Album Review: Clutch – PSYCHIC WARFARE

Erik D. Harshman

Clutch has always been a mixed bag for me.

I first became aware of them after seeing them perform with Sevendust and (ugh) Limp Bizkit on the “Ladies Night in Cambodia Tour” in 1998 at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis. I loved what I heard and immediately ran out and bought Elephant Riders (an album that has divided most of their fans, as it was the first album that ushered in their now defining blues-classic rock sound). I then saw them several times over the years (opening for Slayer, opening for Sevendust, headlining a bunch, opening for Motörhead, on the Sounds of the Underground tour, etc.). I’ve always found Neil Fallon (both in his lyrics, stage presence and overall persona and personality) to be a bit pretentious and cantankerous. He seems extremely intelligent, but seems to be trying to pull off sort of a “wise country fool” gimmick mixed with the “drunken street smart ruffian” image; an old soul rubble rouser in the body of a modern, pseudo-intellectual neurotic rocker. If nothing else, we know the man loves classic rock, blues, science fiction and hedonism (eating and boozing are historically among his fortes). Put all of this into a blender and there’s no way Clutch can be even remotely predictable, let alone linear or even. Thus, each of their albums, for me, have either been brilliant, life-changingly singular and prismatic, or forgettable, dull and annoying.

Sure, I began my Clutch career with Elephant Riders (and a lot of their fans either embraced that album and organically accepted the shift in their musical dynamic, or they rejected it, angling more towards the hardcore (and comedic) acid-rock sound that permeated their self-titled album and Transnational Speed League). I found very little (save for a handful of songs) to like on those two earlier albums, but loved nearly every quirky little track on Elephant Riders; the album just spells pure joy for me. I likewise enjoyed its unfocused (yet still groovy and funky) follow up, Pure Rock Fury. They seemed to be on a roll. It was around this time that I stopped going to see Clutch live and ultimately stopped buying their albums for a period. See, I would see them live and the band would play about 4-7 whole songs, then lapse into an extended jam session for the rest of the show while (an obviously hungover) Fallon would lean on a amp and put his head down. It wasn’t until Sounds of the Underground in 2005, when I half-listened to them on stage, that I decided to give them another chance. Thankfully, my local library had Robot Hive/Exodus (which I promptly borrowed). That album, to me, was incredible and could very well be their most defining achievement, apart from Elephant Riders. The song writing and musical structure in Robot Hive is just unmatched in their career.

Clutch - PSYCHIC WARFARE album cover art [image courtesy of Weathermaker Music]
Clutch – PSYCHIC WARFARE album cover art [image courtesy of Weathermaker Music]
I resumed seeing Clutch live again in 2008 and went back to see what I’d missed in their discography in the years I was an intermittent Clutch fan. Blast Tyrant offered only about a few songs that interested me (“Cypress Grove” and “Profits of Doom”), the hit single (“The Mob Goes Wild”) irritated the hell out of me. From Beale Street to Oblivion again only offered a handful of joyful songs for me (the incomparably groovy and brilliant blues-soaked “The Devil and Me”, the forced funk of “Child of the City” and the “we’re trying too hard” scratchy lament “Electric Worry”). After that I started checking out Clutch’s albums the moment they arrived at the library, but found only one song per album (“Struck Down” off Strange Cousins From the West and “D.C. Sound Attack” from Earth Rocker) to be enjoyable, the rest I could happily live without.

All this is simply so you can know and see where I’m coming from (my personal aesthetic, as it applies to Clutch’s body of work) when I approach a Clutch album.

Now, onto Psychic Warfare

The album begins with the fast-paced, almost George Thorogood-esque, “X-Ray Visions”. Again, the song shows Fallon’s obsession with science fiction and paranoid conspiracy theory (seen in “Escape From the Prison Planet” and “10001110101”). Hardcore Clutch fans (meaning hipsters) will probably love the track. I found it a bit repetitive, bland and typical as far as the band’s “new classic rock” sound goes.

“Firebirds”, like the previous track, repeats the song’s title constantly (instead of, I don’t know, filling the song with profound lyrics) and is another quick and dirty attempt, and failure in my opinion, of capturing a classic sound that has already been stamped into steel by the masters.

The album rebounds with a little of the funk and flavor that made Elephant Riders (to me) so irresistible: “A Quick Death in Texas” is the type of song most bands want a whole album full of. It’s a stomping anthem that is sure to be a live favorite (the kind of crowd pleaser “The Devil and Me” and “Eight Times Over Miss October” have become).

