Sonically, this album belongs to British singer-songwriter Mike Marlin. Interestingly though, his fourth album, entitled The Secret Of My Success, is actually a collaborative project, and could be referred to instead as an audio-visual art project He of course handled the music and lyricism, but acclaimed Scottish collage artist Colin Brown not only took care of the album artwork, but also created a painting for every single song. A week before the albums release, the aural and visual components were showcased in London, each painting a visual interpretation of an album riddled with themes of supressed ambition, emotional complexities, religion and the meaning of life.
Just as Marlin has made no efforts to censor his content, there is also an endearing freedom in this album, which alludes to the idea that he also made no efforts to modernise his sound in accordance with current musical ‘trends’. The minimalistic power of the emotive Avalanche is closer to the sounds of early Psychedelic Furs than anything more recent. Swollen by atmosphere rather than volume, the rippling synths envelope around Marlin’s regal vocals. The minimal approach follows Marlin through on songs such as Mothers Eyes, which emerges as nothing but swooning synths and solemnly sung lyrics, finally broken at more than two minutes in by the sudden arrival of full, band-style instrumentation.
Gravity Lies is probably not the first song by Mike Marlin to be likened to early Bowie; daringly simple in contrast with Marlin’s complex lyrical approach, as he questions, “Science or faith?” In its final minute, the song cascades into an influx of lo-fi instruments, and a wobbling bass that creates a mesmerizing wall of sound, before fading into a white noise fizzle-out. One of the albums less eerie tunes, Drowning is a bittersweet acoustic number that makes space for Marlin to show off his falsetto. Somehow though, the repeated lyric “If you want to be with me/You’ll have to leave this town” manages to be unavoidably remindful of the classic Spice Girl line “If you wanna be my lover/You gotta get with my friends”, however good or bad that may be!
Mike Marlin is an unbelievable talent in his ability to write emotive, powerful lyrics that are both direct and ambiguous at once. His sound is authentic yet nostalgic, splattered with influences from rock and blues, to post-punk and new wave. Going from contemplating the universe and our importance to it in Whale Hill and the sinister Missing Pieces, to more personal extracts like the evocative The Secret, Marlin’s The Secret Of My Success just might end up being the secret to his success after all.