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Marillion - Clutching At Straws CD (album) cover

CLUTCHING AT STRAWS

Marillion

 

Neo-Prog

4.12 | 849 ratings

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Trotsky
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I can still remember the scene. I was watching Top of the Pops back in 1987 ... and was eagerly waiting to see who had come up with the highest new entry. Suddenly there it was at number 6 ... and Marillion appeared "live". I'll never forget the sight of the swaggering Fish (in a white suit, I believe) defiantly tearing his way through Incommunicado. Trewewas' propulsive bass and Mark Kelly's whirlwind keyboards also made a big impression, but it was Fish who ultimately reigned over that song.

I was too young at the time to appreciate all the hints that Clutching At Straws was to be Fish's farewell album, nor indeed would I have been able to predict what sort of impact that would have on my own enjoyment of the group's music. In hindsight I can see that was a clear move towards shorter songs with a more commercial edge. Despite that potentially damming verdict it was not as if Marillion were "selling out" on any level ... at least not when I assess the credibility of the individual tracks, which on average surpass the material on the infinitely more "progressive" Fugazi.

Aside from the strident defiant Incommunicado ("sometimes it feels like I've been here before!"), this album is a parade of exciting melodies and cynical lyrics, some of them unforgettable. Warm Wet Circles is gently seductive, Going Under is joyously in-your-face and contains some great playing from the underused synth-meister player Mark Kelly (although I'll be damned if I don't hear a hint of Men At Work and The Police's flirtation with reggae!) The anthemic feel of Slainthe Mhath and the glorious final ballad Sugar Mice (anybody else feel a lump in their throat at the thought of "sugar mice in the rain"? are other gems that stick out.

Still, I do have complaints ... and I can well imagine that anyone coming to this album expect challenging progressive music will do as well ... for Clutching At Straws is at best a prog-tinged pop/rock album. By this time I arrived at this album I was already sick of Steve Rothery's soloing style and the commercial sheen can be a little off-putting ... check out the sessionist backing vocals on That Time Of Night (although admittedly it works best on the outro of The Last Straw ... "we're still drowning, clutching at straws" is powerful stuff.

In a way, Clutching At Straws feels to live up to Misplaced Childhood, and certainly can't compete with the best of Marillion's prog (Grendel, Script For A Jester's Tear, Forgotten Sons, Blind Curve, etc), yet is a bordeline classic if you are accepting of the neo-prog style of music. Still I can't help listening to this with a tinge of regret (and not just about my lost youth!) ... I'm one of those who feels that Marillion have never truly recovered from Fish's depature. And in a sense, the game really was over. ... 60% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 3/5 |

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