. The drumming's quite good, though... I've listened to the CD at least 4 times now, and am underwhelmed; 'Somewhere Else' and 'No Such Thing' stand out, but otherwise it's disappointing.

Posted by blacklineblues at April 18, 2007 12:45 PM

Spot on review- I would agree with most points

It does get a little better after 5 or so plays on a decent set-up, when the sound can become a bit more liberated. Had the best results on an Bose ipod doc of all things, and through a pair of in ear headphones straight from pc.

Lets hope 15 is ace!

Ps great site. I went to St Martins in Lancaster from 93-96 and have been a marillion fan since 86


Posted by Chris at May 9, 2007 10:01 PM

I'd agree with most of what has been written, I was desperately disappointed with the album at the beginning but it defintely grew on me after 4 plays. Not a classic but very good nonetheless. Would agree that Rothery has an increasingly diminishing input these days, it may be because his fingers now resemble smoked sausages! The vocals now seem to be carrying the albums these days, though, and I would like to see a return to more balanced songwriting.

Posted by Warren Sutherland at June 14, 2007 04:37 PM
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