Clutching at Straws is the fourth studio album of the progressive rock band Marillion. It was released in 1987 and was the last album before the lead singer Fish left the band. Although commercially not quite as successful as its 1985 predecessor Misplaced Childhood, it is considered to be among the best work of Marillion's "Fish era" by many (including Fish himself, as he has stated in several interviews).
In 1999 a 2-CD 'Remastered Version' with additional B-sides and demos was released, with detailed liner notes from all of the original members including Fish.
Note: The album also features Tessa Niles on backing vocals on That Time Of The Night (The Short Straw) and The Last Straw.
The concept of the album is as follows: the character of Torch has gone from being an angst-filled singing jester from the hills of Silmarillion to becoming a 30-something out-of-work factory worker in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A., and seeks comfort mostly in alcohol to numb himself. He is trying, but failing, to forget what lies at his feet—a failed marriage, being a deadbeat father, and his lack of commercial success as a singer in a band.
As he gets drunk, he also writes about his surroundings and his laments, which are never better described throughout the entire album than they are in the centrally-themed song "Sugar Mice." Here is an excerpt from the lyrics:
"So if you want my address, it's number one at the end of the bar
Where I sit with the broken angels, clutching at straws, and nursing our scars
Blame it on me, Oh! you can blame it on me
We're just sugar mice in the rain
Your daddy took a raincheck, your daddy took a raincheck"
The lyrics and the imagery that one gets from other parts of the album also suggest strong hints as to why the band "took a break" after their tour in support of the album (with Fish eventually quitting) after it was released. The song "Incommunicado" excellently describes the pitfalls of the business, and how pressures in real life exerted by the band's label Capitol Records were crushing in from outside for them to either "succeed or else they would be dropped by the company" (see the external link below), which they were anyway a few years later.
The album's mixture of music and lyrics is highly introspective, dark, and at times full of sunny memories twinged with a bitter past, sometimes full of loss and fear, with everything coming from these same memories that are shouted out loud. Since Torch has no other real outlet at his disposal, he ends up in bars, hotel rooms, and on the road, screaming and drunk, letting us know it has all slipped through his fingers and that he is beyond redemption or hope. From the sound and feel of the music, his creativity seems to be still alive and well—as long as he has the drink.
The front and back covers of the album give a revealing glimpse into Fish's inspiration for the album's lyrics as well as depicting some of his heroes. There are allusions to them throughout the album. The setting is in a British bar & pool room, and the people represented are:
The 1999 remaster of the album has a slightly improved sound quality. However, most interesting is the newly added second album filled with demo tapes from the writing sessions for the then-planned untitled and subsequently aborted fifth album, right before Fish left.
Much of the leftover musical material was then used on the official fifth Marillion album Seasons End, with new lyrics penned by the new singer Steve Hogarth while some of the original lyrics for the music ended up in one form or another on Fish's solo albums.
The 1999 remaster has the following additional tracks on the second album:
Liner notes for the remaster by some of the band members (on the marillion.com band page):