December 7, 2012

Friday Review: Sounds That Can’t Be Made

I’ve mentioned more than once that 2012 has been an exceptional year for new music in the prog world, with stunning releases from Rush and 3rDegree, among others. Even now, in December, I’ve got a fresh stack of discs that includes 2012 releases from Anglagard, Aranis, Big Big Train, and Mahogany Frog. It’s been a good year. However, it was inevitable that a much anticipated release would come down the pike that didn’t live up to that high standard.

But it sucks that that inevitability was the new Marillion album.

Don’t get me wrong – Sounds That Can’t Be Made is a pretty good record. Admittedly, I’m a fanboy, so even bad Marillion album (I’m looking at you, Holidays in Eden) ranks pretty high compared to the rest of the world. But it’s not amongst their best work and, in 2012, that means it’s pretty far down the table.

The title track is a pretty good example of why the album isn’t doing much for me. It isn’t until about 2/3rds of the way in (the “aurora borealis” section) that it really kicks from “meh” to interesting. But by that point, you’re not really engaged with the song anymore. Most of the tracks on the album have moments of brilliance, but they’re buried in puddles of mediocrity. That’s particularly true of the two epics, “Gaza” and “Montreal,” in which the connective material between sections just doesn’t hold up.

In fact, it’s the shorter tracks that come closest to success. “Power,” which was one of two tracks debuted during the band’s US tour this past summer, works pretty well, as does “Invisible Ink.” Neither of them are fantastic, but they’re both solid. Similarly, closer “The Sky Above the Rain” builds organically to a lovely conclusion, although it takes its sweet time getting there.

“Gaza,” as you might imagine from the title, has been the controversial song off the album amongst the fan base. Personally, I think Hogarth’s position that it’s a humanitarian song, not a political one, gets it right. It’s not really about the geopolitical situation, it’s about the realities of life on the ground. In that way, it’s a bit like “Easter,” which he once introduced as being dedicated to “everybody in the world caught up in a war in which they want no part.” Given that, I wish the lyrics were better and a little less on the nose. Were it a five-minute tune, that’s one thing. Over an old-fashioned album side, it quickly becomes a bludgeoning.

I generally classify songs on an album as falling into one of three categories. First, there’s the standout tracks, the ones that make you reach for the CD and put it on in the first place. Second, there’s those tracks that are good, but not great, and don’t demand to be heard, but if you’re putting the album on anyway, what the hell. They’re average and ordinary. Finally, there’s the tracks that get skipped more times than not. Sadly, none of the tracks on Sounds That Can’t Be Made fall into the first category. None of them fall into the last one either, thankfully, but if there are two words I don’t associate with Marillion it’s “average” or “oridinary.”

Sounds That Can't Be Made, by Marillion
Released 2012

1. Gaza (17:31)
2. Sounds That Can't Be Made (7:11)
3. Pour My Love (5:59)
4. Power (6:07)
5. Montreal (14:00)
6. Invisible Ink (5:44)
7. Lucky Man (6:54)
8. The Sky Above The Rain (10:34)

Steve Hogarth (vocals, keys, percussion)
Mark Kelly )keyboards)
Pete Trewavas (bass, backing vocals)
Steve Rothery (guitars)
Ian Mosley (drums)

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