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Marillion - Clutching At Straws CD (album) cover





4.16 | 1296 ratings

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4 stars As most Marillion fans know, "Clutching at Straws", released in 1987, would be the last to feature Fish as the lead vocalist. After the tour to support this album, he decided to leave the band and have a go at a solo career. Of course, many were sad to hear of his departure, but the band went on and persisted. This album, however, was obviously taking a different direction which was obvious immediately because of the difference in album design.

"Clutching at Straws" nevertheless, is still an emotional and strong album. It is actually tied more to the previous albums than most think in that Torch, the main character from this album, is the 29-year-old descendent of The Jester, who was featured in the album art of previous albums. Torch is an out of luck individual who has been through a failed marriage, he was a bad father and also the singer for an unsuccessful band. He ran away from his problems through drinking and drug use. The concept reflects Fish's own life and has been considered auto-biographical. The songs are quite dark in lyrical context, but the music is still prime-Marillion, the style very close to previous releases by the band.

The album cover is another story all together. Fish wanted a cover showing some of his inspirations. On the front cover, Fish is shown with Robert Burns, Dylan Thomas, Truman Capote and Lenny Bruce. On the back of the album, John Lennon, James Dean and Jack Kerouac are pictured. The artwork is all drawn by Mark Wilkinson, who complained that the artwork didn't come close to depicting what he had pictured in his mind, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that he was rushed to get it turned in by the time the record company demanded it.

Speaking of the record companies, they also rushed this album. Since the band was very popular in the UK and had shown some popularity that was growing in the US, they were in a hurry to make a profit off of a new album. There was also the fact that the US record company Capitol Records wanted to pressure the band into making it more commercial and threatened that if they didn't have a successful record, that the label would drop them. They ended up dropping them a few years later anyway. However, even with the rushed atmosphere, the album itself turned out quite well, producing some of Marillion's best music among other songs that were a bit less interesting. Somehow, the band still pulled off an excellent album, which was pretty close to the high standard that they had set for their music.

The songs on this album are typically a bit shorter than some of their previous material, which is probably a result of not being able to spend so much time on perfecting the music. Yet, all of the key elements are still there. The music is lyric heavy, as is expected from that era of Marillion's music. Fish's vocals are important, and they are definitely not weak by any means. They are full of emotion and dynamic, Fish's ability to make the lyrics clear and defined. The instruments are top-notch as usual, with Rothery's ability to play the guitar parts, flourishes and accompaniment reminiscent of Steve Hackett, keeping it restrained when needed and being quite awesome when required. This is all so well supported by Mark Kelly's keyboard style, always so important to Marillion's music, standing out when needed to give life and variety to the music, but also being restrained when supporting, always providing the best accompaniment in the business especially for a band that relied so much on their story lines and lyrics. It was not very often that a band could work so well together with dynamic and sometimes complex music as this band had, the only band that could come close to being as perfect as Genesis in writing and presenting lyric-heavy progressive music.

This album gets panned way too much. It is a great album and I consider it to be almost as good as the previous 3 for which Marillion is most revered for. Even though all of the songs are great, the best tracks are the last four, "Torch Song" through to "The Last Straw". In these songs, Fish is at his most dynamic and emotional best, the songs being quite memorable and beautiful. Since it is only a slightly lower in brilliance than the previous albums, I tend to rate it with 4 stars, but it is still an album that is worthwhile and I don't understand why it is panned so much by the fans. Honestly, I blame the slight lapse in quality to the record label pushing to get the record out, but I am amazed that it still turned out as good as it did. That, to me, is a huge testament to the band being able to rise above the pressure. It is an excellent album.

TCat | 4/5 |


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