On their 17th album, Marillion begin their return to their neo-prog roots for the first time since 2004's Marbles. A full decade after the classic Brave, Marillion made a conscious decision to appear "relevant" in the marketplace; this is funny or a number of reasons, not the least of which is that when they began their rapprochement with prog, it was during the post-punk/new wave era. Post-Fish outings such as Radiation, and Marillion.com began utilizing drum loops, ambient atmospherics, and U2-isms in order to reach an audience that had never gravitated toward them in the first place. 2001's Anoraknophobia (the first ever crowd-funded album) went even further by introducing tropes from trip-hop, Brit-funk, hip-hop, and jazzy dub. While 2004's Marbles was a marked a return to their sprawling cinematic origins, subsequent long players again backslid toward pop mediocrity.
Sounds That Can't Be Made sounds like vintage Marillion. They've returned to prog with a vengeance here, delivering an eight-track collection that fires on all cylinders, beginning with the 17-minute epic "Gaza." Delivered from the point of view of a young boy living in the region, it looks at the violence, poverty, and Palestinians' will to independence without going after the nation of Israel. Tempo, texture, and key changes abound throughout as frontman Steve Hogarth shapeshifts through terrain that recalls Talk Talk's Mark Hollis at his most emotionally taut. Steve Rothery brandishes a more aggressive guitar attack than he has in years. Two other double-digit-length cuts, "Montreal" (a tribute to Marillion fans) and closer "The Sky Above the Rain," offer myriad layers of inventive keyboards and expansive drum and bass work as Rothery and Hogarth deliver with peak prowess. While "Power" flirts with sophisticated pop, it's set free from such constraints by the interplay between Mark Kelly's keyboards, Ian Mosley's drum kit, and Pete Trewavas' lyrical bassline, while Rothery's guitar playing moves around Hogarth's singing, filling the margins with colorful tonalities. Closer "Lucky Man" (not the ELP track of the same title) begins with majestic aggression and shifts toward a bass-heavy, bluesy melody that evolves into anthemic prog with Hogarth giving his best rockist delivery. Tempered by their restless experiments in the pop wilderness, Sounds That Can't Be Made is evidence that Marillion always knew who they were as a band. If anything, they've become better musicians for having taken in all those extant sources. Fantastic!