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This Strange Anorak
on 14 July 2002
I know it's been out for a while, but I've only just got round to buying it. I'm sitting listening through this album for the third or fourth time and felt compelled to write a review of it. My first impressions are that its quite enjoyable, but I've always had kind of mixed feelings about Marillion. I like them, a lot at times, and yet sometimes you can't help feeling they fall flat on their faces (ahem, Radiation). I felt particularly motivated to write something this time due to the band's rumblings surrounding this album, about them "not being prog", and should we dare to call them so we clearly haven't listened to it.
Well, whilst it may not entirely be prog in the 70s symphonic Yes/G*n*s*s sense, there is much proggyness going on here; long songs, tempo and melody changes, albeit given I suppose what you'd call a "contemporary" (i.e. retro) veneer. There are a couple of standout tracks for me; "Fruit of the Wild Rose", which has a gorgeous soaring break towards the middle, before entering into a quiet acoustic part. If this isn't prog, I'll eat my copy of Script with lashings of Grendel! The other is "This is the 21st Century", which although posing as a Massive Attack-influenced effort, is unmistakeably Marillion - the melody just couldn't have come from anyone else.
In fact it's the strong and original melodies throughout this album that let you know this is a Marillion album. If they could just lose the trendy, yet frankly rather clichéd production (which has effectively neutered Ian Mosely and Mark Kelly) I might have rated this album a bit higher, although they'd also have to lose "Map of the World", a yucky Corrs/La's soft rock number, and "If My Heart Were a Ball..." which sounds like a series of pasted together studio outtakes.
That really leads me onto my other problem. To my ears, every effort has been made to make this album "cool", and by that I don't necessarily mean commercial, otherwise I'm sure the song lengths would have been trimmed. I mean that a clear effort has been made to make it, well, fashionable. When you think about it, this doesn't sit entirely comfortably with the album's theme; that it's ok to be uncool, that if you're labelled as an anorak just because you're passionate about something, then so be it. And yet the band are attempting to run a mile from their progressive roots (Barry, the album's cutesy little Kenny from South Park lookalike motif, apparently dislikes neo-prog rock. I wonder if he'd point and laugh at me if I said I'm a fan of IQ? But then hold on, he also dislikes preconceptions. Hmmm).
Whatever. In any case the final irony may just be that this album is quite...erm, proggy.