It's 2016 and as it is an Olympic year that coincidentally means a new Marillion album. The last three albums have been pre-ordered special editions released in an Olympic year and FEAR is no different (it will be written as FEAR for short in this review). I shall be reviewing the special edition of their eighteenth studio album (the fourteenth since Steve Hogarth joined in 1989).
The first thought when I saw the box was how well put together it was. No expense was spared in creating something you would be proud to own. I loved seeing my name in the credits again and think it was a good decision to ask for the band to sign it. My second thought is the title? "Fuck Everyone and Run". Is it a controversial title? Only because Marillion have never really been known as a swear band but when you understand the lyrics and themes of the album you can certainly see why they chose it. If it is necessary to be a bit controversial to get your point across than that has a much bigger impact than just being controversial for the sake of it. Also, it is the only swear word mentioned on the album, so it is hardly Ice-T's Home Invasion.
Included with the compact disc is a DVD. This contains the album in both stereo and surround sound mixes. You can select the audio option, so it plays the album as instrumentals too. I think the instrumental version is a lovely idea and gives the album a whole new dimension. It is just a shame to lose Steve Hogarth's lovely voice. There are also three videos of short jam session recordings, but I think what will interest the fans most is the sixty-three minutes long documentary of the making of the album.
The most important part of the album is obviously the songs themselves. Apart from Marillion's influences of Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Radiohead, Genesis, Yes and others, it seems to me that the biggest musical influence on this album is themselves. It feels as though the band intend to take some of the most interesting and beautiful parts of their previous albums and streamline them into something incredibly special on this album. Their evolution over the last thirty-five years has meant there is an incredible back catalogue to choose from.
What I have noticed is that Mark Kelly is a lot more prominent on this album. His synthesiser, piano and organ playing carry the songs far more than they have ever done which for a keyboard and one guitar-based band like Marillion is saying quite a lot. Steve Rothery is still playing some wonderful guitar parts but it is a lot more restrained and quite subtle in places. Pete Trewavas and Ian Mosley are playing superb bass and drums here too. Pete has some quite impressive bass riffs especially on 'El Dorado' and Ian has some very powerful fills.
The lyrics are certainly a lot more political compared to previous albums and deal with universal subjects such as patriotism, propaganda, pacifism, economic inequality but more personal subjects such as life on the road as a touring band.
Opener 'El Dorado' starts with a pastoral acoustic passage but becomes an incredible widescreen epic with lots of synth, organ and piano sounds. The synth parts give it a definite science fiction feel especially in the second part of the suite and some are quite scary. Definitely one to be played as loud as possible.
'Living in FEAR' is a shorter piano driven song but no less special, quite plaintive during the verses but becoming bombastic during the chorus. I especially like the German and Russian lines at the end. It gives the song an international feel.
'The Leavers' is another long track opens with a wonderful twinkling synth arpeggio reminiscent of Tangerine Dream and then follows another incredible epic adventure in music. The lyrics outline life on the road for the band and those who stay at home but see them live in their hometown. The electronics and piano sounds are all there and Steve Rothery closes the song with an amazing guitar solo. It is fast becoming my favourite song on the album. Absolutely stunning.
'White Paper' is the second short song but is also no less welcome than the long songs. There is a lot of piano on this song (there is a lot on the whole album actually) but it never gets boring as it is treated with echo and reverb and sounds very beautiful.
Third long song 'The New Kings' was very kindly released by the band as a stand-alone mp3 so we were already quite familiar with it. This was because they were performing it live over the summer and did not want fans to hear a rubbish version of it on YouTube. The strings give the song an orchestral air, but you can feel the anger and energy throughout the whole song.
The album was produced and mixed by Michael Hunter who has done an amazing job as the unofficial sixth member of the band. All the instruments are perfectly balanced but there is still room for each player to breathe and not to overwhelm anyone else. He hasn't overdone the reverb, but the songs still sound powerful with the dynamic range compression (reducing the volume of loud sounds and amplifying the quiet sounds) in all the right places so the album doesn't distort too much. It has a classic production sound but also sounds like a modern digital recording just like a proper album should be with a warm sound that isn't sterile sounding.
There are a few flaws and this album is not perfect. The album was mastered with seventeen tracks, so the long songs consist of five-six sections. This means that there is the two-second gap between sections. I think the vocals could have done with a bit more quality control. Steve Hogarth has always tended to mumble the odd sentence in his vocal delivery and the album continues this quirk. I feel that final track 'Tomorrow's New Country' feels slightly out of place as it is part of The Leavers suite but tagged on at the end after 'The New Kings' but it is a lovely little piece of music, so it had to go somewhere. Also, some people may miss the eight, nine and ten-minute songs and the eight track albums but there are plenty of other Marillion albums for that.
In conclusion, I would certainly put this in my top five of favourite Marillion albums. In my list it would probably go in at number three, it is a better album than 'Sound's That Can't Be Made' and 'Anoraknophobia' but not as good as 'Marbles' and 'Afraid of Sunlight'. I would certainly give this album an eight out of ten.