Clutch trims the fat, smartly sticks to rock 'n' roll

March 15, 2013|By Wesley Case, The Baltimore Sun

There are still "rock" acts on the Billboard Hot 100, but none will remind listeners of Clutch, the veteran Germantown quartet. Songs from popular, non-offensive acts such as the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons sound like sheepish lullabies compared to "Earth Rocker," Clutch's 10th full-length album.

On "Earth Rocker," the members of Clutch seem aware that their brand of rock 'n' roll — the old-fashioned kind that thrives when played loud, fast and with a ton of attitude — isn't in fashion now, and hasn't been for a while. But rather than chase the charts, the band has sharply regained focus. In the process, Clutch has created one of its best, and most straightforward, albums to date.

Before "Earth Rocker," Clutch had a penchant for traveling down rabbit holes (jam-band rock, metal-funk fusion, quieter blues) with mixed results. Working again with producer Machine, the act stripped away the excess and honed in on the riff-heavy, muscular bar-band rock. And "Earth Rocker" succeeds, for the most part, because of the shift.

Even more brazen than the music are the lyrics. The overriding theme is defiance — to the government ("D.C. Sound Attack"), the music industry's major-label system ("The Face"), war ("Mr. Freedom") and watered-down rock (the opening title track). When singer and lyricist Neil Fallon sings, "If you're gonna do it, you better take it to the stage / Or don't do it at all," he sounds like an angry man reaffirming his core beliefs. It's a message Fallon revisits often, and it is to his credit that he never sounds like he's whining.

The white-knuckled rocking only slows down once. "Gone Cold," a subdued existential meditation, signals the end of Side A and works as a palate cleanser from the amplification and distortion.

The respite also builds anticipation for the album's best track, "Book, Saddle and Go." The band was inspired by recent tour mates, and '70s hard-rock legends, Thin Lizzy, and here it shows most. The call-and-response hook and gritty riffing are proof Clutch doesn't need to pander to fans or a major label (Weathermaker Music is owned by the band).

"I will suffer no evil / my guitar will guide me through," Fallon sings on the title track. As usual, he sounds like a man who doesn't need convincing.


"Earth Rocker"

Weathermaker Music

Rating: ✭ (out of 4)

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