3rd time lucky: Pripyatic

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Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery has a new instrumental side project The Ghosts of Pripyat scheduled to be released in September of next year. It’s his first solo outing proper after a couple ‘false starts’…

‘I had an offer to record a solo album from EMI during the recording of Misplaced Childhood in 1985. However it led to a strong disagreement within the band and the idea was shelved. While recording the Brave album at Miles Copeland’s chateau in France I was offered a deal to make an instrumental album for his “No Speak” label, however, I decided to record the first Wishing Tree album instead. Fast forward another twenty years and I’m invited to play at the annual Plovdiv guitar festival in October 2013. Having committed to the festival it left me with the small problem of what to play for an hour. “Blues in A” just wasn’t going to cut it. I had a few strong ideas and got together for a couple of writing sessions with my good friend and fellow guitarist Dave Foster. Dave and I have a great musical chemistry which brought forth a lot of amazing music. After a couple of days rehearsal with the fantastic rhythm section of Leon Parr and Yatim Halimi I realised this was going to be something really special. The live album and video from the performance gives you an idea of where the finished album, “The Ghosts of Pripyat”, will go…’

He’s financing the release via Kickstarter, the popular crowd-funding platform that so resembles Marillion‘s long-established business MO and it surpassed its (modest) funding target on launch day (yesterday and also the man’s birthday). But don’t that let it stop you from chipping in if you like what you hear…

Unrestrained by the structural demands of Marillion‘s familiar songwriting style, Rothery‘s playing takes on a different dynamic; a melodic lead that is by turns less fiery and more richly-realised . The above montage of clips evidences a sound somewhat removed from his day job, though fans of that band might notice passing similarities to past instrumental breaks such as The Opium Den and Cathedral Wall. The harmonic choices and elegant phrasing are identifiably Rothers yet… different. Bold, languid and, dare one say, a little indulgent. White Pass (below) begins with chords that faintly remind of Jordan Rudess‘ opening to the Someone Like Him section of Dream Theater‘s Octavarium; noodles gently awhile before subtly gaining momentum.

It’s plaintive and gently compelling, and whilst I could have survived with a couple minutes less noodling in the early part of the song it effectively showcases the tasteful mastery of mood that Rothery brings to the table at The Racket Club. If I have one overarching criticism it’s that the ululating crescendo never really reaches a satisfying climax: it just kinda peters out awkwardly and abruptly; the ‘great chemistry’ Rothers alludes to (above) failing to coalesce into a stable musical molecule.

So this is not about tight, technically-adventurous musical showmanship so much as carefree, melodic rambling to stir the soul. In a way, it falls between two stools; insofar as it’s a bit too interesting to serve as ambient chill-out fare, whilst not demonstrating the full-blooded chops that will start the virtuoso-twitchers stroking their beards in wonderment. It possesses a little of the gently psychedelic quality of early Porcupine Tree, something that Rothery‘s Marillion bandmate, bassist Pete Trewavas explores with his Edison’s Children project.

Speaking of Mr Trewavas, and full-blooded chops; Transatlantic (his collaboration with Mike Portnoy [Dream Theater, Winery Dogs, Flying Colors], Roine Stolt [Flower Kings, Kaipa] and Neal Morse [Spock’s Beard, Flying Colors]) are set shortly to unleash their forth studio project, Kaleidoscope upon the world . The pre-order opens on December 10.

So, a good time to be a Marillion fan and/or an aficianado of what was once dubbed ‘underground music’. Underappreciated? Maybe. Priapic, sorry Pripyatic? Sure. But go knock yourselves out…

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