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Marillion - Clutching at Straws CD (album) cover





4.16 | 1371 ratings

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5 stars Laughing at the world till the barman wipes away the warm wet circles

A tragedy foreseen through the lyrics of one last masterpiece album, by the band who re- invented and kept alive progressive music. If I was asked to pick which album I prefer among the four unique classics released by Marillion during their years with Fish, I would not pick one. But if I was forced to, then I would probably pick Clutching at Straws.

One should note that this is an album that reaches its peak only in specific circumstances, and most importantly played at night. Otherwise this may just be another album.

Obviously, the Warm Wet Circles trilogy (tracks 1, 2 and 3) is enough in and of itself to make any album memorable. I become paralyzed each time I get to the pitch at "She nervously undressed in the dancing beams of the Fidra lighthouse", and I have listened to this album quite a number of times believe me. But Clutching at Straws is so much more than Warm Wet Circles.

Once the energy level coming off of That Time of the Night comes down, the album makes a pause; the songs stop flowing seamlessly from one to another as the next track, Going Under, is an ambient, nocturnal and depressing keyboards song about alcoholism ("I ain't got no excuse and that's really the news - Got nothing else to say, that it's my way"). What looks like an innocent song the first few times you listen to the album ends up like a very important part of it once grown. It really sets the atmosphere of Clutching at Straws, which is exactly this - nocturnal, dark, depressing.

After Going Under, the more lively Just for the Record then has Fish suggesting that he may change his life around and put it down, only to stunningly end up with "It's too late, I found, it's too far, I'm in two minds - Both of them are out of it at the bar (...) - Just for the record I can stop any day".

White Russian takes Marillion back to its earlier style and strays away from the overall sound of Clutching at Straws. This song is notably reminiscent of Forgotten Sons, on the album Script, with an average back-and-forth rock body, followed by a mellow verse, pumping a powerful finale of all-out, booming instruments along with dynamic singing.

My least favourite song, Incommunicado, might have been a radio hit attempt and sounds a bit like Market Square Heroes, but the band did not sell its soul for it either (they would later on with their second Hogarth album).

Torch Song is another great nocturnal piece, only slightly less gloomy than Going Under, and is followed by the excellent, celtic drinking company anthem Slainte Mhath.

Finally, as if this album did not give enough yet, therein comes Sugar Mice, a progressive rock ballad with a heavier twist by the end, and also a gloomy composition, which notably has one of the finest guitar solos I know.

Fish had signed his resignation letter from the band in That Time of the Night and talks about the band's impending split in the dramatic closing track, The Last Straw.

Like its predecessor Misplaced Childhood, Clutching at Straws includes some perfect and seamless transitions from song to song. And also like MC, Clutching at Straws should not be assessed song by song (despite my description attempt above). This is an album with a soul, an atmosphere. It is one of a kind, and more difficult to fully appreciate. But how rewarding it is once grown. If this is not a progressive masterpiece, then I am the king of Mars.

My deepest regret about this album comes from the art cover. Whilst the three previous albums each featured a brilliant art design by Mark Wilkinson, this time, as explained by Fish, there was not enough time nor enough budget to allow Mark Wilkinson to design the sleeve they wanted.

Also worthy of note is the booklet included in the remastered, 2 CD edition. It is full of thoughts, memories and comments by the band members, including those of Fish, and it allows for a good understanding of what lead to the break-up.

At this point I want to thank Marillion and Fish for the four great unique albums that they gave birth to together. Those are beyond special to many, and for good reason I believe. They carried a melodic and melancholic magic that is not to be found anywhere else, nor before nor after them. And now we're still drowning, clutching at straws...

SentimentalMercenary | 5/5 |


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