For those unfamiliar, Marillion is a band that happened across the “new wave of British heavy metal” (or NWOBHM) scene in the mid-’80s. What made Marillion stand out from the rest of that pack was that they were in fact not a heavy metal band at all, but rather a prog-rock band, and a damned good one at that.
Albeit a latecomer to the prog-rock wars, Marillion’s music was nonetheless much in the tradition of ’70s prog-rock bands like Yes, and particularly Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, whom they were quite often likened to. Which means that there were lots of synthesizers and Mellotrons, and that the singer dressed up in a lot of goofy-looking costumes.
But this was no accident. At the time led by a theatrically inclined vocalist who called himself Fish, Marillion indeed seemed to quite purposely fashion themselves after Genesis. On albums like Script For A Jester’s Tear and Misplaced Childhood, which yielded the band their only American hit in the song “Kayleigh,” Marillion seemed to take their cues straight from the Genesis playbook.
It was great stuff for those who had nostalgic yearnings for ’70s prog-rock, but at least in America it was soon enough forgotten once Fish left the band.
Not so in Europe. In fact, not only did Marillion soldier on, they also gained something of a new life. They also developed their own unique and distinct identity with the addition of new vocalist Steve Hogarth on albums like Anoraknophobia and especially on the quite brilliant 2004 concept album Marbles. The fact is Marillion remained as hot as ever on the other side of the pond.
For my own part, I rediscovered the band last year and found myself quite amazed at how much different they sounded from the Genesis wannabes I remembered from the ’80s. The Marillion of today sound absolutely nothing like the band of the Fish years, and with Hogarth have in fact come into their own quite nicely. The guys have always been great musicians — particularly guitarist Steve Rothery who rather effortlessly treads the line between Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Genesis’ Steve Hackett.
In fact, with the addition of Hogarth they seem to have found that one missing piece that now makes them complete as a band with a unique identity of its own. As a frontman, Hogarth is every bit as dramatic as Fish once was, but is also engaging and personal in a way that Fish could never begin to approach. As complex as much of this music remains, with Hogarth at the helm, the connection with the audience that this band previously lacked is an effortless one. All of the pretensions just fall away.
For the uninitiated, Somewhere In London is just about as good of an introduction to the music of the present day Marillion as one could hope for. Filmed on tour behind last year’s Somewhere Else album, the setlist covers not only that release, but contains generous portions of albums like the unrecognized (at least in America) prog-rock classic Marbles.
For Marillion purists who already own the Marbles On The Road DVD, this is nonetheless quite essential stuff. The camera work here doesn’t feel nearly as forced, and the overall feel of the performance comes off a whole lot warmer.
Besides, in addition to letter perfect versions of the Marbles tracks like “You’re Gone,” “Neverland,” and “Fantastic Place,” you get the live versions of songs from Somewhere Else like “The Wound,” which features particularly tasty guitar work from Rothery. On the second disc you also get the rarely heard epic “Ocean Cloud” which is worth the price of admission in and of itself.
As is the case with modern day prog-rock bands like Porcupine Tree, it’s a shame that the market for this type of stuff seems to have all but dried up in America. But for those in the know, this DVD is just about as good as it gets.