Most modern music careers go a little bit like this. Write a good (or even great) record. Become popular. Have that “difficult second album” syndrome. Get less popular but retain a fan base. Record a third album that might have an unexpected hit. Record the same album for the rest of your career until everyone gets bored. Split up and then return and do a tour where you play the entirety of your first album because it’s a “masterpiece”. Ho, and indeed, hum.
Thank goodness then for Clutch. Clutch aren’t like most bands. Wait: Clutch are not like any other band. Now into their 20-something year of making smart, intelligent rock music, Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker) is the eleventh studio album from the Maryland, USA residents. Psychic Warfare sees Neil Fallon and Co in the rudest possible health, invigorating and invigorated, creatively refreshed and simply staggering and swaggering.
With their last record, Earth Rocker (also Weathermaker) delivering a veritable feast of passionate, invigorating rock music that proved that straight up rock ‘n’ roll could appeal equally to heart and head, one may have anticipated that Clutch would return with a record that sounded completely different, as has been their wont. Contrarians to the last, Clutch have taken the quality threshold set by Earth Rocker and simply upped the ante. If Earth Rocker set a new high benchmark for the Clutch boys, Psychic Warfare is the call and response that you can only have dreamt of, such is its dynamic power and prowess. In short, it’s utterly brilliant.
Psychic Warfare leaps out of the speakers, hoists you by the throat and never lets up, not for a second; punchier and harder than its predecessor. It’s as if the band has been in the gym for a few months: it’s muscular, tough, ripped. Psychic Warfare sounds like the band are not only content with sounding like Clutch, they are revelling in it. This new album has an immediate, warm sense of familiarity, one that breeds total and utter content.
The spoken word scene setting paranoia of ‘The Affadavit’ gives way to the instant Clutch classic of ‘X-Ray Vision’ which is so infectious it should carry a biohazard warning. The rest of the album just gets better and better. There are more riffs than a guitarists’ convention running throughout: Tim Sult has excelled himself with licks and flourishes that are inspired and imaginative, frenetic and pulsating: just listen to ‘Your Love Is Incarceration’ or ‘Sucker for the Witch’ and you will understand just what I am getting at.
Clutch understand tone and dynamics perhaps better than any band operating today. It’s hardly a surprise that Jean-Paul Gaster is many people’s favourite drummer, such is his ability to bring depth, warmth and structure as well as light and funk to proceedings. In lesser hands, the forcefulness of these songs would feel oppressive, repetitive. In Clutch’s hand’s, these are songs that get in under your skin, make you dance and smile: it is a sheer bloody joy.
Psychic Warfare, like all the best Clutch albums (and, already, it’s amongst the very best of Clutch’s albums) is a record packed full of wizened characters, paranoia, liquor, esoteric cityscapes and name dropping of Stevie Nicks. I have no idea what’s going on in Neil Fallon’s mind but when he produces songs as strong and compelling as this, you cannot help but be drawn into his maelstrom of evocative storytelling. He is a master of American letters; Clutch are a band of sublime brilliance and Psychic Warfare might just be the album you’ve waited all year for.
Long may they reign supreme.