When I was in high school, one of the bands I listened to a lot was Marillion. In fact, the first song I listened by them was Lavender, and I spent days trying to get all the other material the band had done. After Fish left, I lost interest in the band and had only a passing knowledge of what the band did. Then I got their latest double album live release, Made Again, which focuses on work from their four most recent releases, including a live version of the entire Brave album on disc two. As I listened to this album, I found myself really flipping for the live recording of Brave, and I went out and checked the studio work with Steve Hogarth on vocals. While I liked some of the previous efforts by Hogarth, I thought that the Brave record is one of the best efforts by Marillion, regardless of whether or not Fish is on the vocals.
The album as a whole features some brilliant guitar solos and rhythm work by Steve Rothery and the vocals by Hogarth are really good. As I listened to the albums more and more, I found the vocals growing on me. I think he does a great job on the old stuff, and even though he's stylistically different than Fish, it all works out very well. Production wise, I thought that Hogarth's vocals were crisp and clear and I think this is great when most studio records today have buried vocals. I thought the keyboards (Mark Kelly) were a bit low in the mix (particularly on disc one), but the rhythm section (Pete Trewavas on bass and Ian Mosley on drums) was really strong complementing the guitar and vocals well. The performances are all really tight and the electronise noises, the pitch-shifting-like effect at the end of King in disc one, are really really cool. This album made me a believer in Marillion with Hogarth, and if you were a skeptic like me, I highly recommend this release.
Marillion is a band that toes the line between various genres, from top 40 to progressive rock, and it's really hard to pin down exactly where they belong. While this is a disadvantage from a marketing perspective, it does help if you're looking for music that is out of the ordinary. After fifteen years, the band is still going strong, while keeping their sound fresh and innovative. This Strange Engine combines everything that one associates with Marillion (complex arrangements and deep lyrics), with a few twists and turns here and there (primarily in the form of acoustic guitars). Vocalist Steve Hogarth fits in very well with the subtle guitar work of Steve Rothery and the ambient keyboard of Mark Kelly. The lyrical work is some of the best I've seen by Marillion. The production is impeccable. The guitar work in the title track and Man of a Thousand Faces alone make this release worth getting. Highly recommended, especially if you're a progessive rock fan.
Marillion take on a harder and noisier edge with Radiation. The first track, Under the Sun opens with noisy vocal processing (Steve Hogarth) which gives away to a funky rhythm laced with some great organ work (courtesy of Mark Kelly). The second track The Answering Machine once again features a non-standard rhythm and the electronic noise completely dominates the texture and feel of this piece. The songs then become more intricate and taken on a slower tempo. Throughout the album, the keyboard is rich and loud in the present and the guitar work is choppy and truncated, both of which make for a great combination. The production is excellent---it's not immediately obvious to me how much analog electronics are being used, if any, and this is A Good Thing. The bonus tracks, an acoustic studio version of Estonia and a techno-noise version mix of Memory of Water are nice additions to this album. Once again, this album does represent a departure from anything Marillion has done in the past and it's quite amazing that the band has managed to elude stagnation and constantly keeps evolving.