If Marillion’s lead singer Fish used previous album Misplaced Childhood as a catharsis for his relationship turmoils, then he attempted to exorcise his substance abuse demons with Straws. The conclusion for this concept album isn’t as sunny as its predecessor; a fact which makes this a somewhat more realistic and concrete album.
The album was preceded by leadoff single Incommunicado which with its nauseatingly fast pace is not only the weakest song on the album, but one of the lesser tunes of the entire Marillion catalog. The slower tempo Sugar Mice was the best bet for a single (eventually released as the third single) with its memorably aching peak into the mind of a man who leaves his family because he can’t beat the bottle.
However, the strongest and most interesting song on the album is Warm Wet Circles. This intriguing choice as a second single opens with the lines “On promenades where drunks propose to lonely arcade mannequins/Where ceremonies pause at the jeweler’s shop display/Feigning casual silence in strained romantic interludes/Till they commit themselves to the muted journey home.” Not exactly your average toe-tapper. As if the lyrics weren’t powerful enough, the song is stuffed with “warm wet circle” imagery, including a wedding ring, the sweat left behind by a glass, and a bullet wound.
Like Childhood, this album plays very autobiographically. One senses that the success of that album was a blessing and a curse; the added stress of extra touring pushed Fish to alcohol abuse and a sense that maybe there aren’t answers to everything after all. The latter message is bleakly painted by album closer The Last Straw: “We’re clutching at straws/I’m still drowning.”
In the same song, he sings “Those problems seem to arise/The ones you never really thought of/The feeling you get is similar to something like drowning.” He also proclaims, “We’re terminal cases that keep taking medicine/Pretending the end isn’t quite that near.” The lines were eerie foreshadowing to the end of an era; it would be Fish’s last album with the band.