Marillion - Clutching At Straws

Year of Release: 1999
Label: EMI
Catalog Number: 7243 4986112
Format: CD
Total Time: 108:24:00

I could "talk" for hours about why I love Marillion, why each track resonates with me, whether it is Mark Kelly's keyboard part or Steve Rothery's guitar or Ian Mosley's drums or ... well, you get the picture. In different tracks, it's different things that are the highlights for me - throughout most of Clutching At Straws it is Rothery's guitar and Kelly's keys - not to leave out Fish's vocals, of course, because most of what resonates with me is Fish's lyrics.

Clutching At Straws and its predecessor Misplaced Childhood run in a very close tie as my favourite Marillion albums - and depending on my particular mood, one or the other takes the top spot. Over the past week or so, I've been listening to both endlessly. Right now, Clutching is resonating more, and since I just picked up the re-mastered version, its the one I'll talk about here.

Clutching is not a new album by any means, though if you aren't familiar with the Marillion back catalogue, having just discovered them through their more recent releases, it will be new to you. What we have here is the re-mastered version with a bonus disk of previously unreleased material, alternate versions, etc.

Tied with Misplaced Childhood as the best of Fish led Marillion material, Clutching is a powerful, rockier album. Though it isn't what we listen to prog for, singing along (once you know the words) can almost feel cathartic - it is for me at least. With the 24 bit digital re-mastering, this album sounds so much better, so much more rich and dynamic. I've not done a comparison with the previous CD edition, but there are things I'm noticing now that I didn't notice before. And believe me, I've played this album A LOT - not just recently, either, but that, too.

All the parts are here - Steve Rothery's guitar (spectacular), Mark Kelly's keyboard (at its pinnacle), Peter Trewavas' bass (dynamic, much more in the mix), and Ian Mosley's drums (textured as usual). Behind the mic is Fish - with the exception of "Going Under," this is the example of his best vocal work.

If you've ever felt down on your luck, depressed, ever found yourself staring at the bottom of your glass, wondering if there is any meaning to life, this is your album. Yeh, sure most of it is about addiction - cocaine, and alcohol mainly. But mainly it is about escape. The "real world" background to it is that Fish was ready to leave the band (all detailed in the liner notes). So that what's he wanted to escape from - feeling trapped by obligations of fame. But when you turn to drugs to escape, it starts a spiral downwards. But, Fish paints the picture on a much larger canvas, giving us small vignettes that illustrate that we've all been there - we've all been clutching the short straw one time or another, for one reason or another. "Just For The Record" is both a song of denial and the realization of that denial - "Just for the record I'm gonna change my life around/Just another empty gesture with an empty glass [?]." Then later: "When you say I've got a problem that's a certainty/But I can put it all right down to eccentricity..."

Some of the best-loved Marillion tunes are here - "Slainte Mhath," and "Sugar Mice," for example. A few words about the first: slainte mhath roughly translates a cheers (not so surprising given the themes here) and musically sounds a bit like Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" during the verses. It's a song of the working class - spending time in the pub with mates dreaming of a better life, knowing that the "better life" is always going to be beyond reach, knowing that, if anything, things can only get worse - unemployment. As Fish admits, his feelings of Scottish nationalism were getting their start during this period, something that was picked up in Internal Exile a few years later.

The universality of the themes in the album all come together in "The Last Straw" with lyrics like "We live our lives in private shells/ Ignore our senses and fool ourselves/To thinking that our there there's someone else cares/Someone to answer all our prayers, all our prayers [?] we're terminal cases that keep taking medicine [?]." Then later: "And you'll recognize by the reflection in our eyes that deep down inside we're all one and the same/We're clutching at straws?"

I have to point out again that there is a great deal of this album that is resonating with me currently - and so I do find I keep playing this over and over again, at the exclusion of the bonus disk. So, let's look at that bonus disk.

Of the new views of familiar material from the album, we get an alternate version of "Incommunicado" (the biggest commercial hit, relatively speaking, though nothing on the order of "Kayleigh") starting the disk off, followed by the demo version of "White Russians," and slightly different version of "Sugar Mice."

"Incommunicado" is lighter, brighter than the final version - Rothery's guitar out front much more. It has a more arena-rock feel about it, added vocal effects (echoes mainly)? the final version comes out much stronger. "Tux On" follows which also appeared on B-Sides Themselves. The production on the track here is much better, clearer, sharper. The demo version of "White Russians" lacks the punch of the final version, but you can see that the track didn't change much at all from the demo - lyrics here and there do, a bit of the arrangement. "Sugar Mice In The Rain" is essentially what ended up on the album as "Sugar Mice" - as expected, some of the lyrics are different, and what ended up "on vinyl" was much stronger, much tighter.

