Brave by Marillion
This one was tough. Concept albums present an interesting situation. The reviewer has to remember that the band has chosen to limit the album according to a single idea. An appropriate analogy would be instead of using the 64-ct Crayola box, the group has intentionally chosen to use the 8-ct. This one took a few more listens than normal, but I think I'm on board.
Brave by England's Marillion is a concept album from '94 centered around the story of a girl who was found on the Severn bridge in the middle of the night without any idea of who she was or how she got there.
Before I go on, if you're unfamiliar, Marillion is the U.K.'s most successful alternative/progressive rock outfit to date. If you're someone who can dig on more progressive rock groups like Kansas, Styx, or Rush, then this group should please the aural palette as well.
From the get go, Brave has an eerie atmosphere to it. The (almost) instrumental intro entitled "Bridge" is ripe with foreboding power chords and ethereal synths that let you know exactly what to expect in the following tracks. Interesting tidbit here: some of the ambient sounds found in "Bridge" and others were actual sounds from a cave in Buckinghamshire.
Next up, "Living with the Big Lie." That should tell you plenty there. This one is full of commentary on the state of things. Ranging from love to education to entertainment and heavily to government, "Big Lie" more than anything, yields a bleak canvas on which the remainder of the album can rest. No happy-go-lucky, fancy-free, lollipops-and-unicorns feelings happening here! Other songs with a similar vibe and message are "The Hollow Man" and "Paper Lies."
Next, we get a direct address to the woman from the story. "Runaway" questions the circumstances of her 'discovery' as well as her mindset. This track has a slow-to-build arena rock sound that is both powerful and sensitive. Some very cool bass playing also! The next installment that seems to most directly address the girl's story was "The Lap of Luxury" and then the prog-ified power ballad "The Great Escape" gives this album the dash of suicide that it was missing all along.
The third track "Goodbye to All That" yields the first taste of Marillion's instrumental prowess. Fans of Liquid Tension Experiment will be quite happy. Some mixed meters, double bass drumming, and screaming electric guitars take the mellow beginning to some pretty awesome heights before we return to some ethereal, string-patched places. This one presents an interesting concept within a concept as the lyrical part of the song is in five parts. I haven't decided for sure what these parts represent to me, but they seem most likely, to fill in different gaps of the girl's history. Let's just say this: this ain't a pretty picture.
The album's title track is one that requires multiple listenings. It's one of the disc's longer songs, but lyrically one of the most sparse. Here the listener has to reconsider the girl's position. I won't tell you what I think, but there's a lot more to this track than you get on the first, second, or seventh listen.
"Hard as Love" is my favorite track on the album. Very cool music and the lyrics offer an interesting take on love as an idea. Lot's of '80s guitar with some pretty cool layers going on underneath - parallel to the words which tell, "Well it makes you hungry and it makes you high/It makes you/suffer and it makes you cry. But it's all worthwhile."
The album ends in an interesting way: optimistically. The final song "Made Again" is the first and only track with 1. acoustic guitar 2. major tonality 3. flute 4. happiness. Some may kill me for saying this, but the overall sound of this one reminds me of REO Speedwagon or early U2. Very interesting that such an otherwise dark and ominous album would end this way. Props to Marillion for keeping me on my toes.
Overall Brave is a pretty impressive album. Both from a concept standpoint (props to vocalist/songwriter Steve Hogarth) and musical view, it's no surprise that many consider this album to be Marillion's masterpiece. Something else to consider is that this disc is almost 20 years old. That's crazy. If you're looking for something new to check out, this is one that I'd suggest only if you're willing to invest a little time with it. It's good at first, but becomes great the more you understand.