CD Review: Marillion – Sounds That Can't Be Made Special Edition

CD Review: Marillion – Sounds That Can't Be Made Special Edition
Eagle Rock Entertainment/earMusic
All Access Rating: A

Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made
Special Edition 2014
Marillion did its homework for "Gaza," the 17-minute epic opener to 2012's Sounds That Can't Be Made. Unafraid to tackle an issue as thorny as that of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, these old neo-progressives with their heads in the clouds got their hands dirty with this one.

Attempting to separate truth from fiction, they talked to everyone involved, from aid workers and actual refugees who live there to Israelis who are sick of the fighting, before penning their heartrending and nuanced musical tale of a boy growing up amid violence and poverty.

Alternating between moments of quiet beauty and scenes of unbearable tension and fear, "Gaza," introduced by the ominous sound of a helicopter in the distance, is quite possibly the crowning achievement of Marillion's post-Fish era. Exotic, sublime melodies and passages of calm are abruptly interrupted by exploding bombs of angry discord and noise, as Marillion illustrates the bleak hardships of life in the war-torn region. After such a cinematic tour de force, the rest of Sounds That Can't Be Made seems somewhat less ambitious in comparison, but how could it not?

Given that it couldn't possibly match the high drama and emotional weight of "Gaza," the rest of Sounds That Can't Be Made strives for more soulful and resonant expression on songs such as the stylish "Pour My Love," a watery "Power" that turns radiant, and, awash in strings, the soaring "The Sky Above the Rain," not to mention the gorgeously rendered title track, with its blissful pop sentiments and airy synthesizers. Richly appointed, with lush piano, mature lyrics, earnest vocals and clever guitar parts, this is Marillion leaving bombast and inscrutable artiness behind to moonlight in a dimly lit jazz club, winning over prog-rock purists with their well-crafted melodies, lush tones and understated dynamics. It's a stunning about-face for Marillion, and one that's deeply affecting.

Those comparisons to Genesis that have always followed Marillion make less sense these days, especially when taking account of the six bonus tracks padding this Special Edition of Sounds That Can't Be Made – mostly different versions of songs off the original record. Radio sessions for "Wrapped Up in Time," "Power" and "Pour My Love" are stark and intimate readings, comprised almost entirely of just piano and vocals – with just a touch of electric guitar occasionally emerging – and even more gripping than the originals.

The demo arrangement of "Lucky Man" is quiet and gentle, betraying a gospel influence but barely registering a pulse and taking far too long to gain momentum, while a life-affirming concert version of "Sounds That Can't Be Made" grows more expansive and hits all the right emotional notes, as does Marillion blindingly radiant live take on "Invisible Ink." Coldplay should be taking notes.

Although Marillion has always been able to conjure up a vast array of sounds that can be made, rarely have those pieces coalesced into such lustrous, and wholly accessible, shapes, evolving ever so slightly and building into more magnificent structures. This edition is truly special.
– Peter Lindblad

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