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Music Review: Marillion – Less Is More

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Before reviewing Marillion's new CD Less Is More, I must confess: I am largely unfamiliar with the group, as they are somewhat obscure in the US. The only exposure I've had to their music is through some UK "Best of the 80s" compilations, which included the singles "Lavender," "Kayleigh," and "Incommunicado." So this review may seem pretty basic to UK readers, but it also serves as an introduction to Marillion for US audiences.

Marillion's story begins in 1979, when five musicians from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England formed the group. Led by original lead singer "Fish" (aka Derick W. Dick), the band pursued a progressive rock sound, heavily influenced by such artists as Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Their biggest success came when they released their third album, 1985's Misplaced Childhood, which contained the aforementioned single "Kayleigh."


After Fish departed the band in 1988, the lineup added new lead vocalist Steve Hogarth, who remains with Marillion to the present day. Since then Marillion has fluctuated between a more pop-oriented sound and the avant garde, at times sounding like a cross between Radiohead and Coldplay. Interestingly they are considered pioneers of reaching fans via the Internet, selling their albums and singles themselves through the web.

In fact, they appealed directly to fans to help fund their 2001 release Anoraknophobia , as Marillion was unhappy with their label at the time. Due to 12,000 pre-orders for the album, the band was able to negotiate a deal with EMI to distribute the work, allowing them to retain ownership of their work without being in charge of distribution.

Their latest release, Less Is More, accurately describes the stripped-down approach; the album could have been titled Marillion Unplugged. Here the band has rearranged some previously released songs for an acoustic, intimate atmosphere. Not being familiar with many of the original tracks, I have to judge the songs based on these new versions. Standouts include "Interior Lulu," a haunting, lovely song made more melancholy by Hogarth's falsetto. Delicate cuts like "Out of This World" are tailor-made for headphones, as some of the subtle acoustic guitar and delicate piano chords could be overshadowed by large speakers. Steve Rothery's guitar is also prominently featured on "Wrapped Up in Time," mimicking Hogarth's voice as it glides over the melody.

Coldplay fans may enjoy tracks such as "Hard as Love," as its chord changes resemble some of the band's ballads. Hogarth's voice, particularly during the chorus, is reminiscent of Chris Martin's in terms of range and tone. Hogarth also evokes Thom Yorke on "If My Heart Were A Ball," which contains a catchy, shuffling beat that frames Hogarth's raspy vocals and Pete Trewavas's driving bass line.

A negative aspect of the all-"unplugged" approach is that the songs can lack variety, and Less Is More does suffer from this phenomenon. "The Space" and "It's Not Your Fault" sound very similar to tracks like "Wrapped Up in Time." But the group changes the tempo with the album's final hidden track, a shuffling tune that rocks surprisingly hard for an acoustic performance. Again, Trewavas's bass shines, as does Hogarth's made-for-rock voice. Marillion should have included more tracks like this one and "If My Heart Were A Ball" to vary the tempo and sound on the album.

Longtime Marillion fans will surely enjoy the acoustic rearrangements on Less Is More, while new fans will be intrigued by their hard-to-define sound. Coldplay and Radiohead aficionados in particularly should give Less Is More a listen, and the album may inspire fans to explore the rest of Marillion's vast catalog.

For more information, videos, and ordering, visit Marillion's official website.

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About Kit O'Toole

  • Kevin Gunning

    Hello Kit,

    Many thanks for your kind comment, and thanks to everyone else for their comments.

    Marillion are indeed unique, what with the funding of two of their albums by their fans, and regular conventions in England, Holland and Canada. They really do care about both the music and the people who spend time and money supporting them. I would suggest that anyone who is genuinely interested visit their website marillion.com and take a look. You can even download mp3 download samplers of their music!


  • Thank you, Kevin, and thanks to everyone else for all the comments. You’ve all taught me quite a bit about this unique band.

  • Kevin Gunning

    As a life-long Marillion fan, I am well acquainted with all of the tracks included on this album, with the exception of “It’s Not Your Fault”. This particulat song was written during the “Somewhere Else” sessions back in 2006, but is included for the first time here, which is a shrewd move by the band in my opinion, as any Marillion fan will want to buy “Less is More” purely for this ‘new’ song alone.

