Next month sees the retail release of the full (and therefore proper) edition of Marillion's 13th studio album, Marbles. It was conceived at the outset as a double album over discs, but for reasons logistical and economical, the retail sector only got a single-disc edited release, and the full-fat version was only available through the band's own website.
It is indeed a great album, and the editing out of four of the more complex songs for the retail market subtracted greatly from its quality when it hit the shelves in 2004. You could argue that the band, now self-financing and wholly independent of record companies, needed a volume of sales that a double album would be unlikely to yield. Nevertheless, the bulk of its customers missed out on some of the best music the band had written in a decade, and it's hard to imagine this release being sought out by too many more customers - the hardcore fans will have bought the website version, and the occasional fans probably won't buy the same album again with four more songs. Coupled with these factors is the remarkable decline in record shops and their stock over the last ten years, but that's another story.
Marillion pulled out all the remaining stops for this album, and artistically, it certainly paid off. The previous album, Anoraknophobia (2001), was a portent sign that the band, after 20-odd years, were running out of ideas. The decision to break away from mainstream record companies and run the band as a cottage industry made good financial sense, but seemingly left them short on impetus. The three-year gap in albums that followed was at that point, the longest that Marillion fans had waited for new material. But the time spent on Marbles paid off, and the album featured all the hallmarks of their classic work.