Style: prog-rock, hard rock, British
Members: Fish ~ vocals
Steve Rothery ~ guitars
Mark Kelly ~ keyboards
Pete Trewavas ~ bass
Ian Mosley ~ drums
Additional: Tessa Niles, Chris Kimsey, John Cavanaugh ~ b. vocals
I'll confess that I was expecting something different when I put this album on which was the incentive to listen. Having never heard Marillion outside their reputation I was expecting heavy prog-rock a la Yes or even Asia, but instead found something akin to the very different end of the prog spectrum via Genesis ... that is, the intricately arranged almost soft rock Genesis of the Peter Gabriel era but with some of the slick commercial rock feel of the later Phil Collins era. Or, for those that aren't familiar with the less commercially popular quartet days of Genesis: lush & seemingly complicated arrangements that are better for rainy day listening when you're trapped at home versus going out to a concert for a wild night of mind-altering experimental musical forays. On one hand I wasn't suprised by the commercial slickness of Clutching At Straws, given it was made in the slick late 1980's, but it was also much more tame, but tame in a vibrant hypnotic way not a pop radio way. Marillion is a second generation prog-rock band that came to the fore in the 1980's & wouldn't grow to the same commercial heights in the U.S. as they did back home across the ocean but have taken on a cult status just the same as keepers of the flame in an era when prog-rock became unpopular. Part of their downfall would be the trials of the music business, as often perceived through alcohol, mixed with the incorporation of more hard rock elements that brought them more commercial success but also moved them away from their prog roots & closer to their hard rock MTV peers. They'd eventually find something of a happy though softer medium with their fourth studio album Clutching At Straws. Many fans have called this album the band's masterpiece, made greater by being recorded under great band turmoil, but that recognition must consider that Marillion of 1987 is not the same band musically that started a decade later. Honestly, this release may not be Clutch at their prog-rock height though it might be a straight-ahead rock height, nor is it necessarily a commercial height as its accolades came later, but its without doubt a band trying to get back to having their own sound with thumbs up from both fans & critics. & for someone, as me, whose not familiar with their past efforts without doing some research the result is surprising but not unenjoyable. Almost ironically, it's the last album with charasmatic frontman Fish whose soaring alcoholism would take him to a struggling solo career. Though, it's that alcoholism that led Fish to pen lyrics that pushed the button into darker territories as he riots against both his own failings & that of society. It's almost confessional ... a trait that has often been a secret ingredient in prog-rock lyrics which tend to be more esoteric & abstract. The greatest prog-rock albums, whatever the decade, have always been those that dug personal & not necessarily cosmic, or those that reach to the dirt not the clouds. Though, it should be said this is a concept album about a out of work young man named Torch whose trying to forget this troubles with alcohol including a lack of commercial success as a rock'n'roll singer. In his drunken stupor he writes about his life on the road ... sound familiar to a real life rock singer? Marillion's next studio album, the aptly titled Season's End two years later featuring new vocalist Steve Hogarth, would also be well-received but Marillion would never reach the same critical recognition as they would with Clutching At Straws though they continue to release albums twenty years later. There are some more commercial aspects to the album with its cascading arrangements & guitar solos but that aspect does what it should to: builds up not tears down.