So, you think you know Clutch, right?
They're a little punk? Well, yes, but there again…they've a hint of metal? True. However, don't they also have a touch of the stoner about them? Sure. And while we're at it, let's not forget the southern rock influence. Come on, you know what that means. Clutch are genuine individuals, icons for musical excellence who confound the modern desire for putting everything into neat boxes. They're a classic rock band with an ultra modern sweep.
In the virtual two decades, since they first came to everyone's attention, the Maryland marvels have constantly evolved and revised their music, never standing still long enough for anyone to put a critical saddle onto their thoroughbred ideals – this bronco ain't ever been broken in, nor broken down.
From the 'Pitchfork' EP in 1991, Clutch have set standards, never followed trends. They've released a succession of urgently inspirational albums, from 1993's 'Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes And Undeniable Truths' through '95's 'Clutch', onwards to 'The Elephant Riders' (1998), 'Pure Rock Fury' (2001), 'Blast Tyrant' (2004) and '05's 'Robot Hive/Exodus'. But their moment has truly arrived with new album 'From Beale Street To Oblivion' – a record that won't so much fit into a new era in rock, as confidently define it.
“This is probably the most 'live' album we have recorded,” enthuses vocalist Neil Fallon. “We went out for a few weeks, and played the music on the road. So, when we went into the studio, all f us knew exactly what was going to happen - a first for Clutch. I don't know why we haven't done it this way all along, it's so much easier.
”We also recorded the basic tracks directly onto tape. Nothing digital in there at all. We haven't done that since 'The Elephant Riders'. And this record has a few more bluesy elements than has been the case in the past, but nothing so blatant that it could be called alien to what we do.”
Together, Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines, drummer Jean-Paul Gaster and organist Mick Schauer have created a masterpiece, one that certainly hugs the band's illustrious past, but takes it even further. It has a retro warmth, wrapped up in a contemporary blaze.
“This time we chose Joe Barresi to produce the album,” continues Fallon. “Why him? Because he has produced some great sounding records in the past, for bands like Kyuss, Tool, Melvins, Queens Of The Stone Age, to name but a few. We were based at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles. It took three weeks to record, and one week to mix. Joe actually mixed 'From Beale Street To Oblivion' without us being there, as we had to bail to support Motorhead in the UK and Europe. That's an indication of how much faith we had in the guy.”
It's a faith that's been remarkably well rewarded. Here's an album that floods the room with riffs, melodies, vitality - and grooves.
“Musically, we've become much more of a rock 'n' roll band now, as opposed to being a metal or hardcore one,” reveals Fallon of the way Clutch have developed. “Our style is riff oriented, with a swing. It's never been a calculated move; we just followed our instinct, and that is leading us closer to those bands to whom we listened in our childhood. Bands which are now termed as 'classic rock'.”
When you listen to this album, those names will be obvious. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Faith No More, Kyuss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blue Cheer, Motorhead…all are referenced, but never emulated. This is heritage music re-distributed by a 21st Century attitude. Further proof of a continual growth, as this band plot its course by the stars, not by every passing light.
Clutch now deservedly belongs among the elite. And they've got a crucial sense of humour. Be honest, great rock music should make you smile – that is mandatory.
It also helps that there's been a business stability around these five guys for some while, as Fallon explains:
“This is our third album for DRT Entertainment (following on from 'Blast Tyrant' and 'Robot Hive/Exodus'). We've never previously done more than two records in a row for any other label, so this is a new territory for us! A lot of that is because this is a smaller company, and they understand what the band is about.”
While their past is impressive enough, the present and future for Clutch suddenly looks even brighter.
“Where do we fit into today's scene?” laughs Fallon. “I really couldn't tell you!”
With this new album, it's more a case of where everyone else fits in with Clutch. 'From Beale Street To Oblivion' is gonna take them to greater heights than ever before. Welcome aboard – enjoy the trip. The wheel is about to be re-invented.
- Malcolm Dome