Maryland rockers Clutch have always been one of those bands who are known for their great live act, touring relentlessly, and amassing a loyal fanbase, yet are always criticized that their great live sound never translates well on CD. Now, just between you and I, dear reader, I’ve never seen Clutch live, but I do have their brand new album, their first since 2001’s Pure Rock Fury, and what I hear is a band who seems to have harnessed that infamous live power, because, egads, friends, does Blast Tyrant ever pack a wallop. As good as Fu Manchu’s 2004 album Start the Machine is, Clutch completely obliterates their fellow DRT labelmates with this, their sixth record.
Like the best of the American stoner rock scene, including Monster Magnet, Fu Manchu, and Nebula, Clutch excel at delivering no-frills hard rock, combining spaced-out lyrics with gut0churning riffs, basslines, and drumming, and on Blast Tyrant, they plow along with no fewer than fifteen tight, monolithic tunes that possess a strong Southern rock influence lingering underneath all the Sabbath style riffing.
As consistently fun as the music is, the lyrics are something else entirely, and will probably test the patience of those unwilling to buy into classic metal bombast. Singer/guitarist Neil Fallon has all the lyrical ambition of a classic metal fan from the Eighties, but he also seems have a serious case of ADD, because he veers off in all directions in his songs, like a continuously baked pothead who goes on a stream of consciousness riff for hours. That’s not to say it ain’t cool, because most of those silly lines are fabulous, especially when delivered with such gruff-throated conviction as Fallon does. It’s clear he’s a student of The Dave Wyndorf School of Macho Stoner Rock Vocals, what with his low, guttural style, and on “Mercury”, he comes in with one of the most pompous vocal entrances we’ve heard in a while. After the band kicks into a swingin’ jam for 68 seconds, with Fallon and Tim Suit trading guitar solos, the song comes to a complete halt, and Fallon enters, spouting such a ridiculously, gloriously goofy verse, declaring like an acid-tripping town crier running maniacally through the streets, “DAEDALUS YOUR CHILD IS FALLING/AND THE LABYRINTH IS CALLING!!!” That bizarre moment encapsulates what makes this CD so much fun to listen to: it’s a big, stinky pile of stupid, but it’s all so great.
Fallon may be all over the map, but musically, the band serves up aces nearly every time. “Promoter”, a stoner rock anthem in the making, tosses in references to Egyptian pharaohs and Prozac, highlighted by a classic line that comes in from out of nowhere: “Cooled down my temper, tried to remember/What it was I wasn’t to lose/And I probably could were it not for/The beer and the broads and the broads and the booze!” “Profits of Doom” evokes the classic folk song “John the Revelator”, “Cypress Grove” is a delightfully dark journey into the Deep South, while “Subtle Hustle” boasts an incredibly catchy, highly nonsensical chorus (“My subtle hustle, smooth as mother’s butter/I let it ride on, I let it ride on!”). “The Mob Goes Wild” tries to be an anti-Republican rant, and sometimes succeeds (“21 guns, box made of pine, letter from the government sealed and signed/Delivered Federal Express on your mother’s doorstep”), but it comes close to falling apart when Fallon conjures a line that makes Steve Earle’s “Condi Condi” sound Dylanesque by comparison: “Condoleeza Rice is nice, but I prefer A-Roni.” Right after that, they go for even more lunkheaded sentiment (“Everybody move to Canada and smoke lots of pot”) that makes them look like a bunch of nitwits again, but those riffs are so killer, you wind up not caring one lick.
The closing instrumental “WYSIWYG” seems tacked on, and the slow, drawn-out “The Regulator” does not fit as well as the other tracks, yet another example of how all these great, two-dimensional rock bands have to give us boring acoustic numbers to try to add “depth” to their records (Young Heart Attack pulled a similar stunt earlier this year). All we want from a Big Dumb Rock band is nothing but Big Dumb Rock, and aside from the jam at the end and that acoustic hiccup midway through, Clutch have hunkered down and made their best album yet. You won’t find a better stoner rock record this year.
// Notes from the Road
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