This Strange Engine


Eagle Rock / VelVel Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Back when I was a kid, there used to be a little "mom-and-pop" record store a bike ride away from where I lived. They had a great collection of cut-out albums, where I found many a treasure. I remember one day, when I found my cut-out copy of AC/DC's Fly On The Wall, there were a bunch of copies of this album by a group named Marillion. Not having the money to buy both albums (and, at the time, being too chicken to try out a group I had never heard), I left it in the bins to collect dust.

The better part of today, I have been kicking myself -- hard -- in the ass. When my foot got tired, I got Mrs. Thelen to tee up a few good shots (and, believe me, Mrs. Thelen doesn't need to be asked twice).

So why have I opened up a can of Texas whup-ass on myself? Simple -- I just finished listening to the latest release by Marillion, This Strange Engine, and plainly put, it blew me away.

The "glory" days of the band (to some fans, when Fish led the group) are long gone, but Steve Hogarth has definitely turned this band into his own. His vocals are powerfully unique -- more of a resonating plead that lulls you in before you recognize what's going on. Steve Rothery's guitar work is just muscular enough to show you his talents without going into the bottomless pit of feedback. Keyboardist Mark Kelly, bassist Pete Trewevas and drummer Ian Mosley flesh out the band's sound in their own special ways, creating a band that often sounds like several playing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Man Of A Thousand Faces" is a prime example. A gentle, folky rhythm is built up to surround Hogarth and Rothery's contributions, turning the first half of this number into a poignantly beautiful song. If this weren't enough, Marillion manages to change tempo and style so smoothly that if you blinked, you probably missed the change; the multi-tracked vocals on this one just must be heard.

Though This Strange Engine contains only eight tracks, Marillion makes -- for the most part -- the best use of their disc's time. The title track could easily have been two or three songs by themselves, and the band is kind enough to provide short breaks in between movements to signal the style change. (They do, however, commit one of the cardinal sins of putting on damn near ten minutes of dead air before sliding into the obligatory 90-second "hidden" track. Whoever started this trend, I want to take them out back and slap them silly.)

From folk-style numbers such as "Eighty Days" to rockers like "An Accidental Man," Hogarth and crew show easily why this band has built up such a large and dedicated cult following -- a following so strong, that it is my understanding their American fans took up a collection to bring the band to these shores for a tour. Now that is amazing!

Their sound has had its influence felt; often I wondered if I was listening to October Project, another band whose work was all but ignored. And this, kids, is what we call in the business a God-Damn Shame. Cookie-cutter flavors of the month can attract our attention for their fifteen minutes of fame, but bands like Marillion keep getting pushed aside for another passing fancy.

But for a band so good, I'm left wondering how we could have ignored them for so long -- I don't even remember such stalwarts like WXRT-FM in Chicago playing Marillion. (If anyone at WXRT is reading and wishes to correct me, I'm all ears.) I mean, these guys aren't shred-your-eardrums metal, they're not power-pop... they're Marillion.

Ah, this could be the problem! Just like XTC, whom we talked about yesterday, Marillion has constantly been forging ahead on their own rules with their own sound -- and what doesn't fit into a pre-defined format wallows in the cold.

Well, no more -- This Strange Engine is an album that is deserving of your critical ear. One listen, and you won't be able to stop playing it. It's made me more interested in searching out previous works and learning about what I could have been enjoying for 14 years.

If This Strange Engine isn't the best album of 1997, it's damn near the top of my list.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Eagle Rock / VelVel Records, and is used for informational purposes only.