Marillion- Anoraknophobia (Sanctuary)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

1. Between You And Me
2. Quartz
3. Map Of The World
4. When I Meet God
5. The Fruit Of The Wild Rose
6. Separated Out
7. This Is The 21st Century
8. If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill

The capacity for change is a natural one, but the capacity for people to accept change can be another thing altogether. Particularly in the music industry, where something that not be harpooned to a specific genre often becomes too cumbersome to market or even intelligently discuss, and must therefore forge innovative roads to recognition. Even worse when a band takes the bold motion to actually dramatically alter their sound. Thus the challenge the band Marillion have faced for the last 13 years, since the departure of their original vocalist and the gradual redesign of their music from its past roots in long form (prog) rock to their current sound, one that defies formal categorization and thus will struggle to achieve the recognition it deserves.

There is nothing innately original about the new Marillion CD, other than perhaps its name. Anoraknophobia (which roughly translates to fear of being unfashionable, or possibly, fear of geeks) is an odd name for such a musically chimeric wonder, and belies very little about the music beneath the package. The cover, depicting some bizarre rainbow coalition of South Park Kennys wielding wire coat hangers does little to provide additional clarity. But the pastiche of musical genres and influences found beneath the packaging does have one thread in common, an unflagging sense of triumph. Perhaps this was a therapeutic exercise for the band, who were able to raise (quite boldly, I may add) the entire pre-distribution cost of this record from online preorders, something now casually referred to in the industry as “pulling a Marillion.” Perhaps this is their way of saying this time they were going to do it their way. Because the result sounds like a band standing on a pinnacle of some remote mountain hollering triumphantly, and perhaps even flipping off a few people along the way.

In order to properly place the gravity of this release, it is important to have some historical perspective, or at least a summary thereof. Marillion enjoyed its greatest success in the mid-eighties, very early in the band’s history, and have basically been relegated to a cult (albeit large and unprecedentedly zealous) following since that time. They have used the Internet to their benefit more than any other group that I can think of, creating and gilding a community while also leveraging their ability to market themselves more effectively than any label would have the inclination to do. In an industry that routinely turns out bands and discards them like last month’s milk, it is refreshing to see such outside-the-box innovation.

After the exit of their original vocalist, Fish, the band took a more middle-of-the-road pop route that was met with some success, but on some levels felt like a band that was trying too hard to find an identity within a market. Brave, a brilliant conceptual work that later followed, was to me an anchor in the band’s career- a place where their past and future would converge. Brave was unfortunately overlooked for the masterpiece it is, and the band went on to create four subsequent albums that have wavered between rock, pop, alternative and experimental. All of these albums were crafted with the integrity the band put towards everything they do, but none of them stood out as some bold defining statement. Something that bowls you over with an unyielding intensity and then proceeds to pummel you while you are down. That is what Anoraknophobia does to me.

Why? I guess the first place to start is the rhythm section. Bassist Pete Trewavas and drummer Ian Mosely sound like they have been jolted by some musical cattle prod. On some level I’m confident this is related to the recent side projects both have been involved in. Specifically I am aware that the intensity Trewavas displayed both on the Transatlantic album and the subsequent tour (just please don’t let him sing those high notes ever again) was something that clearly took him to another level. On the last few albums, perhaps even going all the way back to Season’s End, both Trewavas and Mosely mostly sound like two guys going through the motions. Solid but not inspired. On Anorak they sound possessed.

Similarly there is a new creativity apparent in Steve Rothery’s guitar playing. This evolution (er, progression) has been evident since This Strange Engine, three releases ago. Gone for the most part were the aching, soaring solos that were Rothery’s watermark. In their place was a often blues-inflected jangle, a Jeff Beck inspired edge, and a funkiness that would have never been appropriate in the past. He was bringing new styles into the mix and clearly mastering them along the way. Anoraknophobia is the culmination of those efforts, and you will hear him pinballing from mad axeman to Buddy Guy to Ani DiFranco folk frenetics. Rothery floats in and out of the throbbing rhythm section, the exposed nerve of vocalist/ lyricist Steve Hogarth and duels with the multifaceted attack of keyboardist Mark Kelly. And that it what it sounds like, some harmonious duel where water laps up against fire, then gets swallowed by some diving bird of prey, and we are left stunned, backstepping from passive/ aggressive sets of speakers, angling for perspective.

