Marillion: F.E.A.R (earMusic)
Eighteen albums into their storied career and British prog giants show no sign of compromise, their sound has adapted throughout the years but it has always retained an element that identifies them above their peers. There have been numerous pieces detailing the history of the band so I'm not going to go into that here but whether you still yearn for Fish to return to the band, you can't discredit Steve Hogarth's contribution to the band, we could argue until the cows come home about who's better but that is just personal preference, the fact that H has been in the band for fourteen albums says all you need to know.
Though they have rarely reached the charts since Fish left the band have gained a more discerning, loyal fanbase because of it, the fair weather fans seen at Fish's recent Misplaced Childhood shows would want nothing to do with the current incarnation of Marillion as they do not pander to anyone with their post-millennial material, it's darker, more emotional and far more politically and culturally aware than not only their early days but also many other bands around today that claim to be political and 'with it', maybe it's their experience or maybe it's that they actually care. They produce and play music on their own terms, spearheading and pioneering the Pledge movement in the process but also crafting music that carries a message but is not preachy in its delivery. (Take note Coldplay and Bono)
F.E.A.R is of course and acronym and in this iteration it means Fuck Everything And Run a title not written in protest or anger but in sadness and resignation of the state of the world, still as uncompromising as ever the band have done what many would consider to be risky, they have produced an album that only has five tracks but is over 70 minutes long, three songs fly past the 10 minute mark but this is a musical journey, not a record built for the iPod generation, it's meant to be taken in in one sitting, but it's best over the course of many sittings it's sprawling soundscapes opening up with each play.
The record opens with El Dorado like the other larger songs on this record it's split into parts, here it is five. It starts as a pastoral lament, then changes tack as the glittering synths of Mark Kelly give way to the main passage of the song (Part II The Gold) which is driven by bass of Pete Trewavas and is kept in pace by the less is more style of drumming synonymous with Ian Mosley. It also lets H work through his range quite impressively from a soft croak to the sweeping higher register he has always, Steve Rothery contributes mainly acoustics to the first part of this track but gets an impressive solo at around six minutes.
It's from here the track gets darker (Part IV FEAR) dealing with it's theme of political entitlement with a sting in its tale creating an ominous attack where H's vocals get more frenzied as it builds and builds on a jangling guitar part that gets heavier and heavier then crashes back down to earth with the dreamy last section. Starting and album with a 16 minute song is brave but the band have got it right as it's followed by the shorter Living In Fear which continues the bittersweet lyrical narrative of the record, it's clarion call of "We're not free, we're just present" resonating as the song wraps up repeating the phrase "What a waste of time" in a gospel style. Living In Fear serves as a direct older sounding Marillion track before it moves into the album's most complex and longest track
The Leavers kicks off with a repeating synth coda which gives way to pulsing electronics, this is where Mosley is at his best, he makes this track, thumping home the song's portrayal of "the impact of a transient life on the road" it's a song for "those constantly waving goodbye" take heed as this song was written long before Brexit and the Remain/Leave campaign addressing the issues of those that have no choice to keep moving to escape hardship, it even serves as metaphor for bands on tour too. At a colossal 19 minutes The Leavers is once again a song in five parts and sees Steve Rothery give one of his most fluid guitar playing the two solos setting the track alight and giving David Gilmour a run for his money.
The sound of this song is something that encapsulates the neo-prog movement Marillion are seen as progenitors of, it has been emulated by acts such as Porcupine Tree, Anathema and Pineapple Thief but Marillion once again show why they are considered by many to be the definitive article. The middle section gets hazy building into the second solo until the pianos are brought back for H to croon over and it tugs at your heartstrings with a crescendo that is anthemic and unifying
After The Leavers you need a lie down, it's an overwhelming piece but there is more to come, the seven minute White Paper breaks up the monster tracks once again with a plaintive piece driven by yet more Grand Piano, you can just imagine the spotlight on H as he sings it live, it's not entirely a solo piece though it's one of the softer tracks on the record an emotional tale of loss and regret that serves as the warm up for the final song on the record.
The New Kings is the final song on the record and it is 16 minutes of progressive, elaborate musicianship dealing with the geo-political climate of corruption, warmongering and most importantly the key element of fear. It's almost a run through of the rest of the album musically drawing sounds from the rest of it as it ebbs and flows culminating in the most defiant statement of the whole record, one that lingers with you even after it ends. F.E.A.R could quite possibly Marillion's best record, from start to finish it is perfection in it's genre without really conforming to one genre. It's a weighty record but it deserves your time and attention from the opening chords it is that good folks don't fear the unknown embrace it. 10/10