Monday, July 22, 2013

Clutch - Earth Rocker

Clutch
Earth Rocker
Weathermaker Music

Although I’ve been a fan of the long running Germantown (Maryland, U.S.) hard rock outfit Clutch for some years, and I’ve always considered them to be a solid, reliable and consistent act over their twelve years together, I’ve been less than amazed with the band’s last few studio efforts.
That’s not to say that their output in recent years has been subpar, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. I found plenty to enjoy on ‘Robot Hive/Exodus’ (2005), ‘From Beale Street To Oblivion’ (2007) and ‘Strange Cousins From The West’ (2009). But in terms of being amazed by a Clutch album where every song was nothing short of a classic, I’d have to go back to 2004 when the band released ‘Blast Tyrant’.
So when the band announced plans to reunite with producer Machine (Who was responsible for co-producing ‘Blast Tyrant’ with the band, and helped out on this album as producer, engineer and mixer) once again for their upcoming tenth studio album, I was certainly interested to see if it were possible for the band to recapture the vibe that made their last outing together so exciting.
And after giving the album plenty of time to sink in, all I can say is that if there were any proof needed to back up the theory that lightning can strike twice, then one only needs to listen to ‘Blast Tyrant’ and ‘Earth Rocker’ back to back.
It would appear that working with Machine, taking the time to write material before entering the studio and the band’s own experiences touring alongside Motörhead and Thin Lizzy (Or Black Star Riders as they’re known now) has had a positive effect on Clutch. In short – ‘Earth Rocker’ is one of the most rocking Clutch albums in years.
The album begins with the title track ‘Earth Rocker’, which gives listeners a clear idea of where the band is heading for the vast majority of the album sound wise. What is offered up this time around is a faster, leaner and meaner Clutch than what we’ve been served up in recent years. And that’s a good thing. Tim Sult’s guitar riffs are beefed up and driving, while the rhythm section of bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster keep things tight, heavy and rocking. Needless to say, vocalist Neil Fallon sounds positively inspired and on form here, with the lyrics coming across as a mission statement voiced by a psychotic/rambling preacher.
‘Crucial Velocity’ maintains a similar speed and vibe to that of the opener, albeit with a touch of the blues in places and a with an added injection of catchiness to the choruses, while ‘Mr. Freedom’ is a short blast of Clutch’s trademark driving groove fused together with Fallon’s cryptic socio-political beat poetry.
There’s no mistaking the funky/southern rock influences within ‘D.C. Sound Attack!’ with its injection of harmonica (Provided by Fallon) and moments of percussion/cow-bell, while ‘Unto The Breach’ returns to the speeding pace of the opener to deliver a perfectly timed quick punch to the senses of the listener.
It isn’t until the middle of the album where the band change course a bit, with the slow, acoustic based ‘Gone Cold’ allowing the band to delve into sounds that are not only quieter, but dark, soulful and reflective. Stripped back to the bare essentials, Fallon’s spoken word performance and the band’s bare bones approach works exceedingly well here, even if the track is a one of a kind on what is essentially a full-on rock and roll album.
‘The Face’ sees a return to the familiar Clutch rock sound with the mid-paced rocker coming across as a pro-rock anthem on the lyrical front (Which may or may not be the case given anyone’s interpretation of Fallon’s offerings), while the galloping groove of ‘Book, Saddle, & Go’ and the intense blues tinged rocker ‘Cyborg Bette’ sees the band building speed and power as the album races for the finishing line.
‘Oh, Isabella’ leans a little more on the stoner/psychedelic side of the band’s rock repertoire, and is unfortunately one of the few tracks on the album with the potential to get lost. It’s not that it’s a bad track; it’s just that it’s placing so far back in the album could well have some listeners forgetting its existence. But while ‘Oh, Isabella’ has the potential to be overlooked, the same can’t be said for ‘The Wolf Man Kindly Requests…’ which is a track that demands your attention with its urgency and classic hard rock vibe. In other words, it’s the perfect closer.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always been a fan of Clutch, and I’ve enjoyed all their albums. But if I were to be honest, while I wouldn’t consider any of Clutch’s past releases falling below the high standard they’ve set for themselves, ‘Earth Rocker’ is by far the most rocking and downright enjoyable album I’ve heard from start to finish since ‘Blast Tyrant’.
In short – While many outsiders will consider Clutch’s new album business as usual, fans will hail ‘Earth Rocker’ as one of the band’s most focussed, strongest and hard rocking efforts in years.

For more information on Clutch, check out - http://www.pro-rock.com/

© Justin Donnelly