Like Neil Fallon (the legendary vocalist for Clutch, in case you somehow got lost and wondered onto this review without knowing that) on track “How to Shake Hands”, I know that what the people want is straight talk and no jive. So let’s get right down to facts. Fact: Clutch have never released a bad album. Even the somewhat denigrated Jam Room contains some straight bangers and the rest of their discography moves between good and great. Fact: no one has fun like Clutch. There’s just something about the mix of super deep American mythology (fact: “White’s Ferry” still gives me chills), their unwillingness to take themselves too seriously and the earnestness of their long career that is unmatched in the annals of rock n’ roll. Fact: Book of Bad Decisions is another excellent release from one of America’s best, and, for all their popularity and success, one of the most underrated, bands.
Book of Bad Decisions has an interesting take on nostalgia. On one hand, a lot of its lyrics explicitly deal with the emotion; the opening track, “Gimme the Keys”, mentions it directly and is all about Clutch reminiscing about the “good ol’ days” and asking how good they really were (they were but with caveats). So too the more general “Spirit of 76′” but for an entire generation. This kind of backwards glance is also apparent in the music itself; where Earth Rocker and mainly Psychic Warfare which preceded it were focused more towards a larger, more expansive and arena ready sound for Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions has plenty of sounds from their earlier days.
Listen to “Hot Bottom Feeder” (a track in which Fallon literally just sings a recipe for Chesapeake crab cakes at you while extolling the evolutionary marvel that is the crab) for example and to the distinct use of cow-bell and other percussions in the background. Fans of albums like From Beale Street to Oblivion or even the Clutch side-project, The Bakerton Group (a well kept secret which you should all listen to immediately; it’s basically Clutch without Fallon and more psychedelia and it owns) will recognize these sounds immediately. They’re the kind of folk touches who have always given Clutch their charm and which took a sort of backseat on the two previous releases.
In general, Book of Bad Decisions feels like a more intimate and down to earth Clutch returned from the polished lands of previous releases to deliver hot, attractive and groovy rock n’ roll. Again, Clutch have never released a bad album and Earth Rocker is one of my favorites but here things feel even more “from the stomach” and the band seem to be having more fun. And it’s not all down to nostalgia; there’re a few novelties for Clutch on this album, standout among them the horns on “In Walks Barbarella”, a massive track filled with big hooks and even bigger choruses (try and resist Fallon spitting “weaponized funk” at you, I dare you).
The result is another album from a band who just know who they are. They knew who they were when they were spitting fire on the self-titled release or on the ultra-aggressive days of “Rats” and Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes, and Undeniable Truths in general. They know who they were on the epic Blast Tyrant or the weird Robot Hive / Exodus. And they know who they are on Book of Bad Decisions; they’re a band with a long history of making straight up, kick ass, friendly, and potent rock ‘n roll and, beneath all the innovations and the nostalgia, that’s exactly what they do on this new album. And by God is it marvelous.
Book of Bad Decisions released on September 7th, 2018 and you are making a huge mistake if you don’t buy it. Just Google it, OK? Let’s get hot.