Many of the artists I review here are on their debut album, some are a new gift to me that somehow got overlooked in the vast array of wonderful music available to us. There were some that I was more than familiar with too, bands that I had grown to love over time. Now, I get the special treat of reviewing a band that has helped shape my musical soul for over twenty five years, and could vie for the spot as my favorite band ever on any given day. I started listening to Marillion back in 1987 with the album Misplaced Childhood, and it was love at first listen, beared the storm of the departure of Fish, and fell in love again with them. My passion for their music, in either stage of their history, runs very, very deep. When I showed up at home after a long hard night in the kitchen, and saw Marillion’s new album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, waiting for me on the dining room table two weeks before the date given to me by the record company, all the stress and tension of the day immediately drained out of me. I literally danced and screamed around the house, and tore into the package like a kid on Christmas morning. Taking a deep breath, I dimmed the room, put my headphones on, and hit play…..
Marillion has one very special thing going in their favor that most bands don’t have the good fortune of enjoying, an incredibly stable line up. The same five gentlemen, Steve Rothery on guitar, Peter Trewavas on bass, Ian Mosley on drums, Mark Kelly on keyboards, and Steve Hogarth on vocals, have been creating music together since the release of Season’s End in 1989, a career that spans twelve studio albums over 21 years. This is a feat virtually unheard of in any genre, and is reflected in their constant perfection over the many stylistic changes their music has undergone.
The album opens with Gaza, an incredibly powerful epic piece coming in at over 17 minutes dedicated to the people of Gaza. This song is both musically and lyrically raw and powerful; no punches are pulled in painting the portrait of the helpless people of the region. The most effective part here is how the constant pounding, ominous keyboard tones set in the fear and hesitation that give life to the lyrics. It is a perfect representation of the helplessness of the people for the song itself is held prisoner to the darker tones contained within. This song leaves me shaken, every time.
A few songs later, quite a different vibe is taken with another epic, Montreal, a beautiful testament to a city that the band has always had close ties with. It carries the tone many of us can relate to when thinking of a place we love, be it a country, a city, or even the local pub, any place that is a home away from home. Musically this song is wonderful, wistful, and touching. The soft tones carry the nostalgic lyrics perfectly, the love they feel for the city comes through perfectly. This is one of the songs that Hogarth’s voice is just perfect for, the emotion of the lyrics is expressed in such an intimate fashion, it makes the listener feel privileged to be a part of the moment and memories.
Outside these two songs, the rest of the album contains a thematic element that lies at the core of almost every relationship ever, the intrinsic inability of people to express the emotions we just can’t put words to, the Sounds that Can’t Be Made. I feel that the basis of this concept is expressed in one line it the title track, “Only love can stop you from merely existing.” It doesn’t say that love will make everything wonderful, rosy, and perfect, just that it gives purpose and credence to existence. Love is what gives existence its myriad colors and patterns, and some of them are as dark as can be. Within the six tracks, the unspoken is expressed brilliantly. In the title track, the core theme of this aspect of the album is introduced, and via Marillion we delve into the mystery of those unspoken aspects of love that really drive it. How we each have that desire to let others hear, and feel, what we wish they would feel for us. This flows into the second part, Pour My Love, in which the desperate feeling that sets in when we begin to feel that the love is changing, and the doubling of efforts is put into effect to try and revive what once was. The next song, Power, is almost scary in its effectiveness to express one of the toughest emotions a man has to deal with.
The one thing Marillion does brilliantly is the layering of all the musical elements; the music itself, the lyrics, and the thematic elements are built upon themselves, building the intensity and sheer power of the overall product, and it is done to perfection. Power is an example of Marillion doing this to perfection. Starting off with a simple yet effective bass line, the vocals and other elements build in and around it, which feed perfectly into the fear and tension of the lyrical message the song is portraying. The emotion is the underlying anger that a man feels when the insecurity over a relationship sets in. His self doubt, his feelings of inadequacy and his suspicious nature take over, and it is all he can do to keep them in check. The song has almost a tone of warning, yet another layer in this story of love in stasis. Invisible Ink is a soft, beautiful, tender song of the desires we have to let our inner words be heard clearly. It is about little love notes that we write in our mind but are too afraid to translate to paper, and is a wonderful metaphor for the fear that holds us back from expressing our true feelings to each other, “It’s not a game, it’s simply fear, always stops them being clear.”
These songs act to set the stage for the final epic of the album (yes folks, that’s right, three epics!!!). At a touch over ten minutes, The Sky Above the Rain is quite possibly one of the most searing and brutally honest songs I have ever heard. It opens with the ominous line, “She loves him, but she doesn’t want him.” It is a gap that seems insurmountable, and the song continues to dig deeper into it, with music that cradles gently while being honest as can be, and lyrics that are simple, yet so truthful they hurt to listen to. One line that stood out for me was, “She used to gaze out at him reach out with her toes to touch him.” This act, this to me is what they refer to in the album title as a sound that can’t be heard. It is a simple line that expresses a simple gesture, but with the help of Hogarth’s incredibly soulful voice, carries so much depth and meaning. I feel the one thing they express above all else is that the unspoken will hurt love most of all, and it is referred to in the final stanza, “Maybe they’ll talk, soul to soul head to head heart to heart eye to eye.” That transparency of emotion just might be able to heal what all the other actions described in the album can’t.
If you can’t tell by now, this album truly owned me. All the elements that have made Marillion such a great band over the years are on perfect display. Musically, it is nearly flawless, the high level of the individual musicians is hauntingly apparent. The five musicians come together in moment after moment of musical, emotional, and spiritual perfection. I know that when a work scares me at my most intimate levels, it is doing something right. It is making me face aspects of myself that I tend to ignore out of fear or ignorance, and helps me to come to better terms with them. Marillion has been doing this with me over twenty five years, and have done it yet again with this album. Lifelong fans of Marillion such as myself will be putting Sounds That Can’t Be Made at the top of their discography, but it is the new fans I truly envy. They are the ones that will be getting introduced to a vast, wonderful world of music through a truly incredible album, the lucky bastards!!!