And yes, there are actual songs here too. From the opening cinematic headfake of the power pop Between You and Me into the bitter slashes of the raucous Quartz, you know early on that you’re not on safe ground anymore. Quartz in particular arrives as the sinister cousin of The Uninvited Guest, a track that measures the distance between two diametrically opposed friends from the perspective of one jaded eye: “And everytime I smile d’you wonder if I’m laughing at you? With every little grin you don’t want to be wonderin.” Elements of Anoraknophobia speak to the band’s (recent) past: some of the edgier elements in the latter half of Brave arise now and then, and songs like Separated Out recall earlier Hogarth-era tracks like Hooks In You, except done a little more authentically. Fruit Of The Wild Rose leaves the experimentation more exposed, culminating in a Phish-like jam unprecedented in Marillion’s studio output. Additionally, some of the more experimental tracks from (an album title here, not a web site) like House and Cathedral Wall are recalled in places on Anoraknophobia, but they are somehow more cohesive and vital. Perhaps part of what the band have done on this one is take pains not to overdo it, to let the songs grow organically in the studio and detach once they have achieved fruition.

But for me the track that is the backbone of Anoraknophobia is without question This Is The 21st Century. This massive, sinuous beast writhes in and out of a belting, breathing rhythm, orbited by a swarm of ectoplasmic keyboard samples and assorted binaria. A lyrical masterstroke (Hogarth seems to have written this album with a dull scalpel), this track examines how the demystifying effects of science and technology can marginalize the spirit and magic of the universe. And then the album gets rounded out by the bizarre twists of If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill, which sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before, and frankly didn’t know what to do with when I first encountered it. From its strange childish chantlike opening to the idiosyncratic jam that closes the door, the track sounds more like an experiment than an actual song. On some level this is indicative of the album as a whole, that it sounds like some grand experiment that somehow goes just right. The potions swirl into magnificent colors, a few of them explode here and there, but they’re good explosions, the kind you will eventually heal from, and when all of the smoke clears you are left with this stunning monolith that you hadn’t expected, but it is there and you cannot deny it.

And that is what is there when the smoke clears. A complex, triumphant icon of a band that are the very picture of perseverance through adversity, integrity though change. It is a testament to a committed fanbase that allowed a band the freedom to unravel themselves from two decades of expectations, labels (both record and stereotypical), and the constant uphill struggle that has strapped many a band to take the easier route and opt out. It is a testament to finding your own way. It is a triumph indeed.

