Veteran rockers Clutch bursting with renewed vitality on new album

By Emily Brightman

TheGoogly/Flickr
TheGoogly/Flickr

Most alternative bands that survived the tumult of the 90s intact either sold out to the mainstream pressures of pop music or have been relegated to the fringes of post-grunge obscurity, but veteran prog-rockers Clutch have maintained the same biting lyrical wit and punchy, funk-laced hard rock that marked them as a serious groove machine in the early 90s through the release of their 10th studio album, “Earth Rocker.”

In the four years since the release of 2009’s “Strange Cousins from the West,” their longest hiatus between albums to date, the boys of Clutch have been hard at work in the studio and on the road. With the release of new singles and reissues of past albums on their independent label Weathermaker Music, as well as extensive touring throughout the United States and Europe, Clutch has hardly been silent in their down time. “Earth Rocker” was released March 19 in the midst of the U.S. leg of their 2013 tour, which runs until mid-July. For dedicated fans of the band it has been an agonizing wait for a new gem from the Clutch mines, but the trials of our patience have been well worth it.

In the title track for “Earth Rocker,” singer and sometimes guitarist Neil Fallon wails, “I will suffer no evil/My guitar will guide me through.” True to lyrical fashion, this proves to be an apt metaphor for the tone of the entire album. While “Strange Cousins” and 2007’s “From Beale St. to Oblivion” showcased the band’s impressive dalliances with vintage blues rock, “Earth Rocker” harkens back to Clutch’s heavier days with gargantuan riffs from guitarist Tim Sult and bassist Dan Maines, as well as some ruthlessly groovy drumming from Jean-Paul Gaster. The raw energy that permeates every level of “Earth Rocker” is a delightful indication that the band’s tour work with hard rock stalwarts Motorhead and Thin Lizzy over the last few years has certainly been advantageous.

The album is peppered with the lyrical ingenuity that has become characteristic of Clutch’s catalog. Songs like “Mr. Freedom” and the operatic “Oh, Isabella” show off Fallon’s penchant for crafting hyper-literate diatribes about vaguely political ideation and the perils of corruption and hubris. Ferociously driven and dripping with dystopian cynicism, “DC Sound Attack!” is reminiscent of the punk-tinged fury that highlighted Clutch’s 2004 album “Blast Tyrant” and earned the band serious mainstream accolades. The cavalier quality of songs like “Crucial Velocity” and “Unto the Breach” boast the doomy rumblings emanated by heavy metal heavyweights Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath in their heyday, but with an innovative edge that is entirely Clutch’s own. Closing track “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” is a meandering, psychedelic musing that plays out like a Frank Zappa blues-rock fantasy, expertly rounding out a hard-hitting collection of tracks with a more subtle vibe. The album’s definite highlight is “Cyborg Bette,” a rollicking adrenaline rush about a robot lover gone sour and a testament to the band’s ability to create galvanizing melodies that pack a punch harder than a jacked-up Ford.

While Clutch’s musical style is continually evolving, “Earth Rocker” is undeniably unique in the band’s catalog because it is the culmination of their 20-year career as a hard rock quartet and showcases their imperious talents as serious groove masters. “Earth Rocker” is a toast to an impressive musical career and a triumphant declaration that all hope for modern hard rock is not lost. The boys of Clutch may have grown up a bit over the course of their careers, but their music remains as loud and boisterous as ever. Catch Clutch at Toad’s Place in New Haven, Conn., on April 16 as part their U.S. tour. This is a band whose electrifying performances are not to be missed.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]