I have been a fan of Marillion since their first album in 1983.  Back in those days, Marillion rekindled interest in Progressive Rock, which had taken an unjust kick in the teeth from Disco, then Punk, then New Wave and the apparent revulsion for long songs and technical playing.  Sounding like a cross between early Genesis (mainly) and Van der Graaf Generator (some), they astounded the anti-intelligentsia by selling out concert venues all across Britain.  They were so popular that EMI signed them, released some singles, moved many copies of their albums, and gave rise to the new resurgence of Prog and opened doors for many Prog bands who today still owe them a debt for their current careers.  Though Marillion weren’t the only band at the time to reinvent Prog, they had a big label, tapping into music fans that were tired of three-chord rock.  (Hey, before I start getting hate mail, let me be clear that I love some Punk, New Wave, and Alternative bands – but I was angry that the other music I loved got suddenly thrown out with the leftovers by greedy record labels that needed to manufacture a new market).  Anyway, I digress.  Marillion lost their original lead singer and lyricist, Fish, after Clutching at Straws (1987).  At that point, Steve Hogarth stepped in.  Here’s where the changes began to take place in a big way.

Marillion from that point on began to evolve continually, creating Prog, true, but also delving into all kinds of music – from Electronica to Folk to Rock; from long concept pieces to short bursts of songs.  To hear them today, I don’t think you would easily classify them as Prog in the sense of the Genesis family – they are a modern sounding Rock band with elements of Porcupine Tree, Talk Talk, and other bands within that spectrum plus the coolness and catchiness of bands like the sadly missed Sad Cafe.  And here they are with their 17th album, and I have to say, it knocked me right over.  Even after all this time, they surprise me, involve me, and suck me into their particular style of powerful Rock music.

Sounds That Can’t Be Made is made up of 8 songs with a total running time of over 73 minutes.  Besides the occasional tasteful guitar solo or keyboard line, you will not hear any noodling about or long instrumental segments.  Marillion is about the song and the message firstly, and they use beautiful arrangements and soundscapes to tell their stories.  When you listen to Marillion, you should be prepared to immerse yourself as you would a Classical symphony – the fast sections, the quiet sections, the emotional, beautiful interludes, and the particular warm parts that make you hum along.  All the elements are there within a Rock format, so you get the best of both those worlds for your listening pleasure.

Marillion has had the same lineup since Hogarth (h) came in, and besides the lyrics, he is the lead singer who also plays keyboard parts and percussion.  Mark Kelly plays keys, Pete Trewavas (TransAtlantic) plays bass and contributes backing vocals, Steve Rothery plays guitars and the great Ian Mosley (Daryl Way’s Wolf, Steve Hackett) drums.  They all contribute to the compositions.  The CD comes with a nice little booklet with all lyrics and Hogarth’s notes about the opening track, Gaza.

So about the songs:

As I said, “Gaza” opens the album and is an electrifying seventeen and a half minutes – really a suite of sorts.  Steve Hogarth explains that he interviewed the people of Gaza, and has written about the plight of the Palestinians in a terrible situation.  The melody takes on a Middle Eastern flavour with very modern elements of heavy chording.  Through the course of the piece the music changes to reflect the quiet sorrow with his plaintive vocals (he has never sounded better) and can erupt on a dime into a pulsing, bass-driven riff.  The lyrics are not only gripping, but the music is very heavy to match.   It makes a statement about the band too; they have never rested on their laurels and still want to challenge you with their words and music.

“Sounds That Can’t Be Made”, at just over seven minutes, follows with an uplifting, beat-driven melody that brought me back to some of the ’80s beat bands and in particular the more Pop side of Talk Talk and features some really nice keyboard work and a hot recurring guitar line that brings the song to a major crescendo.

“Pour My Love” is a smooth, jazzy, almost Doobie Brothers-like catchy melody.  Steve Hogarth shows his wonderful range and soulfulness.  This song could have fit well on Mike and the Mechanics and comes in at just under 6 minutes.

“Power”, at just over six minutes, continues the same sort of music – but with a tougher edge and a larger vocal sound.  There is an element of desperation to the sound and the band really soars.

“Montreal” is another suite, coming in at fourteen minutes.  Observations about a flight from England to Canada, and observations once there and how they miss their loved ones and home.  Simple stuff, but beautifully told and played, it starts off with a slow, wistful melody.  Then about half way in, the music begins to expand and once again, the band’s penchant for memorable melodies hits you hard.

“Invisible Ink”, another nearly six minute track, is a soulful ballad with minimal instruments.  We hear Hogarth’s wonderful ability to go from his deeper tones to his high falsettos that always lend so much character to the songs.

“Lucky Man”, at nearly seven minutes, changes pace and is a straight ahead Rocker that incorporates a similar riff of The Beatles’ I Want You (She’s So Heavy).  It has that While My Guitar Gently Weeps kind of slow guitar lead and a building chorus that reminds me a lot of Spooky Tooth too.