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tilt- million dollar wound
mickey simmonds- the seven colours of emptiness
ukz- radiation
pain of salvation - scarsick
icon- icon II, icon live
the pineapple thief- tightly unwound
planet p project- levittown (go out dancing part II)
nosound- lightdark
dengue fever- venus on earth
art of all- morgan
marillion- somewhere else
abigails ghost- selling insincerity
blackfield- blackfield II
damien rice- 9
the who- endless wire
the beach boys- good vibrations
the pineapple thief- little man
the killers- sam's town
tom petty- highway companion
hem- funnel cloud
emm gryner- the summer of high hopes
jeremy enigk- world waits
razorlight- razorlight
gps- window to the soul
iron maiden- a matter of life and death
thom yorke- the eraser
richard butler- richard butler
the flaming lips- at war with the mystics
ray davies- other people's live
david gilmour- on an island
nosound- sol29
jackson browne- running on empty 5.1
neal morse- ?
king crimson- 21st century guide to king crimson
shriekback- cormorant
depeche mode- playing the angel
pallas- the dreams of men
my morning jacket- z
riverside- second life syndrome
roger waters- ca ira
various artists- backs against the wall
riverside- out of myself
sigur ros- takk
killers- hot fuss
queen + paul rodgers- return of the champions
journey- generations
yes- the word is live
emmylou harris- heartaches & highways
van der graaf generator- remaster series
rob dickinson- fresh wine for the horses
annie- anniemal
dredg- catch without arms
foo fighters- in your honor
dream theater- octavarium
belle and sebastian- push barman to open old wounds
the go-betweens- oceans apart
porcupine tree- up the downstair (remaster 2005)
coldplay- x & y
nine inch nails- with teeth
aimee mann- the forgotten arm
van der graaf generator- present
christopher o'riley- hold me to this
glen phillips- winter pays for summer
new order- waiting for the siren's call
ben folds- songs for silverman
john doe- forever hasn't happened yet
trashcan sinatras- fez
adrian belew- side one
kaki king - legs to make us longer
longview- mercury
stereophonics- language. sex. violence. other?
for against- echelons
over the rhine- drunkard's prayer
kathleen edwards- back to me
kasabian- kasabian
porcupine tree- deadwing
the wedding present- take fountain
super furry animals - songbook
arena- pepper's ghost
snow patrol- final straw
rpwl- world through my eyes
tori amos- the beekeeper
kino- picture
monarch- the grandeur that was rome
spocks beard- octane
the wonder stuff- escape from rubbish island
richard barbieri- things buried
the pineapple thief- 12 stories down
the pineapple thief- 8 days later
the innoncence mission- now the day is over
zero 7- when it falls
pain of salvation- be
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jelly jam- 2
tim bowness- my hotel year
van halen- the best of both worlds
glen burtnik- welcome to hollywood
charlie mars- charlie mars
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hellboys- cha cha with the hellboys review
persona non grata- the fine art of living review
tegan and sara- so jealous review
guadalcanal diary- 2x4 reissue review
voices in the wire- signals in transmission review
roger waters- to kill a child/ leaving beirut review
luna- rendezvous review
jim white- drill a hole in that substrate and tell me what you see review
the drive-by truckers- the dirty south review
the blue nile - high review
lovedrug- pretend you're alive review
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keane- hope and fears review
winds- the imaginary direction of time review
kristeen young- x review
asia- silent nation review
macha- forget tomorrow review
crystal method- legion of boom dvd-audio review
kevin moore- ghost book review
marillion- don't hurt yourself singles review
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rush- feedback review
tortoise- it's all around you review
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iq- dark matter review
bass communion- ghosts on magnetic tape review
the push stars- paint the town review
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the streets- a grand don't come for free review
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the divine comedy- absent friends review
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jeffrey gaines live review
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starsailor- silence is easy review
pineapple thief- variations review
lloyd cole- music in a foreign language review
david sylvian- blemish review
spock's beard- feel euphoria eview
guy manning- press pack sampler review
magellan- impossible figures review
the tangent- the music that died alone review
john gorka- live from grace church photos and review
hothouse flowers- into your heart review
charlotte martin- on your shore review
rasputina- frustration plantation review
stellastarr*- stellastarr* review
vast- nude review
sparks- lil' beethoven review
the damnwells- bastards of the beat review
dave gahan- paper monsters review
king crimson- power to believe review
fish- field of crows review
porcupine tree- in absentia dvd-audio review
new model army- great expectations review
antimatter- unreleased 1998 - 2003 review
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the gathering- sleepy buildings review
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vienna teng- warm strangers review
opeth- lamentations dvd review
courtney love- america's sweetheart review
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nearfest 2003 coverage
neal morse solo photos- metuchen, nj
porcupine tree broadcast
alpha- stargazing review
david sylvian at the tla
emm gryner at the point
barry andrews at the tin angel
tweaker:2 am wakeup call review
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