Marillion: Less Is More

By: Dennis Cook

Face it, most "acoustic" albums are little more than watered down versions of hits or well tread covers. In short, polite, unchallenging filler. Not so with Marillion's acoustically slanted Less Is More (released in U.S. on December 8 on Eagle Records), which rejiggers a carefully chosen, non- obvious selection of older compositions, working the emotionally dense, often anthemic originals into warmly caressed, fascinating new shapes.

Ranging from a shuffling, saucy reworking of "The Space" from 1989's Season's End to a new take on "Wrapped Up In Time," originally on last year's excellent Happiness Is The Road (JamBase review), Less Is More puts the old title axiom into practice, finding delicate yet never wispy newness hiding inside familiar territory. By digging deep into their catalogue and consciously steering away from singles or dominant fan favorites, Marillion has found some serious sweetmeat that makes one reassess these tunes in a wholly favorable light. The occasional bit of electricity notwithstanding, Less Is More moves with the warm rush of acoustic guitars, hammered dulcimer, piano, Glockenspiel, xylophone and hushed percussion, with Steve Hogarth's voice prominent in the foreground – a fitting spot for one of the great under-celebrated singers of past 25 years, a voice with the vibrating emotional timbre of Thom Yorke melded to the pop classicism of The Zombies' Colin Blunstone.

Since Hogarth's arrival in 1989 Marillion has been a model of high-end musicianship, quality songwriting, and thoughtful construction in nearly every aspect of their work. The result is wonderfully accessible yet richly layered work like Less Is More, where there's a strong sense of happy interaction with this music and one picks up on the musicians' pleasure in discovering fresh inspiration in past efforts. At the stage where many bands lumber along on auto-pilot, Marillion seems supercharged for tomorrow, even if they arrive their by way of yesterday.

Bonus: The U.S. edition of this release includes two bonus tracks including a great cover of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees."

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[Published on: 12/22/09]

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