Clutching at Straws

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Clutching at Straws
Album cover marillion clutching at straws.jpg
Studio album by
Released22 June 1987
RecordedWestside Studios
(London, England)
GenreNeo-progressive rock
Length49:25 (Vinyl)
52:12 (CD)
ProducerChris 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 the British neo-progressive rock band Marillion, released on June 22, 1987. It was the last album with lead singer Fish, who left the band in 1988, and is a concept album.[1][2]

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, being listed in Q magazine's "50 Best Recordings of the Year",[3] it has been described by AllMusic as an "unheralded masterpiece",[4] and Rolling Stone placed it at number 37 in its countdown of the "50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time".[5] 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.

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!"[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[7]
Kerrang!5/5 stars[8]
Q3/5 stars[9]

In 1987, David Hepworth wrote in Q, "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... There are tracks here that could have snuck into Sting's live act quite easily."[9]

AllMusic described 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" was also praised as a "stunning closer" to the album.[4]

Music writer Paul Stenning described 'Incommunicado' as "the most original commercial composition of all time," and the album as a whole "the greatest progressive rock album of all time."[10]

In 2015, while including Clutching at Straws in the "50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time", Rolling Stone 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)".[5]

Formats and re-issues[edit]

The album was originally released on cassette, vinyl LP, 12" picture disc and was the first Marillion album to be released on compact disc.[6] 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.[11] 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.

LP version
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."Just for the Record"3:09
5."White Russian"6:27
Side two
2."Torch Song"4:05
3."Slàinte Mhath"4:44
4."Sugar Mice"5:46
5."The Last Straw"5:50
6."Happy Ending" (No music. Someone shouts "Help!", then Fish laughs.)0:08
Total length:49:25

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.

CD version
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
5."Just for the Record"3:09
6."White Russian"6:27
8."Torch Song"4:05
9."Slàinte Mhath"4:44
10."Sugar Mice"5:46
11."The Last Straw"
"Happy Ending"
Total length:52:12
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

4-CD + Blu-ray Disc, 2018, Remastered, Digi-Book[edit]

CD 1 Clutching at Straws (2018 Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh Re-Mix)

CD 2 Live at the Edinburgh Playhouse 19th December 1987 (2018 Michael Hunter Mix)

  1. La Gazza Ladra 2:46
  2. Slainthe Mhath 5:03
  3. Assassing 6:47
  4. White Russian 6:25
  5. Incubus 10:36
  6. Sugar Mice 6:14
  7. Fugazi 9:57
  8. Hotel Hobbies 4:04
  9. Warm Wet Circles 4:17
  10. That Time Of The Night 6:00

CD 3 Live at the Edinburgh Playhouse (continued) (2018 Michael Hunter Mix)

  1. Pseudo Silk Kimono (intro) 1:06
  2. Kayleigh 3:48
  3. Lavender 2:34
  4. Bitter Suite 8:32
  5. Heart Of Lothian 7:23
  6. The Last Straw 7:16
  7. Incommunicado 5:00
  8. Garden Party 6:26
  9. Market Square Heroes [incomplete, featuring "My Generation", "Margaret" & "Let's Twist Again"] 10:09

CD 4 Clutching at Straws Demos
1999 Remaster

  1. Beaujolais Day
  2. Story from a Thin Wall
  3. Shadows on the Barley
  4. Exile on Princes Street
  5. Sunset Hill
  6. Tic-Tac-Toe
  7. Voice in the Crowd
  8. White Russians
  9. Sugar Mice in the Rain

Previously Unreleased Demos

  1. Hotel Hobbies / Warm Wet Circles (The Mosaic Demos)
  2. Just for the Record
  3. Torch Song
  4. Slàinte Mhath

Blu-ray Disc

Blu-ray Disc

  1. Clutching At Straws [Stereo / LPCM Audio 5.1 / DTS Master 5.1] 52:13
  2. The Final Straw [Documentary] 60:00
  3. Incommunmicado [Promo Video] 4:02
  4. Sugar Mice [Promo Video] 5:05
  5. Warm Wet Circles [Demo] 4:25
  6. Clutching At Straws [Original 1987 Album Mix] 52:13
  7. Incommunicado [Alternate Version [1999 Remaster Bonus Track] 5:57
  8. Tux On [1999 Remaster Bonus Track] 5:13
  9. Going Under [1999 Remaster Bonus Track] 2:48 [12]


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", production
  • John Cavanagh – "Dr. Finlay" voice on "Torch Song"


Chart (1987) Peak
Austrian Albums (Ö3 Austria)[13] 16
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[14] 81
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[15] 3
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[16] 3
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[17] 4
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[18] 9
Swiss Albums (Schweizer Hitparade)[19] 3
UK Albums (OCC)[20] 2
US Billboard 200[21] 103


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Germany (BVMI)[22] Gold 250,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[23] Gold 100,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ Borthwick, Stuart (2004). Popular Music Genres: An Introduction. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0748617456.
  2. ^ Macan, Edward (1997). Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture. Oxford University Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0195098884.
  3. ^ "1987 Q Magazine Recordings of the Year". Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Clutching at Straws". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  5. ^ a b "50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Sleeve notes".
  7. ^ Franck, John. Marillion: "Clutching at Straws" > Review at AllMusic. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  8. ^ Dickson, Dave (25 June 1987). "The Finest Straw". Kerrang!. No. 149. London: Spotlight Publications. p. 16.
  9. ^ a b Hepworth, David (July 1987). "Marillion – Clutching at Straws". Q. No. 10. London: EMAP.
  10. ^ BBC Radio 5 Live interview with Dawn Dunlop, December 2015
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ " – Marillion – Clutching at Straws" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  14. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 563". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  15. ^ " – Marillion – Clutching at Straws" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  16. ^ " – Marillion – Clutching at Straws" (in German). GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  17. ^ " – Marillion – Clutching at Straws". Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  18. ^ " – Marillion – Clutching at Straws". Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  19. ^ " – Marillion – Clutching at Straws". Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  20. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  21. ^ "Marillion – Clutching at Straws - Chart History". Billboard. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  22. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Marillion; 'Clutching at Straws')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  23. ^ "British album certifications – Marillion – Clutching at Straws". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 18 October 2016.Select albums in the Format field. Select Gold in the Certification field. Type Clutching at Straws in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.

External links[edit]