Marillion have come a long way from their humble beginnings in the early ’80s, as a band once regarded as kind of a baby Genesis knockoff.
Back then, Marillion carved a very nice little niche for itself on albums like Script for a Jester’s Tear, as kind of a final refuge for older Genesis fans who mourned that bands transition from ’70s trailblazers to ’80s hitmakers. For just about anyone else, once the novelty of this sort of (albeit loving and flattering) imitation wore off – particularly after the departure of a charismatic, theatrically inclined lead vocalist like Marillion’s Fish – this would have spelled the end.
But then Marillion did something completely unexpected.
First, they completely reinvented themselves when they replaced Fish with Steve “H” Hogarth. Then – though somewhat quietly – they began building their own individual identity as artists, and as great musicians with their own uniquely original sound. At least one of the Marillion albums which followed – 2004’s Marbles – is today regarded by those in the know, and rightfully so, as a modern prog-rock classic.
To date, Marbles remains Marillion’s finest achievement as a band. But on their just released 17th album Sounds That Can’t Be Made, they come as close as they have yet to matching it. The artistic reach is certainly there – especially on this record’s more ambitious, and lengthy songs like “Gaza” and “Montreal.”
On both of these tracks, Marillion strive for the sort of epic, borderline cinematic feel that characterized so much of Marbles. They even manage to sneak in some geo-political commentary on “Gaza,” a tale told in surprisingly convincing fashion from the perspective of the Palestinian refugees living in that historically wartorn region.
The main problem here, is that for all of its mostly admirable musical sweep and ambition, the song still lacks that one memorable element that makes it stick with you afterwards the way that something like “Fantastic Place” or “You’re Gone” did on Marbles.
Even so, there is plenty to like about Sounds That Can’t Be Made. The band sounds as good as they ever have – particularly when this band’s criminally underrated guitarist Steve Rothery is given the opportunity to soar to the heights of Pink Floydian bliss that he frankly does better than just about anyone outside of David Gilmour himself.
Hogarth’s voice – especially when doing those oddly quavering falsetto bits that he does so well – can also be beautifully effective. This is most often true here, when the excesses are reigned in a bit, in favor of the more sharply defined songcraft displayed on the comparatively shorter songs like “Power” and “Lucky Man.”
Marillion have yet to match the grand sweep of their last truly great album Marbles. But this album represents a big step in the right direction, and serves as proof that those “sounds that can be made,” may be left in them just yet.