We Still Have Time – Marillion’s Message of Hope: “An Hour Before It’s Dark”

marillion-ahbitd-1Marillion, An Hour Before It’s Dark, March 4, 2022
Tracks: Be Hard On Yourself (i. “The Tear in the Big Picture, ii. Lust for Luxury, iii. You Can Learn) (9:27), Reprogram the Gene (i. Invincible, ii. Trouble-Free Life, iii. A Cure for Us?) (7:00), Only a Kiss (0:39), Murder Machines (4:20), The Crow and the Nightingale (6:35), Sierra Leone (i. Chance in a Million, ii. The White Sand, iii. The Diamond, iv. The Blue Warm Air, v. More Than a Treasure) (10:51) Care (i. Maintenance Drugs, ii. An Hour Before It’s Dark, iii. Every Cell, iv. Angels on Earth) (15:18)

I may not be the most avid Marillion fan in the world, but of all the bands out there making music, they force me into deep reflection more than anyone else besides Devin Townsend. But where Devin Townsend forces me to be introspective, Marillion draws me outside myself. I disagree with their politics, yet generally I’ve found their perspective and the way they present it to be helpful in drawing me out of my own bubble. Their 2016 album, F.E.A.R., was a masterpiece in that regard, and it has been an album that has stuck with me since its release. I’m not ready to say that their latest record An Hour Before It’s Dark is on that level, but it is very good. I expect it will grow on me as time goes by. I’ve been slowly digesting it for a few weeks now, and I’ve been compelled to return to it more than any other album in that time.

Musically there are few bands that can match Marillion. Steve Rothery is one of the finest guitarists in the business. Pete Trewavas’s bass booms throughout, taking a primary role in various parts of the mix. Ian Mosley’s drums will no doubt win him awards, and Mark Kelly’s keyboards round out the Marillion sound. This is an album that sounds like a Marillion album. In many regards it sounds very similar to F.E.A.R. It’s a continuation, not a progression, but what did we expect? Marillion is doing what they do best, and who would fault them for that?

At first glance An Hour Before It’s Dark appears to be a rather dark album, although Steve Hogarth says despite the lyrical themes, the album is rather upbeat. I agree in part. There are dark and brooding elements of the music that are a lot like F.E.A.R, but there are also peppy tracks that defy their lyrical doom. “Murder Machines” is about the frustrations during Covid of not being able to be near loved ones for fear of killing them with love.

I put my arms around her
And I killed her with love
I killed her with love

Marillion – “Murder Machines” – YouTube

The opening track, “Be Hard on Yourself,” is a cutting critique of our culture of excess. The band extol the listener to “Be hard on yourself / You’ve been spoilt for years.” Like much of Marillion’s catalog, the melody and lyrics work their way into your ears. It’s catchy, yet the music is still unashamedly progressive. On the musical side of things, Kelly’s keyboards are particularly noticeable on this track. Hogarth’s signature style of speak-singing is in full force, bringing the lyrics into the forefront.

Cause of death: Lust for luxury
Cause of death: Consumption

The first two sections of the track examine the culture of consumption, but in the final section Hogarth offers a solution: get up and do something positive. He ends the song with such a call:

You can do better
You can do better
But do it now

We haven’t got long
We haven’t got long
To the end of the song

Be hard on yourself

Strap in
Get ready
Foot down
Push the button
Blow it all up
Blow it all up

Paint a picture, sing a song, plant some flowers in the park
Get out and make it better
You’ve got an hour before it’s dark…

As the late David Longdon told Progarchy last summer, “That’s the beauty of being human, we don’t get forever.” Make a change before it’s too late. Say a kind word, or at the least don’t say that unkind word. Lend a helping hand. We all can make a difference before it gets dark. The hope in this message alone makes the album worth listening to.

“Reprogram the Gene” is my least favorite song on the album. [Edit: In the original version of this review, I was unfamiliar with the British cultural context behind a particular lyric I thought was entirely political, when it actually has a more clever double meaning. As such I was too harsh in my critique and have updated the review to soften that critique. Thank you to the commenter below who pointed that out.] There’s a lyrical passage that is one of the more bizarre things I’ve heard in a prog song in recent years:

I want to be Dr. Frankenstein
Put my brain in a box full of LED light
You can have it for Christmas
Next year it’ll be cheaper and fourteen times as bright

What in the hell is this supposed to mean? It just sounds so bizarre when he sings it, and the way he sings it is a little grating. Beyond that, I disagree with his politics, but I respected the way he approached it in F.E.A.R. Initially I thought the following lyric was a bit crass: “I’ve seen the future! It ain’t orange, it’s green.” I was unaware that this is referring to an old phone network commercial from Orange that used the following slogan: “the future’s bright, the future’s Orange.” I thought the lyric was just another example of “orange man bad” living rent-free in people’s minds, but now I see the lyric is far more clever than that. I still think Hogarth has a double meaning here, but there’s more nuance to it than I thought. I’m not a fan of the Greta T he’s promoting, but to each their own. Nevertheless I think the very idea of reprogramming genes is absolutely awful, but there’s probably more to those lines than face value might imply. At least the song ends on a happy note: “I’m gonna be a friend of the earth / Let’s all be friends of the earth / Let’s all be friends.” 