The final track, “The Sky Above the Rain”, is over ten and a half minutes and begins with a lovely solo piano melody and Hogarth’s vocal with Rothery and the rest adding little bits in the background.  The song soon becomes more stark with key strings giving the overall piece a large and full sound.  It ends with Rothery playing through a Leslie amp – talk about nostalgic.  And the solo piano comes back quietly to end the album.

So there you have it.  This is not the Marillion you might remember all those years ago when Phil Collin’s said “they sound like us” (Genesis).  Marillion is a modern band with influences from the past for sure, but also with a unique sound and vision.  They have surged ahead against all fashion, created their own label, and raised money through fans to help with album production.  They are doing what Robert Fripp predicted way back in the ’80s with his “Drive to ‘85” and the coming of the independent music movement.  If you have dismissed them as being “not your style”, then you owe yourself to give them a chance with this wonderful album.

They just might surprise you.

Release Date: October 2, 2012

— Bob Metcalf


By MARowe

7 thoughts on “Review: Sounds That Can’t Be Made – Marillion”
  1. Good to read about Marillion. My answer to your previous question in The Art of the Selection had me thinking about all the Marillion that I bought – Market Square and the 45s from Script (plus Reading Rock (V4?), Fugazi (and/plus) all the 12-inch picture disc versions for it and Misplaced Childhood. Then I lost the gusto for them. I think Peter Gabriel was the first artist I bought all the albums by before that starting in junior high ’82 (I had my mother make his dojo suit and I painted myself up in Plays Live for school halloween. No one knew who I was except 2 friends. Then fleshed out my RUSH (I’m a Haligonian) then Bowie. Punk and New Wave took over, with Bowie always riding high and my reigning desert island artist. Ever hear Rheostatics Whale Music (first, not the ‘soundtrack’)? I always thought it was an esoteric combo of rock/punk/folk/prog–timeless.

  2. Do you know of Jian Ghomeshi? He became an infamous Canadian broadcaster with his interview/stone-wall with Billy Bob Thornton on Q. Grace Under Pressure–J and Boxmasters rise above BBTs insolence–watch B stew in the background as J introduces the artist and band. Listening to this radio flame-out live was thrilling.
    Jian recently released his first book 1982–a gentle, authentic retellling of his coming-of-age in a suburb outside Toronto, from infatuation of Bowie, girls and RUSH. I really identify with his story.
    “Would you ask Tom Petty that?”. Earlier, Yoko Ono responded in an interview with someone else “would you ask John Lennon that?” but I can’t find a reference.
    Later in the ’80s Jian’s high school band would become Moxy Fruvous–smart-assed popsters in the vein of Barenaked Ladies (who wrote ‘Be My Yoko Ono’ which she likes).

  3. I live in Calgary and am a big fan of CBC radio. I listen to Jian all the time (or at least when I have a radio handy). But going back to Marillion, I remember hearing He Knows, You Know in 1982 or 83, and thinking “man, finally a band is not afraid to go against the mainstream (because that was what New Wave and “Alternative” was at the time) and produce the long song and Progressiveness of the 70s bands”. It was like a breath of fresh air for me.

  4. Misplaced Childhood is my all time favorite by this band, the early Genesis vibe is all over this album.

  5. I like Fish era Marillion, also Steve Hogarth era, but they definitely lost the plot after Marbles. At the time I was blown away with Marbles, and said they should disband as they would never do another record that good. Sadly, I was right. There was only 1 song on the next album, which was probably left over from Marbles, and nothing even close since.
    I went to a number of their concerts at the time, but stopped after Steve H had a go at a security guard at one concert, saying we don’t need your type here, and really got offensive.
    I have loved every splinter group Pet Trevawas has been in. Transatlantic are the best, but Kino was great as well.
    Marbles is one of my top 10 records of all time, and Fantastic Place one of the best Prog tracks ever.

  6. Loved the review. I also enjoyed the Fish era a lot. That is classic rock and Fish cant be matched as a morrison level rock hero. But with H the band changed and thats the good thing. Brave, afraid of sunlight, seasons end, happiness is the road, marbles, anoraknophobia are all great albums. Wish all bands were able to stay this quality level after so many years.

  7. Big fan of both Fish and h eras here. Sounds That Can’t Be Made is their strongest album since Marbles, which is absolutely brilliant. Each song on STCBM is quite different from each other and many of them are absolutely brilliant.
    I’ve the feeling their not known in North America beyond Fish-era hits like “Kayleigh”, “Lavender” and “Incommunicado”, and that’s a shame, since their albums since are remarkably memorable and passionate. Passionate is a word I can’t ascribe to many artists and bands, but it absolutely applies to Marillion. h-era albums I would heartily recommend: Brave; Afraid of Sunlight; This Strange Engine; Marbles; Sounds That Can’t Be Made. The others are great, of course, but these are the cream of the crop. If you’re interested in trying them out, check out the “Crash Course” section of their website — it contains about 70 minutes of full songs you can stream, to see if you like their stuff.
    So awesome to read a Marillion review on one of MY music sites! Thanks, Bob! :-)
    And now comes the absolute excitement of the anticipation of the Montreal Marillion Weekend in March: Three evenings with Marillion and a different set for each evening! Brilliant live band!

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