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Marillion: Clutching at Straws

The End of an Era

Just two years after the commercial and artistic triumph that was Misplaced Childhood, Marillion crafted another masterwork with 1987's Clutching at Straws. Despite all of the tensions and problems during the recording of this album, Marillion still managed to come out on top, creating one of the definitive releases in eighties progressive rock. This would end up being the last Marillion album with Fish behind the microphone, and I think time has proved this as the perfect swansong for the dramatic and theatric vocalist. Providing some of his most emotional lyrics and vocal performances, complimented by some of the darkest music Marillion has ever produced, you have some of the greatest material the band has ever created. Clutching at Straws is a masterpiece out of the league of all other masterpieces, and there really is no other way to describe it. Even though I love both Fish and Hogarth-era Marillion, no future album would ever top this one. If you like progressive rock, neo-prog, or just music in general, Clutching at Straws is an essential masterpiece!

The music here is very similar to the first three Marillion albums, even though the mood is much darker and melancholic and the sound is slightly more mature. This means that you should expect dark neo-prog with beautiful vocal melodies, poignant lyrics, and melodic instrumentation. The keyboards on Clutching at Straws are much more atmospheric than on the first three albums, even further proving Mark Kelly's keyboard prowess. Many of the solos on this album are from Steve Rothery. I adore his melodic playing style and, even though he isn't the most technical guy out there, his picking has more feeling and emotion than almost anyone. Clutching at Straws also features some of the best basslines Pete Trewavas would ever perform, not to forget about the spot-on drumming from Ian Mosley. The musicianship is very professional overall, and is yet another reason to love this album. However, the greatest assets of this entire album lie in the strength and sheer emotional power of the compositions. When I say that this album has some of the most beautiful music ever written, that is no overstatement. Songs like "Sugar Mice", "Warm Wet Circles", "Going Under", and "The Last Straw" are all emotional masterpieces. There are also some more upbeat tunes like "Just for the Record" and "Incommunicado", both of which are also masterpieces. Every song on Clutching at Straws is easily 5-star material; how many albums can you really say that about?

It's nearly impossible to discuss a Fish-era Marillion album without mentioning Derek Dick's terrific lyrical force. I'm not usually one to pay much attention to lyrics, but I must say that the words here have captivated me from first listen. Clutching at Straws may be some of Fish's finest work, considering the amazing amount of emotion he put into songs like "Sugar Mice" or "The Last Straw". If lines like "So if you want my address it's number one at the end of the bar, Where I sit with the broken angels clutching at straws and nursing our scars, Blame it on me, blame it on me" or " We're terminal cases that keep talking medicine, Pretending the end isn't quite that near" don't send shivers down your spine, you may not have a soul. The deep lyrical context Fish has created in relation to his own alcoholism is truly spectacular. I don't hesitate in saying that this album contains some of the greatest lyrics ever written. Add in some of Fish's most inspired and emotional vocal performances, and you have another aspect where Clutching at Straws is superb.

The production is the best that Marillion has ever had. Whereas their earlier works sounded slightly too synthetic, this is the perfect balance between an organic sound and a powerful mix.


Since the first time I heard Clutching at Straws, I knew it was a complete masterpiece. This is one of the most emotional and spectacular albums I own - it's one of my all-time favorites for sure. If you like progressive rock and still haven't gotten a copy of this classic, I would fix that as soon as possible. This is one of my favorite albums, so I have no hesitation in giving out a 5 star masterpiece ranking. Even though Marillion would release some more great albums after this, Clutching at Straws is the end of their definitive era. Fish and Marillion were an unstoppable force back in the eighties. They created some of the best prog rock ever as well as many of my personal favorites. I'm so glad I've had the experience of hearing their music - this is magic in its truest form!

(Originally Posted on

Track Listing
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)
7. Incommunicado (5:16)
8. Torch song (4:04)
9. Slàinte Mhath (4:45)
10. Sugar mice (5:46)
11. The last straw (5:58)
Total Time: 52:18

Added: December 7th 2010
Reviewer: Jeff B
Related Link: Official Website
Hits: 3888
Language: english

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» Reader Comments:

Marillion: Clutching at Straws
Posted by Jake Bradley on 2017-11-24 09:44:16
My Score:

This review of 'Clutching At Straws' doesn't overstate the strength of this album at all. It's an absolute masterpiece from the first note to the last and as far as I'm concerned it's stronger than 'Misplaced Childhood'. I'll always find it hard to understand how it came and went (at least here in America) without notice.
Fish's lyrics almost read like a book. We'll always be left to wonder how things would've been had Fish not left, but we'll also always be grateful that he left leaving this behind.

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