Friday, September 7, 2018 marked the release of Book of Bad Decisions, the 12th album by Maryland quartet Clutch (via their own label, Weathermaker Music). The follow-up to 2015 LP Psychic Warfare, at 15 tracks, it’s their longest album since 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus (14 or 15 tracks depending on which edition you may have) and their 2004 masterpiece, Blast Tyrant.
As per usual, the new Clutch album is full of tunes that have already been road-tested. In fact, this entire new batch has been played live within the last 16 months or so – starting with “A Good Fire,” which debuted live in May 2017 according to Setlist.fm. (At the Boston, MA show I attended in the summer of 2017 during their tour with Primus, Clutch treated fans to one of those newbies, “How to Shake Hands.”)
“Gimme the Keys” opens Book of Bad Decisions, and it is a barn burner, with guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines, and drummer J.P. Gaster providing the ferocious foundation fans can always expect from Clutch. It’s just as intense and (Drop-D-tuning) heavy as “Firebirds” from Psychic Warfare.
Next track “Spirit of ’76” features some high-end harmony-layered guitars, which may be an homage to Thin Lizzy – Clutch opened for the legendary Irish rock band in the U.K. in 2012. It’s midtempo groove and meaty tone also fits squarely in line with desert rock brethren like Brant Bjork. The title of the track hints at nostalgia, but it’s not all about glory and good times: “An heiress was into her irons thrown/While the family feuds exploded in our homes.” It just goes to show that singer Neil Fallon’s lyrical themes can be (almost) as heavy as the music itself.
Fallon doesn’t do it often on record but his slide guitar playing at live shows is always a hit with fans – see “Gravel Road.” On this new album, he brings out his slide to do a slick country intro to “Hot Bottom Feeder.” The video (featured below) of this fuzz-filled tune is as hilarious as it is educational, as it seriously teaches you all about a Maryland crab cake recipe that the song is based on. (You’ll find yourself being a bit hungry after watching it, trust me.)
In addition to the big phat sound fans are accustomed to hearing on Clutch albums, the band has added to it some new colors this time around. You can hear Sult use a phaser effect on numbers like album closer “Lorelei” (not a Cocteau Twins cover, FYI). There’s also a piano on “Vision Quest,” and there are horns on “Emily Dickinson” and funk rocker “In Walks Barbarella.”
This hardly means Clutch is getting soft with age, as Book is loaded with killer material – the thunderous riffs (by Sult) in “Sonic Counselor” and the dirty bluesy bass riffs by Maines on the title track being two more examples. Sult also shines with his B minor pentatonic (scale-based) guitar solo on the blues-edged “A Good Fire.”
Yet with an album 15 tracks and almost an hour long, there’s bound to be a down moment or two, right? Not necessarily, but “Weird Times” and “Lorelei” do get a tad repetitive.
In all, Book of Bad Decisions is a monster of a record. It fits right in with the other latter day Clutch offerings like Earth Rocker and Psychic Warfare. For a band 27 years into its career, it’s an amazing feat to keep truckin’ out rock and roll albums this damn good. (Rating: 4.0/5 stars)
Go to the official Clutch site at pro-rock.com to buy up Book (digital, CD, and LP are your choices), get tour info to see the band live (with Sevendust starting this month), and keep up with other band news.
Watch the lyric videos for “Hot Bottom Feeder” and “In Walks Barbarella” below.