Album Reviews

Mike Marlin – Nearly Man

(AMP) UK release date: 14 February 2011

Projects are often�consigned to�development hell for months or years at a time before emerging into the harsh light of day amidst cries of “Belated!” or “Long awaited!”. Mike Marlin’s�delay, however, puts such�occurences into context as mere frivolities.

Mike, you see, gave up on music in 1982 and sunk into an “alcoholic depression”, in his own words, having manned the bass in a number of bands that never quite made it. Wandering into the murky underworld of computer programming, it wasn’t until a meeting with producer James Durrant in 2009 that Marlin dusted off his unheard songs and ideas, some of which could be almost 30 years old. Belated in the truest sense.

The aptly-entitled Nearly Man, as such, is an interesting proposition: do we have here fresh material untainted by the happenings of the last few decades, an artefact plucked from the depths, or is this album merely a curiosity that is at once out of touch, out of date and out of style? As it happens, neither stance�summises Mr Marlin’s eventual effort.

Album opener Hit The Button is a neat illustration: its crunching guitar riff, menacing lyricism and Marlin’s baritone delivery seem to have their roots in trends gone by – Mark Lanegan‘s 2004 LP Bubblegum or, more accurately, Dandy Warhols‘ all-conquering 2000 album Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia – yet the chorus’s chiming bells and the protagonist’s geeky-yet-threatening persona (“I’ll slam your head in the photocopier”) lend the track an immediate magnetism.

It is also, however, something of a curve ball; Hit The Button is left to stand alone as an attention-grabber as Marlin rolls up his sleeves and gets down to business, which in this case means omitting a deadpan cover of the Bee Gees‘ Stayin’ Alive, with its accompanying viral video featuring the Wee Gee dwarves, and embarking on lyrically astute, musically measured and quintessentially English introspections of The Divine Comedy ilk. Minus Neil Hannon’s overt humour, perhaps.

Not Perfect follows up the commencing volley with a painful confessional that gradually finds its thumping heartbeat; In The Basement wryly relates retreats into solace, a generous helping of brass not going amiss; Second Son, the standout of Nearly Man’s early stages, slows the pace, ushers in backing vocals and peels back the curtain to reveal Marlin’s vulnerability.

Lead single Play That Game, meanwhile, gives rise to Mike the shrewd as he doles out wisdom derived from troubles of the heart – pausing to make room for an enjoyable-yet-slightly-unfashionable sax solo – before Undercover Genius unfurls into sarcasm, like an off-colour Mull Historical Society.

The three decades in waiting ensure that the ideas flow freely throughout the LP: No Place Like Home, a patient, romantic crescendo, is a high watermark, while Guilty encapsulates the regrets of the absent father and the�album closing title track engages with peculiar spoken word reminisces over a jaunty lounge tune.

Mike Marlin has years on his competition, and while that in itself does not guarantee success, particularly when his counsel occasionally toes the line of preaching, Nearly Man presents just enough musicality, rewarding lyrical insights and the odd inspired moment. 1982’s loss is 2011’s gain.

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Mike Marlin – Nearly Man