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4.7 out of 5 stars70
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 21 October 2006
Clutching At Straws is Fish's letter of resignation to Marillion. Lyrically you can clearly tell that Fish is going through some inner turmoil. Musically, the band have never sounded so powerful.
The opening salvo of 'Hotel Hobbies/Warm Wet Circles/That Time Of The Night' illustrates the concept of the struggling writer trying to keep the demons of alcoholism at bay and ultimately failing. It's an awesome opening salvo of vocals and jaw dropping musical ability that leaves the listener quite breathless.
'White Russian' and the prophetic 'The Last Straw', show that Marillion are still quite adept at writing and performing big, show stopping epics, while 'Incommunicado', 'Sugar Mice' and the excellent 'Slainte Mhath', prove that the band were becoming more proficient in terms of delivering accessible, radio friendly tracks without selling out in any way.
Both Fish and Steve Rothery seem to dominate proceedings with some truly outstanding individual performances, and Ian Mosley's drumming is real masterclass stuff at times, especially in the first three tracks and 'White Russian'. Terrific stuff.
Chris Kimsey's production is, once again, right on the money and when you consider that 'Misplaced Childhood' could have been a real millstone around the band's neck, that 'Clutching...' is as strong an album as it is should be viewed as a real achievement.
I'm of the opinion that if Marillion had continued on this path with Fish at the helm, they would be sitting now with the same gravitas and worldwide popularity as Iron Maiden or even U2. As much as I love the Steve Hogarth era albums and fully respect the direction the band now follow, I do find myself returning to the Fish era records and feeling a little sad that the big man had to quit the group in the manner that he did. There's something magical about 1982-1988 Marillion, and when Fish left, I feel he took the cajones with him so to speak.
Having said all that, he left one hell of a legacy and a fantastic back catalogue, of which 'Clutching At Straws' is one hell of an addition.
Shame about the cover though. Otherwise, absolutely marvellous.
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on 9 October 2008
Despite its strong theme of alcohol misuse running throughout, this melodic, deep and moving record actually lends itself well to a listen last thing at night with a good single malt in hand!

One or two tracks just don't fit. These will stand out to you and you'll skip them. The rest is pure genius; timeless, and accomplished. A great album, with a surprisingly 'light' yet technically brilliant and intricate sound.

