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Marillion: Less is More

 A l b u m   D e t a i l s

Label: Edel Music
Released: 2009.10.02
Category: Progressive Rock
Producer(s): Marillion, Michael Hunter
Media type: CD
Web address: www.marillion.com
Appears with:
Purchase date: 2012
Price in €: 1,00

 S o n g s ,   T r a c k s

[1] Go! (from marillion.com, 1999) - 5:02
[2] Interior Lulu (from marillion.com, 1999) - 7:32
[3] Out of This World (from Afraid of Sunlight, 1995) - 5:08
[4] Wrapped Up in Time (from Happiness Is the Road, 2008) - 3:40
[5] The Space... (from Seasons End, 1989) - 4:52
[6] Hard as Love (from Brave, 1994) - 4:58
[7] Quartz (from Anoraknophobia, 2001) - 5:48
[8] If My Heart Were a Ball It Would Roll Uphill (from Anoraknophobia, 2001) - 5:12
[9] It's Not Your Fault (previously unreleased) - 3:33
[10] Memory of Water (from This Strange Engine, 1997) - 2:37
[11] This Is the 21st Century (from Anoraknophobia, 2001) - 5:40
[12] Hidden Bonus Track - Cannibal Surf Babe (from Afraid of Sunlight, 1995) - 3:27

 A r t i s t s ,   P e r s o n n e l

Steve Hogarth - Vocals, Producer
Steve Rothery - Guitars, Photography, Producer
Mark Kelly - Keyboards, Producer
Pete Trewavas - Bass, Xylophone, Producer
Ian Mosley - Drums, Producer

HS Ensemble - Strings
The Preston Bisset Singers - Choir/Chorus

Michael Hunter - Engineer, Mixing, Producer
Simon Heyworth - Mastering
Simon Ward - Artwork, Design, Photography
Jon Cameron - Photography
Jill Furmanovsky - Photography
Lucy Jordache - Booking, Management

 C o m m e n t s ,   N o t e s

Less Is More marks a kind of evolutionary milestone for Marillion. They may have emerged in the early ‘80s as the front-runners of the British neo-progressive movement (alongside the likes of Pendragon, IQ, et al.), but these days it's hard to imagine that the prefix "neo" was ever attached to this longstanding band. Four out of five current members have been on board since the second Marillion album, 1984's Fugazi, and singer Steve Hogarth became a 20-year man the year of Less Is More's release. They've come so far from their over the top, Genesis/Van der Graaf Generator-indebted beginnings that it's difficult to believe they're even the same group. Of course, in many ways, they aren't; that's the whole point of Less Is More, which finds Marillion revisiting songs from all across the last 20 years of their discography in new acoustic-based arrangements. The results are closer to latter-day Talk Talk than they are to anything on Selling England by the Pound. The scaled-down settings, which mark a drastic volte-face from the band's previous release, Happiness Is the Road, accentuate Hogarth's knack for tasteful understatement, the lyrical qualities that have been inherent in guitarist Steve Rothery's David Gilmour-influenced lines from day one, and the degree of sophistication present in Marillion's compositional sensibilities. Any sonic grandeur that may be missing from these new, stripped-down versions of songs from This Strange Engine, Afraid of Sunlight, Brave, Seasons End, and others is more than made up for in the sweetly subtle pleasures that abound here. Less Is More is pretty much a low-key affair from start to finish -- even the lone unreleased studio track, "It's Not Your Fault," runs on nothing more than Hogarth's affecting vocal and piano -- but it's an intense and commanding outing nonetheless. Two live bonus tracks are tacked onto the end, a version of "Runaway" from the Brave album and a cover of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees," the latter a clever turnabout wherein these veteran art rockers take on the legacy of a band for whom Marillion undoubtedly paved the way.

James Allen - All Music Guide

Marillion has been around for three decades, gaining some commercial success in the UK back in the ‘80s but not much since. They’ve never stopped plugging along, through a divisive change of lead singers in the late ‘80s and through significant record label difficulties in the late ‘90s. But aside from their sizable cult following and hardcore prog-rock fans, the band is virtually unknown outside of their native England. So without any shot of ever getting on something like MTV Unplugged or VH1 Storytellers, Marillion has gone ahead and made their own acoustic album, featuring stripped-down versions of songs from 20 years’ worth of albums.

