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Marillion are one of those bands who forever suffer from their history. When they first arrived in the public's awareness, it was in 1985 with a single from their third album Misplaced Childhod, called Kayleigh - a hit ballad that still regularly turns up on 80s compilations, and their then lead singer Fish was a larger-than-life Scot who is still thought of as Fish from Marillion, even though he actually left the band in 1988! Before Kayleigh, they had been saddled with a reputation for being a Scottish heavy metal band (despite being based in Aylesbury) who sang about goblins. This is what you get for one of your very early songs being a 19 minute epic called Grendel... However, the band did not, as many believed, split up when Fish left. The new boy, Steve Hogarth, has now been fronting the band in his own charismatic way for more than 20 years. Along the way they have pioneered exploiting the internet to directly plug into the fan base, managing to fund an American tour and three albums by fan subscription, and been one of the first bands to have an extensive online shop selling albums and merchandise showing that it IS possible for a band with a good fanbase to be a successful business! This has been essential for their survival, since they get precious little airplay due to the traditional boycott of that odd Scottish heavy metal goblin-loving prog band. However, we freaks know when we have a good thing, and whether a long-in-the-tooth fan like me or a next-generation newbie, Marillion fans are a faithful breed, and Marbles is one of the results of the relationship between band and fans.
On December 17th, 2002, an email was sent to everyone on the Marillion mailing list. In it, they explained their plans for their next album, particularly marketing ideas. The basic premise was that the fans would be able to pre-order the album, either a standard version or the deluxe campaign edition, and the money from that would go to pay for the publicity which they felt had been completely neglected with the previous album when it had been left to the distribution company. Anyone who decided to take part would have their name printed in the booklet. I can't find the exact numbers who signed up but it was somewhere in the region of 13,000 people! Eventually released in May 2004, the campaign edition (which is the version that I have) is a beautiful object in its own right - hardcover book in a slipcase, full of artwork by graphic designer Carl Glover (of Aleph Studios) who's been working with the band for several years, and also all of those names! It also contains the full 2 disc version of the album. The retail version, however, is the one that went to the shops and is a single disc in a normal jewel case, with a revised tracklist, which is:
The Invisible Man
Don't Hurt Yourself
The Invisible Man is a toughy - it's about a guy whose relationship has ended and he is portrayed as a ghost, unable to do anything to comfort or protect the one he loves anymore. The song builds constantly to a final outburst of frustration at this powerlessness. As a 'palette cleanser' you then have the first of the 'Marbles' interludes, a light patch before You're Gone, the single that made it to no7 in the singles charts on fan power alone, a heartfelt song again about the end of a relationship. Angelina is a chilled-out ode to a late-night DJ who keeps the guys happy, followed by part 2 of the Marbles saga. Another single, Don't Hurt Yourself, follows on with a very positive attitude encouraging the listener to move on from whatever situation they may be bogged down with and learn to move on, not torture yourself anymore - Steve Hogarth says that he wrote it as much for himself as anything else as he has a habit of dwelling on the bad things and beating himself up over his failures. Then comes one of the album's most emotive tracks, Fantastic Place - this has a great deal of personal meaning for me so it's hard to write about, but suffice to say that when it's performed live there are many tears shed by the audience and singer alike. It's about being away from all of life's problems, on that elusive island, where nothing can ever get in the way again. Marbles 3 picks us up again before we are accosted by Drilling Holes, an explosion in a paint shop of a song which is pure word play and great fun musically as well, a jolly good rock out and another one of my favourites from this album. Marbles 4 brings us down to Neverland, another emotional rollercoaster, and probably the best showcase for guitarist Steve Rothery on the album with his soaring solos beautifully complementing the Peter Pan inspired lyrics.
Personally I'd recommend the double CD version, it's still available from Marillion's own site:
I find it odd listening to Marbles without the extra four tracks as I've always had them! Genie is one of my favourites, it's a deceptive song, at first it seems quite light but it has the album's undercurrent of missed opportunities and temptations running just under the surface. The Only Unforgivable Thing is a curious song alluding to various forms of guilt, it has quite an ominous atmosphere to it. Ocean Cloud is a 20 minute tribute to the bravery of ocean rowers and their compulsion to battle the elements; and The Damage is Genie's partner piece where the temptations have won and regret is beginning to knock on the door.
The Invisible Man
The Only Unforgivable Thing
Don't Hurt Yourself
This for me is the definitive version, not just because of the inclusion of the other four tracks, but also because I feel that the running order works so much better. But whichever version you choose, the songs and production are excellent. This album is now 6 years old, but still sounds fresh to my ears even after playing it to death when it was first released. The Invisible Man, You're Gone, Fantastic Place and Neverland have since deservedly become live classics. Each of those songs is a journey into loss in a way, and coping with hopelessness; the four 'Marbles' interludes are a (slightly) light-hearted play on mind-marbles as well as physical glass ones; then Don't Hurt Yourself, Drilling Holes and Angelina are all each in their way uplifting. Drilling Holes is one of my favourite songs from the album, simply because it is quite mad and lyrically fun, although Neverland pips it for sheer soaring beauty and emotive power.
If you fancy finding out what Marillion sound like after all these years, or if you've never heard of them before at all, you can exchange your email address for a free sampler CD or download at http://www.marillion.com/listen/index.htm
I can guarantee that they will not spam you or sell your email on - I've been on their mailing list for years and never had a problem.
A great album by prog-rock giants Marillion and I think this is some of their best and most authentic work. A mix of song types from the long and epic to the pop-rock top ten hit 'You're Gone'. Definitely worth a listen.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Invisible Man
2 Marbles I
3 You're Gone
5 Marbles II
6 Don't Hurt Yourself
7 Fantastic Place
8 Marbles III
9 Drilling Holes
10 Marbles IV
12 You're Gone (Single Mix) (Bonus Track)