01. Earth Rocker
02. Crucial Velocity
03. Mr. Freedom
04. D.C Sound Attack
05. Unto The Breach
06. Gone Cold
07. The Face
08. Book, Saddle, & Go
09. Cyborg Bette
10. Oh, Isabella
11. The Wolf Man Kindly Requests…
Somewhere around the release of Pure Rock Fury, some twelve years ago, I arrived at the conclusion that I did not like Clutch. As such, I simply stopped paying attention to them. Only last year, a good friend strapped me down and force-fed me Blast Tyrant to show me how wrong I had been. He was right. I’ve spent the last six months acquainting myself with some of their extensive back catalogue, so I was primed and ready for their tenth (!) album Earth Rocker.
Maybe I have been helped out in the interim by developing tastes for the Melvins, instrumentalists Karma To Burn and the late, lamented Scissorfight, but I’m now genuinely perplexed about what it was that turned me off their booze and blues fuelled hard rock in the first place.
It seems to me the band had been mellowing over the last couple of albums, but Earth Rocker is a return to the more raucous sounds of Blast Tyrant. The album hits the ground running with the title track that opens the album, and doesn’t take its foot off the gas until track six, the smoky and introspective “Gone Cold“, which is one of the few more forgettable tracks.
When the band are in full flight, they are tremendously enjoyable. Their music speaks to me of a rural America that only exists for me in films and TV. They seem to be able to awaken in this hopelessly middle-class, British cityboy some sort of inner redneck. At some fundamental level, listening to Earth Rocker makes me want to drive a pickup truck through a hedge. Even though I can’t drive and don’t own a pickup. Or a hedge, for that matter. I just hope this isn’t some kind of enormous and offensive cultural faux-pas.
What I find particularly remarkable is just how simple and economical the riffs and grooves are throughout the album. As a case in point, on first listen I enjoyed the first half of “The Face” so much that I hit the rewind button just to hear it again immediately. That is a rare occurrence, and yet the riff that drives the first verse is comprised of just two different notes. Two. That would barely get you through the first quarter-beat of your average The Dillinger Escape Plan tune. On this album, every single note counts, and is placed precisely for maximum impact from the most minimal of instrumentation. Indeed, the gaps between the notes feel every bit as important as the notes themselves, and it takes a special kind of proficient confidence to leave this much empty space in a riff.
Tim Sult’s riffs are backed up by Jean-Paul Faster putting in a drum performance notable as much for its subtlty as brute force. A minor change towards the end of “Mr. Freedom” ups the energy levels substantially, and there is some particularly deft cymbal and cowbell work throughout.
The instruments lock into their unfeasably tight and funky grooves to provide a solid platform for vocalist Neil Fallon. Part old blues growler, part apocalyptic preacher, part hobo shouting at traffic, his personality all but drips out of the speakers. It is Fallon that lifts Clutch from being a solid band to an incredible one.
During the title track he insists that “if you’re going to do it, do it live on stage – or don’t do it at all”, and I am sure that it is the bands natural environment. Their recent track record in London speaks volumes. A show at the end of 2012 was upgraded from the Islington Academy (capacity 800) to Camden’s Koko (1,400) and still sold out too quickly for me to secure a ticket. They are set to return in July, to The Forum (2,100), and I will be there. I’m sure it will be quite the experience.
It is probably fair to say that Earth Rocker is closer to being regressive than progressive. There’s little in these tracks that hasn’t been done many times over the last thirty years – but it is a testament to the quality of the songwriting and the passion of the execution that it never quite lapses into cliche.
There are few profoundities to be found in these tracks, but what you get instead is a pure, visceral thrill. If you own ‘drive-time’ compilations like those periodically put out with the Top Gear logo stamped on them, one listen to Earth Rocker should be enough for you to throw them off the nearest bridge and never look back.
If you are looking for a no-frills, honest rock out, then you needn’t look much further than this. And if you have a long road trip in your near future, you really need this in your CD player.