The band rearranges many of these songs to divest them of some of their prog-rock hallmarks. Gone are the long, complex instrumental passages and massive guitar solos. Instead the emphasis is on the lyrics of lead singer Steve Hogarth and his collaborator John Helmer, and on the songwriting itself. The acoustic arrangements also allow the band to throw in piles of extra percussion instruments to give the songs a more organic feel. Finger cymbals, glockenspiel, xylophone, autoharp, and hammered dulcimer all make multiple appearances throughout the album. Fortunately Marillion is canny enough to keep all of these instruments as background elements, complementing the existing music instead of overwhelming it.

As to the songs themselves, I feel as if I’m coming to this album all backwards. Despite having been aware of Marillion for a while, this is my first experience actually hearing a full album from the band. Helpfully, the band includes information about where each song first appeared in the liner notes, making it easy for newcomers to track down the original versions. What’s here is generally high-quality, with a few caveats. The album opens strong with the pair of “Go!” and “Interior Lulu.” The former starts quietly, with just Hogarth’s voice accompanied by a harmonium. The lyrics plead with an unknown person to make a change in their life, as the music gradually swells to include guitar, strings, and percussion before finally opening up into a cathartic chorus in the song’s final minute. “Lulu” distills a song that was originally 15 minutes long into just over seven. The song concerns internet-using shut-ins, and the band pulls out nearly every instrument in their arsenal here and makes it work. The xylophone-dominated opening feeds into the bongo-backed second section. Bell trees, harmonium, and even Portugese guitar add colors to the track.

After that opening, the next few songs blur together a bit. They aren’t bad, just not on the same level. The unabashedly poppy “Hard as Love” is the next real attention-grabber, cast here as a piano ballad. Keyboardist Mark Kelly’s glockenspiel expertly echoes Hogarth’s wordless melody in between the verses, which are filled with comparisons to love and the hardness of things. What things? Let’s see, there’s “sticks and stones”, “algebra”, and “six inch nails”. The sentiment is nice and the song is strong, even if the lyrics slip into cheesy clichés. “Quartz” is notable for its complicated xylophone-glockenspiel duet, but not much else. “If My Heart Were a Ball It Would Roll Uphill” is a funky little song with strong bass work from Pete Trewavas and great organ playing from Kelly. But the refrain (which is the title) is supposed to soar and Hogarth can’t seem to hit the high notes when he tries to sing the words “ball” and “uphill.” It makes it a little painful. The album’s only new song is the simple “It’s Not Your Fault”, featuring Hogarth alone on piano and vocals. It’s a sad, beautiful song that doesn’t try too hard to be clever lyrically. This works to Hogarth’s advantage.

The disc proper is supposed to end with the gentle pleading of “This Is the 21st Century”, but the album goes on for three more songs, one classified as “hidden” and two as “bonus tracks”. The hidden track, “Cannibal Surf Babe”, is the only moment of lightness, a song driven by a funky bassline and active drums. But Hogarth’s attempt to write funny lyrics doesn’t really work, instead coming off a bit awkward, as the titular surf babe announces that she “was born in nineteen sixty-weird” again and again. The first of two live bonus tracks, “Runaway” doesn’t really stand out in any way aside from some interesting stage banter describing the concept of the album at the end. The second bonus track is the band’s rendition of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” It’s a curiosity that turns out to be a solid but workmanlike cover.

While every song on the album isn’t a standout, Less Is More does accomplish a lot. It’s a nice answer to the usual critical drubbing bands in the progressive rock genre take for musical wankery, the emphasis on technical skill over memorable songwriting. Marillion is able to show that they have the songwriting chops to radically rearrange songs for a new set of instruments and still have them hold up. While it probably won’t expand their core audience much, this is a worthwhile effort worth checking out.

Chris Conaton, 3 March 2010
© 1999-2015 PopMatters.com

Less Is More is an acoustic music studio album by Marillion, released on the band's own label on 2 October 2009. A retail version is distributed by Edel Music. It contains re-arranged songs from the period that Steve Hogarth has been their singer (since 1989) plus the previously unreleased track, "It's Not Your Fault".


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