    Listening to the comments from the band themselves over the years, I can fully appreciate that the constraints of releasing an album on time, often means that a song is mixed when it is not ‘complete’ in the bands’ opinion. Marillion pride themselves on their artistic integrity, and certain songs are often revisited for improvement. This is certainly true of “Interior Lulu” and “Hard As Love”, both of which are radically different from their original versions on this album. “Lulu” loses half of it’s length, including the ELP keyboard solo which Mark Kelly hated so much, and the whole song takes on a completely different feel as a consequence.The bands’ dislike of the fifteen-minute original from 1999’s marillion.com, has limited the amount of times they have performed it live, something which I suspect will change in the future. “Hard As Love” taken from 1994’s “Brave”, moves the middle-eight from the original, and cleverly turns it into the chorus. The multi-layered vocal at the end of the song was a surprise, but the radical re-structuring of the track will I am sure, make it a ‘live’ favourite for many years to come.

    Marillion have never been afraid to experiment with their music, or indeed to allow others to re-interpret it, and albums such as “Remixamotosis”, “Baubles” and “Tales From The Engine Room” has provided plenty of opportunities to hear familiar songs completely re-worked. Tom Johnson is absolutely right to compare this release to 1999’s “Unplugged at The Walls”, where many recognisable Marillion songs were stripped-back and performed acoustically. That recording however, was an impromptu comcert played at a restaurant in Oswestry, and carried the vibe (and background noise) of a band and audience having a really good evening. The version of “The Space” first heard on that album is reprised here.

    “Less Is More” is the first official studio recording where the band have been able to play their instruments acoustically, although Marillion fans around the world have seen and heard ‘Los Trios Marillos’ (Steve Hogarth, Pete Trewavas and Steve Rothery)in concert, playing cut-down versions of their back-catalogue. This album nothing new, and just provides a further opportunity to listen to different versions of well-established songs.

    I would not view this particular album as a definitive example of the bands’ work, but stands on its’ own as a viable release nonetheless.

  • filltheweb

    Marillion are one of my favourite bands, I followed all of their steps and I agree with the choice of the 2 disc Marbles as first listen, but I would add also the last Happiness Is The Road. I’m listening to Less = More, and I find it a little boring, but also intriguing. Still I haven’t an opinion, but I definitely prefer the original versions at the moment.
    Just for the note, the untitled hidden track is Cannibal Surf Babe, from Afraid Of Sunlight, one of the less appreciated songs from the Marillion fans

  • Kit O’Toole

    Thanks again for commenting–I’ve learned even more about Marillion from all of you.

    @Christian: The 2 original versions may sound completely different from each other, but the acoustic arrangements make them sound very similar. Give these new versions a listen.

  • Christian

    “The Space”, a groovy track with jazzy feel, similar to the lullaby-like piano ballad “It’s Not Your Fault”? Come on, you can’t be serious. Please listen to the music you review here before you start writing.

  • I’m going to join everyone else (except Mark – you stay out of it, Saleski!) and highly recommend Marbles as a starting point. The two-disc version has so much to chew on you’ll be enjoying it for a very long time. And then immediately go for Afraid Of Sunlight.

    I just got my copy of Less Is More and I have to admit I’m more than a bit let down by this. They released a two-disc acoustic live album 10 years ago that was incredible (Unplugged At The Walls,) but this just doesn’t even come close. My reaction to Less Is More was, unfortunately, “Marillion got the yawns.” It’s just rather boring, unfortunately.

  • Paul Roy

    Yes, definitely check out Marbles, especially the two disk version. One of my favorite prog albums. All of there concert DVDs with Hogarth are excellent too.

  • Kit O’Toole

    Thanks for the additional comments. As I said, I wasn’t that familiar with Marillion, but this album was intriguing. I’ll check out earlier stuff, as you have suggested.

  • I’ll check out Marbles. I actually interviewed Hogarth shortly after they released their first album with him, Season’s End.

  • i. uh….

    never mind.


  • For those unfamiliar with latter day Marillion with Hogarth, I would point you toward the excellent album Marbles as a starting point. Great stuff.


  • I saw them on the Misplaced Childhood tour, way back in 1985. They were superb back then, in the ’80s. I haven’t followed them closely for years and what I have heard of their music over the past two decades, has been without the sizzle of their earlier material. They may have released great material, but I’ve heard mostly laid back, middle of the road sounds from them as of late. Still, I’d see them in a heartbeat and one of these days, I will buy up all the albums that I don’t currently own, to give them a fair chance.