also by Marillion:
The band were confident enough that this was their best work for years, that they devised an audacious plan to raise money for its promotion. They asked the fans to stump up 28 quid, six months in advance of the release, for a shiny boxed version with all the purchasers' names credited. To their surprise, the campaign was a huge success. Just as audaciously, they released "You're Gone" as a single in three different versions, urging the fans to buy them all. With the help of the campaign-funded promotion, they hoped to to hype it into the Top Ten of the UK singles chart. I admit I scoffed at their chances, but my sneer was wiped off my face when I discovered the damn thing had got to number 7!
But "Marbles" is not a singles album. "You're Gone" is a pleasingly light tune (with an almost funky Stone Roses beat) but doesn't even come close to showing the range of what they can do. I think any success they had will only be significant if they gained new fans, who were encouraged to buy the album as a result, which is doubtful. Of course the single went down the following week like a lead balloon. I don't rate the chances of its follow-up "Don't Hurt Yourself", but I'm willing to be proved wrong!
Listening to "Marbles" it seems as if they have finally arrived where they wanted to be, after a previous few albums full of experimentation, occasional blandness but ever-growing confidence. They had enough material here to release a double album, available only on their website - this is the version I have here. I couldn't imagine it any other way, as the one-disc version sold in shops doesn't contain the album's most ambitious track, "Ocean Cloud". Marillion were inspired by an extreme boat person before - "Out Of This World" from 1995's "Afraid of Sunlight" was about Donald Campbell. But this time they are inspired to three times the intensity, by pioneering Atlantic rower Don Allum. This ocean-sized song is unified by a glorious chorus, which they know is a winner, seeing how they repeat it so often! In turns the music is reflective, savage and disturbing, with dynamics, colour, and tunes in plenty. Everything that they do best, that fans like me wet their pants over.
Almost equally as ambitious, and just as intense, is the disturbing opening track "The Invisible Man". Insistent perpetual-motion buildups, sudden empty silences, the perfect partner to some fine lyrics of alienation and torment. I get the idea that this is a more successful realisation of what they intended with "Splintering Heart" 13 years previously. But like most of the album, they are just making the music they feel like without being constrained by expectations to tread old ground. Each of the musicians here seem to be constantly exploring new sound worlds, and Dave Meegan's production is rich and immaculate.
For a double CD set it is very absorbing to listen to all at once, not least because of four little vignettes, "Marbles" I-IV, spread throughout the set. An off-beat idea for a lyrical theme, but a poignantly nostalgic evocation of a child's mind through the voice of an adult. (Do kids still play marbles?) The shorter pieces on the first disc all have medium paced laid-back tunes, but have a nice space to them - "Genie" is my pick out of these. The singles mentioned above are decent tunes, and "Damage" is the only piece which doesn't really do anything for me. On "Angelina" they come up with an oddly romantic and uplifting chorus for a tribute to a late-night radio phone-in, followed deftly by the enjoyably stoned chaos of "Drilling Holes". Concluded by the sweeping flights of "Never Land", this is a hugely satisfying double album.
July 8, 2004