The new marillion album, marbles, arrived the other day. I’ve got it on now, and it’s my 3rd time through.

It’s very atmospheric, and yet groovy in spots. Marillion are known for beautiful, lush music (or pompous and grandiose music, you judge), and this album is very nuanced and mature in that genre. The interplay between the drums and the bass is stunning, providing a great foundation for the guitars and keyboards to drift in and out. Gorgeous. Steve Rothery’s sense of space and texture, with his tasty little riffs and flourishes here and there, is sublime.

Steve Hogarth is oddly restrained throughout much of the album. There’s usually one or two tracks on each album where he lets loose and belts it, but nothing like that jumps out at me on this album. However, Hogarth is one of the absolute best singers in music today; his harmonically thick tenor is so distinctive. No one out there sounds quite like him. Though he’s restrained, the music suits it. If the singer is somewhat of an actor, then the roles on this album demanded some restraint. He still manages some of his most powerful singing, even if slightly understated.

There are 4 tracks called “marbles’ on the album (conveniently numbered for your reference). They are, strangely enough, the odd tracks out. They almost don’t sound like they belong on the album. They’re all short little tracks, 2 minutes or less, and I don’t quite get their role in the story this album tells. They almost sound underdeveloped compared to the rest of the album. The exception is Marbles III, which sounds like it belongs exactly where it is, opening disc 2.

There are several standout tracks. The opener, “The Invisible Man”, is wonderful. The dynamics in the song are sweet. “The Only Unforgiveable Thing” is stepping forward as a favorite.

“You’re Gone” is also the first single from the album. It’s got a nice drum loop, again understated so there is still plenty of sonic room for the boys to put their sounds on top of.

“Ocean Cloud” is the traditional epic track. Not that it matters, but it is quite length and has several movements. Total track length is nearly 18 minutes. The guitars and drums on this one are very powerful. Ian Moseley is a master of the hi hat, that’s all I have to say.

The album ends with “Neverland,” which I need to listen to again a time or three.

The album was expertly produced by Dave Meegan, and he had engineering help from Rod Bunton. Steve Wilson and Michael Hunter helped with the mixing. Though I don’t know for sure (I’d love to know), my suspicion is that Steve Wilson had a hand in mixing Ocean Cloud. The samples are totally his style, as well as the dynamic range of the electic guitars in the heavier section. The vocal harmonies are also his style; you can hear all of these elements in the Porcupine Tree albums.

This is gonna be one of those albums that really grow on you. In its somewhat melancholy tone, and thematic threads that run throughout the album, stylistic comparisons to their 1993 album, Brave, are inevitable. And while I love Brave, I always thought it was too long. There were 3 or 4 songs from that album that shouldn’t have been on it (I’ll name them if you ask). There are no such tracks that jump out on marbles, with the odd possible exception of the title tracks themselves. It’s a sonically dense album, there are many layers to it. Production is impeccable. Kudos to Dave Meegan.

I wonder if Mr. Meegan would be interested in producing a Freakwitch album? :-)

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