“The Crow and the Nightingale is one that will take me a lot longer to unwrap lyrically, but musically it’s a great piece on the quieter and moodier side of the Marillion spectrum.

“Sierra Leone” is another track that will take a while for me to unpack. It has the Marillion melancholy, as well as some stellar guitar solos from Steve Rothery. The song is influenced by the African country of Sierra Leone – the diamond (Sierra Leone is known for diamond mining), the sandy beaches, the cluttered streets. But I don’t think the song is really talking about the country. The diamond is a metaphor for finding something worth far more than material possessions or money. The question is what is it? Diamonds are the most precious of stones, so whatever it is must be exceedingly precious. The ending of the song suggests that the “diamond” isn’t something tangible.

I won’t… sell this diamond
I won’t

This is more than treasure
This is more than treasure
This was sent to me from God

With that said, Hogarth explained these lyrics in an interview with Misplaced Straws. He described it as being about a poor man who finds a diamond the size of his fist. Since he’s never had anything in his life, he has never had any real choices. Once he finds this diamond he chooses to keep it, because just having the diamond finally gives him a choice. Hogarth said the song is about human dignity, but he also said it is about not selling out. I think this song has meanings beyond that, but I’ll leave that up to you.

At 15 minutes in length, “Care” is the epic on the album. Trewavas’ bass takes center stage in the first part of “Care.” He even throws in a little bit of a funk vibe with what sounds like a slapping style of playing. This is another song that will take a long time to digest because there’s a lot going on. The track pulls together many of the lyrical themes touched on throughout the rest of the album. Much like the aforementioned quote from David Longdon, Hogarth tells us in the first part, “No one knows how much time they’ve got left.” The following passage from the second part is truly powerful:

These are the days that will flash before our eyes at the end
These are the moments burned into the sacred places of our hearts
Thank you for making me truly, truly alive
In a life where luxury was, sometimes, to survive
Under the weight of lost love, disillusionment and shame
You came warm, and loved me like a tropical storm
Spiraled me up into the air

In a life where luxury was, sometimes, to survive under the weight of lost love, disillusionment and shame, you came warm, and loved me like a tropical storm – spiraled me up into the air… Wow. That’s an incredibly meaningful set of lyrics. No matter how you take them, these are the most important lyrics on the record. It seems to have a lot of spiritual connotations, but that’s my reading. An entire post analyzing these lines could be written, but I’ll spare you that for now.

The song and the album end with a touching ode to the unsung heroes who keep things going. The final few lines are delivered in a haunting tone that closes the album rather beautifully:

The angels in this world are not in the walls of churches
The angels in this world are not rendered in bronze or stone
The heroes in this world, working while we’re all sleeping
She wrapped her arms around me
He wrapped his arms around me
She wrapped her arms around me
He wrapped his arms around me

An angel here on earth came down here
To carry me home
To carry me home


An Hour Before It’s Dark is an album that I think will continue to grow on me. Apart from my beef with one track I find the record extremely compelling. The music is second to none, and the lyrics make me think, which is all I can ask from them. The underlying messages of hope, human dignity, and love are certainly welcome, and the musical delivery makes it that much better. It’s a carefully crafted album worthy of repeated attention. I’d go so far as to say it is the best record released so far this year. But it’s Marillion. Did we really expect any less from them?

http://marillion.com

Marillion – “Care” – YouTube

5 thoughts on “We Still Have Time – Marillion’s Message of Hope: “An Hour Before It’s Dark”

  1. Simmo

    That’s a really good write up but It reads to me as if you may have let your perception of criticism of the previous president cloud your view of Reprogram the Gene….and as it happens, that particular lyric is nothing to do with Trump. Back in the 90s there was a mobile phone network provider in the UK called Orange, and for many years their advertising slogan was ‘the future’s bright, the future’s Orange’. If you say ‘the future’s bright’ to pretty much anybody in the UK aged 40+ they will almost certainly respond with ‘the future’s Orange’. H has confirmed in interviews that was what he was referring to. Maybe it’s just an added bonus if people want to think it relates to Trump as well. 🙂
    Musically, I don’t think there is a weak track on there and they all have merits of their own. If forced to pick I would probably choose The Crow & The Nightingale and Care as the stand outs, although saying that it is Reprogram the Gene that is the earworm that I find is in my head all the time. It really is a stunning album, one that is even more incredible at this stage in their career.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bryan Morey

      Thank you very much for clarifying, Simmo. I had no idea about that cultural context. I’ll make an edit to the review with that info in mind. I still think he’s using it as a double meaning, but it’s far more clever than I originally gave it credit for. Thanks for reading.

      Like

  2. It didn’t touch me.
    I’ve been a fan of Marillion for yonks, as they say.
    I’ve bought the crowdfunding, pre-orders, I bought this one, I have my name in the booklets, but this album just didn’t connect.
    Too dark, too downbeat in a world already downbeat and increasingly being beaten down.

    I much preferred Big Big Train’s take on things with Common Ground and Welcome to the Planet, the latter including the wonderfully evocative and uplifting Proper Jack Froster, a song which still makes me smile every time I hear it, in spite of the story’s subtext.

    Back in the Marillion camp, F.E.A.R was a great return to form after a few arguably lacklustre albums, I know, I know, it’s only my opinion but there you are.

    Liked by 1 person

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