Are Marillion still going? That seems to be the standard reaction to news of their new album from those not in the know – but get closer to the band and you’ll discover otherwise. They could hardly be in ruder health as they deliver their 14th album, with a loyal fanbase other bands would give their guitar straps for.
No sooner have they delivered this album then there’s info for the 15th, due in spring 2008, on the inside of the CD cover. This may seem absurd, but you can bet interest will be registered – the sort of devotion that returned the band to the singles Top 10 in 2004.
So much for the loyalty – does the music deserve such commitment? Depends on your viewpoint I suppose. What is beyond argument is vocalist Steve Hogarth’s preoccupation with the issues of the day – materialism, loss of identity, the arms race, poverty. His emotive delivery and vocal range has long stood him in good stead as a front man, though here he seems to have been recorded rather thinly.
This may be a deliberate production ploy to highlight the fragile issues he deals with. Only on the excellent Most Toys do the band rock out with a real purpose, effectively ranting against Western ‘must have’ items. It’s a point well made. And yet on The Last Century For Man, Hogarth is desperately trying to redeem us. He’s clutching at straws, as it’s surprising how empty the line “God bless the UK, I mean it” sounds.
Marillion are often regarded as a progressive rock band, but it’s a loosely applied term, and really means they can be more flexible than most when it comes to choosing their musical standpoint. Thankyou Whoever You Are makes a string-laden line for the charts, while the sprawling A Voice From The Past unfolds at its own, slightly bewildering pace.
The ghosts of prog rock prevail are in some of Hogarth’s more pompous lyrics. On the title track, for instance, he wakes up “in a spaceship of shimmering gold”. Clearly it pays to have an imagination sometimes.
What’s clear from all this is that Marillion are indeed in good musical health, though it’s very much ‘fans only’ by now. If you want to get to know the band proper a long and expensive journey through the fourteen albums awaits – but this is definitely one of their better ones.