Few bands have epitomised the idea of a cult following like Clutch. Releasing a steady stream of albums and eschewing the idea of musical fads, they knew what they were and stuck with it. People have known for decades how great their music and live shows were but it’s only been in the last few years where the rest of the world caught on en masse with their last couple of albums being amongst the best of their career and UK crowds catching on.
Book of Bad Decisions sees the Maryland quartet continuing that trend. Making another album which can only be described as a Clutch album and let’s be real, you’d be disappointed if they made something else. Recording with producer Vance Powell (his CV has some hefty names to it) may seem like a left-field choice since he’s never worked with a band like Clutch but by combining his talents and gear as well as prompting the band to record it live is inspired. It’s got the raw, organic and warm sound that comes from an album recorded with all contributors playing together, rather than tracking individually. Essentially, by having an “outsider” come in, he’s helped make the most Clutch-sounding album ever.
That being said, there is still some room for the band to have some fun such as on “In Walks Barbarella” where a horn section makes for one of the funkiest songs they’ve ever written. Replace Neil Fallon’s booming tones with James Brown and it’d be the heaviest funk song ever written. As he screams “Weaponised funk!”, that’s exactly the perfect summation of the track. Though speaking of Fallon, lyrically, he’s on the ball as ever and clearly not afraid to inject some comedy into the songs. “Hot Bottom Feeder” takes you through the steps on how to make crab cakes. Seriously.
Meanwhile “How to Shake Hands” paints a portrait of how a rock band would run the United States. This isn’t the band’s “Fuck Trump” song like so many bands have written in the past couple of years but more just a “Here’s what I would do” such as putting Hendrix on $20 notes and live music in the White House. It’s one of the fastest and most musically intense songs they’ve ever released.
Elsewhere, there are odes to their diehard fans, and the deliciously heavy “Gimme the Keys” recounts the story of the band’s first ever tour. “A Good Fire” has Fallon recount the tale of listening to Black Sabbath for the first time, complete with a “Children of the Grave”-like gallop from Jean-Paul Gaster’s drums and Dan Maines’ bass work.
From a musical standpoint, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Clutch album: full to the brim with riffs and grooves and more fuzz than you know what to do with. There’s bluesy moments with “Sonic Counselor”, more Southern-based twangings with “Spirit of ’76” and a blending of doom and psychedelic for closer “Lorelei” but they’re all still unmistakeably Clutch. Naturally with a band this far into their career, there’s the chemistry which only comes from solid touring and no deviation in the line-up. They know how to work together, get the best out of each other and create some of their tightest and most polished work to date.
Many bands have that album which is a mis-step, especially a dozen albums into their career but Book of Bad Decisions doesn’t have a single bad decision on it. Most bands nowadays can’t pull off an album comprised of fifteen songs and as Clutch have stuck to their same sound with subtle refinement over the years, you’d expect this to get boring. But it’s not, it’s just as thrilling as ever.
Header image by Dan Winters
Book of Bad Decisions is released on 7th September