Clutching at Straws
|Clutching at Straws|
|Studio album by Marillion|
|Released||22 June 1987|
|Singles from Clutching at Straws|
Clutching at Straws is the fourth studio album by the British neo-progressive rock band Marillion, released in 1987. It was the last album with original lead singer Fish, who left the band in 1988, and is a concept album.
Although Clutching at Straws did not achieve the sales of its predecessor, the number one album Misplaced Childhood, spending 15 weeks on the UK album chart (the shortest chart residency of any of Marillion's first four studio albums), it was still an immediate commercial success, becoming the second highest charting Marillion album by entering the chart at number two. It produced three UK Top 40 singles: "Incommunicado", "Sugar Mice" and "Warm Wet Circles".
The album has received critical acclaim. It was listed in Q magazine's "50 Best Recordings of the Year", it has been described by AllMusic as a "masterpiece", and Rolling Stone placed it at number 37 in its countdown of the "50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time". In 1999, a 2-CD 'Remastered Version' with additional B-sides and demos was released, including detailed liner notes from all of the original members including Fish.
The character of Torch (supposedly a descendant of the Jester from earlier album sleeves) is a 29-year-old out-of-work man whose life is a mess. He seeks comfort mostly in alcohol to numb himself. He is trying, but failing, to forget what lies at his feet—a failed marriage, being a deadbeat father, and his lack of commercial success as a singer in a band. As he gets drunk, he also writes about his surroundings and his laments. Since Torch has no other real outlet at his disposal, he ends up in bars, hotel rooms, and on the road, screaming and drunk, thus, he is described as beyond redemption or hope.
Marillion took a break after their tour in support of the album (with Fish eventually quitting) after it was released. The song "Incommunicado" describes the pitfalls of the business, and how pressures in real life exerted by the band's US label Capitol Records were crushing in from outside for them to either succeed or get dropped by the company, which would happen to Marillion anyway a few years later.
The front and back covers of the album describe Fish's inspiration for the album's lyrics as well as some of his heroes. There are allusions to them throughout the album. The setting is in a British pub (the Bakers Arms in Colchester), and the people represented are the following:
- On the front from left to right: Robert Burns, Dylan Thomas, Truman Capote and Lenny Bruce
- On the back from left to right: John Lennon, James Dean and Jack Kerouac
Sleeve artist Mark Wilkinson has expressed his disappointment with the sleeve, which he intended to be more detailed and feature more characters but was rushed due to the release date of the album being brought forward:
"It was torture to do. Especially as I got a call almost by the day from EMI or John (manager John Arnison) that if I missed this deadline, the time slot would go, and the tour / album symbiosis put in jeopardy. Somehow I did it, clutching at sleep! EMI were relieved. Fish seemed OK. The rest of the band were a bit unmoved, it was so different to the previous sleeves. I was bloody disappointed! I loved this album, still do. It was some kind of pinnacle as far as I am concerned. Probably my favourite of theirs. And I felt cheated! It was not the sleeve I had imagined. You don't win them all, believe me!"
"Were it not for the swirling curlicues of the arrangements against which he explores his relationship with the demon drink this could almost be Fish's country and western record, so conspicuously soaked is it in the self-pity that follows straight on the heels of self-indulgence … Musically, Clutching at Straws doesn't depart far from the educated arrangements of previous albums. However somebody has been applying a stop watch to the individual songs and to the solos within them; thus we have eleven distinct songs, each with its own melodic virtues and most with quite acceptable hook lines barked out by Fish in his by now familiar conflation of Roger Daltrey and Peter Gabriel … There are tracks here that could have snuck into Sting's live act quite easily … Marillion may represent the inelegant, unglamorous, public bar end of the current Rock Renaissance but they are no less part of it for that. Clutching at Straws suggests that they may be finally coming in from the cold."
AllMusic describes the album as "perhaps Marillion's most unheralded masterpiece" which "showcases some of the band's most satisfying compositions, including the magnificent Warm Wet Circles and That Time of the Night (The Short Straw) ... Tour opener Slainte Mhath is simple and elegant, building to its dramatic crescendo only to be upstaged by Sugar Mice – quite simply, one of Marillion's best commercial singles ever". "The Last Straw" is also praised as a "stunning closer" to the album. Rolling Stone has stated that "Marillion's fourth album balanced melody and melodrama" and commented on the "atmospheric production and guitarist Steve Rothery's spacious, relatively restrained guitar (which split the difference between Genesis' Steve Hackett and U2's the Edge)".
Formats and re-issues
The album was originally released on cassette, vinyl LP, 12" picture disc and was the first Marillion album to be released on compact disc. In 1999 the album was re-released in a remastered version, with the addition of a second CD consisting of demo tapes from the writing sessions for the then-planned untitled and subsequently aborted fifth album, right before Fish left. Much of the leftover musical material was then used on the official fifth Marillion album Seasons End, with new lyrics penned by John Helmer and the new singer Steve Hogarth, while some of the original lyrics for the music ended up in one form or another on Fish's solo albums – for example, the "Voice in the Crowd" concept would inform much of Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. The remastered edition was later also made available without the bonus disc.
A new 180-gram vinyl pressing was released in September 2013 by EMI. It was identical to the original vinyl release from 1987, namely 'Going Under' was not included.
All songs were written by Fish, Mark Kelly, Ian Mosley, Steve Rothery and Pete Trewavas.
- Side one
- "Hotel Hobbies" – 3:35
- "Warm Wet Circles" – 4:25
- "That Time of the Night (The Short Straw)" – 6:00
- "Just for the Record" – 3:09
- "White Russian" – 6:27
- Side two
- "Incommunicado" – 5:16
- "Torch Song" – 4:05
- "Slàinte Mhath" – 4:44
- "Sugar Mice" – 5:46
- "The Last Straw" – 5:58
- "Happy Ending" – 0:04 (this is listed as a track on the back of the album, but in a statement of irony, it is not an actual track – it merely consists of someone yelling "No!", then echoing muffled laughter from Fish, fading off into silence.)
The CD version of the album includes the bonus track "Going Under" (2:47) between "That Time of the Night" and "Just for the Record". This was not included on the vinyl or cassette versions.
- 1999 remastered CD edition Disc 2 (bonus tracks)
- "Incommunicado" (alternative version) – 5:57
- "Tux On" – 5:13
- "Going Under" (extended version) – 2:48
- "Beaujolais Day" – 4:51
- "Story from a Thin Wall" – 6:47
- "Shadows on the Barley" – 2:07
- "Sunset Hill" – 4:21
- "Tic-Tac-Toe" – 2:59
- "Voice in the Crowd" – 3:29
- "Exile on Princes Street" – 5:29
- "White Russians" (demo) – 6:15
- "Sugar Mice in the Rain" (demo) – 5:54
- Band members
- Fish – vocals
- Steve Rothery – guitars
- Mark Kelly – keyboards
- Pete Trewavas – bass
- Ian Mosley – drums
- Additional musicians
- Tessa Niles – backing vocals on "That Time of the Night" and "The Last Straw"
- Chris Kimsey (credited as "Christopher 'Robbin' Kimsey") – backing vocals on "Incommunicado", production
- John Cavanaugh – "Dr. Finlay" voice on "Torch Song"