With the exception of Radiohead, and perhaps a few other bands of a lower quality reputation, there are not many artists who have the confidence or sheer talent to record a concept album in the artificial state of contemporary popular music. Another prominent exception is Marillion. The cult prog-rock band have excelled themselves with Marbles; a superlative album largely made of atmospheric emotional pop reminiscent of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and early Pink Floyd.
Since classic albums like Script For A Jester’s Tear in 1983, similarities with the aforementioned bands have always plagued Marillion. The “other world” artwork, extended songs and idiosyncratic music are blatantly going to result in the three bands being lumped together as the same category of music. Yet those inevitable comparisons should actually be seen as flattering, and they do not undermine Marillion’s brilliance at creating strong melodies and powerful emotions.
Marillion are underdogs, who after each album seem to disappear only to make a surprising comeback with a new album – such musical brilliance cannot fade away completely. They rarely enter any “Greatest Bands In The World” polls, but superficial debates hardly concern them. They have a very strong and dedicated fanbase, who by pre-ordering Marbles helped to create campaign funds to promote the album. Few bands can claim to have such a mass of loyal, international followers.
You’re Gone, the first single from Marbles entered the UK charts at number seven, which proves that their reputation has not been tarnished despite the public’s current taste for frivolous manufactured pop or uninspiring rock. There is a void in the charts that is yearning for something new and intriguing, and Marbles comfortably fills that black hole.
What is noticeable about Marbles, and indeed most Marillion records, is the painstaking attention to detail – it is as if every lyric and every note was held under intense scrutiny in the studio until absolute perfection was achieved.
The album begins with the volatile The Invisible Man, a 14-minute track that makes Meat Loaf / Jim Steinman songs seem like brief interludes. It is a brooding song with haunting vocals and a steady bass line.
However, do not be fooled by The Invisible Man’s sombre mood, because each song on the album has its own feel and identity. Constantly changing moods, Marbles is an unpredictable and dramatic, but intriguing journey. Most songs on the album stand out on their own merits, and each song should be interrupted by the individual listener. Jazz, pop, rock and even touches of techno have presence here; such talented musicianship and obvious love of music represents Marillion’s undeniable desire to evolve.
Basically, Marillion don’t give a damn – they make the kind of music they want to make regardless of current public taste or persuasions of record executives. As the press release for Marbles states, Marillion refuse “to compromise by bowing to marketing pressures, focus groups or record labels.” If only there were more bands like them!
Marbles is a stunning collection of finely crafted songs with heartfelt lyrics that are very eccentric but stirring and often wonderful. Marillion should be hailed a national treasure.