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Marillion - Clutching At Straws CD (album) cover





4.14 | 1229 ratings

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4 stars Although a slightly frustrating album for me, there's just something about the atmosphere that brings a uniqueness to Clutching at Straws. Unlike a lot of neo-prog, this album feels like something fairly fresh. Instead of looking back (i.e., Genesis), Straws reminds a lot of the time period, with the standard power ballad (Sugar Mice), and plenty of moments--somewhat bluesy and mournful--that really remind me of the prototypical late 80s cop show involving a lead detective who is out-of-luck and out of chances. Fairly standard stuff, but the combination with some prog elements, true passion, and a believable plot really helps Straws to stick out nicely in my collection.

Highlights: Hotel Hobbies/Warm Wet Circles/Short Straw, Incommunicado, Sugar Mice, the Last Straw. The opening 3-song suite is a very solid piece, with perhaps the most interesting music coming right off the bat (Hotel Hobbies). If the whole album was of this quality, we may be looking at 5-star material.

And then, the album falls into a fairly generic, 5-minute-ish song structure, with long gaps between songs that really cause the album to lose momentum. Perhaps things were rushed or strained in the recording studio, but it just feels a bit incomplete. However, some of these "singles" are very listenable, from the energetic Incommunicado to the sassy finale.

Of course, Sugar Mice is in its own class here. It's so deceivingly simple that structurally there is little difference between this and your run-of-the-mill power ballad. However, Sugar Mice blows Every Rose has its Thorn out of the water, probably because Marillion are better songwriters, lyricists, and can deliver some real emotion. I've been noticing this all the time with prog, and I just love it when prog bands take another band or genre's calling card and come up with something so much better than the original!

The subject matter is tough too, but mostly because it's connecting with something that so many struggle with. The self-centeredness that alcoholism brings can lead to a captivating album, but because it was also partly happening in real life, it was perhaps inevitable that there could be no fruitful band collaboration with Fish moving forward from Straws.

Some great moments, countered by some relative duds, and a bit of a lack of coherence and momentum in places, but I enjoy coming back to Clutching at Straws frequently. Perhaps it inspires me to be just a bit better never let myself be #1 at the end of the bar.

Flucktrot | 4/5 |


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