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Marillion - Clutching At Straws CD (album) cover

CLUTCHING AT STRAWS

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

4.13 | 903 ratings

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progkidjoel
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Waiting on the whistle to blow?

Marillion ? Clutching At Straws

Review by ProgKidJoel

Following up Marillion's smash hit "Misplaced Childhood", Clutching at Straws had the undesirable job of following up what was invariably considered a masterpiece. "Clutching At Straws" is possibly the most unique album the band released featuring FISH on vocals, and was also the last spear-headed the charismatic frontman. A concept album, CaS tells the tale of "Torch", a man transformed from a charismatic band frontman/jester into a factory worker in Milwaukee, all thanks to alcoholism. He has become a deadbeat father, a failed singer and is stuck in a failed marriage. Through all this, Torch seeks alcohol to comfort himself. As he sinks into a deep alcoholism, he writes about his surroundings and emotions through a veil of alcohol and regret. Although many herald this album as the death of Marillion, it is clear after a single listen this is far from the truth, and that this album supplied one of the most interesting and heartfelt albums Marillion has released to date.

1. Hotel Hobbies

Opening with an entertaining keyboard riff, this is probably Marillion's slowest opener with FISH on vocals. Somewhat ambient, this track leads into an amusing keyboard riff which carries this track over to its upbeat chorus. Slowly increasing in volume and strength, this track picks up to a typical Ian Mosley drum beat and another great Rothery guitar riff. FISH's vocals also pick up, and the band is in great form towards the end of this track. A couple of rhythm changes lead this song into its impressively short guitar solo, and furthermore into its outro and gapless entry into the next track.

5 out of 5

2. Warm Wet Circles

One of Marillion's best tracks, this features one of Steven Rothery's best ever guitar solos, mixed excellently with FISH's heartfelt lyrics and vocals about small town dreams. The first chorus feels incredibly uplifting, and is one of my favourite Marillion moments. About the dangers of slipping into regrettable alcoholism, this track picks up nicely. Featuring some of the bands best gelling work to date, this song was one of three singles from CaS. Continuing its pretty riff with a piano compliment, this track is amongst the most heartfelt Marillion have ever produced. Amazing vocals and lyrics are what carry this track like so many others from FISH, but the band is in particularly good form on this track. Another excellent trademark Rothery solo hits hard in this track, supplying the perfect bridge. Perhaps the best track on this album, you simply have to hear this.

5 out of 5

3. That time of the Night (The Short Straw)

A fan favourite from this album, The Short Straw is another great track. Beginning in a similarly ambient tone to Hotel Hobbies, the overture is inspiringly dynamic. This track picks up to eventually reveal what is perhaps Mark Kelly's best keyboard riff ever. A heavily 80's track, this does not disappoint. Perhaps a little bit repetitive in the middle section, this finishes to a fantastic outro featuring Tessa Niles' singing with FISH. The best part of this song is easily the chorus; although, its replayablity is somewhat hampered by repetition of its verse. Many people think this is the best track on the album, although it isn't quite as good as some others. Still very interesting, mind you.

4.5 out of 5

4. Going Under

A great guitar riff and soften vocals mark a massive change of pace from The Short Straw's intense ending. Also incredibly ambient, this track is fascinating, and you will hear something new every time you listen to it. An echo effect catches on to FISH's voice, and helps to create interesting dynamics and stereophonics. This song is about slipping into a deeper alcoholism, and marks a worst stage in the life of Torch. Closing quietly, this is another very interesting track.

4.5 out of 5.

5. Just For The Record

Perhaps the most upbeat track on the album, this marks a change in the state of Torch in out story. A much more hopeful track speaks of "Just another gesture with an empty glass. Just another actor, behind a tragic mask". This leads into an impressive synth solo from Mark Kelly, although it doesn't seem to suit the mood of the track very well. Impressive none the less, the bass also provides another dimension to this song. Towards the end, a piano track comes under the rest and provides and epic, heavy handed exit for this song.

4 out of 5.

6. White Russian

What FISH describes as this albums epic will not disappoint; A heavy handed passion play about the rise of neo-nazis in Europe, this features the bands technically best track on this album. Incredibly brutal vocals and lyrics mark another change in the mood of this album; this song also lacks any continuation of Torch's story. Perhaps the most technical guitar solo on this album, a genuinely angry song, FISH really hits the mark with his vocals, particularly in the song's close. Possibly the least accessible track on the album, White Russian is a truly shocking protest song, akin to Forgotten Sons. If you haven't heard this, I highly recommend doing so; its one of the hardest hitting Marillion songs released. An eerie xylophone closure finishes what is one of the strongest tracks on this album/

5 out of 5.

