Marillion took a bold step with their 12th studio album; having run their own record label for some time, they issued a call for advance orders, payable directly to the band, thereby obviating any need for an advance from a larger company and allowing the band to retain all rights to the finished work. 12,674 fans worldwide answered that call; their reward was a deluxe package with a bonus track, thanking everyone who'd paid before a certain date. But the quintet muddied their waters somewhat with the high "pricing" of their new project. A press release from the band didn't help, with its quote from singer Steve Hogarth, "You're all wrong about Marillion," followed by an imperious "challenge" from the publicist to review the album without using a certain seven terms (hint: you'll find one of them in the third-to-last sentence), "because if you do, we'll know that you haven't listened to it." This odd poise of seeming to snap on feeding fingers carries over to the record on several levels. Hogarth asks, "What gets in between," at several points in the otherwise joyous "Between You and Me." For the nine-minute "Quartz," the band plods out a deliberately madding rhythm while the protagonist first suspects, then lathers himself into believing that he and his significant other are incompatible. "Map of the World," co-written with Cutting Crew's Nick VanEede, celebrates the flight of a young girl into the world and adult adventures, even if it isn't clear how "Paris, London, and New York" will differ from the lights of her town, "all singin' 'buy some of this, come on'." And "Separated Out" hisses and screeches the pain of freakdom; the listener may not know that dedicated Marillion fans call themselves "freaks," after a Fish-era B-side that seemed to celebrate freaks finding each other. Is this latter-day song a plea for acceptance on behalf of the band, or a repudiation of what came before? If Marillion can't or won't solve any of these dilemmas, they at least uphold their tradition of lyrics flush with text and subtext and ever-shifting music that incorporates up-to-date influences with authority and no track of trend-mongering slavishness.
by Andrew Hamlin