Album Review: Steve Rothery Band - 'Live In Rome'.
Steve Rothery, for the uninitiated is the long standing guitarist and founder member of progressive rock’s revered statesmen Marillion. Aside from a couple of releases with his side project The Wishing Tree, ‘Live In Rome’ is his first solo release proper. Appearing on every Marillion release since 1982, it’s easy to see why he hasn’t ventured out on his own before, for musically the new material presented here does not stray far from his Marilliroots.
With a studio album ‘The Ghosts of Pripyat’ to follow in September, in a surprise move, this live release comes along first, whetting the appetite for the studio album that’s to follow. Recorded earlier this year, Steve is ably assisted by a stellar cast that includes a fine adversary in guitarist Dave Foster. The package itself can be split roughly into two parts; the solo album tasters, which are instrumental pieces, and the Marillion classics.
First up, are the instrumentals. ‘Morpheus’ opens the album in the same atmospheric, expansive style that has become commonplace for Marillion over the past twenty years. Clocking in at over ten minutes long, what to many would be an ‘epic’, here is standard fare. Rothery works best creating narratives from his guitar, and without the constraints of vocals to work around, he has free reign to soar. Effortlessly creating moods which suit each piece, the god of dreams in this song’s title is painted vividly, from the cinematic intro to the breath taking and uplifting open road setting sun second half. ‘Kendris’ follows, and its hypnotic tribal rhythm takes a different tack, with Eastern flavours reminiscent of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s soiree into similar territory back when they did the ‘Un-Led-Ed’ project.
For such widescreen landscapes, there is a genuine intimacy, thanks largely to Rothery’s entirely non-pretentious between song chatter. Introducing ‘The Old Man Of The Sea’, for example, he shares the genesis of the project. Atmospherically, the track itself treads similar water to Marillion’s ‘Ocean Cloud’. ‘White Pass’ meanwhile, sets out to conjure, in Rothery’s own words, a frozen, bleak landscape. It does so effortlessly, and if there is an epic on this album, then this is it, with a breakdown that sees two distinct songs forming from one. ‘Yesterday’s Hero’ meanwhile, is a tender piece, warmly dedicated to Steve’s late stepfather Earnest, a war veteran. Finally, ‘Summers End’ brings the curtain down on the first half, with a mood part melancholic, part optimistic. Again, Rothery’s guitar sings beautifully, with harmonics and melodies that paint a stunning vista. The song kicks up a gear in the closing passages, and the band really come to life, like a revved-up car, throttle finally released. The album’s musical highlight, it’s simply majestic.
As for the Marillion songs, what’s apparent immediately is just how much Steve Hogarth’s voice is missed. Hearing songs that are so identifiable with his voice without him feels just wrong. The song choices themselves however, are interesting. Pleasingly, there are those that contain some of Rothery’s most recognisable guitar solos in ‘Easter’ and ‘Sugar Mice’, as well as an often overlooked Fish-era fan favourite in ‘Cinderella Search’. Guest vocalists Manuela Milanese and Alessandro Carmassi add their tones to mixed results. Unfortunately, Milanese sounds irritatingly auto-tuned in places, particularly on ‘Waiting To Happen’, as does Carmassi on ‘Afraid of Sunlight’. The band throughout however, are virtually flawless, and are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
But to focus on the Marillion songs is missing the point. Explaining that his approach to each instrumental was to record a soundtrack for a film that doesn’t exist could have backfired badly. U2 attempted the same back in 1995 with their ill-conceived and much maligned, (even by their own drummer Larry Mullan Jr.) ‘Passengers’ project. However, here it works beautifully, thanks to the discourse provided by Rothery’s exquisite playing. A collection of films worth seeing then, you ask me to tell you the story so far? This is the story so far.
First published on uberrock.co.uk, 16 August 2014.