Marillion – Clutching at Straws
After Misplaced Childhood, Marillion were riding on the crest of a wave. “Kayleigh” had made it to number two on the charts and the album had sold well. In order to capitalise on their success, Marillion needed to follow up with a strong album, which this is; and preferably with another hit single, which was provided by “Incommunicado.” They also needed to keep their personnel together, but unfortunately Fish was to depart shortly after work started on a fifth studio album.
On Clutching at Straws, Marillion have a harder, more guitar dominated sound than on Misplaced Childhood. Steve Rothery’s guitar work is excellent, even if he borrows heavily from U2’s “Gloria” riff in “Just for the Record.” The songs are more compact, which suits Marillion’s writing style. Despite the more conventional song structure, the band really manage to evoke a variety of moods very effectively.
The star of the show for me is Fish, and this is probably his finest effort lyrically, either with Marillion or solo. As with the preceding album, there is a fairly loose concept. The central themes are substance abuse (particularly alcohol) and the public image people project, partly told through the story of a character called “Torch”. This is a pretty rich vein to explore for a lyric writer with Fish’s drinking habits, but what really makes the lyrics something special is the use of recurring imagery. Straws are short, used to inhale cocaine and of course clutched at. Warm wet circles are a mother’s kiss on a first broken heart, or left by a cloth mopping up beer on the bar. While Fish has his faults as a lyricist, they are rarely exposed on this, his magnum opus.
The two CD re-release of Clutching at Straws contains a bonus disc which has the very early demo tapes of a projected fifth studio album. As Fish left the band before the songs had been developed very far they were more or less thrown out, although Fish reused some of the lyrics on Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. Unfortunately, despite a couple of good moments the songs still obviously need a lot of work, though they are still a great curio for Marillion fans.
Despite the fact that this album is usually rated by fans as less worthy than either Misplaced Childhood or Script for a Jester’s Tear, it is my favourite work produced by either Fish or Marillion. Lyrically it is among the great concept albums, and this is probably the best album for Steve Rothery’s guitars as well.