January 9, 2023

I have to admit that if Fish had stood up and sung these songs in 1982 then I’d have been pumping my fist high in the air as much as I was to Grendel, Chelsea Monday or many others.

Question: on which track on Collage’s Over And Out does Steve Rothery play guitar? The correct answer is the closing track, Man In The Middle. The cheeky answer would be: on all of them. That’s because the guitar work of Michał Kirmuć sounds remarkably like Rothery in every track. But it’s not just the guitar. The vocal tone and delivery style of lead singer Bartek Kossowicz sounds eerily like Fish too. And the result? You’ve guessed it: a band that sounds like Fish-era Marillion. Now, having had the privilege of seeing Marillion at the Marquee prior to having a recording contract, I’d be the first to cry ‘ there’ll never be another like them’ and ridicule any cheap imitations, but listening to this album I have to admit that if Fish had stood up and sung these songs in 1982 then I’d have been pumping my fist high in the air as much as I was to Grendel, Chelsea Monday or many others.

If the name Collage is new to you then they are a Polish band. They had some success, at least in their homeland, with a series of four albums in the 1990s. They reformed a few years ago and have now released this fifth album. The line-up has changed, and new to the group are the duo of Kirmuć and Kossowicz mentioned above. That might raise the question of whether they brought the Marillion influence with them, but you could already hear the Marillion influence loud and clear in those 1990 releases. This continuity in the group’s sound is probably down to the lead writer for the group being their long-standing drummer, Wojtek Szadkowski.

The album has just five tracks spanning a shade under an hour. The title track itself comes in at a whopping twenty-two minutes and not surprisingly it’s a complex multi-part structure. The Marillion template is evident from the off, not only in the guitars and vocals but also the keys and bass. There are some magical moments such as the quiet piano and vocals section (which actually sounds more Peter Hammill than Marillion) which leads to thirty seconds of pure anger as Kossowicz sings ‘I don’t want to die…’ before transforming stunningly into a brilliant uplifting melody. The middle part of the song is perhaps overlong, but at the 15-minute mark there’s a beautiful vocal melody accompanied by piano which is the kick-off point for a gradual crescendo that reaches a bitter climax as Kossowicz hurls out ‘I can’t see the light’ in a voice full of anguish. Since the song opens with the sound of a cardiac monitor, one could deduce from the title that the song represents the last moments of a dying person. There again, the cardiac monitor appears again right at the end of the album so there may be other ways to interpret the song.

What About The Pain, at a mere nine minutes seems short after that title track. It starts with an attractive rhythmic verse and a fine anthemic chorus where the guitar beautifully follows the melody note for note. But after two choruses the music swerves off into a much darker and more dramatic direction (and very Marillion-like, it must be said). The chorus does return, but it’s in the inspired form of a children’s choir. There’s something poignant about children singing to such sad lyrics.  One Empty Hand is just five minutes long and yet it packs a punch with more angry and sinister lyrics (‘I still feel you; by your smell I’m hypnotized; set me free you witch, you promised’).

A Moment A Feeling is perhaps the outstanding track on the album. It’s a complex neo-prog piece like the title track but at thirteen minutes is a bit more digestible. An atmospheric opening recalls Marillion’s Pseudo Silk Kimono and that sung part concludes with Kossowicz quietly saying ‘my friend’. What comes next is not Forgotten Sons but it’s nearly as good! There’s a strong instrumental, some parts of which have a curiously Eastern feel to them, that leads to yet another strong melody (‘She’s holding us, holding on ‘til the moment that she dies in your eyes’). At the ten-minute mark the song takes a dark turn – the music speeds up with a careering synth theme interspersed with grim and fiercely delivered lines such as ‘you can watch me, how I bleed; satisfaction guaranteed’ The music hurtles along, barely keeping control, before finishing with an inconclusive coda.

The closing Man In The Middle is the one relatively straight forward song. It opens with piano reminiscent of Procol Harum’s Salty Dog and has yet another god melody. But the heart of the piece is Steve Rothery’s solo which takes up about half of its nine minutes. It’s an exceptional solo and a fitting way to conclude an excellent album.

Yes, Collage might sound a little too close for comfort to Marillion sometimes, but older readers might remember the grumbling about the first song that brought attention to Marillion – Grendel – and the claims that it sounded too much like Apocalypse in 9/8 from Supper’s Ready. There’ll always be influence, stronger or weaker, but if you just take this music on face value then Grendel is a great piece of music, and Over And Out is a damn good slab of neo-prog.