Marillion: Clutching At Straws
Fish looks back at his swansong album with Marillion:
Marillion were never supposed to be pop stars. But then along came Clutching At Straws…
Marillion were never supposed to be pop stars. But that was the unlikely situation they found themselves in when they started recording their fourth album, Clutching At Straws. “Kayleigh had been a huge hit,” their former singer Fish says of the band’s massive 1985 single. “But that put unforeseen pressure on us all. We were out on the road all the time – and I mean all the time. Drugs were coming into the picture. We weren’t getting on. And that’s what drove us apart.”
Where 1985’s Misplaced Childhood album had been Marillion’s commercial breakthrough album, Clutching At Straws was the sound of a band trying to deal with the aftermath. Misplaced Childhood had come together smoothly; this time around, writing sessions were tense and unproductive. “It was just awful,” says Fish. “People were getting tetchy.”
These tensions manifested themselves in the music, whether that was the downbeat melancholia of Warm Wet Circles or the anti-fascist anthem
White Russians. Alcohol and drugs were prominent lyrically, frequently viewed through the eyes of the central character, Torch, a disillusioned, dissolute writer – and a barely disguised surrogate for Fish himself.
The remnants of Marillion’s prog rock beginnings had all but vanished by Clutching At Straws. This was a grown-up rock record, one that dealt with the eternal topics of romance, angst, death and the fleeting nature of youth. Even the seemingly upbeat single Incommunicado curled a sneering lip at the shallowness of fame, something Marillion had become increasingly familiar with. This was the sound of a band who hated what they had become.
Ultimately, Clutching At Straws proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and Fish quit the band the following year. Despite the acrimony that surrounded his departure, he retains fond memories of the album.
“Clutching At Straws is a brilliant album,” Fish says. “I prefer it to
Misplaced Childhood. It’s very honest, very open, to the point where you go: ‘Fucking hell…’” DE
Marillion: coming apart by the time of arguably
their finest album.