Following the success of the Steven Wilson remixed ‘Brave’ and accompanying box set earlier in 2018, the Marillion reissue campaign continues with an expanded ‘Clutching At Straws’ this November.
Although not as commercially successful as its predecessor ‘Misplaced Childhood’, the 1987 album reached the UK top ten, spawned hit singles and remains a firm favourite with long-time fans.
At Real Gone, we pride ourselves on covering a wide range of musical styles, but rock music is pivotal to our everyday listening. In the years building up to the site’s creation, Marillion were one of our all time favourite bands. They have arguably one of the most obsessive fan bases of any band ever. Hours have been spent discussing the merits of various works – with their ‘Radiation’ album being particularly divisive – and, while the fans often agree, they’re as likely to disagree on various things.
Since the late 90s it has become tradition for Marillion to give their fan club members an exclusive CD. These releases are mixed bag affairs always containing unreleased material, sometimes demo recordings or live recordings. Over the years, these fun items have become treasured by fans.
As part of their now-traditional fan-club freebie, rock legends Marillion recorded a version of the festive tune ‘Carol of The Bells’. Normally fan-club tracks stay that way, but this year, the band have made an exception.
This debut album by Arena feels like an important progressive rock release. Arena’s keyboard player Clive Nolan is probably best known as being a longtime member of Pendragon and the drummer, Mick Pointer was part of the original Marillion line-up.
The lengthy album opener, ‘Out of the Wilderness’ is a good indication of Arena’s musical ability. At over ten minutes, ‘Valley of the Kings’ follows a similar neo-progressive musical path and has a mid-section which sounds like Marillion’s ‘Forgotten Sons’. As a consequence, vocalist John Carson tries his best to sound like Fish. Sadly, this is the album’s main deficiency: Mick Pointer seems intent on capturing his former glories and as a result, all of the best bits sound like they’ve been all but plagiarized from ‘Script For A Jester’s Tear’.
The conceptual ‘Crying For Help’ could’ve provided the band with an interesting centrepiece. Unfortunately, it’s nearly all instrumental keyboard work and when added together, its four parts total nearly fifteen minutes and very little of it holds the attention. The only part of ‘Crying For Help’ which shows any real promise is the final part which features a guest solo from Marillion’s Steve Rothery. But, again, on the down side, the track closes with a ringing telephone and a message saying “…this is the problem line.” Sound familiar?
On the whole, ‘Songs From The Lions Cage’ lacks originality and is only worth a listen if you’re a diehard Marillion fan. Otherwise…
Originally written for Fastlane magazine, 1994