Marillion – Sounds That Can’t Be Made

There are few things that get Gary Page as excited as a new Marillion album. Here’s his review of their latest offering:

If you asked me at school about the British rock band Marillion, I could probably tell you three things; 1) They were named after a J.R.R. Tolkien book, 2) They were fronted by a six-foot-five, balding Scotsman who went by the moniker of ‘Fish’ and 3) I didn’t like them.

That changed however when I chanced upon a 1991 edition of the British music programme The Chart Show. There was a video by Marillion on my TV, but I didn’t recognise the singer and I rather liked the sound of their power pop/rock. It took me a few days of pre internet investigation, but I succeeded in finding out that Fish had left the band in a huff three years previously and was replaced by an ex-New Romantic called Steve Hogarth. To cut a long story short, 21 years down the line the Hogarth-fronted Marillion have just released their 12th album of new music called Sounds That Can’t Be Made.

Before I dissect their new offering, it would be amiss of me not to mention how Marillion operate within the music business. In a nutshell Marillion harnessed the Internet in the late 90s to offer fans the option of purchasing their as yet unrecorded album. The feedback was overwhelming and this revolutionised how the band released subsequent albums. Not only did it dissolve any need for a record company, it pretty much paved the way for the current trend of pledge music sites that have been used successfully by Something You Said’s chums Giant Drag and more recently, and with great fanfare, songstress Amanda Palmer and Ben Folds Five.

Sounds That Can’t Be Made opens with Gaza, a 17-minute piece of music that grabs you by the collar and drags you through the emotional ringer. For a song of this length you would expect major shifts in style throughout and you would be right. The musical tone leads the listener through a gamut of emotions and has provoked a minor furore in Marillion fan circles regarding Steve Hogarth’s lyrical content, as many have criticised the seemingly overtly political nature of the song. Delve more closely and you realise that it aims to portray a Palestinian child’s life within the refugee camps of Gaza.

A handful of American fans have branded the song anti-Israeli, however it is delivered with conviction, passion and an even-handed take on the sorry saga that is Gaza. As with many other subject-matters, it can be too easy to turn away with fear of appearing uncool, I am guessing Marillion have given up being invited to sit at the cool table of rock. After such a heavyweight opening, the next couple of offerings prove that Marillion are still adept at more accessible and instant songs. The title track and Pour My Love are awash with Mark Kelly synths that could fit snugly onto an M83 album.

Sounds That Can’t Be Made is not a faultless record by any means. Montreal has a lovely sentiment about how the people of the Canadian city embraced the band, but converting a diary entry into lyrics doesn’t quite work. Lucky Man is also not quite up to the level of the rest of the album, but is still an enjoyable Abbey Road-era Beatles romp that will probably sound great live. Which leaves the last two songs: Invisible Ink and Sky Above The Rain. They encapsulate what Marillion do best and why many people still care dearly about the band. Sky Above The Rain in particular is dripping with emotion, has a heavy underlying current of sadness but ends with a sense of hope. “Trying to see the blue sky above the rain”

Tackling the subject of a couple who still love each other but are no longer physically attracted to each other is quite a bold theme to close the record. This is however a grown-up album, with grown-up themes and is littered with subject matter bands of the more mature years should be addressing. The simple piano motif that runs through the song is a very close relative to Elbow’s Lippy Kids. As always it’s the Hogarth voice that shines. Pitched between Rufus Wainwright and Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis, it is an extrordinarily emotive instrument in its own right.

There are elements to Sounds That Can’t Be Made that will appeal to fans of Muse, Elbow and Keane who will find this album not a million miles away from their heroes. Meanwhile, anyone who has followed Marillion closely for the past 21 years will hear that Sounds That Can’t Be Made is another addition to an outstanding canon of work.


Review by Gary Page