Less Is More

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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.

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