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Sounds That Can't Be Made was Marillion's 15th studio album, released in 2012. The Aylesbury-based veteran British progressive rock band have been around since the early 1980's, and despite the majority of people who remember the songs Kayleigh and Lavender believing that they split when original singer Fish left in 1988, they are still going strong with Steve Hogarth who took over from him!
Unfortunately for many years now they have not been a band loved by the radio stations, so they have always had to rely closely on their fanbase to keep them afloat, with little or no promotion. Marillion pioneered the use of the internet to harness fan-power, with the fans practically inventing the concept of crowd-funding, when an appeal was made for help to get the band over to the States in the late '90s. They have used the method of offering a pre-order for albums months in advance to fund either the album itself or the publicity for it. The benefit of taking part in these campaigns is getting your name in the credits (pages and pages of them!), and often a beautifully produced deluxe package. Sounds That Can't be Made is no exception. It features artwork and photography by several artists who have been professionally connected with the band, and in several cases also fans, for many years.
The band consists of Steve Hogarth on vocals, piano & percussion, Steve Rothery on lead guitar, Mark Kelly on keyboards and effects, Pete Trewavas on bass, and Ian Moseley on drums. Hogarth is also mostly responsible for the lyrics. If you've never given them a listen before, then this album may well be a good place to start as it has pretty much a cross-section through all of the musical styles that they've travelled through over the years.
I've been a fan on and off since my teens, back in the days of furtively listening to the Friday Rock Show until midnight, when Radio 1 actually used to shut down. I have been through phases where I'll admit to having been a bit obsessive! However in my middle-age I seem to be becoming a little more objective, and a little less fanatical. This album is the first of theirs to come out since I passed this milestone, and so the first that I hadn't felt the traditional necessity to love to its very last note just because it's them. In that light, here are my thoughts on the tracks.
Track 1: GAZA
Outstanding and powerful, both lyrically and musically, and a groundbreaking piece for the band. Most of the lyrics are derived from online conversations with young Palestinians, and speak of their day to day difficulties. It is a hugely thought-provoking piece. It doesn't seek to take sides, just to highlight the collateral damage of the conflict. In the liner notes there is an explanatory statement, and also details of a charity which provides, through the arts and music, the facilities for Palestinian kids to play, learn and express themselves. It's a long song, over seventeen minutes, and the music has a very middle-eastern feel, but is also quite heavy in places. If they did a few more of this type of 'feel' of songs it would be quite an eye opener, maybe even for themselves... Opening with this track may have been an unwise move as it tends to leave the rest of the album with some big boots to fill.
Track 2: SOUNDS THAT CAN'T BE MADE
After Gaza, the opening of this song is a bit of a let-down. The mood is lifted too quickly, and almost makes it sound cheesy. It's basically a sweet AOR love song, which bounces along nicely. The lyrics are very simple in that they're part-repeated in each verse with modifications. It's a nice song, and cheery.
Track 3: POUR MY LOVE
I really disliked this song when I first heard it, but I persevered. Initial impression was Dad-rock cutesy song about flowers and love. Actually, it's about loss, recovery and dedication, and it has a mid-section that rocks out a bit in a good way. But the main musical theme does give away their late middle-age a bit, carpet slippers time! The lyrics are by John Helmer, who has contributed work to the band occasionally for many years.
Track 4: POWER
Back to form with this heavier number, a look at misplaced perceptions of power that someone held, and how that has now been exposed and undermined. The music perfectly moves with the lyrics, quieter in the contemplative verses, loud and strong in the declarations of the choruses. A great song, with more than a hint of revenge about it...
Track 5: MONTREAL
This is the divisive one amongst the fans. The other 'long song' (just over fourteen minutes), but in this case it is a section of Steve Hogarth's tour diary set to music. The music is fine - in fact it's a bit of a prog-fest, with some lovely passages of melody and syncopation. It sounds as though they were enjoying themselves a lot with the accompaniment! The lyrics though...if you imagine randomly singing a few diary entries over a backing track, that's pretty much the impression it gives. Montreal is a very special city to the band, and they are much beloved by the city. This song is special to them, so I think I'll leave it at that!
Track 6: INVISIBLE INK
A quiet start to a song about trying to overcome fear held by a loved one. When it gets going, it's a wistful pop-rock song, with a pretty, harmonised melody and often fragile vocals. The lyrics are repeated quite a lot, but I enjoy the guitar-driven tune so it doesn't bother me that much.
Track 7: LUCKY MAN
A straight-ahead rock song, complete with several classic rawk riffs, beautifully constructed and a very strong, if 'conventional' composition. It has concert-closer written all over it, definitely one to go out with a bang and a good sing-along. It does bear more than a passing resemblance to an earlier song of theirs, The Damage from the Marbles album, in fact this could be the redemption to the previous song's fall. Be warned though - this track stops quite suddenly....
Track 8: THE SKY ABOVE THE RAIN
After the life-affirming rock-out of Lucky Man, a song to bring you straight back down to earth. Here is a theme that many will recognise: the stage in a long-term relationship where communications start to break down; one is in denial, but things have changed big time. The lyrics speak of wishing to get back, away from the anger, to when things were right. The title refers to that place (and the lyrics, eg "the rain's below us"). Musically, the melody and arrangements fit the words perfectly, amplifying the emotion of the song, particularly Steve Rothery's soaring guitar solo during the end section. The song ends as it begins, with a simple succession of piano chords, gentle bookends to a heartfelt track.
My overall impression of the album is that it's never really inspired me to hit repeat as soon as it's finished, although it's a decent enough composition overall! There may be one or two that aren't as strong as they might be, but really on the whole it's a good album - not outstanding, not one of my top three of theirs, but a good listen. It's still in the process of growing on me, even after this length of time, and listening to it several times for this review may even have brought us closer. If you enjoy melodic rock music with a slightly progressive flavour, then this may well float your boat.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Sounds That Can't Be Made
3 Pour My Love
6 Invisible Ink
7 Lucky Man
8 The Sky Above The Rain