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Marillion - Clutching At Straws CD (album) cover

CLUTCHING AT STRAWS

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

4.13 | 927 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
4 stars Marillion present one of the best prog albums of 1987.

Neo-prog progenitors Marillion's followup to the "Misplaced Childhood" masterpiece certainly does not disappoint and features some of the tracks that permeated their live concerts. Fish was a commanding theatrical presence during this early era and knew how to move an audience through an emotional experience using just the right dramatic intonation and costumes to evoke a response. He was a master vocalist similar to Peter Gabriel in the early Genesis phase.

Musically the band are legendary implementing into the songs intricate structures, the pleasant synths of Mark Kelly, strong melodies held together by the drums of Ian Mosley and the basslines of Pete Trewavas, and of course the powerful lead breaks of Steve Rothery. Of course the drawcard is the vocals of Fish; a key element to the brilliance of the early incarnation of the band. The band were the dominant force of the prog 80s. If it were not for bands like Marillion or Rush, prog would have suffered during the difficult 80s period. Fish story telling vocals are prominent such as on 'Hotel hobbies', 'Warm wet circles' and 'That time of the night (The short straw)'. The reverberated guitars and synths generate an ambience as Fish softly croons.

These first 3 tracks flow together seamlessly. Then the first power ballad comes with 'Going under'. The vocals are exquisite, "I'm going under fast, slipping fast, am I so crazy", and very spacey symphonic textures draw the listener in.

'Just for the record' has a faster tempo and heavier guitars and drums. The 80s synths are everpresent but this also has some heavy distorted guitar. The synth solo is terrific and it has a striking melody. A howling wind begins 'White Russian'. Fish sings "where do we go from here" until a driving riff motors along and the next verses are sung more forcefully with images of terror, war, poppies on the cenotaph, the holocaust and uzzies on the street corner. Fish sings with insightful conviction "replace our faith in human rights" in this anti-war song that is a highlight on the album. It finishes with a musical box song, a nice touch. 'Incommunicado' is one of the fan favourites sung many times live, and it features a prevailing hook, and fast beat with progressive time sig changes. This one is a blockbuster, loud and brash, it breaks through the serenity with some stunning organ runs and Fish at his most roguish, singing aggressively and abrasively.

A quiet guitar begins 'Torch song' and Fish is temperate in mood, "burn a little brighter now". There are some narrative sections over a chiming synth and guitar. It segues directly into the melodic 'Slàinte Mhath'.Fish is excellent on this, "this is the story so far", and the guitars of Rothery are hypnotic. The music on this album is truly infectious.

'Sugar mice' is a Marillion classic with very serene passages in the verses and a commercial sound suitable or radio. In fact it was a single for the band. The lyrics are quite iconic, "I heard Sinatra calling me down through the floors". The power ballads of the 80s are an 80s fixture and this is Marillion's version. It builds in the mid section with loud lead guitar break, effective bassline and 4/4 percussion. The straight forward feel is welcome after the more intricate songs. The wonderful melody is soaring and easy to soak in to the system.

'The last straw' closes the album and features Fish performing a duet with the powerhouse vocals of Tessa Niles. It closes the album with a soulful approach and the repeated phrase "we're clutching at straws" is echoed by Niles' "still drowning".

Thus ends a very effective album with consistent quality and some of Marillion's best material. 1987was admittedly a weak year for prog but "Clutching at Straws" was one of the saviours as far as prog was concerned.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |

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