Welcome one and all to a new segment called Half Life! No, this isn’t about fighting beings from other dimensions or about over-hyped computer games but rather a retrospective of bands that we all love. Their careers aren’t over yet though and so, calling this a retrospective would just be weird. Therefore, Half Life! While the goal of these posts will be to analyze an entire career, not every moment of those will be looked at. Some of these bands have been in operation for decades. Dedicating a few lines to each one of their albums would just make this run-on post even longer. This also differs from classical retrospectives in that we’ll try to choose bands that are on the verge of releasing an album; the gaze is into the future while looking at how the band came to where it is today.
We’ve decided to kick off this reoccurring segment with one of our favorite bands: Clutch. It doesn’t get more unapologetic, more downright in your face than Clutch: their heady brew of pure rock n’ roll, intelligent lyrics and a compelling tendency to switch things around has made sure their name graces venues all across the United States for more than 20 years now. Their long career as well as the large amount of musical ground that they’ve covered makes Clutch a great band to kick us off: there are many stops on this train and they’re all drenched in Bourbon, anger and beards. Right on below!
This album, the one that started at all, in many ways contains everything that will be great about Clutch in future releases. It’s by far their angriest release, channeling Henry Rollins more than anything else. Everything on this record is deceptively simple: young Neil Fallon is a monster behind the mic, seemingly unable to contain his rage from bursting into screams and the kick drum goes so loud, it’s unclear how any of them kept their hearing. However, there’s a lot more hiding here beneath the surface: future Clutch concepts, like the Japanese reference on “A Shogun Named Marcus” that will creep up on Pure Rock Fury or the incredibly insightful lyrics of “Bacchanal”, all appear here for the first time. Honestly, this album has aged amazingly and is still a go to album for anyone looking to kick things down and get seriously drunk.
This self titled masterpiece is the first jumping point of Clutch into their modern success. It’s considered a 90’s classic, featuring a dedication to fuzz and groove that places it firmly within the greater narrative of the rise of stoner rock. This album features some of the best songs Clutch ever recorded, like “Big News I&II”, some of the dirtiest, most catchiest tracks out there. It also introduces the band’s fascination with science fiction, with “Escape From the Prison Planet” portraying a plethora of conspiracy theories and “Spacegrass” taking us into the cold thoughts of stoned out space pilot. “Spacegrass” itself also reveals the ponderous, yet no less aggressive, side of Clutch, featuring a mind-bending, chilling intro.
Pure Rock Fury is where it all started to come together for me: in my eyes, this album still represents Clutch at their best. The lyrics are some of the best Neil has ever written, featuring his staple, bewildering swing between politics, mythology and literature. Listing the stand out tracks on this album is impossible, since they all stand our. However, a few shine even brighter: “Red Horse Rainbows” is perhaps the Clutch anthem, while the live version of “Brazenhead” representing Clutch at their absolute sonic best; it’s hard to listen to that crowd going wild without your heart beating a little bit faster. Also present on this album is some of the most groovy tracks: “Smoke Banshee” is the focus of this groove infused sound, with the drums taking over the sound and setting the monolithic tone.
If Pure Rock Fury is my own personal favorite (unlike Neil by the way, who went on record to say that it is his least favorite album) Blast Tyrant is Clutch’s first commercial success. And with good reason too: it’s perhaps their most expansive album, covering sounds from deep blues on “The Regulator” and “Ghost” to the furious antics of “The Mob Goes Wild” or “Worm Drink”. It’s also their most modern sounding album up until that point, kicking their production value way up. While not their longest record, it definitely feels a lot longer than most. It’s quite possible that this is the first album that the band have released as an established franchise and it shows; the confidence and security shining through the bluster and sheer rock n’ roll here is amazing.
If we had to choose one album to cover the interim between modern Clutch and Blast Tyrant, Strange Cousins From the West is the best choice one could make. It marks the destination of the process undertaken in albums after Blast Tyrant, like Robot Hive/Exodus, and is thus a good exemplar for the rest. It features a quieter Clutch, already displayed on Blast Tyrant itself, a Clutch that is more focused on blues rock and its influences then the ass kicking, screaming youths that started out this post. While it has its own scorchers, like “Minotaur”, it’s mostly more dialed down. And that’s a great thing: what it lacks in punch it makes up for in feeling and grace. It’s an emotional album, one that seems to touch more upon moroseness and pain than anger. Tracks like “The Amazing Kreskin” and “Abraham Lincoln” somehow manage to blend personal feelings with general issues in a compelling and satisfying way.
No one was ready for what Clutch unleashed on us in 2013: if any of us expected a continuation to the subdued sound of the last few releases, we were sorely mistaken. Instead, Clutch went back to basics, channeling some of the fury, charisma and sheer stopping power that their earlier releases had. This album does not relent for a single second and we mean that: there are very few, if any, quiet moments and even these scarce moments of respite only serve to make the rest that much louder. In the band’s own words:
It was on that tour [with Thin Lizzy] that we realized there was really a lack of just straight up rock and roll records coming out these days. So I think we wanted to make something that was, front to back, a very focused kind of a recording. A very efficient kind of recording. One that had good energy from the very beginning to the end.
And that’s exactly what was accomplished: a barn burning, face kicking, all out rock n’ roll album.
And now it’s 2015 and the band stand ready to release a new album. Word along the grapevine is that this one will feature a return to their calmer sound but the first single released this week isn’t calm at all. What will we see on this new iteration of a band that’s hit the nail on the head 99.9% of the time? Will the early Clutch sound continue to make a comeback, or will we see a synthesis with mid-period sounds mixing with the earlier aggression? Whatever it is that’s coming our way, we can promise you it will be great. Clutch has one of the best running records in the business; we truly can’t point to a bad album.