★ Marillion

There may be no band working today as fundamentally unique as Marillion. Every lyric is poetry, every song is wonderful, every album is a masterpiece, and each album is so stunningly different than any other band that I've ever heard that I can't bring myself to classify them. They're one of those precious few acts that completely defy genre, not because they're trying to, but because what they're doing is so characteristically them that to lump it into a category like prog-rock would completely neglect the intricacies of their music. I just finished the band's latest album, Happiness is the Road, and while I'll need a couple more listens before I really figure out how I feel about it, right now I think it's one of their strongest efforts. It's a brilliant piece of work, and felt to me like sort of a bizarre fusion of two previous efforts, Marbles and Brave. I'm just blown away and can't wait to listen to it again.

With one exception, every member of the band is talented but not mind-blowingly good at what he does. Steve Rothery is a wonderful guitarist, Pete Trewavis is a wonderful bassist, Ian Mosley is a fine drummer and Mark Kelly is a great keyboardist. But what makes them special is the way that they fill each others gaps. No one is trying to show off, but everyone is doing exactly what he needs to do in order to create a listening experience that leaves the listener stunned.

The exception, of course, is Steve Hogarth, who is perhaps the most wonderful vocalist working today. His voice isn't the best I've ever heard, but I can't think of anyone who sings each line with as much raw passion. I'm generally pretty dismissive of band members who just sing, but Hogarth gets everything out of his voice that he possibly can.  He never overpowers the music, but often gives it that little boost that it needs to become more than just run-of-the-mill awesome.

What I think puts the band over the top for me is its power to elicit an emotional response from each listening - the sort of response that the vast majority of artists hope to get just once in their career. Remember how you felt the first time you heard Pet Sounds? How it grabbed you by the heart and soul and left you with a different appreciation of music? Remember the first time you heard Abbey Road or Remain in Light or Animals? How each of those albums wrenched this raw emotion from you? Well, Marillion does that with every album on every listen, or at least it does with me. They make the music I want to listen to when I'm happy and that I need to listen to when I'm down. I can't explain why or how they do it, but somehow, someway, they have tapped into the very definition of what music should be and I can't stop listening to them.

If you're searching for new music, I can't give any band a stronger recommendation.