This Strange Engine

Friends recommend albums. Sometimes you buy these albums they've so enthusiastically raved about. Sometimes you like these albums. Sometimes you wonder why these people are your friends for making you waste your money. Marillion is a UK prog-rock band with quite a history and many albums under its belt. On This Strange Engine, the British boys pare down the "prog" element to a point where it is barely noticeable. You won't find astounding feats of technical prowess, twisting irregular time signatures, or sprawling, complicated compositions. About the only "prog" element left is a hefty use of keyboard and the residue of musical influences. The first four tracks are homogenous to the point of sounding almost alike... acoustic guitar pop with keyboards. Still, "Man of a Thousand Faces" is the best of the lot and quite possibly the best on the album. There's a hint of Trevor Rabin-era Yes in the layered vocal harmonies and some very nice piano soloing embedded in the somewhat catchy chorus melody. "An Accidental Man" is also quite good, sounding like a cross between early Police, later Rush (if they used a bevy of keyboards), and early 80's Yes. Again, the song is saved by some blistering organ soloing and this little keyboard flourish that reminded me of Styx and managed to follow me for the better part of a day. But it goes downhill from there. Most Marillion fans were eager to hear of the lengthy title track which turned out to be an autobiographical fifteen-minute mess with the band not having a clear picture of what they wanted to say or how to say it. "One Fine Day" is a five and a half-minute song that stole large parts of the 70s song "Dreamweaver", and not always the best parts. The worst song, or best if you like cheese, is "Hope For the Future" that opens quite promisingly with a moody, bluesy guitar riff that exactly one minute later turns into the ugly stepbrother of the Lionel Ritchie hit "All Night Long." The worst sin in these songs is that there is no soul, no feeling, no burning passion... just bland pop carried out in a very efficient manner, almost as if they were recorded on automatic pilot. In short, this is not my cup of tea.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, June 2001.