Clutching at Straws

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Clutching at Straws
Album cover marillion clutching at straws.jpg
Studio album by Marillion
Released 12 June 1987
Recorded Westside Studios, London, 1987
Genre Progressive rock, neo-progressive rock, pop rock
Length 49:31
Label EMI
Producer Chris Kimsey
Marillion chronology
Brief Encounter
Clutching at Straws
B'Sides Themselves
Singles from Clutching at Straws
  1. "Incommunicado"
    Released: 11 May 1987
  2. "Sugar Mice"
    Released: 13 July 1987
  3. "Warm Wet Circles"
    Released: 26 October 1987

Clutching at Straws is the fourth studio album by neo-progressive rock band Marillion, and features linked songs in what has been described as a concept album.[1] Released in 1987, it was the last album with lead singer Fish who left the band in 1988. Although commercially not quite as successful as its 1985 predecessor Misplaced ChildhoodClutching at Straws spent 15 weeks on the UK album chart (the shortest chart residency of any of Marillion's first four studio albums) – it still reached number two (the second highest chart placing for a Marillion album) and it is considered to be among the best work of Marillion's "Fish era" by many fans and critics, and also Fish himself, as he has stated in several interviews.[2]

In 1999 a 2-CD 'Remastered Version' with additional B-sides and demos was released, with 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.

Cover artwork[edit]

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:

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!” [3]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars[4]
Q 3/5 stars[5]
Music Street Journal (very favourable)[6]
Kerrang! 5/5 stars[7]

The album earned a favourable review from David Hepworth in Q magazine on its release:

"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."[5]

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.[4]

The album came sixth in Kerrang! magazine's Albums of the Year 1987 and was also included in Q magazine's "50 Best Recordings of the Year".[8]

Formats and re-issues[edit]

The album was originally released on Cassette, vinyl LP, 12" Picture Disc and CD. 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.[9] It was identical to the original vinyl release from 1987, namely 'Going Under' was not included.

Track listing[edit]

All songs were written by Fish, Mark Kelly, Ian Mosley, Steve Rothery and Pete Trewavas.

Side one
  1. "Hotel Hobbies" – 3:35
  2. "Warm Wet Circles" – 4:25
  3. "That Time of the Night (The Short Straw)" – 6:00
  4. "Going Under" – 2:47 (not on the original vinyl LP)
  5. "Just for the Record" – 3:09
  6. "White Russian" – 6:27
Side two
  1. "Incommunicado" – 5:16
  2. "Torch Song" – 4:05
  3. "Slàinte Mhath" – 4:44
  4. "Sugar Mice" – 5:46
  5. "The Last Straw" – 5:58
  6. "Happy Ending" – 0:00 (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.)
1999 remastered CD edition Disc 2 (bonus tracks)
  1. "Incommunicado" (alternative version) – 5:57
  2. "Tux On" – 5:13
  3. "Going Under" (extended version) – 2:48
  4. "Beaujolais Day" – 4:51
  5. "Story from a Thin Wall" – 6:47
  6. "Shadows on the Barley" – 2:07
  7. "Sunset Hill" – 4:21
  8. "Tic-Tac-Toe" – 2:59
  9. "Voice in the Crowd" – 3:29
  10. "Exile on Princes Street" – 5:29
  11. "White Russians" (demo) – 6:15
  12. "Sugar Mice in the Rain" (demo) – 5:54


Band members
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"
  • John Cavanaugh – "Dr. Finlay" voice on "Torch Song"



Year Chart Position
1987 UK Albums Chart 2[10]
1987 Austrian Charts 16[11]
1987 Norwegian Charts 4[12]
1987 Swedish Charts 9[13]
1987 Swiss Charts 3[14]


  1. ^ Borthwick, Stuart (2004). Popular Music Genres: An Introduction. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0748617456. 
  2. ^ "Interview June 2002". 
  3. ^ "Sleeve notes". 
  4. ^ a b "Clutching at Straws". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  5. ^ a b David Hepworth Q, July 1987.
  6. ^ Music Street Journal
  7. ^ Dickson, Dave (25 June 1987). "The Finest Straw". Kerrang! 149. London, UK: Spotlight Publications. p. 16. 
  8. ^ "1987 Q Magazine Recordings of the Year". Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Chart Stats – Marillion – Clutching at Straws". Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  11. ^ "Marillion – Clutching at Straws –". Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  12. ^ " – Marillion – Clutching at Straws". Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  13. ^ " – Marillion – Clutching at Straws". Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  14. ^ "Marillion – Clutching at Straws –". Retrieved 5 January 2010. 

External links[edit]