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Marillion - Clutching At Straws CD (album) cover

CLUTCHING AT STRAWS

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

4.13 | 901 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Review 70, Clutching At Straws, Marillion, 1987

StarStarStarStar

From the very promising Script For A Jester's Tear, Marillion seem to have developed a bit for Clutching At Straws (this reviewer doesn't yet have the intervening albums). Though it's still essentially got the same feel to it, the playing from all five members is much stronger than on the debut, and the band cohesion is far tighter. Psychedelic touches appear to have been ironed out and better incorporated, and a couple of guest vocal additions and new styles or influences rear their heads.

The biggest distinction between the albums, other than the general much-better-played, but slightly-less-memorable Clutching At Straws, is the fact that the latter feels sympathetic. There's none of the biting aggression of Chelsea Monday or Garden Party, or even Forgotten Sons, simply this overwhelming depression characterising the album. The lyrics are the main factor behind this, slightly cleverer than those of Script, and extremely well-written, but the musical atmosphere matches it. Solos don't appear to be there for the sake of a solo, but to enhance a point, and the much improved taste in the percussion parts does especially give the sympathetic tone to the album.

The moody Hotel Hobbies opens the album, with good performances all round, atmosphere contributed by Rothery's relatively minimal playing and the extremely strong bass part from Trewavas. Fish shows off a couple of Hammill-like vocal phrasing flourishes and the band as a whole makes an extremely good impression, showing off their solid use of dynamics and Rothery's incredible impact as a soloist. It segues right into the more accessible...

Warm Wet Circles, with more subdued elements, featuring Fish very prominently, as well as a very good performance from Mosley, while the remaining members provide some textures as well as a couple of more controlling leads from Kelly's piano and Rothery's biting guitar. A couple of almost-imperceptible additions from guest vocalist Tessa Niles are more than welcome. Fish is usually excellent, from the early Marillion pieces I've heard, but here he excels himself in both the slightly nervous and yet assertive tones of the album and a powerful 'she nervously undressed in the dancing beams of the Fidra lighthouse'. An extremely good piece, all in all, and the most rewarding of

That Time Of The Night is the first of the album's pieces that are perfectly good, but don't make that much of an impact. Fish's vocals and lyrics are fine, and his 'o-oh' has an interesting rapid vibrato sound, but the band's parts don't really seem much more than adequate to me. Mosley fits in a couple of Peartesque rolls and Rothery adds a couple of extremely nice slippery guitar whirls. Warm Wet Circles is brought back to mind pretty bluntly. Tessa Niles again appears to be featured, though I'm not sure, since the booklet is contradictory. Not bad at all, but not inspirational either.

Going Under is a different sort of piece, with a couple of acoustic guitar rhythms backed by some very neatly handled (especially a flute effect) synths. Fish provides a low key vocal with, again, strong lyrics. A nice idea, and well executed.

Just For The Record is a more rock-focused piece, re-using of one of the rhythms of Garden Party (could be mishearing) a little, and featuring a range of little vocal effects (whether whispers or little harmonies). Mark Kelly's keys and the whirly supported electric guitars work nicely, as does the rhythm section. The general development and inclusion/exclusion choices are quite nicely done, and the dudu-dududu rhythm around 'When you say I got a problem, that's a certainty' is particularly brilliant.

Wuthering wind effects introduce us to the superb White Russian, a schizoid trip through the narrator's mind and thoughts of censorship, with brilliant demi-nonsensical lines and roared lines from Fish, as well as little changes everywhere throughout the song. Mosley gets to rock a bit more than previously, and Trewavas' bass also gets its highlight in the soft middle section. Rothery, a superb guitarist on the rest of the album, especially shows up, with a range of brilliant guitar tones and some truly shrieking solos. The lush choral mellotron makes its appearance, among a range of other keyboard instruments. A glockenspiel or something similar echoes the 'Where do we go from here' melody to end the piece, stopping a note short on the last repeat. A real highlight for me, with all the elements coming together to make a great communal piece.

Incommunicado doesn't work so well for me. Fairly fast playing on all fronts, and matching vocals. Kelly's organs and synths, as well as Rothery's guitars continue a fairly nice set of riffs throughout much of the piece, and Fish's rather more hurried vocals are good, despite the irksome number of 'incommunicado' repeats. The issue, really, is not any of the individual components. I like basically all of the parts, sans a couple of small repeats crammed in, but I just don't enjoy the end result much. Perhaps it's that the rather upbeat feel of the song doesn't really mesh too nicely with the downbeat album, and the fade isn't really welcome in an otherwise very neatly segued or concluded album.

Torch Song is the second of the album's purely slow pieces, with really unstrained vocals from Fish, a fairly successful speech inclusion backed by some little guitar touches. As usual, all the players are solid, and the small background keyboard and guitar touches support the general rhythm. A piano solo fits in quite nicely to segue to...

Slainte Mhath, a piece featuring a Celtic rhythm with complete electric instrumentation and some tentative keyboard-based imitations of a traditional flute, as well as a much more traditional-styled vocal (complete with Scottish accent) from Fish. This is very well crossed with the more strutting and electrifying inclusions, and the general ideas are established before they are combined. A very enjoyable piece, and a welcome addition of diversity.

Sugar Mice is another slow one, with soft rhythm guitar backing Fish's soulful and repentant vocals, and a couple of small background touches pervading it. Rothery gets an opportunity for a fairly standard extended solo, using a couple of tones without overstressing it. A return to the softer theme of the song concludes it nicely, preparing us for the real gem of the album.

The Last Straw is a simply brilliant ending, with well-written lyrics, great vocals from Fish including the savagely tense background calls, a solid multi-instrumental riff or two, soft breaks with swirling synths and superb foreshadowing from Rothery as well as a threatening rhythm section. And suddenly, all the presence built up by Rothery explodes into one soul-wrenching, energy-filled solo, further emphasised by Fish's shouting vocals. An almost-mantric duet from Fish and Tessa Niles with rolling backing from Kelly leads us out to the album's negative, self-perpetuating ending.

So, all in all, a very good bunch with two or three pieces that don't quite make as much impact as the others, but generally very well written, consistently well played, and noticeably (even for me, and I don't often notice production on an album that much) superbly produced. Even if you're not an instant convert to the Marillion/neo-prog fold, I'd still consider the album a good choice, and if you don't enjoy The Last Straw, I don't know what's wrong with you. A deserved four stars.

Rating: Four Stars Favourite Track: The Last Straw

Edit: haven't given this a listen in quite a long time... but, since I'm generally making the ratings a bit lower, I felt that an album with one or two weak points and a noticeable % of lesser but good tracks would probably fall into the new tenure of a 3.

TGM: Orb | 3/5 |

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