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(57:27, ‘Intact’ / Edel Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Go 4:29 2. Interior Lulu 7:32 3. Out of the World 5:07 4. Wrapped up in Time 3:40 5. The Space 4:51 6. Hard as Love 4:58 7. Quartz 5:47 8. If My Heart Were a Ball 5:11 9. It’s Not Your Fault 3:32 10. Memory of Water 2:37 11. This is the 21 Century 5:40 12. Hidden Song 3:27 LINEUP: Steve Rothery – guitars Mark Kelly – keyboards Steve Hogarth – vocals Pete Trewavas – bass Ian Mosley – drums
Prolusion. This is for the first time that I received a MARILLION outing for review. I think whatever I put here as an introduction to the band will be a banality, as these English musicians have been a living legend since their very first single Market Square Heroes hit big back in 1982, and are known probably to everybody with interest in rock music. “Less Is More” is their most recent outing, released about three months ago. However, I haven’t added it to my personal variant of their album roster. Unlike “B-sides Themselves” from 1988, which is made up of compositions none of which are available on Marillion’s other studio recordings, this compilation finds the quintet “performing hits from their back catalog”, as its press kit says, albeit those are newly arranged and are presented “in an acoustic style, with an alternative, minimal and intimate approach”. Of course, the songs will be described without comparing them to their original versions.
Analysis. As I gathered from an interview the band granted to “Expose” magazine some four years ago, Mr. Hogarth hates when someone calls Marillion a progressive rock outfit. Although I personally pick “Brave” (on which H appears as one of its main creators) as their – in all senses – hour of triumph, comparing what they have been playing over the last 12 years with their previous work I can in many ways agree with Steve’s opinion on the matter. Nevertheless, it is easy to discover that “Less Is More” isn’t a mere rock outing – unlike “Radiation”, for instance. The band flirts with progressive features here almost as frequently as it did on “This Strange Engine” (except for that album’s concluding piece, The King, which is a prog killer in a way), and the fact that the majority of the tracks on both of these recordings are slow-paced and are ballads in the final analysis makes me perceive the releases as at least to some degree kindred creations, although the band’s 1997 outing is more integrated musically (plus is emotionally deeper than this one). The CD consists of 12 tracks, but the last of those isn’t mentioned in its booklet or press kit, either, so let’s call it simply Hidden Song. Uplifting in mood, this is the only piece in the set that is performed up-tempo and is generally a rather energetic tune, albeit heavily repetitive. Besides vocals, It’s Not Your Fault and Memory of Water each only feature a piano and an acoustic guitar, respectively. Wrapped up in Time and This is the 21 Century both sound most of the time similarto It’s Not Your Fault, but get a full-band treatment not long before their final moves. The same words would have been relevant to the disc opener, Go, if the entire quintet hadn’t performed throughout it, though Ian Mosley plays only cymbals within the song’s first four fifths. I’d say that the above-described songs are all nice in their own way, but on the other hand they are sonically tri-chromatic at best and – save Go and Memory of Water – are lacking in interesting, well-developed instrumental passages. Covering somewhat less than three fifths of the recording, the other six tracks better suit my personal taste. All of those combine fairly dense, at times completely full-blown, arrangements with seemingly fragile ones – which are normally filled with touching vocals, often having refined interactions between acoustic guitar and piano as their instrumental constituent. Interior Lulu, Hard as Love, Out of the World and The Space never leave the domain of symphonic rock (or rather quasi Art-Rock), although the first of these reveals Far Eastern folk motifs in places, whilst Quartz and If My Heart Were a Ball are standouts in a way, as there are additionally a couple of jazz-fusion-inflected moves on both. Finally a few words about something that I find to be totally out of place on this outing: These are Steve’s vocalizations on the aforementioned Hard as Love with which he accompanies most of what should have been purely instrumental arrangements there.
Conclusion. “Less Is More” is a warm-sounding collection of tunes, most of which are definitely better than conventional background music, about a half of those being highly impressive – as they are, i.e. as ballads, of course. If I would take this semi-acoustic release without bearing in mind that it’s a compilation of Marillion’s older songs it would be weightier to my mind than one, if not two, of the band’s ‘program’ studio albums, no matter that it is texturally more transparent and generally softer than any of those.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: January 1, 2010
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