Every rock critic has a sticking point – something that they can't overlook, no matter how good the rest of an album is. With me, it's the lead singer. Conversely, I can overlook weak songwriting if there is an emphasis on strong melodies and harmonies. I'm not saying the vocals have to be pitch-perfect (witness my man-crush on Craig Finn of The Hold Steady, one of the most polarizing frontmen around), but, for me, the singer does have the prime responsibility of creating an emotional connection necessary for me to enjoy the band.
Unfortunately, this is the case with The Clutters, whose second CD, Don't Believe A Word, comes out today. I simply had a lot of trouble getting past Doug Lehmann's vocals, which was a clear tribute to Frank Black of The Pixies, another love-him-or-hate-him singer, but without Black's devilish personality.
And that's too bad, because there's otherwise a lot to like on Don't Believe A Word. Producer Jared Reynolds does a great job of harnessing their sound and bringing out the group dynamic. On guitar, Lehmann cranks out some killer power chord riffs. Drummer Steph Filippini pounds away with plenty of chops and attitude, and Ali Tonn's Farfisa organ adds a nice vintage garage sound to the mix. And when the two girls join in on the vocals, as they do on the opener "9999 (Ways To Hate Us)" and the bouncy "Aww, C'mon," they update the sound of The B-52's to the modern day.
But if you want to decide for yourself, here's a video of them performing "Fire" from Don't Believe A Word.