“A Sucker for the Witch” is full of more repetition, shout outs to Fallon’s classic rock muses (Stevie Nicks, in this instance) and more song title lyrical repetition. Sure, there are rousing moments in the song that show great promise, but they are quickly torn asunder by the generic chorus.

“Your Love is Incarceration” has all the guitar plucking and old timey lyrics a typical (modern) Clutch fan could want. What it doesn’t have is any continuity or focus (lyrically or musically).

“Doom Saloon” is the band’s intermediate instrumental on the album, I suppose it forms a bridge to the second half of the “story” they are presenting here (something about government conspiracies and a lone man caught in the middle, Hitchcock and Orwell, in a rock’n’roll blender). Slow chords, reverb pedals and whammy bars echo through the piece, which is fairly unsettling and powerful for its 1:13.

Clucth lineup (left to right): Tim Sult (guitar), Dan Maines (bass), Neil Fallon (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Jean-Paul Gaster (drums) - photo by Dan Winters [image courtesy of Weathermaker Music]
Clucth lineup (left to right): Tim Sult (guitar), Dan Maines (bass), Neil Fallon (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Jean-Paul Gaster (drums) – photo by Dan Winters [image courtesy of Weathermaker Music]
It coalesces seamlessly into “Our Lady of Electric Light”, however, and this track is Clutch’s obligatory “slow song” that they seem to need to include on each album (to show that they are, indeed, rockers with heart… Like Neil Young). And like “Drink to the Dead” (off Pure Rock Fury) it has the tinge of an Irish drinking anthem to it. However, unlike “Drink to the Dead”, this song falls flat to me.

“Noble Savage” seems to want to thrash, on a Motörhead level, and accomplishes it to a minor degree. Probably only the second song on the album to really excite, interest and wake me up, this is a song to be played at parties… or while driving quickly (for fun, not on your way to an appointment).

“Behold the Colossus” has more some Motörhead emulation, but does so with less savvy than its successor. As with “Sucker for the Witch” there are moments of brilliance, but they are overshadowed by an overall mediocrity, as if the band is too intent on throwing in the kitchen sink (musically speaking) to each song, rather than panning for the gold that exists in small fragments among the muck.

“Decapitation Blues”… Well, I don’t know… There’s nothing about this song that interested me. I can’t even really put my finger on what turned me off so… The song is just that unmemorable.

The album closes with the southern drenched “Son of Virginia”, where Neil Fallon, again, plays it off as the quirky, yet wise, redneck storyteller. At first the song meanders with a riff that sounds derivative of Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive”. It starts rocking at about the 2:40 mark and perks up substantially.

For better or worse, my previous feelings about Clutch remain: their albums and them (as a band) are a bit of a mixed bag. I’ll still see them live (though, really, they have to be touring with another band I want to see for me to make the effort), but their albums only offer one or two stripes of color in an otherwise black and white rainbow… Which doesn’t really make it a rainbow, then, does it?

Whatever.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 (D+/C-)

Recommended If You Like: Maylene & the Sons of Disaster, Lionize, Crobot, Sixty Watt Shaman

Psychic Warfare will be released October 2, 2015 on Weathermaker Music.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. swollengoat says:

    Nobody that has to borrow their music from a library should be allowed to do reviews of albums. Factually this “review” is a mess, does anyone actually fact check anymore? It’s your right to dislike this album, but you sound like Neil banged your girlfriend. Why so much hostility?

    Like

    1. damnationmag says:

      You do realize the only reason he borrowed from the library was because he as burnt out on their sound and didn’t want to spend money if it was going to be wasted… Right?

      Like

  2. FILTHEE says:

    This has got to be to most unprofessional review I have ever seen. Some of the things that were written are flat out lies. Also what’s with the ‘whatever” comment?

    Who the hell borrows music from a bloody library, don’t give me that burnt out by the band excuse the only album he seems to have listened to was elephant riders.

    Like

    1. damnationmag says:

      He is entitled to his own opinion. If he doesn’t like the album then he doesn’t like it. I don’t think in any way is he trash talking the album, he’s speaking from his music loving heart … And he didn’t love this album. And a lot of people borrow music from the library it’s cheaper than buying it and more legal than downloading it… Try it sometime

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  3. Rick says:

    Sorry, but when I read ‘the kind of crowd pleaser “The Devil and Me” and “Eight Times Over Miss October” have become.’, I have to question everything else this reviewer says about the band. When did these songs become crowd pleasers ??? According to setlist.fm, Eight Times Over Miss October ranks 46th in terms of live play frequency and has only been played intermittently after 2001. The Devil And Me ranks 42nd. – Hardly “crowd pleasers”.

