There’s a reason most prog albums leave the epic song for the end, as Marillion’s 17th album made clear. They began here with “Gaza,” a dramatic rumination on the senselessness of war, and then seemed to struggle for a while to regain momentum.
It was only with repeated listenings that the rest of this complex, deeply felt recording began to coalesce. Given time, Sounds That Can’t Be Made ended up sounding like one of the best efforts yet for Marillion — something underscored by this new expanded two-disc treatment of the 2012 release, due on February 11, 2014 via earMusic/Eagle Rock.
The title track, for instance, is this glorious torrent of sexy-gloomy thoughts on love, with keyboards running like rivulets all around Steve Hogarth’s thunderstruck vocals. “Pour My Love” is even more spacious, even more earnest, and thus perhaps the album’s weakest song. But Marillion rebounds nicely with the aptly named “Power,” a track that begins with this glacial beauty, and then builds so slowly that at first it’s almost imperceptible — until, seemingly all at once, Steve Rothery and Co. have created a storm of swirling moods.
“Montreal,” a introspective tribute to their rabid fans that is itself a multi-part 13-minute suite, swerves into a dreamscape passageway at its midway point that recalls the pre-Dark Side of the Moon excursions of Pink Floyd. It’s another stirring example of how Marillion’s patterned rock, so deftly augmented by Pete Trewavas, Mark Kelly and Ian Mosley, adds this twilit complexity to Hogarth’s narratives.
Meanwhile, Hogarth discards the keening Bono-esque attitude of some of his more recent outings with the band, sounding instead more like Mark Hollis from late-period Talk Talk on tracks like “Invisible Ink” and “Lucky Man” — confidential and direct, impossibly fragile. (And that’s even more true on the alternate versions included on Disc 2 of this forthcoming set, with “Lucky Man” showing up in demo form while “Invisible Ink” is featured from a live date in Holland: “It’s not a game,” Hogarth cries at one point in the latter, driving home the sense of visceral expectancy surrounding Sounds That Can’t Be Made.) “The Sky Above the Rain” ends things on an anthematic note, as Rothery surrounds one of Hogarth’s most committed vocals with this utterly enveloping sense of drama.
Each of these moments is explored, often with even more raw emotion, over a series of seperate takes that round out this new special edition. The original album’s “Power” and “Pour My Love” are featured, along with “Wrapped Up in Time” from 2008’s Happiness Is the Road, from a performance on French radio. The title track of Sounds That Can’t Be Made is also included from the March 2013 set in the Netherlands, a concert that will be released in its entirety later this year on DVD, Blu-ray and CD via Racket Records.
Of course, there’s also “Gaza” — this career-making triumph, perhaps misplaced so early in this song cycle. A 17-minute examination of the dangers of nationalism, the often-shocking aftermath, and the small things we grab for in order to make sense of the emotional dissonance surrounding war, “Gaza” pulls no punches, musically — or lyrically.
Listen as the track moves from stomping portent, while the lyric describes a desolate setting filled with danger and unrest, into a series of twilit sequences set to a crunchy, mechanized cadence. Back and forth “Gaza” swings, drawing you into this sense of restive, idyllic reverie — and of a desperate desire for peace, no matter which bunker they call home — only to have the landscape torn asunder by these completely unexplainable moments of violence. It’s not unlike, you have to imagine, living in the strife-torn part of the world this track is named after.
When Hogarth sings, with growing turbulence, “it just ain’t right — it’s just ain’t right,” it’s hard not to be overcome by the costs, the very real costs, of these conflicts. “Gaza” ends with the kind of crashing realizations, and the deep introspection, typically reserved for great books. Given all of that, is it any surprise that Sounds That Can’t Be Made felt like a bit of a let down, at least on initial listenings, once “Gaza” has drawn to a close?
Keep going, though. All of these sounds are worth hearing.