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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Marillion

Clutching at Straws

Review by Tim Jones

One of just four studio albums Marillion put out while Fish was still with them, Clutching at Straws delivers the expert lyrics and the heartfelt vocals that define the Fish-era Marillion. After this album and the band's tour, Fish left Marillion to work on a solo career; the music is awesome; the band chemistry wasn't. This is a review of the original 1987 studio album; the 1999 remaster has an additional bonus disc.

This is an essential album for progressive rock fans. The music's a bit more accessible for those who have a hard time taking in prog rock, but it's still complex. The lyrics are incredible. The album thrives on emotions, mainly anger and sadness. This is very highly recommended.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Hotel Hobbies
"Hotel Hobbies" starts quiet and moody, and the song takes a few minutes to really begin. The subtle music sets a great mood for the rest of the album. Then Fish comes in, unobtrusive and poetic. After a minute or two, "Hotel Hobbies" gets much harder, and Fish's voice changes right alongside the music. Wailing guitars add to the darkness, and it's hard to not get dragged into this song. “Hotel Hobbies” moves straight into “Warm Wet Circles.”
Warm Wet Circles
This one is a bit lighter, not quite as dark or moody...at least until later in the song. Again, Fish is a master of words, and the imagery is vivid. The words have their own music. For a few seconds, it's just Fish and piano...very beautiful. The song then becomes harder, with some great guitar riffs behind Fish's demanding words.
That Time of the Night
"That Time of the Night" comes in...and there is no break between it and “Warm Wet Circles.” Fish says/sings a couple of lines, and then there's a big instrumental break, sounding a bit like Gilmour/Pink Floyd. Fish comes in again, and soon falls in line with the drum beat, and Marillion puts out another great song. Tessa Niles helps out with some background vocals, shouting "Warm Wet Circles" alongside Fish.
Going Under
The first three-in-one song set done, the next track begins soft and easy. Fish, as always, is intense. He sings alongside a melodic guitar and some synthesizers. "Going Under,” at under three minutes, never really gets hard.
Just for the Record
"Just for the Record" starts out gentle and melodic, and then, although Fish's vocals remain melodic, the guitar changes into unmelodious noise. Fortunately, the song switches between the two extremes as Fish becomes less gentle and more angry. This is another short song, with a fun instrumental bridge that includes some cool distorted guitar sounds. It’s certainly a harsher song.
White Russian
"White Russian" begins with what sounds like wind, and then we get a gorgeous melody, and Fish repeating "Where do we go from here.” It’s one of the best tracks on the album - very haunting and very vivid. Fish here alternates between harsh and melodic, while the music remains haunting and melodic throughout. Towards the middle, a biting electric guitar cuts in, and then Fish comes back, angry and then sad. This track could easily be broken into two shorter ones, as the chorus for the second half is markedly different from the first.
Incommunicado
"Incommunicado" is a faster track, with the different group members showing off some of their speed. The fast music matches the lyrics--life in the fast lane, in the spotlight. The music takes in a deep richness about halfway through before resuming the repeated chorus of "Incommunicado,” repeated several times. The music eventually fades with this chorus.
Torch Song
"Torch Song" is another mournful track. It has some of the most amazing lyrics on the album...no, scratch that - some of the most amazing lyrics - period. The song's about dealing with the results of substance abuse, and the music serves as a great backdrop to the music. Another voice comes into the middle, a doctor's warning. This track is on the mellower side and merges right into the next one.
Slainte Mhath
"Slainte Mhath" begins with a very cool rhythm. Fish rolls his "R's," and tells us "the story so far.” The guitar repeats itself quickly, tightly, and supports Fish's voice for the majority of the track. This song has a sense of magic to it...and a sense of disappointment. The rhythm becomes more normal, and the song fades.
Sugar Mice
A nice guitar pattern sets up the song, and gentle vocals soon join. It’s another sad song. A very simple beginning builds slowly into a more complex sound. An electric guitar takes control for a while, and we're reminded that this isn't a one-man act. The instrumental section isn't real long by prog standards; it is very long by any other standard. This is great stuff. Fish merges back in, singing "blame it on me.” The song becomes soft again, we hear the name of the album ("Clutching at Straws"), and then it ends with a note from the guitar.
The Last Straw: Happy Ending
"The Last Straw: Happy Ending" begins with a nice rhythm - loud, a bit haunting, before moving to soft and poignant. The song links to the first track with the words "hotel hobbies,” and also the album title, "we're clutching at straws.” This is a fitting ending to a great album...melodic, haunting, angry, lyrically and musically brilliant. Fish is joined by some nice Heart-like female vocals to end the number. Then, slightly disturbing laughter ends the album.
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