Clutch will be celebrating its 25th year as a band next year. And it should – every which way possible. Any band that can last that long, especially independently for the most part and retain a loyal following without much conventional support from commercial radio and video channels over the years, should consider such a feat a rare triumph.
For now, the Maryland quartet is marching on with their road-tested 11th CD, Psychic Warfare, released earlier this month via their own label Weathermaker Records. I say road-tested because the bulk of these songs have already been played live over the past year or so – Clutch is a non-stop (touring) band, still one of the hardest-working in the business.
Following Up Earth Rocker
Earth Rocker was my 2013 Album of the Year. Its relentless pace, show-stopping acoustic highlight “Gone Cold” aside, and wealth of rifftastic jams was the group’s most consistent effort since 2007’s beloved Beale St. effort. Singer Neil Fallon has said recently that in the past, attempting to repeat previously successful albums was basically a non-starter.
Now, 11 albums on, the band has decided to embrace its strengths, regardless of what’s been done before. This isn’t to say Clutch is going all AC/DC on us and planning on putting out the same record over and over again. The band really has nothing left to prove but still knows its main goal when heading into the studio: to put out a hard-rockin’, ass-kickin’ rock record.
Psychic Warfare was recorded in Austin, Texas with the producer known as Machine (and in Maryland), who previously worked with Clutch on some of their other most loved albums, 2004’s Blast Tyrant and 2001’s Pure Rock Fury. And once again, Fallon and company made the right call in bringing Machine back into the fold. He basically trimmed the fat – making sure the band didn’t veer off into repetitive jams – but captured all the beefy rhythms and riffs the hard rock veterans had to offer this time around: 12 tracks (two of them being short instrumentals).
Fallon has always been the king of the fun, absurd lyrical line or otherwise entertained with wild, sci-fi or mystical fantasies – whether singing about the “robot lords of Tokyo” (“10001110101” or “Jesus on the dashboard” (from stoner rock classic “Spacegrass”). On this album, he still creates his own adventurous narratives, but ones more inspired by the (dark) world around him – well, the world of Texas in this case.
Motels, hotels, and bars (via epic highlight on the lighter side of things, “Our Lady of Electric Light”) are some of the places featured in this batch of Clutch songs, which, like Earth Rocker, come at you fast and furiously. After opener “The Affidavit,” a brief experimental Fallon iPhone-taped dialogue, the rawk starts with “X-Ray Visions,” a tune about paranoia and delusion. Then the Marylanders immediately motor on to “Firebirds,” which will probably go down as the most popular of the heavy tracks on the release. Another contender – if you don’t count “X-Ray Visions” – is the straight-ahead “Noble Savage” (which on earlier live fan-recorded performances seen on YouTube was actually mistakenly called “Motorhead”).
More Cowbell Please
Clutch is their own brand of classic rock now. But that doesn’t mean it totally shies away from influences, ’70s or otherwise. The guitar riffs that open “A Quick Death in Texas” are so ZZ Top-ish that at one point you hear Fallon lowly singing, “Please forgive me, Mr. (Billy) Gibbons.” It’s a cool ‘lil tribute. The funky (Chuck Brown) “We Need Some Money”-influenced, cowbell-aided beat just over the halfway point of the four-minute track is an added bonus, even if that same type of funky Brown beat – courtesy of drummer Jean-Paul Gaster – appears on Earth Rocker standout “D.C. Sound Attack.” (And yes, “We Need Some Money” is that funk tune you hear playing over the loudspeakers just before Clutch takes the stage at every show, FYI.) This one is definitely going to get some loud cheers at all current and future Clutch shows.
“Your Love Is Incarceration” also has a bit of funk appeal to it (and cowbell), but the results here are a bit bland, by Clutch standards. As for album closer “Son of Virginia,” Tim Sult’s dreary, clean electric guitar licks may echo into the Western wilderness, but together with the stompbox-fueled payoff riffs/sections, though very much Clutch in approach and feel, they don’t quite resonate or lift the (still pretty good) tune to the level of other toned-down/soft-to-loud classics such as “The Regulator” and “Gravel Road.” At least not yet. Given time, my ears may make me regret my fingers even writing that sentence.
Bottom Line: Another reliably strong Clutch album rich in killer riffs and firepowered vocal hooks
It’s hard to top perfection, as Blast Tyrant and Earth Rocker were, but Psychic Warfare is as worthy a follow-up to the latter as you could as for, especially considering that Clutch is now closing in on a dozen studio albums. There are a couple of moments when you think you are hearing either bland moments or Earth Rocker-ish rhythms again, but an album with such few imperfections as this one is still better than 95% of what is considered rock and roll out there these days. This is what should best be called no bullshit hard rock/metal. Clutch fans likely already know this and have the record already, so recommending it to them is pretty much pointless. As for the rest of you…
Go buy Psychic Warfare – which debuted #1 on both Billboard’s Rock and Hard Rock charts thanks to the hordes of committed Clutch fans – digitally and on CD or on the wax (vinyl) now, and see these road dogs live at a city near you, along with Corrosion of Conformity (with Pepper Kennan back on board!). Visit their official site at pro-rock.com for current tour dates and all other things Clutch.
Essential Tracks: “X-Ray Visions,” “Firebirds,” “Noble Savage,” “Our Lady of Electric Light”