Of the previous unreleased material, we get "Beaujolais Day" about which Mark Kelly writes "we put the guitar solo to good use in 'Warm Wet Circles' and the rest of the music ended up as 'Seasons End' a few years later." The remaining tracks were recorded (demoed) after Clutching At Straws. You can see the beginnings of material on Fish's solo releases: the lyrics to "Story From A Thin Wall" became "Family Business" (Vigil In A Wilderness of Mirrors) with different music, "Sunset Hill" became "A View From The Hill," and "Tic-Tac-Toe" became "State of Mind." "Exile On Princes Street" became "Lucky" (Internal Exile) among others, as lines ended up in other songs, too. Whereas the first came across better on Vigil, "Sunset Hill" works equally as well as "A View?" but with an entirely different character. One will also think just a bit of Peter Gabriel's "Solisbury Hill," but only just a bit during one section. In "Tic-Tac-Toe," you will recognize the opening bit of music from Holidays in Eden's "Close My Eyes," though the music develops pretty much along different lines after that.

The music to "Voice In The Crowd" starts out very Floyd-esque, switches to sounding a bit like The Who, and bits of the lyrics became "Just Good Friends." "Shadows On The Barley" is Fish sounding like Bob Dylan backed by Marillion.

This bonus disk gives you a peek at what might have been the next Marillion album, but with the exception of "Shadows," the material found much better homes where they ended up. Given that the members of the band were heading in different directions at the time, that doesn't come as too surprising.

Now, of course I recommend this album because Clutching is one of my all-time favourites - not just of Marillion material, but period. So, it isn't unbiased for me to say to go out and get this disk, especially if you're wondering why people hold "classic" Marillion in such high regard - this is the reason folks.

Disc One: Hotel Hobbies (3:35) / Warm Wet Circles (4:25) / That Time Of The Night (The Short Straw) (6:00) / Going Under (2:47) / Just For The Record (3:09) / White Russian (6:27) / Incommunicado (5:16) / Torch Song (4:05) / Slainte Mhath (4:44) / Sugar Mice (5:46) / The Last Straw 1) Happy Ending (5:58)

Disc Two: 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 (6:15) / Sugar Mice In The Rain (5:54)

Fish - vocals
Steve Rothery - guitars
Mark Kelly - keyboards
Pete Trewavas - bass
Ian Mosley - drums and percussion

