Marillion returned three years after their epic, widely lauded Marbles concept piece with another self-produced album. While no one seriously expected them to top such a feat, all ears were curious as to how they’d attempt to follow up what many now consider to be the unexpected peak of their 25-year career.
Marillion spent their career in the 1980s carving out a niche in the resurrected prog movement of the period, aping much of the territory that Genesis, Yes, and Gentle Giant had already covered so well a decade before. By the end of the decade, things would change drastically with the departure of their lead singer, the poetically-gifted choke-throated Fish. He would be replaced by Steve Hogarth, who brought to the band a more traditional pop-rock style of singing — not to mention the sensibilities of such a singer.
Over the past two decades since Hogarth joined the band, Marillion has slowly shifted from a progressive band into what they are now: a pop-rock band doing very intelligent music now that happens to occasionally be conceptual in nature. This album, however, wasn’t — and I’m personally glad they opted for an album of songs rather than another big concept piece. Following the amazing two-disc Marbles with another big, heavy epic like that would have been a mistake: Too much too soon. Instead, what we get is a lighter, airier Marillion, but no less engaging (aside from a couple of stumbles).
Marillion seemed to have found their sound, finally: What really started to take shape on 2001′s Anaraknophobia, if a little roughly, they perfected with Marbles in 2004, they continued here, and that’s basically a good thing. While it made for an album of no real surprises, it was simple, smart pop with a good band and an emotive vocalist.
Where Marillion let the listener down on Somewhere Else is where they simply try too hard: “Most Toys,” where they attempted to rock out as hard as they can (and mostly flail about instead of hit the target) and “Last Century For Man,” where they attempted a cautionary tale and only score with the infectious and beautiful chorus, but the song fell flat in the verses. It just wasn’t a very strong message song. Some bands are better at delivering straight-up messages and others are better at hinting at them creatively. Marillion should stick to the latter.
For fans, Somewhere Else made a lovely transition out of the emotional, intense, and dense Marbles. For newbies, Marbles is going to be the place to start — and then give Somewhere Else a try as it’s easily one of their most focused and solid albums since 1995′s Afraid Of Sunlight. Songs such as nearly epic “The Wound” and the contemplative “Thankyou Whoever You Are” likely found themselves on many Marillion fans most-played lists, but it’s the charming acoustic closer “Faith” that could be a surprise for everyone. It’s beautiful.