Marillion is widely considered one of the founders of neo-progressive rock . Starting in the early 1980s with albums like Script For a Jester’s Tear and Misplaced Childhood, Marillion was initially influenced by the British progressive rock of 1970s groups like Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd. With the entrance of singer Steve Hogarth in the latter part of the decade the band began a long, slow transformation into an amalgam of progressive, pop, ambient and modern rock that defies labels, confounds critics and delights music fans.
In 2009 the band released Less is More, an album featuring acoustic re-arrangements of past Marillion songs. On March 29, 2011 Eagle Rock Entertainment, through earMusic, released a double CD/DVD set entitled Live From Cadogan Hall, which was recorded on the final night of the Less is More tour at London’s prestigious Cadogan Hall.
The show is divided into two sets. The first set features live presentations of the songs from Less is More, while the second set features ten other classic Marillion tracks re-imagined in acoustic arrangements. The adventurous new arrangements expand the band’s instrumentation, including dulcimer, autoharp, celeste, glockenspiel, xylophone, and pipe organ.
The strengths of this project are many. The beautiful instrumentation and innovative arrangements allow the band to do more than simply perform the songs in a stripped-down setting. Marillion actually broadly re-imagined an interesting cross-section of its own past in dramatically different arrangements, styles and musical textures.
These types of bed tracks provide a superb setting for Steve Hogarth’s expressive voice, which sounds better overall on these live tracks than it did on the studio versions of the same songs on Less Is More. Steve Rothery remains one of the most tasteful guitarists in the genre, and his melodic and textural choices also work well within this setting. Mark Kelly’s keyboards provide the true backbone for many of the songs.
This project’s main drawback lies in its length. There just isn’t enough dynamic and tempo variation to keep things interesting over the course of two entire discs. At certain points it threatens to lapse into progressive Muzak, rather than progressive rock. It’s not the most energetic set, and since all of Disc One is essentially just a live re-capitulation of Less Is More, Marillion might have done well to take a lesson from that title and whittle this material down to a single disc.
That said, Disc Two provides some relief to the aural sameness of Disc One. “You’re Gone,” “80 Days,” “Gazpacho” and “The Answering Machine” are all more up-tempo, and the band closes with “Three Minute Boy,” which sees Steve Rothery blazing through a much-needed electric guitar solo to round out the night.
The companion DVD is probably the better purchase since its HD visual element tends to counterbalance the sameness of some of the material.
If you’re a Marillion fan, or a fan of the lighter, more ambient side of progressive rock, this album is for you. If not, there should still be a few tracks to hold your interest.
If you’re a true music afficianado that likes to invest a lot of time and energy into stretching your appreciation of music, there’s plenty on Marillion’s Live From Cadogan Hall to challenge and intrigue you.