Script For A Jester's Tear (1983)
Fugazi (1984)
Reel To Real (1984)
Misplaced Childhood (1985)
Brief Encounter (ep) (1985)
Clutching At Straws (1987/1999)
The Thieving Magpie (1988)
B-Sides Themselves (1988)
Season's End (1989)
Holidays In Eden (1991)
A Singles Collection 1982-1992 (1992)
Live At The Borderline (1992)*
Live In Caracas (1993)*
Live In Glasgow (1993)*
Brave (1994)
The Making Of Brave (1995)*
Afraid Of Sunlight (1995)
Made Again (1996)
Kayleigh (1996) (Dutch comp)
Essential Collection (1996) (UK comp; same as above)
Real To Reel/Brief Encounter (1997)
Best Of Both Worlds (1997)
This Strange Engine (1997)
Rochester (1998)*
Piston Broke (1998)*
Tales From The Engine Room (1998)
Radiation (1998)
Christmas 1998: The Web Christmas (1998)**
Kayliegh: The Essential Collection (1998) (UK comp.; diff. from above)
Unplugged At The Walls (1999)* (1999)
Zodiac (1999)*
Christmas 1999: (1999)** (or bonus disk) (Ver 1-2000)
The Singles: '82 - '88 (box set) (2000/2009)
Christmas 2000: A Piss-Up In A Brewery**
Crash Course (Sampler) (2000)
ReFracted! (2001)*
Anoraknophobia (2001)
Another DAT At The Office (2001)*
Christmas 2001: A Verry Barry Christmas (2001)**
Fallout (2002)*
Anorak In The UK Live (2002)* (or bonus disk) (Ver 2-2002)
Brave Live 2002 (2002)*
Caught In The Net (2002)*
Crash Course (Sampler) (2002)*
The Singles: '89 -'95 (2002)
Brave Live (2002)*
AWOL (2002)**
Christmas 2002: Santa And Elvis (2002)**
The Best of Marillion (2003)
View From The Balcony (2003)**
Christmas 2003: Say Cheese! Christmas With Marillion (2003)**
Curtain Call (2004) (3CD Box)*
Crash Course (2004)*
Marbles (2004)
Remixomatosis (2004)*
Christmas 2004: Baubles (2004)**
Popular Music (CD oop, avail. as download only) (2005)** (or bonus disk) (Ver 3-2005)
View From The Balcony (Sampler) (Ver 2-2005)
Marbles By The Sea (2005)*
Marbles Live (2005)*
Handful Of Marbles (Sampler) (2005)*
Christmas 2005: Merry Xmas To Our Flock (2005)**
Unzipped (The Making Of 'Anoraknophobia') (2005)*
Crash Course (Ver 4 - 2006)
Smoke (2006)*
Mirrors (2006)*
Marbles Vinyl Edition (2006)
Christmas 2006: Jingle Book (2006)**
Somewhere Else (2007)
Crash Course (Ver 5 - 2007)*
Christmas 2007: Somewhere Elf (2007)**
Family (2007)*
Friends (2007)*
Crash Course (Ver 6 - 2008)*
Happiness Is The Road - Volume 1: Essence (2008)
Happiness Is The Road - Volume 2: The Hard Shoulder (2008)
Early Stages - The Official Bootlegs 1982-1987 (6CD Box) (2008)
Christmas 2008: Pudding On The Ritz (2008)**
Happiness Is Cologne (2009)*
Live From Loreley (2009)
Recital Of The Script (2009)
Less Is More (2009)
Size Matters (2010)*
Tumbling Down The Years (2010)*
The Official Bootleg Box Set, Vol. 2 (2010)
Live From Cadogan Hall (2010)*
Live In Montreal / Saturday (2010)*
Live In Montreal / Sunday (2010)*
Keep The Noise Down (sampler) (2010) Deluxe Digipack (2011)
Somewhere Else (2LP) (2011)
Marbles Deluxe Digipack (2011)
Marbles (2LP) (2011)
Live In Montreal / Friday (2011)*
Season's End Live 2009 (2011)*
This Strange Engine Live 2007 (2011)*
Afraid Of Sunlight Live 2003 (2011)*
A-Z (2012)*
This Strange Engine - Deluxe Digipack (2012)
Fugazi (LP) (2012)
Holidays In Eden (LP) (2012)
Sounds That Can't Be Made (2012)
Sounds That Can't Be Made - Deluxe Edition (2012)
Crash Course (2012)*
Sounds Live (2012)*
Anoraknophobia (LP) (2012)
The Glow Must Go On (2012)*
Sleighed Again (Christmas 2012) (2012)**
Best.Live (LP box set) (2013)
Radiation 2013 (2013)
Brave (LP) (2013)
Misplaced Childhood (LP) (2013)
Clocks Already Ticking (CD/DVD) (2013)*
Best Of Leamington (2013)*
Best Of Montreal (2013)*
Brave Live 2002 (CD/DVD) (2013)
Radiation 2013 (LP) (2013)
Somewhere In London (CD/DVD) (2013)
Afraid Of Sunlight (LP) (2013)
Clutching At Straws (LP) (2013)
Sounds That Can't Be Made (LP) (2013)
Brave Live 2013 (2013)
Sounds That Can't Be Made - 2013 Special Edition (2013)*
Proggin Around The Christmas Tree (Christmas 2013) (2013)**
A Sunday Night Above The Rain (dlx bx set) (2014)*
A Sunday Night Above The Rain (Holland version) (2014)*
A Sunday Night Above The Rain (Montreal version) (2014)*
A Sunday Night Above The Rain (3LP) (2014)*
A Collection Of Recycled Gifts (xmas comp.) (2014)*
Live At The Forum (2014)
Chile For The Time Of Year (Christmas 2014) (2014)*
Glass Half Full (2015)
F.E.A.R. (2016)
Waves & Numbers (2016)*
Marbles In The Park (2016)*
Singles Night (2016)*

Recital Of The Script (VHS/DVD) (1983/2003)
Grendel/The Web (VHS EP) (1984)
1983-86 The Videos (VHS [oop]) (1986)
Live From Loreley (VHS/DVD) (1987/2004)
From Stoke Row To Ipanema (VHS/DVD) (1990/2003)
A Singles Collection 1982-1992 (DVD) (1992)
Brave, The Film (VHS/DVD) (1995/2004)
Shot In The Dark (VHS/DVD [oop]) (2000/2002)
The EMI Singles Collection (DVD [PAL only])(2002)
A Piss-up In A Brewery (DVD) (2002/2010)
Brave Live 2002 (DVD) (2002)
Christmas In The Chapel (DVD) (2003)
Before First Light (DVD) (2003)
Wish You Were Here (DVD box, oop) (2005)
Colours And Sound (DVD) (2006)*
Marbles On The Road (DVD) (2005)
Bootlet Butlins (DVD) (2007)*
Somewhere In London (DVD) (2007)
This Strange Convention (DVD) (2009)
Snow De Cologne (DVD) (2009)**
Out Of Season (box set) (DVD) (2010)
Ding Dong Loreley On High (live) (DVD) (2010)
In-Tube DVD Sampler (DVD) (2010)
Out Of Season (DVD boxset) (2010)
Live In Montreal (3DVD) (2011)
Holidays In Zelande (BR) (2012)
Clocks Already Ticking (CD/DVD) (2013)
Brave Live 2002 (CD/DVD) (2013)
Brave Live 2013 (BR & DVD) (2013)
A Sunday Night Above The Rain (BR & DVD) (2014)*
Breaking Records (BR) (2015)
Unconventional (BR & DVD) (2016)
Out Of The Box (BR & DVD) (2016)

* Racket Records releases; ** Fan Club only

Genre: Neo Prog

Origin UK

Added: February 1st 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1276
Language: english


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