Clutch – From Beale Street to Oblivion

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Clutch – From Beale Street to Oblivion

By Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Fanboys always like to say that their favourite band just keeps evolving from album to album. Well, it doesn’t count unless you’re a Clutch fan. From hardcore punk-influenced metal to bluesy hard rock and touches of psychedelia, these guys have charted a long and exciting history of musical exploration, without throwing their identity out of the window. Their 2005 album, ‘Robot Hive/Exodus’ was a high-water mark by which future stoner albums will have to be judged, with its effortless blend of bluesy grooves, southern sounds, spacey touches and all-round good-time rocking. A lesser band would have faltered at the prospect of following up such a monumental album. Clutch take the challenge in their stride – ‘Robot Hive/Exodus’ isn’t an album to be blown away easily, and instead of trying to one-up themselves, they’ve waded deeper into that swamp and produced an album that takes them further into the blues-rocking groove.They hit the ground running with a set of songs which instantly ratchet up the rocking quotient – ‘You Can’t Stop Progress’, ‘Power Player’ and ‘The Devil & Me’ of which bristle with incredibly catchy  grooves and those sardonic, clever lyrics delivered in Neil Fallon’s gravely voice. ‘White’s Ferry’ slows the pace down brilliantly, with a rootsy, slow groove that’s as heavy as the faster material and some great bluesy noodling by guitarist Tim Sult. ‘Electric Worry’ carries on their obsession with the blues, reinventing another Mississippi Fred McDowell song, aided by Five Horse Johnson’s Eric Oblander wailing on the harmonica. This time around, they don’t stop at giving the original song, more or less as is, the Clutch touch, as with ‘Gravel Road’, a cover of another song by the same artist on their last album. Instead, they add new lyrical and musical sections that don’t just adapt the original material but use it to create a new statement – and what a statement it is! Bang bang bang bang! Vamonos, vamonos! This song segues into another re-imagining of previously-recorded material – this time, one of their own songs, ‘One Eye Dollar’ from ‘Jam Room’.

 

 

But Clutch doesn’t need to rely on blues standards and mining their back catalogue at this stage in their career, and the rest of the album is packed with new songs which are all instant classics. ‘Child Of The City’ moves from a broken-up, insistent groove to funky glory and weaves a bizarre tale of alchemical magic and madness. ‘Rapture Of Riddley Walker’ draws on Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic novel lyrically, while laying down leisured but definitive grooves over a great mid-paced rhythm from drummer Jean-Paul Gaster. ‘When Vegans Attack’ is a cheeky slam at self-righteous radicals, and a cornucopia of great bluesy riffs, embellished with some well-placed slide. ‘Opossum Minister’ is hardcore southern Gothic, thematically, and another righteous groove-a-thon. ‘Black Umbrella’ is a slide and harmonica-enhanced song that encapsulates both the traditional aggressive edge to Clutch’s sound, with a decidedly ominous main riff, and the raw warmth of their more rootsy interests. You want political statements? ‘Mr. Shiny Cadillackness’ works its way in from an insistent groove by bassist Dan Maines and takes the time to diss US VP Dick Cheney along the way.

The only thing that keeps this album from being an absolute classic is the preponderance of mid-tempo grooves – a natural consequence of the journey into the blues, but a feature that can add a somewhat same-y touch on a first listen. However, repeated spins bring lots of subtly placed musical ear candy to the forefront, and frankly an album full of Clutch belting out mid-paced 12-bar blues vamps would probably rule, too. They’re that good.

This album is a lot more stripped down than the last – Fallon’s vocals are rarely layered, keyboardist Mick Schauer plays a more background role than on ‘Robot Hive/Exodus’ and the songs have a jammy, spontaneous feel that belies the top-notch, self-assured musicianship on display here. This feels like an album that was hammered out on the road and in the jam room, not crafted in the studio. Frankly, I’m impressed at how committed Clutch are to exploring this new, raw blues-based sound, and at how good they continue to get at it. You can’t stop the progress!
Year of Release: 2007

Label: DRT Entertainment