CD Review: Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made

CD Review: Marillion - Sounds That Can’t Be Made
Eagle Rock Entertainment/earMusic (Edel)
All Access Review: A-
Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made 2012
Trapped in a war-torn land with little reason to expect a lasting peace anytime soon, the people of Gaza have endured unimaginable tragedy and hardship, and a song – no matter how idealistic – isn’t likely to change their horrible circumstances. Having seen up close what they’ve been through in visits to refugee camps in the region and talking to those hardest hit by the violence on both sides, Steve Hogarth has responded by writing a provocative and moving testimonial of their plight in “Gaza,” the widescreen, richly textured opener to Marillion’s lushly melodic and deeply soulful 17th album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made. He figures to get an earful from Israeli sympathizers, no matter how noble his intentions.
Attempting to head off a vitriolic sand storm of criticism that’s sure to come his way, Hogarth writes a disclaimer in the liner notes to the LP, stating, “It was not my/our intention to smear the Jewish faith or people,” and adding “ … nothing here is intended to show sympathy for acts of violence, whatever the motivation.” Motivated purely by a desire for a resolution that will halt the senseless cycles of destruction and devastation in the region, Hogarth doesn’t assign blame in “Gaza,” even if militaristic elements may find the “Gaza” lyric “ … peace won’t come from standing on our necks” a direct attack on their policies of aggression. Ultimately, though, “Gaza” is really a distress call, ending with the jarring plea, “someday someone must surely help us …” Nobody is sending the cavalry just yet.
Overshadowing all that comes after it, the 17:30 “Gaza” perfectly captures – in exquisitely descriptive language – the mystery, the desperate mood and the bruised spirit of a place Westerners know so little about. In an attempt to demystify this part of the world and its conflicts, “Gaza” speaks in relatable and personal terms of lost innocence and quiet resignation, while also talking of death and destruction on both a massive and intimate level. Reminiscent of Genesis, though more global in its thinking, “Gaza” is art rock spread across a massive canvas and painted in sumptuous colors. This labyrinthine citadel of angry dissonance and menacing danger, of exotic Middle Eastern sounds and luxurious production, and undying optimism is not only ambitious in scope, but it’s also purposeful and full of humanity, its myriad perspectives and tense scenes expressed in movements as different from one another as the fighting factions themselves.
Where outbursts of noisy, scratching guitar shatter any sense of calm, passages of breathtaking beauty are sure to follow, as marching, indignant declarations of crimes against humanity are transformed by sweeping strings and piano as lonely as a lost Bedouin tribe, as beautiful supplications are carried on hopeful synthesizers and flights of Steve Rothary’s finessed guitar soar into the cool desert night amid somber reflections. And it’s all interconnected in a puzzle-like arrangement that defies logic. Maybe it won’t affect policy, but “Gaza” does give voice – and an eloquent one at that – to the fearful and the scarred, who often suffer in silence as bombs drown out their pleas for an end to war. At the very least, Hogarth is sincerely affected by the situation and doing his part to rectify it.
If the stylish Sounds That Can’t Be Made, one of the warmest and most inviting records of their career, ended then and there, Marillion could walk away satisfied, but the band that spearheaded the neo-progressive movement in the U.K. in the early 1980s is only just beginning its journey. Next stop, the realm of British dream pop, inhabited by the likes of Elbow and Doves, who have clearly influenced the direction of the incandescent, life-affirming title track, the touching closer “The Sky Above the Rain” and the majestic “Power.” Intoxicatingly soulful and jazzy, “Pour My Love” is a sophisticated snifter of sonic brandy that should be savored, while the travelogue “Montreal,” a meditation on distance, and all its clever little melodic twists is 13:58 of nostalgic longing, exhaustion and ennui. All of it, however, pales in comparison to the truly affecting and uplifting “Invisible Ink,” with its radiant flash pot of a chorus and its twinkling melody – it’s as lovely a song as Marillion have ever constructed, even if it does fly a bit too closely to the sun of Doves' "Pounding."
So, as Fish does his thing, his former band slips ever so gently into a phase of life diagnosed as “adult contemporary,” and Sounds That Can’t Be Made is a remarkably quiet, subdued affair, with the exception of “Gaza” and its brief eruptions of King Crimson heaviness and harsh thrashing. Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking that Marillion has lost the ability to keep things interesting. With their hearts in the right place and their collective intellect as curious and impassioned as ever, Marillion will keep hunting for those sounds that allegedly cannot be made, and someday they may just find them.

-            Peter Lindblad

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