Album Review: CLUTCH Book of Bad Decisions
I recall easing into the stoner rock scene and giving Clutch a shot years ago. While their tone and style paralleled other acts like Fu Manchu or Monster Magnet, they simply weren't another sheep in the flock. The band's tongue-in-cheek approach to heavy, bluesy, fuzzy rock made them stand out. Although the group has evolved since their early 90's releases, early albums like Transnational Speedway League and the self-titled LP possessed the electric eccentricity that is still used as the foundation for Clutch's material decades later. I wasn't too riled on the chunk of their discography that followed those early records but they made one hell of a comeback on Blast Tyrant and have conjured up some decent tracks ever since. Recent releases—Earth Rocker and Psychic Warfare—shoved the band to the high spots in festival lineups as well as rock charts.
Now, Clutch arrives at their twelfth album, Book of Bad Decisions, which is released via their own label Weathermaker Music. All fifteen tracks are produced by Grammy award-winner Vance Powell, known for working with The White Stripes, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, and more. Overall, Book of Bad Decisions has such a large amount of songs that add up to almost an hour, making this LP quite longer than the modern standard. Furthermore, the band is able to fill a large majority of that time slot with high energy and unique songs in an undoubtedly impressive manner.
As the group gradually established their eclectic take on stoner rock with elements of blues, funk, punk, metal, and more over the years, one can very much so expect a spectrum of styles crammed within one album by now. "In Walks Barbarella" is abundant in a funky flair, "Spirit of 76" felt reminiscent to The Sword, "Vision Quest" sounded like Red Fang on shrooms, and "Emily Dickinson" dips psychedelia in Southern swagger. On top of all that, the group delivers a bluesy how-to tutorial on making crab cakes during "Hot Bottom Feeder."
Although the band does a phenomenal job at establishing their musical diversity, there still are plenty classic Clutch tracks. "How to Shake Hands" is a peek into the utopia that would result in a Neil Fallon presidency. With a rockstar lifestyle being applied to the country, changes such as "live music in the White House" or "Jimi Hendrix on the $20 bill" are declared alongside the catchy riffs. What at first seemed to be the opportunity for a jab at Trump, Fallon instead drives forward with Clutch's typical gleeful songwriting, rather than taking the political route. Other songs that are more straight-forward and quintessential to the band's identity include "Gimme the Keys" and "A Good Fire."
If you've previously hopped on the Clutch train, this will be more-or-less the same enjoyable ride that you've come to expect. With that being said, I don't necessarily deem such a notion to be negative. After the charting success of their past couple records, it seems the group found no need to throw all too much change in the recipe book. The cliche of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" remains true. Although Clutch may be complacent with their stylistic formula, they are nonetheless able to keep an entire album dynamic and captivating consistently front-to-back.
While I previously mentioned other big-name stoner rock artists like Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, The Sword, and Red Fang in this review, Clutch proves to be the definite leader of the pack. There are plenty of successful and powerful stoner rock artists, however, Clutch has made it quite clear that they possess the strongest and most diverse discography. Book of Bad Decisions is further proof of the act's high quality as it is chock-full of mature songwriting in the arts of heavy rock n' roll.