Review Summary: Not quite a masterpiece, but a stellar piece of work that should be heard by fans of Progressive Rock or intelligent Pop.
A foreigner alone in a strange land.
I'd made quite the number of friends during my visit to China, and yet despite the popularity and the excitement of being in a foreign land, I often prefer to drink alone. For whatever reason, a sadness constantly haunts me-a sadness that only alcohaul can numb and people can pour vinegar on.
I entered the bar alone, sat down at the bar-the last bar stool to the left- lit a ciagrette and ordered my beer. The smoke drifted and disappeared into the void-much like myself. I played "Clutching at Straws" on my I-pod. Music to escape in. Music to make the outside world disappear, and thus, began my voyage into the past. The haunted memories in my mind.
"Clucthing at Straws" is the album to drink alone to.
Following the incredible masterpiece that was "Misplaced Childhood," Marillion returns with yet another cyncial slab of pure, proggy goodness.
By this time, dislike and hatred had reared its' ugly head within the band, and the recording process of this, Marillion's figurative final album, was ugly to say the least, because soon after this release, eccentric and brilliant frontman Fish would leave to swim in the ocean alone, which would permanently alter Marillion's overall sound and forever divding fans.
I won't get into that, because it isn't the topic.
"Clutching at Straws" is a brilliant display of Neo-prog. It combines stellar musicianship with gorgeous lyrical imagery. It doesn't lack in variety either. Whether it be the toe-tapping (and somewghat happy despite the bitter lyrics)" Incommunicado," to the atmospheric and heart breaking tale of lost innocence, "Warm Wet Circles," or the poppy and powerful closer track, the album features something for everyone. "Sugar Mice" also bears mentioning. A sad tale of loneliness and travel, which has reportedly made the bassist cry during its playing live on stage.
While not a concept album per say, it does follow a theme. Namely: Drug abuse, alcohaulism, and the loneliness the former inevitably brings. Rest assured, this is not a happy album by any means. The album is peppered with sorrowful atmospheres, all brought to life by lyrical genius Fish. He truely is a poet of the modern age, painting detailed pictures within your mind. Yes, the album, whether you like it or not, will take you to rundown bars, hotel rooms, and darkened hallways.
I can't comment much on the keyboards and drums, as honestly, they never caught my attention. The drumming and keywork is restrained to say the least, serving only to help build atmospheres rather than create them. The bass is audible and is well-played for those who strain to hear it. "Clutching at Straws" mainly focuses on the vocals and writings of Fish and the stellar guitar playing of Steve Rothery.
Rothery plays his heart out on this album, giving us gorgeous leads and melodies, well surpassing any other band of that era. Sad, angry, empassioned-these are the feelings that will flow within you as Rothery sweeps us away. While not exactly technical by any means, that was never the intention. This isn't guitar wizardry, it's guitar poetry.
Only a few things keep it shy of "masterpiece" status.
Firstly, the emotional climaxes never reach such heights as those found on "Misplaced Childhood." While nearly every track off that album had a spine tingling moment, they are sparser here on "Clutching At Straws." Rest assured, they can be found, however they simply aren't as breathtaking.
Secondly, there are a few weaker tracks. That Time of Night and White Russian simply fail to grab me. Don't get the wrong idea, they are not bad and I've read on various sites that White Russian is the standout track for many, however, I find them mostly boring.
Despite these shortcomings, "Clutching at Straws" forever holds a place in my heart. It is my personal soundtrack to alcohaulism and if you let it, "Clutching at Straws" can be the soundtrack to your broken dreams.
I was suddenly pulled out of my daze by a loud slap on my shoulder. My friend, William, arrived to the bar and asked "What the Hell, are you here alone","
"Yeah," I replied.
Drunk and hazey, I hadn't noticed that the music had stopped playing 40 minutes ago. I looked down to find myself clutching at the straw that was left on the bar.