MARILLION – This Strange Engine (1997)

Review by: Dina Levina
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz

The man who gave birth to this album declared himself a Man of a Thousand Faces in the opening song, and I expected an adventure, varicolored and bizarre. However, the faces he presents here are all samely and somewhat Bon Jovi-ish. Pleasant but a tad pretentious lyrics-wise, the first song is more or less okay.

Then comes One Fine Day, a retro little thing about rain and hope, and I’m hoping for something to happen. Still, all I get is some preachy obscure message and melancholy music I try hard to enjoy, up until the second when the nice dramatic effect given by piano and strings is violently murdered by the olden guitar, and all hope goes to hell.
I’m waiting for something strange and fascinating, but as the lyrics say, “beginning to wonder if we’ll wait in vain”.

After One Fine Day, we have 80 Days, all of them equally fine. ‘Tis an uplifting song in which the singer is gently trying to get sexual consent from someone while riding in a car. There is certain harmony in it, since this song is perfect for car rides, plain and optimistic. In the middle, someone from the horn section gets loose for a few seconds, but an invisible hand silences them quickly.

After the car ride we spend almost eight minutes in a meditative state in Estonia, being cosmic and monotonous. The xylophone is giving it a mysterious touch, the lyrics carry the same obscure wisdom the author is so desperate to preach. “I wonder if my rope’s still hanging from the tree”, he wonders, and I feel eternal gloom grabbing me by the throat, attempting to drown me in string-ridden despair.

The jolly Bon Jovi vibes are back in An Accidental Man, the rope around my neck loosens, but my will to live and listen further is shaken. “It’s not that I’m complaining, It’s all the same to me”, sings the man, and I nod mournfully. It feels like being in a particularly claustrophobic Stephen King story – we’re still riding in that car, but the scenery doesn’t seem to change.

Preachy again, the song suddenly breaks out into something African in the line of The Lion King, which is nice and refreshing. Also, nice flute. The author declares repeatedly that he’s carrying a message of hope, and I still want to believe him – we have the last, thirty-minute long song ahead of us.

I regret to say that it fails me.

P.S: Phrases like “the womb of time” in poetry and lyrics must be punishable by death.