(Sanctuary / Impact)

MARILLION: Anoraknophobia (Sanctuary / Impact)I have to admit--after the group's first lead vocalist, Fish (real name: Derek Dick), left the band in 1988, I'd pretty much given up on Marillion. His replacement, Steve ('H') Hogarth, seemed like little more than a Steve Perry clone, and to these ears, that was not a good thing. They redeemed themselves somewhat with the Brave album, but it still didn't compare to the pre-'H' material. When the group's new CD arrived here at the offices of The Night Owl, I had no idea of the degree of greatness that I was in for.

Before I go any further, I'd like to share something with you. The CD's press release issued the following challenge:

"This is an important and contemporary album that is light years removed from anything the band have created in their past. It deserves to be reviewed in a manner that is both accurate and fair. So, our challenge to you is to firstly listen to the album. Then write a review without using any of the following words:

'progressive rock,' 'Genesis,' 'Fish,' 'heavy metal,' 'dinosaurs,' 'predictable,' 'concept album'

Because if you do, we'll know that you haven't listened to it."

Well, I've already mentioned Fish, so it looks like I failed the challenge before I even got started. I have to agree with the first sentence of the challenge though. This is the best thing Marillion has done since Fish left the group. Damn - there I go again!

Before we get to the music, I want to give you a little bit of background on Anoraknophobia. About a year ago, in an unprecedented move for an established band, the members of Marillion asked the fans to pay in advance for the new album--in essence, financing the recording of the CD. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, with over 12,000 pre-paid orders in just three weeks from around the world. This wasn't the first time that the band did something like this, however. Keyboardist Mark Kelly contacted subscribers to the band's mailing list on the web to let them know that they were not able to financially justify a North American tour. In a true testament to the loyalty of their fans, the voluntary and immediate response raised over $60,000, enabling the band to make the trip. How cool is that?

OK, let's talk about the music. That's what you're reading this for, right? The CD starts with the rocker, "Between You and Me." After a piano intro, the song kicks into high gear with a U2-like guitar riff. This is one of those songs that sound familiar the first time you hear it. Toward the end of the song, Steve Rothery turns in a tastefully understated guitar solo to bring the tune to a close. Up next is the first surprise on the disc and one of the most contemporary songs they've ever recorded, "Quartz." I never thought I'd be writing about a Marillion tune with a groove, but here it is in all its glory. Pete Trewavas' bass line on the song is particularly cool. After some dissonant guitar work and a bit of almost-rap vocals from 'H,' they go into one of the few trademark Marillion chord progressions on the CD. From there, it's back into dissonance and the final chorus. Awesome tune.

The next song, "Map of the World" baffles the hell out of me. This is one of the lamest tunes I've ever heard. After a killer piece of music like "Quartz," you'll be wondering if this is the same band when you hear this song. It has a nice bridge & guitar solo; but aside from that, it's just lame. Thankfully, it's also the shortest track on the disc. "When I Meet God" starts as a nice, inoffensive ballad. About halfway through, things shift to a minor key and the song takes on a Floyd like feel. Wait a minute… what's this? Another groove? Sure enough. "The Fruit of the Wild Rose" starts off with a low-key groove, sounding almost like Dada. Rothery's acoustic guitar really makes the song stand out, giving it an almost Delta blues quality. Very cool.

"Separated Out" is the first song that really rocks out. There are other spots on the album where the opportunity to jam is there, but they don't capitalize on it. There's something to be said for musical restraint, and the band puts it to good use, going for tasteful solos where they're needed instead of the excessive noodling heard on so many 'progressive rock' (damn - there's another one of those phrases I'm not supposed to use!) albums. At 11:05, "This is the 21st Century" is a bit excessive. The last 3 minutes are the best part of the song. This brings us to the last track on the disc, "If My Heart Were a Ball, It Would Roll Uphill." If 'H' can pull off the vocals in concert, this is going to be a great live song. The intensity in his voice pours from the speakers, daring you not to take notice.

Sonically spectacular, the eight tracks on Anoraknophobia clock in at over 63 minutes. In closing, there's one thing I want to emphasize here--Marillion is not the band you thought they were. Any leftover Genesis (there I go again) overtones are long gone. They have clearly tossed aside any preconceived perceptions of what people think they're supposed to sound like. Instead, they produced a contemporary album of fresh and innovative music. You can't ask for anything more than that. All told, this is the band's best album since Clutching at Straws. Don't be the last one on your block to 'rediscover' this band.

© 2001 Steve Marshall

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