7. Incommunicado

Once again, this sticks out in bleak contrast to White Russian. Heavily 80's, this track is very reminiscent of Collins Era Genesis, complete with heavy drumming and a great keyboard riff. Based on the pitfalls of record companies, this track speaks of desiring fame. Incommunicado was the second single from this album, and also faired the best in the mainstream Market. This song, however entertaining, really related how Marillion felt during the Misplaced Childhood tour; swamped in a media storm. Its easy to see why this single faired the best of the three; it's the easiest to listen to, the most entertaining and it takes it self a hell of a lot less seriously than Warm Wet Circles and Sugar Mice. Another great synth solo from Mark Kelly helps this track stay interesting after multiple listens, adding to the value of this straight-up poprock track. Closing in the same way it opened, you should really here this track. Its film clip is also incredibly amusing, and suits the subject matter more than perfectly.

5 out of 5.

8. Torch Song

This track reverts to Torch's uphill battle with alcoholism, featuring a conversation with a doctor and pure vocals. FISH's trademark wordy lyrics help this track aswell. "Burn A Little Brighter Now", the song's main lyric, is a clever play on words about Torch, and helps this track through a slow rhythm to become incredibly climatic. After Torch's conversation with the doctor, this track picks up its tempo and volume impressively. FISH's vocals really shine here, incredibly reminiscent of FUGAZI's vocal high. Leading into another excellent track, this is also great.

5 out of 5.

9. Slainte Mhath

A Scottish term which literally translates to "Good health", this is often used as a toast by mates down at the pub. Another piano driven track, FISH's vocals shine here if they ever did. The bass is particularly impressive here, working in tandem with slow drums to flesh this track out. One of my favourites, this track is filled with energy when played live, generally doubled in tempo. Another great, albeit short, guitar solo which feeds into this tracks closure, which is nearly as epic as White Russian. Powerful drumming and bass pick up here, leading into FISH's vocal assault.

5 out of 5.

10. Sugar Mice

Easily my personal favourite from this album, Sugar Mice has one of my all time favourite guitar solos combined with heart felt lyrics and an unforgettable lead lyric. Ambient bass comes in again here, and it remains part of the background for a majority of the track. Another fan favourite, this track has been played several times live by Dream Theater (Who tend to suck all the feeling out of it, but that's a story for another time) and never fails to disappoint. Featuring some Genesis lyrics (The waitress, is counting out the time), this is probably the most powerful track on the album. The guitar solo here, although not technically over the top, really shows Steve Rothery in top form, playing his heart out to the last note. Perfectly executed, this is easily the best point in the song, and works perfectly with the rest of the band to flesh the track out nicely. Torch appears to be in trouble in this track again, and this is visible both in the lyrics and video clip. Based on Torch's fatherhood behaviours, this song is incredibly heavy handed. Listen to it.

5 out of 5.

11. The Last Straw: Happy Ending

Ay, theres the rub! An awesome guitar riff and powerful lyrics bring this track to its end. Obviously about the crisis which Torch faces, this end is as fitting as it is epic and truly closes this album with its head held high. Truly about the Last Straw, this track tells the end of Torch, and the end of his battle. Featuring the album name as a final lyric, if there was ever a Marillion track you couldn't miss, this is definitely it. Another bleedin' heart Rothers guitar solo brings this track into its epic close, which is simply classic. Dynamics play a leading role in this track, making it one of the most enigmatic and interesting Marillion ever released. Insanely powerful vocals truly carry this track, and make it a fitting end for a truly epic album. Closing to an insanely powerful vocal duet of FISH and Tessa Niles, you just can't miss this. A much better final track than White Feather on Misplaced Childhood, this track truly deserved to finish this album. Do we get a happy ending? The answer is No, as we hear FISH yell in the very last second on this track, followed by insane laughter. This represents Torch's will to give up the drink, yet repeated failure.

5 out of 5 (Deserves a 6)

Closing comments:

This is a truly sad album; it tells the story of a failing alcoholic through some of Marillion's best songs, and also marked the departure of FISH. Its important, when listening to this album, to treat it as you would any other concept album; that is to say, with careful consideration of the lyrical themes and what you already understand of the concept. Although a heavy concept, you can enjoy this album as you would any other without having to worry about the dismal and sometimes depressing lyrics.

A fitting end for FISH?

Definitely.

A Happy ending?

Definitely not.

Please ? Just buy it!

-Joel

progkidjoel | 5/5 |

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