Sunday, 10 November 2013

Lasting Impact: Marillion - This Strange Engine.





I might have talked about before how this one particular VHS influenced my musical appreciation, it was a Kerrang Heavy Metal Kompilation. On it were such heavy metal luminaries as Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Armoured saint and... uhhh... Marillion. Yes Marillion, the progressive luminaries who started out as pretty much like a Genesis tribute band. The song by them that was on this video was a wonderful ode to paranoia called 'He Knows You Know'. Which is a very unusually short and commercial song by them, especially considering that it was when Fish(nee Derek William Dick) leading them. I, of course wasn't to know that he had quit and had been replaced when I came across a CD called 'This Strange Engine', which was being sold in my home towns shop. This was in 1997. I was expecting some rather heavy progressive heavy metal album only due to that song I had heard from Kerrang!

So I was just a little bit shocked when the first song was more of an epic sing-a-long song, 'Man of A Thousands Faces'! With acoustic guitars, piano's, choirs, EPIC CHORUSES! Loved it immediately, but by the goodness of the Metal Gods this was too much lack of metal, but I stuck with it. Then the next one is a bit of AOR pop, 'One Fine Day', still my favourite song of the album, but by Joe it's not metal. The lyrics as always from Marillion are great, this one ponders on our longing just for that one fine day to appear while we work and work and work, hoping that it will all be better when we retire. In the meantime the rain just keeps on pouring, but then when it all does turn out for the best we still don't want to believe it. Cue a rather nifty guitar solo from Steve Rothery.

Now there's a guitar player who hasn't received the accolades and attention he really truly deserves, bit like Andreas Kisser of Sepultura. His way of playing is rather understated, but full of melody. He seems to go for the less is more approach and never overstays his welcome, but he always adds to the music. Though you'd hardly notice him there when he's there, the hole would be greatly felt if he left.  The songs 'One Fine Day', 'Estonia' and '80 Days' show just how good he is.

The other highlight is of course Steve Hogarth, the man who replaced Fish. He's got a much warmer and melodious singing voice than Fish. Suppose the only thing he hasn't got that Fish did was a rather brilliant word play in the lyrics. But Steve doesn't need to pun his songs, he just writes great stories in lyrical form which on the whole is more interesting than punning. Steve has now been with Marillion for longer then Fish, and released more albums. And although I do like the the Fish Era albums, I still prefer Hogarth's period. For example on the song 'Memory of Water', where Steve has to carry the tune pretty much on his own, I doubt that Fish could have done the same thing.

Now finally after such a long wait, finally we have a metal song! In the guise of 'An Accidental Man' though to be fair it's not really. It's the hardest song on the album and would qualify as a hard rock song, but heavy metal? Maybe in the 70's possibly in the 80's.

What is probably most evident from this album is that there's a strong focus on making songs that the audience can sing along to. But unfortunately that sort of fails a little bit with 'Hope for the Future', it's not a particularly bad song. It just pales a lot in comparison to the rest. It does have some great up lifting lyrics like the rest(bar Memory of Water and This Strange Engine), but on the whole it is probably the only song that can be truly called ordinary(take that Allmusic) on here.

The pinnacle of the album though is the title song, which is an ode to all of those 70's prog rock bands. It goes through nearly all the emotions you can go through. Mark Kelly can finally take centre stage with some great Rick Wakeman-like keyboard flourishes and solo's, Rothery goes ballistic going through his guitar pedals and changing the guitar tone several times, Hogarth goes all falsetto on us, Ian Mosley and Pete Trewavas do all they can to keep up, hold up and show up wherever and whenever they can! There's the expectation that this will all crumble any minute, but the song finishes just as it all should but doesn't. After 15 minutes.



To be honest I was a little shocked at the time when I listened to the album, I was not that enchanted back then, besides Man of a Thousand Faces and One Fine Day, I could just leave the rest. But it kept on coming back, the album that is. And as I've grown older I've started appreciating it more and more. So this blog is written with my 30 year old ears, but using the memories of my 14 year old self.

The love of prog sort of seems to stem from this album. It is not my favourite by Marillion, no that would be Anoraknophobia. The to be honest as well the prog scene is a minefield to walk through, especially when your standard is the song and not the instrument-masturbation-ship. Which is were Marillion is king, the manage to make proggy songs, but without draining your interest in the song itself.
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