After such a storied career manning the Marillion keyboard arsenal, I really had no expectations either way, fueled more by the smile-inducing presence of drummer extraordinaire Henry Rogers, a Paul Thompson-like thumper who has beaten powerful drums on a few tremendous albums by Deeexpus, Final Conflict, Touchstone, Edison’s Children, Heather Findlay, and a few others. I also remembered how Marillion eventually veered off into a more “accessible” style recently, but I was tempered by the fact that both Pete Trewavas and Steve Rothery put out very proggy albums, the former’s work with Edison’s Children and the latter on the sizzling “The Ghost of Pripyat” release hitting all kinds of pleasure nodes. Another promising clue was the stunning artwork as I am a 70s guy, so the number of albums I bought because of the cover? Oh my, lots!. The addition of two multi-part suites sort of sealed the reconnaissance deal, only to be confirmed immediately upon pressing PLAY. I have this daft ritual that is more of a nervous tick: I start laughing out loud when the sounds coming out of the speakers blow me away! I had a marathon’s worth while ingesting this slice of musical revelry! So, the table is set for one hell of an enjoyable epic album.

The three-part, 11 minute “Amelia” suite sets the pace, a clever homage to Earhardt’s famed flight and subsequent disappearance somewhere in the Pacific, near Howland Island, clicked with me immediately due to my friend Colin Mold tackling the subject matter on one of his last solo album “Now You See Me”. The theme is how all the careful planning can be subverted by the smallest grain of misfortune, lack of communication or plain bad luck. Musically, it is pure prog in classic sauce, creating the mood, setting down an echoing groove, and smartly introducing the lead lung Oliver Smith, a smooth voice that glides effortlessly (neither Fish nor Hogarth, if you care to know), with Kelly’s piano front and center and that trademark Rogers beat. The sweet electric guitars soar like a Lockheed Electra, veering into windswept vocal harmonies, fueled not by kerosene but Benedictine (clever that!). Slap on a slippery synth solo, a cracking bluesy, wah-wah guitar run amid the desperate pleas for Amelia, and conviction sets in. Respect.

The beamed spotlight is now firmly on Ollie Smith as “When I Fell” shows off some crafty pipes, as he modulates his vocal chops down to a whisper, all very Beatles-ish until Kelly wrestles mightily with his organ, a flurry of rustling notes that hits the spot. The final segment is prog heavy, a strong cosmic sheen fading into the mist. The sharp pop-prog on “This Time” is truly addictive, I thought I was listening to a proggier version of Split Enz or Squeeze, Ollie’s voice showing an impressive tone and range, whilst the ingenious music supplies enough circumstance and pomp. Giggles and grins. The majestic “Puppets” is in my opinion, the highlight track here, a staggeringly attractive and passionate evocation of melody and structure, a powerful vocal delivery (man, can the guy sing!) that hits all the marks, slayed by a Steve Rothery guitar blast like only he can, brimming of beauty and despair, a Kelly synth intervention, twinkling piano and yup, more guitar. A second chorus and verse do this piece justice as it is a thoroughly enjoyable and creative ride. Big smile.

The four-part “2051 “showcases a 15-minute foray into a more symphonic realm, highly sci-fi cinematographic, laden with sweeping synthesized orchestrations, quirky lyrics and a world-class groove from nephew Conal Kelly on bass and the firm Mr-Rogers. Oliver croons of “sipping mai-tais at Trader Vic’s”, rekindling early Marillion hints, as the passionate microphone starts to sweat mightily. “A song unsung”, lyrically dazzlingly perplexed, hymn-like passages and sonic effects galore. It gets tough when need be, bullied by chugging synths and beastly drum and bass headlights scouring the skies. The whole thing is tightly wound in pristine production and you can hear each vocalized syllable clearly. An old school Yes finale really forces the smile, what with a Squire styled bass roaming the lower end. Beam.

This album has everything to keep the fascination peaked (piqued?), technically blissful, contrast-laden, idiosyncratic, poppy at times, and totally devoid of dross. This is seriously entertaining prog of the highest order.

5 endless races