This album should never be confined to history. Fish and the boys did good here.
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on 14 October 2005
This is my favourite Fish era Marillion album. It betters even the superb Misplaced Childhood - and that's saying something -with the first 3 tracks, Hotel Hobbies, Warm Wet Circles and At That Time of the Night being the high points for me. Oh - and Sugar Mice of course. A concept album about drinking, heavy drinking that is and really being a bit depressed. The one track that doesnt fit in for me is Incommunicado - which is all a bit too upbeat and fast for the rest of the album - it feels tacked on as a single - and indeed it was the first single.
The real gems here - and here I must disagree with a previous reviewer - are the bonus CD outakes and demos which would have become the next Marillion album had not Fish and the band split. Tic Tac Toe (which was used for the basis of The Release on the first post Fish Marillion album, Seasons End and also on State of Mind on Fish's 1st album, Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors) is a superb song - better than either of the 2 subsequent versions, esp the Fish solo one. Voice in the Crowd is wonderful too, very moving - poor quality sound though which is not surprising as these tapes had been sitting around for years. Exile on Princes Street is another song reused by Fish, this time on Internal Exile the title track of his 2nd solo album. Better sound quality on this one. Again far better, far more melodic and emotional - rather than the horribly folky jig track it eventually became. And there are several other excellent demos too on this bonus disc. All of which seem to indicate the next album was coming along nicely and would have been perhaps just as good as Misplaced Childhood and Clutching At Straws. A real shame it never happened. And finally you also get Tux On - a b side of the era which is another good track. After this album Marillion found Steve Hogarth and became somewhat of a different though still excellent band - more Pink Floydy perhaps and Fish despite some nice moments - Raingods with Zippos - never quite captured his past glories.
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on 9 July 2001
OK I'll confess, I didn't much like this band at 1st. As a Gabriel Genesis fan, I was among their detractors who saw them as a modern clone. Secretly, I quite liked Market Sqaure Heroes, He Knows You Know and Grendel
But then I heard Clutching at Straws. My, what an album. Again, losely concept in nature (see also Pornografitti), about a slowly dieing alcoholic and the trappings of fame (would that be you at the time, Fish?), it's another example of concept and exectuion on the highest level. Emotional, bleak, bitter, sensitive & moving, this is the band's finest hour. Ironically, their last as the original line up too.
"Hotel Hobbies" drifts into your head as a gradual fade in, and sets the scene perfectly with noodley bass as night becomes day, with references to hookers, bell boys, cocaine and whiskey. Fish's voice builds in volume and angst through the 2nd verse as we approach the 1st guitar highlight of the album. Steve Rothery's guitar rips into the 1st solo with a dive bomb on the low E string using his whammy bar, before firing off ascending high notes that have the hairs on your skin standing up.
"Hotel Hobbies" is actually part of a 3 song suite, and segues nicely into "Warm Wet Circles" with it's beautiful twangy Chorus enhanced arpreggio riff (2nd guitar highlight). More fabulous metaphor and allusion from Fish as the suite moves into it's final 3rd, "That Time of the Night (The Short Straw)", with gently pumping bass and atmospheric keys. The song builds to a crescendo with Fish bellowing out "Warm Wet Circles!", before leaving the female guest vocalist to repeat the sames words as Steve Rothery plays a series of suspended 4th chords (again, Chorus enhanced ) that sound simply awesome (3rd guitar highlight).
4th guitar highlight comes later on the album with the tastey plucking, chords and FX towards the end of "White Russian". The displayed chords that make up the riff to "Torch Song" are the 5th guitar highlight, leaving only (only?!?!) the superb excercise in control and sustain that is the solo on "Sugar Mice" to complete a sextuplet of guitar Godness.
As a result of this album, I bought their double live (with the phenomenal version of "Fugazi" on it) and discovered the rest of the best of this fantastic prog rock group. Thank you.
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on 18 September 2000
Listen to this album from 1987 and you will realise that it is by one of the most misunderstood and hence underrated bands that have ever been. The brilliant and thoughtful mind of their then lead singer, the enigmatic Fish, produces a masterpiece of songwriting that combines poetic skill with some of the deepest lyrics to any songs you will ever hear. Fish's fine vocals are accompanied by the band's particularly good musicianship to make this an album which just has to be in the collection of any person with a heart and a soul. The band's influence on such modern acts as Radiohead and The Manic Street Preachers is often ignored or dismissed but one only need read the lyrics on this album to find it's pretty obvious.
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on 14 January 2001
As a virginal, buck-toothed adolescent I was introduced to rock music by Marillion and for a couple of years I listened to little else. Then I left school, left all that nonsense behind me and immersed myself in grunge, hip-hop and all manner of other abrasive noises. Recently, in my late twenties, a combination of nostalgia and the pitiful state of the current rock world (if Limp Bizkit and Coldplay represent the two extremes of it then we're in dire need of some natural disasters - both bands are equally bland and pointless) has seen me dig out those old shoe boxes full of CDs and revisit some of the gems.
In a rash moment about 5 years ago I gave 'Clutching at Straws' away so I had to buy it again in this version. Until Misplaced Childhood Marillion were nothing special. That album was a sort of self-reflective (and indulgent) opera that must have had their record company predicting their impending demise, but which was ironically their biggest commercial success. I see that album as a prologue to Clutching at Straws, a much more intelligent exercise in demon exorcism. Fish's lyrics could often be too heavy in their use of imagery which makes them seem pretentious when alalysed in detail but what they do masterfully is create a slightly drunken and sombre mood in which morose reflection cannot be avioded. Listening to Warm Wet Circles you can't help but place yourself in some God-awful 80s underground wine bar on a suburban high street (probably exactly the location it was written) drinking heavily and remembering old girlfriends. Fish was openly exposing his fears and failures on record with angst-fuelled sincerity long before Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder were praised for giving the world the same thing.
Musically, Marillion were the perfect keyboard-five-piece. They had a democracy which allowed everything to be as loud as everything else. Nobody in rock used keyboards in as clever a fashion, rather than have them simply playing chords, they had equal pegging with the guitars and on many tracks played the hook while the guitars created moods in the background. The band provided huge and brooding screenplays to compliment Fish's script.
Neither Fish's solo work nor post-Fish Marillion could match Clutching at Straws which is borne out on the 2nd CD on this record which shows that the best bits from Fish's first solo album and from Steve Hogarth's first album with the band came from the bits that weren't good enough to go on Clutching at Straws. Without Fish Marillion were still as good at making music but without his voice they just didn't say anything that anyone wanted to hear. Whilst without the band, Fish's lyrics went out uncensored and without a vehicle large enough to carry them.
Clutching at Straws is not a feel-good record (despite the inclusion of the up-beat boogie of Incommunicado) and will not appeal to everyone but it's a masterpiece of booze sodden despair and the perfect soundtrack for those nights where you want nothing more than to sit, drink and mope.
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on 9 April 2003
Quite simply a stunning album. Every track stands up to repeated listening, from the opening bars of "Hotel Hobbies" right through to "The Last Straw". "Torch Song" and "At That Time of the Night" stand out for me personally - both songs touch me in a very emotional way. Lyrically and melodically Marillion were never better than here.
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on 6 May 2010
Don't usually do reviews but this album merits one. As with any long-player it's not perfect but there are so many highlights it bears listening all the way through without skipping tracks. The seamless opening tracks to the album knit together really well - delicate guitar mingled with Fish's piercing voice and always interesting lyrics on 'Hotel Hobbies' and 'Warm Wet Circles'. It dips in the middle with some more average tracks (Incommunicado for example) but ends with a great flourish including the bittersweet Sugar Mice, one of the band's finest. Apparently there were constant internal differences and arguments during the making but I think it contributes to the tension in many of the tracks. Best listened to at night alone with the lights down low and yes, a wee drink in your hand!
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on 17 November 2011
I bought this CD some years after putting my vinyl copy of the album in the loft. I had missed it too much, and, from the opening notes, every word and cadence came flooding back. This is an album of epic granduer and emotional restraint, lyrically and musically. The production was always good, and the remaster clans up the sound well. Rothery's guitar is crystal clear, and the bass notes are so well chosen that they are a real highlight. The second CD is full of curios that fans of later Marillion and Fish will find interesting, but it does not work as a whole. The album, however, is a joy. A unique record. I think only UK band Nineteentwelve are doing anything close these days, apart from Marillion themselves.
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on 18 April 2009
This is by Far Marillions Album best work but seems to be one of those hidden away albums that all bands seem to have falling between the cracks of the overs. Perhaps this at the time may have suffered from been in the misplaced childhood shadows or/and overshadowed by the attention on Fish's departure from the Band.

This is a very deep/complex and very power piece of music with haunting lyrics and superb musicianship which is so lacking in todays scene other than for bands like Porcupine Tree.

The words to emphasise how good this album could never be as eloquent as those within-Just Buy it and absorb the story and music.
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