CD Review: Clutch- Earth Rocker

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April 6, 2013 by Dan Swinhoe

clutch-earth-rocker

There must be something in the water in Maryland, ‘cus Clutch are back and more pumped than ever. Firing on all cylinders, they’ve come to rock the whole Earth.

Since the release of 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West, the band have been busy. The band’s own label Weathermaker reissued the three albums initially released on DRT Records – 2004’s Blast Tyrant, 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus and 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion, an updated version of the B-sides album Slow Hole To China, the Live at the 9:30  DVD.  Not to mention the band have been  touring incessantly since 2009 and managed to squeeze in a  handful of releases from The Company Band and Lionize.

But, despite the slew of releases the only completely original Clutch material we’ve had was last year’s Pigtown Blues single, originally intended to be released for Record Store Day. A muscular semi-acoustic blues number, it seemed to show the band would be continuing down the course the last couple of albums had set them on. Turns out not.

It appears that Pigtown Blues wasn’t  indicative of how their latest album, Earth Rocker, again released on their own Weathermaker label, would sound. In fact the band seem to have been taking lessons from the Company band in how to rock on.

Opening with the double salvo of Earth Rocker & Crucial Velocity, it’s the most direct Clutch have sounded since Blast Tyrant. The title track does exactly what it says on the tin; a classic hard rock number, all guitars and groove,  Neil proudly bellowing about the greatness of rocking live on stage. Crucial Velocity is the perfect driving song; uptempo and announcing that Fallon’s rocket 88 is the fastest in the land.

Clutch have genre-hopped a lot over the years, from punk to stoner, to blues and swampy funk.  This time, however, they’re sticking to pure rock ‘n roll. The vast majority of Earth Rocker is made up of lean uptempo numbers that rarely break the four-minute mark. The likes of Unto the Breach, Book Saddle And Go and the epic Oh Isabella all fit the classic hard rock mould, but put through the Clutch grinder.The addition of Blast Tyrant producer Machine seems to have paid dividends after sticking with J Robbins for the last few releases. The raw, almost live production gives the band a massive epic rock sound.

While the rawer, more aggressive Clutch of 2013 may be refreshing after the more nature of Strange Cousins…, the band still show the influence of the last decade. Mr. freedom & DC Sound Attack both feature the funk & groove of From Beale Street…,  played through Blast Tyrant’s speakers, the latter featuring harmonica and cowbell for good measure. It’s loud, angry, heavy without losing the sense of boogie that make Clutch irresistible.

Fallon’s vocals have always been a big draw, and puts in a great shift. His gravelly yet soulful tones only get better with age, and he sounds more energised than the previous record. The lyrics for the most lack the amusing absurdity and imagery of previous efforts- there’s no Guinness drinking choirs,  attacking vegans or binary for example- but  what’s on show is still far more interesting than most rock bands.

Cyborg Bette relays the cautionary tale of loving and losing a fembot, The Face prophesies hundred of jazz masters rising from the sea in which they were thrown, while album closer opens the with the entertaining, “You wanna know my political persuasion? Well sugar, I howl At the moon!” Fallon’s lyrics have always been second to none, and even when the onus is on simplicity, he still manages to deliver irreverence and observation with gusto.

The biggest anomaly on the record is Gone Cold. Nestled between the uptempo Unto The Breach and epic number The Face, it’s a stripped back acoustic number, possibly mellowest, most soulful piece of music Clutch have made thus far. It’s closest predecessor would be the likes of The Regulator or Basket Of Eggs from the acoustic ep that accompanied the Blast Tyrant re-release, but this wouldn’t feel out of place played in a western movie around a campfire.

Before the release of Earth Rocker, I was becoming worried that the side projects related to Clutch were becoming more interesting than the main feature. Strange Cousins From The West, while having all the right ingredients, lacked any spark. But my fears have been laid to rest. For a band that are ten albums and twenty years into their career, they sound fucking energised. The music is fresh, excited, and screams quality.

Its even more impressive that these four guys-Neil, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster- have stayed together for so long; no bust ups, no line-up changes (minus the brief addition of organs around the time of From Beale Street…) and it comes out in the music. Each member is hugely talented, and there’s not a duff note to be found.

In the overall Clutch timeline, Earth Rocker mixes the bluesy, ZZ Top riffery aspects of From Beale Street with the raw drive of Blast Tyrant, though other elements can be heard too. It in other words, this is no frills, good time rock. One to play loud.

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