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Marillion - Clutching At Straws CD (album) cover





4.14 | 1225 ratings

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4 stars 3.5 stars, really.

Clutching at Straws is simultaneously more pop-oriented than Marillion's previous album, Misplaced Childhood, and less so at the same time. While certain songs on that release such as "Kayleigh" and "Lavender" lent themselves to pop radio easily, there were several holdouts on Misplaced Childhood. The longer songs, "Bitter Suite" and "Blind Curve," and several other shorter songs that don't fit a pop format at all really keep it from being the complete pop album that some people think it is. That's not really the case at all on Clutching at Straws. Most all of the songs are just about the length of a typical pop song, perhaps a bit longer, and the songs fit the pop mold structurally as well. But what's really unique about Clutching at Straws, especially taking into account that the song lengths and structures would have you believe it to be a pop record, is that it is a moody, bitter, angry, and sometimes quite dark album. It's second only to Script for a Jester's Tear in this respect, I believe. But whereas Script was a depressing journey, Clutching at Straws is...not uplifting.but definitely a bit detached.

Though not necessarily a strict concept album, Clutching at Straws has a few recurring themes floating throughout. The main impression one would get upon reading the lyrics at the first release of the album would be that the band was in it's last throes, and it was in a way. Fish would soon leave to begin a successful solo career. Marillion would continue on, of course, replacing Fish with the talented Steve Hogarth. But this album is a sort of documentary of a band coming apart at the seams, the split occurring between the band and the singer.Fish. This is obviously a personal album for Fish, and he lets his feelings be known. The lyrics detail his frustration with the band, and even the title of the album gives the listener a good idea of the sentiments the band was feeling at the time.

The music on Clutching at Straws isn't really hard to digest, but it's not blatant pop either. Some songs are more light-hearted than others such as "Incommunicado," which is curiously happy-sounding when considering the subject matter. "Just for the Record" is the same way. "White Russian" begins with atmospheric keyboards and jumps into an angry and riotous tune guided by Fish's voice, which is practically a musical instrument in itself. The best songs open and close the album, however. I consider the three opening songs, "Hotel Hobbies," "Warm Wet Circles," and "That Time of Night" to be a sort of trilogy chronicling late nights on the road and spending countless nights in foreign hotels. The music is a bit dark and slow at the beginning, but often flowers into bursts of frenzied instrumentation. These songs would have worked excellently as one, but as they are now, I enjoy them all the same.

The last three songs aren't really connected as the first three are, but they're all brilliantly crafted for an emotional impact. "Slainte Mhath" is driven by a great, epic chord progression that breaks the subdued verses. In this song, Fish is set loose to weave a story with his brilliant wording and use of metaphors. "Sugar Mice" is the saddest song on Clutching at Straws, a bittersweet reflection on the tensions in the band. A simple guitar arpeggio brings out the emotion the lyrics urge to convey. A sweeping guitar solo from Steve Rothery harkens back to his most emotive work on "Bind Curve," a highlight on Misplaced Childhood. "The Last Straw" ends Clutching at Straws on an angry note, with the lyrics outlining Fish's eventual resignation to the band being dead in the water. The music supports this sentiment with a fiery solo from Rothery and wailing vocals from a gust female singer. It's an appropriate way to end such an emotional journey as anything.

Clutching at Straws isn't the strongest Marillion album by far. While Fish still gets as much of the spotlight as ever, Mark Kelly (keyboards) and Pete Trewavas (bass) seem to be relegated to supporting roles at best. Mark, who had some truly praiseworthy parts on Misplaced Childhood, is sorely missed on Clutching at Straws save a few great piano lines on "Slainte Mhath." Bassists are usually the unsung heroes of any given band, but Trewavas is an excellent player and deserves more credit than the music gives him. Rothery does indeed give a lot of effort with his solo work, but in many cases, it all feels a little cold and uninspired. All told, the musicianship on Clutching at Straws is simply not as immediate and effective as that on Misplaced Childhood or Script for a Jester's Tear. Clutching at Straws is a necessary addition to any fan of Marillion, but it's one of the lesser Fish-era albums.

stonebeard | 4/5 |


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