For close on 20 years now Clutch have been one of the most consistent and thrilling bands around. From their earlier hardcore based sound to the modern day blues practitioners they have become, they have released a string of albums that have paved the way for the stoner rock movement and brought the power of the groove back to modern rock music.
So, it’s 2009 and another Clutch albums drops. Whereas in the past it was easy to gush about any new Clutch release, this time it almost requires two reviews in one as this is the first time a Clutch album may divide opinions amongst the fans.
If we look at this album in its own right then, as with all Clutch albums before it, it’s a masterpiece. Quite simply Clutch don’t make bad albums or write bad songs…they just don’t know how to, it would be as much as mystery to them to do so as the weird and wonderful subjects of their songs!!! With that in mind this will almost certainly figure in most top 10 lists at the end of the year as 99% of everything else that’s out there right now can’t even come close. Everything we have come to know and love about Clutch receives a tick in the box here; the riffs are tight and concise; the bass locks into an almost sexual groove;, Gaster plays out of his skin with his jazzy chops and proves why he is possibly the best rock drummer out there right now; Neil Fallon spits out his trademark twisted observations with his mountain man bluesy bark and the whole thing is wrapped up in a crisp biting production. Anyone new to Clutch should a) be shot for not checking them out sooner and more importantly b) will find their new favourite band!!!
The cracks, however, start to appear when we view this album in relation to the Clutch back catalogue. Recent albums such as “Blast Tyrant”, “Robot Hive/Exodus” and “Beale Street To Oblivion” have seen the band draw their influences together to create what is now their signature sound. So far though all their albums have been a progression, right from day one and each stands alone stylistically. With “Strange Cousins…” however it does feel as if some of the momentum has been lost. The album is certainly not short of quality songs, “Motherless Child”, “50,000 Unstoppable Watts”, “Minotaur” and “Freakonomics” will sit as comfortably in their live set as anything they have ever released and “Abraham Lincoln” does throw a bone to a more expansive and progressive sound. There is nothing here though that would qualify on the first few listens as a bona fide Clutch classic. In some way it seems as though Clutch have become a victim of their own influence as some of the ideas start to sound a little too familiar, certainly some of the riffs don’t stray too far from their tried and tested template. Ok, that accusation could easily be levelled at AC/DC but at least there you expect the expected, with Clutch you somehow want that little something extra each time round and this time they just don’t really deliver.
It’s hard to know exactly where to pin most of the blame but Neil Fallon must shoulder some of it. As one of the greatest frontmen/lyricists/singers in modern rock music expectations will always be high. Lyrically everything is right where it should be but overall Fallon sounds a little uninspired and, dare I say it lazy. Many of the vocal lines sit comfortably on the groove and don’t dig that little bit deeper as we have come to expect. As with some of the riffs a lot of the vocal phrasing and melodies all seem a little familiar and one dimensional.
So there you have it…another year, another Clutch album that blows everyone else out of the water but maybe doesn’t occupy such an exalted place in the Clutch canon. Maybe time and repeated listens will prove its worth…it’s often the slow burners that have the greater longevity but you only get one chance to make a first impression!
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall