Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Marillion From A Swedebeast's Point Of View

Marillion - This Strange Engine

By the time Marillion released ‘This Strange Engine’ I had stepped away from them completely. Sure, I saw ads here and there for the album but sadly my interest in these amazing guys was gone. It probably took 8 long years before I listened to it and duly kicked myself – again – for my stupidity, because it is really good. It might not hit the heights of other Marillion albums, but it is very good nonetheless. And the song ‘Estonia’ alone is worth it’s weight in gold, but more on that later. We all change through the years, whether we like it or not, so who knows what my reaction to ‘This Strange Engine’ would have been back then if I had given it a shot. Of course, we will never know, however I really like this wax a lot nowadays. And that’s what matters, right?

There’s a big acoustic guitar influence on opener ‘Man Of A Thousand Faces’ helping the song to keep a dreamy vibe to it. You know, it feels lofty and soaring and kind of relaxing. Backed smoothly by Messieurs Kelly, Trewavas and Mosley, Rothery’s acoustical prowess is beautiful, while Hogarth guides us through the time of Man, basically. He shows there’s a common thread that runs through centuries and cultures which really doesn’t differ, and subsequently hasn’t changed much through the years. ‘One Fine Day’ is slightly more electric in approach but it is sad and mournful dealing with regret and missed opportunities due to wishing your life away. Instead of jumping on a chance, you let everything slip by and suddenly it’s too late to do anything. ‘Eighty Days’ is a more upbeat composition. It is still heavy on the acoustic guitar but being a homage to the band’s supporters who travels far and wide under all kinds of circumstances to attend their shows. Not only that though, it speaks of the dullness of being on the road, how mind-numbing it can be. But come stage time seeing all those happy, excited faces in the crowd blows away every ounce of tediousness. ‘Estonia’ is one of the most powerful and emotional songs I’ve heard from any band ever. It’s a haunting, yet beautiful song composed in memory of the 852 passengers who tragically perished when the ferry, MS Estonia, sank in the Baltic Sea on route from Tallinn, Estonia, to Stockholm Sweden, September 28th 1994. The interaction between especially Rothery and Kelly brings out the nautical aspects amazingly well. This adds to the heart-break you feel throughout as Hogarth churns out the horrors the passengers must have felt. At the same time it feels like the band offers some kind of solace because these people will never be forgotten.

Very sparse musically, ‘Memory Of Water’ is sombre and lamenting. It could be about someone who is about to leave his/hers earthly existence reflecting back on what has been, if things back home are still the same or if changes has occurred. It could also be about mankind and what has happened to it through the years. Regardless, this is a beautiful bleak song. Released back in 1997, the song ‘An Accidental Man’ couldn’t be more poignant and on point. The heaviest song on ‘This Strange Engine’, it builds up gradually which adds to the anger felt in the lyrics. And speaking of which, the words penned are so up-to-date dealing with people who are duped and shaped into thinking and acting a certain way. The frustration and anger comes out as the protagonist realizes what he’s been through, but by then it’s all too late. Call it sheep-mentality, if you will, but this joint Hogarth/Helmer effort could be taken straight from 2018, where governments and media wants to shape everyone into robots basically. You can’t have a Marillion album without a curveball or an odd one out, so to speak. ‘Hope For The Future’ is definitely this coming on strong with a blend of calypso, rock and a ton of fun! It probably confused supporters upon it’s release but works perfectly in breaking the mold, allowing everyone involved a moment to breathe, recuperate and have fun. The fantastic title track ends this affair and it covers all the emotions and feelings there is during the 30:24 it lasts. Written about giving up on your dreams to provide for and protect your young family, it is intertwined with a child’s memory of seeing your parent doing this. Almost 4 minutes in the music kicks in with a heavy riff from Rothery and the band cuts corners before slowing down again, hence the great display of emotions and feelings. The long play time is only available on the European version is a trick as it actual ends at 15.34, but make it through 15 minutes of silence and you’ll be treated to a surprise. I won’t tell you what it is but, dear wave rider, if you’re a Marillion supporter you’ll love it.

‘This Strange Engine’ was a first for the band. The ties with EMI had been cut and in came Castle, which probably wasn’t the wisest move at first. At least not in a mainstream point of view. Creatively it was a deft move because it is so easy to hear the freedom in the music. A big part of the followers were positive and it sold decently. In hindsight it also sowed the seeds to the extremely tight knit relationship Marillion formed with their supporters which has been so helpful on future adventures. To tie back to an earlier statement, I don’t know how I would have reacted to this release had I listened to it back then. All I know is I really like it, probably a lot more than I would have back in 1997.


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