Book Of Bad Decisions

Written by: AP on 19/05/2019 15:57:57

Clutch is not a band for those looking to be surprised. For nearly three decades, the Maryland-based outfit has stuck to pretty much the same formula for producing funky, punchy, rowdy blues-rock for the ages — and with a lot of success. But in doing so, the group has succeeded in carving out their own niche, the sounds emanating from which are always instantly recognisable as the work of Neil Fallon (rhythm guitar, vocals, keyboard & harmonica), Tim Sult (lead guitar), Dan Maines (bass guitar) and Jean-Paul Gaster (drums). This twelfth and latest album, “Book of Bad Decisions”, is no different, which is to say that a blind person could stumble upon it by accident and still pick out the opening track, “Gimme the Keys”, as belonging to Clutch with absolute confidence.

Charting the course for the rest of the album, that song continues straight from where 2015’s “Psychic Warfare” left off, leaving the psychedelic elements that delivered a rare yet welcome cog into Clutch’s well-greased wheel on 2013’s “Earth Rocker” trailing in the dust left behind by the high octane rock’n’roll presented here. Existing fans should thus feel right at home after “Spirit of ’76” and the title track have rounded off the opening segment, albeit the lack of fresh ideas might also invite some shoulder shrugging as it did from me. Despite the bombastic instrumentation, these songs seem quite tame by Clutch’s usual standards, never managing to shake the listener by the collar as Fallon spews out his storied lyricism, and as such they leave me feeling skeptical about the 11 tracks still to come. But as soon as “How to Shake Hands” takes over — masquerading as a boastful presidential bid by Fallon, yet actually slyly critiquing Donald J. Trump — Clutch return to winning ways with hyperbolic singing and insistent stop/start riffage driving the point across. And after it, “In Walks Barbarella” lands right among the best songs the Frederick, MD-based four-piece has written to date; full of swagger, this boogie rocking piece woos the listener with superbly timed saxophone infusions that lace the song with a kind of cabaret-atmosphere and really bring out the groove in the riffs shooting out of Sult’s guitar. It also contains one of the most memorable choruses the record has to offer, the bizarre lyrics offset by the infectiousness of Fallon’s bassooning them in bite size chunks:

Defcon! Tractor beams! Weaponised funk! / In walks Barbarella, set to stun! / Defcon! Tractor beams! Gamma ray gun! Straight out of the mothership! Weaponised funk!

But while that song is destined to become a setlist staple at shows to come, there are plenty more intoxicating moments jammed into “Book of Bad Decisions”, one of them arriving right after in the form of “Vision Quest”, which harks back to purebred ‘50s and ‘60s rock’n’roll with its piano-backed ballroom sashay, and which might even have done Elvis Presley proud of his impact on the genre had he lived to hear it. It is another song delivered with the pedal stuck to the floor, and in fact it is not until the eighth track “Emily Dickinson” that the rhythm is slowed and the tone becomes moodier. With swathes of organ lingering in the background, this piece is a balancing act between a muted bluesy style in the verses and a chorus which truly embodies the concept of a power ballad as Fallon once again exposes the full might of his voice. It is hard to imagine a better singer for translating the heavy blues-rock played by Clutch for a wider audience, and while Sult, Maines and Gaster certainly do their part in terms of getting the heads and hips of their fans bobbing and swaying with ever more beguiling instrumentation touching upon classic and stoner rock as well as country and blues in the likes of “Sonic Counselor” and “Hot Bottom Feeder”, it is Fallon who steals the show and ensures that crowds will be roaring along to them at gigs to come.

If there is one thing to criticise “Book of Bad Decisions” for, it is that the record is simply too long for its own good, racking up 15 tracks and clocking in at 56 minutes of running length. Clutch are not renowned fro varying it up that much in the space of a single album, which means that amidst all the infectious swagger there is a tendency toward monotony as well. The heavy presence of flotsam and jetsam in the second half of the album in particular has the unfortunate effect of diminishing the impact of one of the best songs it has to offer: the slow and brooding, desert rock piece “Lorelei”, which has the honour of concluding the proceedings, but ends up feeling more like a hidden bonus track. Nonetheless, “Book of Bad Decisions” has so much energy and positivity and catchiness to offer (in spite of taking not-so-covert stabs at the current state of affairs in the USA) that the record is hard to let go of. I keep returning to it for a fix of catchy, driving, honest rock music — and so should you.


Download: In Walks Barbarella, Vision Quest, Emily Dickinson, Sonic Counselor, Hot Bottom Feeder
For the fans of: Crobot, Monster Magnet, Rival Sons
Listen: Facebook

Release date 07.09.2018
Weathermaker Music

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