    Also, your reviewer writes “It was around this time that I stopped going to see Clutch live and ultimately stopped buying their albums for a period. See, I would see them live and the band would play about 4-7 whole songs, then lapse into an extended jam session for the rest of the show while (an obviously hungover) Fallon would lean on a amp and put his head down.”

    Take a quick look at setlist.fm and you can see that “around this time” – meaning after the release of Pure Rock Fury – 2001, Clutch never played a 4 to 7 song setlist. Most setlist were around 16 to 17 songs.

    In reply to your reviewers implication that Neil was”obviously hungover”, I question how he could know this for certainty – maybe he was sick? It seems like a douchy thing to say when you have no proof. I have seen them several times and the band has never been anything less than professional which is a lot more than I can say about Eric D. Harshman or Damnation Magazine.

    Whatever …

    Like

    1. damnationmag says:

      The funny thing is, I agree with you 100%. As soon as I read this review I found it hard to believe we pushed this through. Especially on a site that I am trying to hold from the ground up and we have accomplished quite a bit in the last few years. I’ve read through Erik’s other reviews and been fairly pleased with them, but this one certainly seems like he just didn’t care…

      Hell I’ve been listening to the clutch album and while I don’t enjoy much of it (never were my cup of tea) I certainly wouldn’t have written this review… At least not trash talking the band and using any unproven facts in my review.

      I am however, certainly looking forward to catching the tour with Corrosion of Conformity as I, Nick, have only seen clutch once.

      Like

  4. I'm the man says:

    This is a God awful review. I am fine with the fact that you don’t like clutch but this article is 30% opinion, 60% blatant lies and 10% pure ridiculous banter. I have been seeing clutch since 99 and I have never once seen Neil just stand around or lean on an amp(unless you count the one time they had a rain delay, but I don’t think that is really his fault). Like I said you don’t like their music that is perfectly fine but don’t spew bullshit to try to make people agree with you and try to get people to not even give them a try. Save that bullshit for some of these overrated bands like avenged sevenfold.

    Like

    1. damnationmag says:

      The funny thing is, the guy that wrote it loves clutch. Maybe he’s seen a few off shows, but he wouldn’t have made it up. As for the review, sure it’s not the greatest, but everyone is entitled an opinion and that was his.

      Like

  5. Your Mothers maiden name says:

    I know that this is an old article but reading your opinion has me reflecting on what is wrong with music reviews. The Reviewer.
    I imagine that your taste in music would lead you in a different direction than the warmth of tube amplified unadulterated rock and roll. As you are reading this probably listening to EMD streaming from your phone through some sort of bluetooth earbud or accordion style speaker, you are missing the passion “Oh Ballad’ed One”. The journey of any band having a catalog spanning 25 years will undoubtedly contain an evolution of styles.
    Stripping down a bands maturing sound by previous albums is what you do as a critic. I would feel comfortable in saying that the core fan base expects Clutch to diversify their musicality. If you listen closely which cannot be done skipping from song to song comparing past tracks, you missed the album as a whole. Therefore losing the fluidity of mixing twelve tracks together as one album.
    I also would question your judgment of what a Clutch fan may be or represent. If you attended a show and left with the feeling of being “Hip” or influenced by “Hipsters” you should probably take all bands on the marquee into consideration. I am confident in saying that bearded men or women are not all “Hipsters”.
    Now go fuck yourself you ignorant and clearly deaf piece of shit.

    Like

    1. damnationmag says:

      The funny thing is, I agree with you 100%. I was never a fan of the review, especially one that reflected how he felt about the band regarding their live performances that were not part of the review at all.

      This was a favor to a friend if one of our staff and from time to time we allow guest writers. However I’m not going to just not post it because he trashes a band, though I came close to doing that.

      I myself do not consider myself a clutch fan, but I listened to this album and rather enjoyed it. Would I have given it a great review, probably not, but I wouldn’t have had any other experience listening or seeing them (other than sounds if the underground, stood in line to meet opeth instead of watching them, again wasn’t a fan) so it would have been about as unbiased an opinion as possible, and for a band with such a career as clutch, I gave it to someone who I thought would do it justice. Wrong, but such is life.

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  6. Wayne D Atchley says:

    Go fuck yourself. Music from a library? Blow me.

    Like

    1. damnationmag says:

      Who cares where someone gets music from?

      Like

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