304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Book of Bad Decisions, maybe the title of Clutch’s twelfth studio album it reflects the journey the fifteen tracks take up but not the music; every decision taken to include the numbers is spot-on. The Maryland rockers have once again created an album that reflects the times and weaves together the musical tones that are the soundscapes of our lives since the mid-twentieth century. The plaiting together, subtly layering and in your face assault works as the songs reflect the sonics that augments the lyrics which are immense on every track. Over the three weeks they recorded the album live in one room they captured in Book of Bad Decisions, an album that will be played loud and often; an album longer and worth so much more than the instant gratification of shorter less original and sustained albums can ever achieve. For this review, I have cherry-picked a few of the tracks, not because they are the best or the others are weaker for me they represent the diversity of sounds and tones that work their way across the album. The input from grammy-award winning producer Vance Powell cannot be underestimated. Found via the music of country star Chris Stapleton, as drummer Jean-Paul Gaster says “It started with my brother-in-law, who’s a huge Chris Stapleton fan. He and I would listen to The Traveller quite a bit, and one thing that stood out was that it didn’t sound like any other country record that I’d heard. Shortly after that, I was on Spotify, and a song by The Dead Weather came up. It just blew me away and I could tell that whoever produced that record was doing things a different way. I looked it up and there was Vance Powell’s name again, so something was telling us that this is a guy we should reach out to.” From my perspective an excellent choice as the album is stunning.
Opening with Gimme the Keys, fast hard and furious picking the theme of what it takes to survive a tour in a band, this is a track that lays down the originality of the music; expect to listen hard to the lyrics they all have a tale to tell. The Sult’s guitar growls and Fallon’s vocals spit out the tension that is blatant throughout the first three minutes of the album. There is a shift in gears as we hear the Spirit of ’76 a melodic ballad that has a gentle edge and is full of rhythms and shapes that are reminiscent of back when as they sing “we were such a tender age”. Three tracks in and we have the title track that cannot be ignored. It is a dramatic and enthralling number. The bass lines pull you deep into a classic Clutch number that burns into your personal music memory bank.
Now I said I wasn’t going to look at every track but here is the fourth in a row, showing the strength, depth and brilliance of the album. Clutch give us a lesson in How to Shake Hands. The guitar intro is something that catches your attention then we have the heavy thrum that defines the band. This a perfect example of genres becoming meaningless when defining good music. Having considered and then discarding the idea of covering a Ry Cooder number, they created their own with similarities but never a copy. Adding into the mix stump speech from John Lee Hooker and what he would do if he became President. The lines “… put Jimmy Hendrix on a 20 dollar bill, and Bill Hicks of a five note… give what people they want… straight talk and no jive!” A powerful chorus that rings in the ears long after the speaker is silent.
Halfway through and we have the glorious heavy-duty Southern rock bluesy number Emily Dickenson. The moody tone is set from the opening chords, as the slow deliberate percussive beat is joined by vocals deep, dark and considered. The lyrics have a poetic harmony that flows and the anthemic scream of the refrain Emily Dickinson from Neil keeps your attention as every verse unfolds. The country thread is found in clever snippets of tone and texture underlying the words “I thought a spell of country living, Would do my Spirits good…”
The tempo rises and falls, the heat of the album intensifies with every song. We need to jump with vitality when hearing music live, Ghoul Wrangler does this by the bucket load. As you listen through your speakers you are transported to a dark hot crammed venue. This is a Clutch number you will demand to hear. The tone, texture and approach changes with the twang of the guitar intro and the thump of the drums. This is foot tapping glorious song heated by the Southern sun down at the Delta with Hot Bottom Feeder. A number that creeps up on you and with each listen it rises from the swamp and you greet the bottom feeder as your friend.
Closing out the album with a gentler song with the quietest intro wait absorb the swelling sonic textures as the shape of Lorelei is formed. As we go to the water’s edge not to meet not a water swamp monster but a Water Spirit. Her siren call can be heard from the rocks on the Rhine. This is a Siren call that rocks the music. Before I close I have to go back. What an unexpected and glorious opening as horns walk within Barbarella, what an introduction as Clutch explore their inner James Brown and funk. I know I have heard another superb studio album with edginess, angst and originality from Clutch. The Book of Bad Decisions is a definite winner.
Neil Fallon – vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards
Tim Sult – Lead Guitar
Dan Maines – Bass
Jean-Paul Gaster – Drums, Percussion & Mandolin