Thirty years into a band’s career is hardly the point where one would expect to find adventurous songwriting and career
defining songs, however that is exactly what Marillion have done with their 17th studio album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made. Arriving four years after their last proper studio album, Happiness Is The Road, STCBM took time to fully develop. Due to their solid business model and early adaptation to internet/online based marketing Marillion have developed the ability to work within their own timeframe, never rushing quality for the purpose of meeting release dates. In fact the album was to have been released prior to the band’s North American tour in 2012 but recording was still ongoing at the time. They are perfectionists when it comes to their craft and on this album it shows in all its glory.
STCBM is bookended by two of the three 10 plus minute songs both of which have quickly become top fan favourites which in a career defined by high points such as The Great Escape, Neverland, Afraid Of Sunlight, The Invisible Man, This Strange Engine and Forgotten Place just to name a few, is quite a feat unto itself. Gaza opens the album and at 17:31 it is the second longest song of their career. Political, epic, beautiful, sweeping and innovative in sound textures and topic it is a masterwork of tension which the band has described as the most important song they’ve ever written in terms of song meaning. The sonic landscape created by Mark Kelly, Steve Rothery, Ian Mosely, Steve Hogarth and Pete Trawavas is gorgeous and overwhelming at times but the essence of the song is about the human condition. In fact the human condition is the essence of the entire album. After the heaviness of Gaza the album explodes into sunlight with the title track, which makes you feel like you are standing on the top of a mountain in the middle of summer with your whole life ahead of you. It is on this track the album finds its pulse, before sliding into an incredible keyboard solo by Mark Kelly and building to one of Rothery’s epic guitar solos that brings fans to tears. Pour My Love is a slow burning album track reminiscent of ’70s era Todd Rundgren. Power is the closest the band come on the album to how I would define the post-Fish Marillion sound. It is dark, heavy, melodic and catchy all at the same time and again seeping with the idea relationship control.
The second of the three epic tracks on the album is Montreal. This song is really a love letter to fans. Lyrically it is sung as diary entries taken from Steve Hogarth’s journal in relation to their first convention played in North America in 2009. It is diverse and musically a wonderful song, while lyrically it is a heartfelt thanks to all of their fans for supporting them for so many years. Invisible Ink follows Montreal and at first appears to be somewhat slight before exploding into a fantastically upbeat song. A real hidden gem. Lucky Man follows and has the feel of Beatles influenced progressive rock. They’ve done it well before and this song is no exception. All of this builds to The Sky Above The Rain, the other epic bookending the album. It is hard to describe just how beautiful and powerful this song is. It is sublime, simple in melody, delicate in execution and breathtaking. Steve Rothery’s guitar solos evoke such pure emotion while Hogarth’s lyrics are excruciating in their honesty. Anyone who has ever suffered through adultery on either side will truly understand what this song means. It is a song of hope and despair and healing and beauty. It is a very very rare kind of song that can reduce people to tears while still evoking hope. It is not only the best song on the album but one of the best songs of the band has ever written.
Thirty years and seventeen albums into a band’s career would find most simply coasting if they managed to survive that long at all. With Sounds That Can’t Be Made Marillion have once again raised the bar on a career that has already had many many highlights.
Sounds That Can’t Be Made was recently reissues with a bonus disc featuring a bonus second disc with radio sessions of Wrapped Up In Time, Power, and Pour My Love, a demo arrangement of Lucky Man, and live versions of Sounds That Can’t Be Made and Invisible Ink.