Death. Taxes. Clutch. That should be the new pecking order of the old adage going forward. The band remains a beacon to disciples of honest rock and roll music, with no pretense. I mean I don’t think this band could act pretentious in any way if you paid them millions of dollars to do it. As one of the most consistent bands of the last musical generation, it’s never really a question of if the new Clutch album will be good, but rather “How good is that new Clutch, bruh?” Their last few efforts have been especially stellar and seemed to be building to something huge. That something is their new release The Book of Bad Decisions (Weathermaker Music).
Clutch doesn’t try to rip your head off with every single riff anymore as they did in their early days. They are not trying to fit in with a sub-genre or any scene. Clutch makes Clutch music, and the music is great. They are in their own headspace, they know what works for them, and they don’t stray much from that path. They do what they do with expert aplomb, a heaping dose of “funk magic”, “and no jive” to quote some lyrics from the album.
The Book of Bad Decisions is an apt title because it definitely feels like chapters in a story over fifteen tracks. As far as modern albums go, this might as well be the War and Peace of stoner rock, since most bands can’t put together thirty minutes of good original music. Right from the opener “Gimmie The Keys” (is that a Weird Science reference?) the band is not messing around. Most of the songs are lean, with meaty riffs, slinky bass, funky drumming and capped by Neil Fallon’s dusky voice, impassioned howls, and lyrical genius. And sometimes a recipe for Maryland crab cakes!
Sure the album has all of the sonic “Clutch” trademarks you have come to expect. But what really baked my noodle was how the band added subtle touches like Hammond organ, sexy horn sections, slide guitar, unique percussion, some Beatles-esq backwards masking straight out of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, and more. The band has never really needed to pepper their tracks with any studio effects, preferring to play straight up in the studio, as they do live. But dammit if these new/old sounds didn’t bring a lot of flavor to the table. Not so much that the soul of the songs is lost, but definitely adding more mana overall.
While every Clutch album seems to offer a bevy of tasty singles, there is no filler on this long player. The top tracks are ‘Spirit of ’76’, ‘In Walks Barbarella’, ‘Vision Quest’, ‘Weird Times’, ‘Emily Dickinson’, ‘A Good Fire’, ‘Ghoul Wrangler’, the moody closer ‘Lorelei’, and the explosive title track.
Every song is excellent, thoughtfully made, and just jams. Tim Sult, JP Gaster, and Dan Maines just groove together like the best of the best from early Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Especially that raw early Zeppelin I and II vibe. Sure these bands are in their DNA and always were with other influences, but some of these tracks are the real deal, authentic rock mojo that you cannot fake or imitate. It’s real. Fallon dots his lyrics with sardonic non-sequiturs, subversive high intellect, and blink and you miss it pop culture cleverness. On the few occasions I don’t quite know what he’s going on about, I just chalk it up to all the drugs we have all collectively done over the years.
Funk magic, and no jive, indeed.