Saturday, February 28, 2015

Marillion From a Swedebeast's Point of View - Clutching At Straws

At the time of the release of 'Clutching At Straws', little did I know it spelled the end of an era, the end of Marillion as I knew it. I was clueless to all the problems and animosity within the band which lead to the spiteful split between Fish on one side and Steve, Mark, Pete and Ian on the other. Decent record sales and successful tours couldn't prevent the end, instead it probably increased the gap between the band members even quicker and more ferociously.

When I listened to the album for the first time I was thrilled by the rockier edge to the song 'Incommunicado', as well as the heartbreaking frustration and rejection of 'Sugar Mice'. You can call it a slight return to the Marillion of old, if you will. Fish is wearing his heart and emotions on his sleeves, having written some of his most candid lyrics to date. Musically the band are pushing themselves to a fantastic performance that elegantly enhances the pain, the brief hope and broken dreams the lyrics portray.

Bleak and paranoid, 'Hotel Hobbies' starts off slow and in a reflective mood. Torch, the main character of the album - Fish perhaps? - is pondering over his destructive ways but is getting none the wiser. A brief burst halfway through could be a moment of hope but after Rothery's brilliant solo, ineptitude rears it's ugly head again, leaving our leading man in the hardship of another oncoming failed day.  'Warm Wet Circles' is reminiscent, going way back in time, thinking about life before moving away from your home town. What life is for those who stayed behind while you tried to make well as the awkwardness you feel going back to your old haunts realizing things are still the same. A gut-wrenching solo from Steve! Again, the partnership of Mosley and Trewavas elegantly works as the band's heart beat. The thumping of Pete's bass guitar while Ian softly rides the hi-hat allows Torch to rack his brain, coming to the realization that he probably is just like the guys who remained but worse off. Despite his making it, he has really gotten nowhere which pushes him to the breaking point. The amazing Tessa Niles was brought in to add vocals and lifts the song to uncharted territory. 

Omitted from the original vinyl version, 'Going Under' is a short haunting mainly acoustic song, where our main man's mental state is at the throes of breaking apart completely. He is fully aware of this and is seriously contemplating leaving this world. An upbeat keyboard piece by Mark Kelly kick starts 'Just For The Record', bringing some hope for Torch. Still, it's about the typical self-deception of an addict who, in the midst of the ultimate high, believes he can kick anything, get back on track and come out of this on top. A strong, cold wind blows in while the band builds up the atmosphere in this sinister composition. Lyrically, it's the odd one out since it deals with neo-nazism and very little about Torch. Remember, this was recorded in 1987 but is more poignant than ever since that movement is on an alarming rise in Europe right now. Torch's contribution is his observation of this and his decision to do nothing at all...but get more drugs to shy away any piece of responsibility.

Lifting the mood considerably, 'Incommunicado' is as stomping a rocker as Marillion ever will be. Torch is on a high, in all senses of the word, seeing himself on top of the world. All his problems are gone and he is back on the winning team again. It all comes crashing down for him in 'Torch Song'. Laughter and the opening of a bottle initiates the song as he brutally realizes nothing has changed. He is still knee deep in his addiction which is gradually killing him. But he doesn't care since life as he knows it is nothing but misery, so why bother any more? 'Burn a little brighter now...'. Just listen to the beginning of 'Slainte Mhath'! Ian and Pete are again portraying the heartbeat and nerves that are standing on edge; Steve's amazing picking on the guitar soars on top as Mark creates dreamy, emotive atmospheres. Set in a full blown war where soldiers are needlessly killed, Fish used this as an allegory for how Thatcher's politics demoralized and ruined the shipping industry in Scotland. As part of the story of Torch it represents his hopelessness with his ailing health and mind. One of my all time favourite Marillion songs ever, 'Sugar Mice' might be a bit on the commercial side, but it is one of the most heartbreaking lyrics Fish has ever written. Forced to look for work abroad due to the expansive lay-offs Thatcher's rule over the UK caused, an exiled man sees his relationship crumble and fall while trying to make ends meet. Steve Rothery plays one of his greatest solos here...nuff said! 'The Last Straw' is the last song on 'Clutching At Straws' and it carries a very fitting title, indeed. While hard at work, Torch's eyes are opened up to whom he really is and what he has become. And more importantly it finally dawns on him that he has lost. His addiction has won and there is only one way to go. Tessa Niles is back for this one and her duels with Fish are bar to none and adds so much power to the song. Fading out is 'Happy Ending' which is someone yelling "No" followed by some crazed laughter. It is listed as a song but really isn't.

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty no matter how you look at things. So in regards to this magnificent album with all the craziness surrounding the creation of it, and even more the climax after it's release, all the signs of the inner turmoil within the Marillion camp that I was oblivious to are present in virtually every sentence sung. Perhaps that realization has made 'Clutching At Straws' an even better album in my eyes, as the years have rolled by. I don't know, however I do know that despite all the anger and hostility the guys went through, they created a near-perfect goodbye for Fish. After all, this classic line-up of the band ended on the highest note possible.

- Swedebeast

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