Release DetailsLABEL Weathermaker Music
RELEASED ON 3/19/2013
Clutch has never before achieved their live sound in the way they do here.
“If you’re gonna do it, do it live on stage… or don’t do it at all”
So proclaims frontman Neil Fallon in the opening title track of Clutch’s tenth studio album, Earth Rocker, laying down a mission statement more than twenty years into their storied career. Over that time, Clutch crafted a reputation as one of the most dependable live acts in the land, jamming to crowds who don’t normally invite jamming, watching as fans moshed along to a Hammond organ, and generally doing things their own way whether it fit any established mold or not. Unlike many equally hard working acts, Clutch attained a level of success that allowed them to become a career band, and at one point in the middle of the last decade their studio work began to reflect that status. Never was anything bad delivered. On the contrary, albums such as 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus and 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West were packed with highlights. But the band’s essence – that sense of being a spiraling-out-of-control live rock powerhouse – that seemed to be lacking some punch.
Enter producer Machine. Whether or not you like some of the acts he has worked with in the past (Miss May I and Suicide Silence? Yeah… no), the quality of his history with Clutch is undeniable. Their previous collaborations include parts of 2001’s Pure Rock Fury and all of 2004’s Blast Tyrant, albums that are not only considered among the band’s best, but have fat, live-in-the-studio-in-front-of-100-close-friends ROCK-YOUR-SOCKS-OFF productions. (Check out this and uh…. this.) Whatever he said to the band before recording Earth Rocker… it stuck like Gorilla Glue. Clutch has never before achieved their live sound in the way they do here. They play loosely but heavily, full of the nuance and whiskey-freeness they possess in their natural setting while achieving that wonderfully Zappa-warped Zeppelin-by-way-of-Bad Brains sound. And Fallon, more than ever before on record, sounds as half-a-bottle-deep and utterly maniacal as he does live—a reverend of rock possessed by the spirit that moves him, delivering zany-as-always lyrics that he obviously believes in to his very core. (Easter egg nods to rock’s past? Touches of satire and social commentary? Sexy cybernetics? Occasional gibberish? ALL CHECK.)
The end result is an album that could easily be called a sequel to Blast Tyrant (musically, not thematically), but Earth Rocker is its own beast. For starters, it’s far more concise by design, but it also seems to have a much more massive conviction behind the notes. In a word, it’s just plain Clutchier. Guitarist Tim Sult tosses out riffs like a factory, uses his wah indiscriminately (bouncy chorus in “Mr. Freedom”), and even plays real, actual guitar solos (great action in “Crucial Velocity”), all with a tone thick enough break the scales on The Biggest Loser. The duo of bassist Dan Maines and drummer extraordinaire Jean-Paul Gaster – long one of the best rhythm sections in the biz – ensures that nothing ever goes stale, shifting from boogies and shuffles to near-hardcore throttle drops and back, all while maintaining that crucial looseness mentioned above. Along with Fallon, the band’s collective charisma gives Earth Rocker an elephantine assload of catchy melodies and choruses, and just the right amount of variety.
Much like with Blast Tyrant, Earth Rocker builds to a walloping middle section, and basically achieves perfection over the course of four tracks. This run starts with the shuffling, lyrically irresistible and cowbell-infused “D.C. Sound Attack!” and continues with the hardcorest tune the band has written in ages, “Unto the Breach.” It takes "Gone Cold," the softest blues/folk number they've ever penned, to ensure that listeners have a chance to catch a breathe before “The Face” brings forth its dominance and declares itself the true centerpiece of Earth Rocker. On paper, nothing about this song seems special. A very simple verse-chorus-verse with no bridge, no solo, no real flairs to speak of, it would utterly fail in lesser hands, but this rejuvenated Clutch turns it into an instant classic. Calling to arms those that would defend rock ’n’ roll and freedom of expression of any sort, Fallon preaches against the preachers, constantly adding levels to a performance that might be the best of his career.
Thankfully unlike Blast Tyrant, Earth Rocker doesn’t feel some jam-filled hangover from this mountainous mid-album rise. “Book, Saddle, & Go” and the massively catchy “Cyborg Bette” re-up the furor and pace as the band builds towards a finale, which is the key to one of the album’s greatest successes: Earth Rocker was designed to flow like a Clutch live set, and it does just that. Closing duo “Oh, Isabella” and “The Wolf Man Kindly Requests…” hammer this point down, as both have a willingness and ability to jam on for eternity like a show closer would (similarly to standards like “La Curandera” or “Gravel Road”) but wisely don’t do so here.
Clutch is back at full strength and primed to expand their kingdom. Current minions – especially those lucky enough to have witnessed the band live – will undoubtedly get a bit more appreciation out of the gargantuan live-in-concert sound of Earth Rocker, but even newcomers will find nothing but salvation within. Undoubtedly their best album since Blast Tyrant, time will tell how exactly how this fits within their legacy. Their 1995 self-titled classic will likely continue to most define them, but it would be criminally incorrect to say they aren’t a better band now than at any point in their past.
“Steve McQueen got nothing on me”
Many years ago Neil Fallon made that very bold proclamation, and I think at this point it’s fair to call it a draw between Hollywood’s greatest man’s man and the mighty Clutch.
Loop the chase scene from Bullitt, hit play on Earth Rocker. Repeat.
Strange Cousins From The West
Full Fathom Five: Video Field Recordings 2007/2008