A collection of Clutch (a clutch of Clutch if you will…) from 1993-2001. Not a bad starting point if you need a Clutch primer…
Release date: 28th May 2021
Label: Cherry Red
Format: 4CD box set
Germantown – the place of origin of Clutch and immortalised in Springsteen’s This Hard Land. Had to get that connection in. Clutch is very well known to one member of the ATB team so this could have been a ‘knowing’ review that put the 4 discs of Songs Of Much Gravity into context. However, we’ve taken the ‘new to Clutch’ option, so coming to the band shorn of knowledge, (aside from their tenuous Springsteen links) how do they shape up?
For the record, we get three of their early albums plus a disc of b-sides/remixes/non-album tracks. The debut album – the very wordy Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes And Undeniable Truths from 1993 – shows up a band bringing home a raw American punk and hardcore influenced set. A sign of the times maybe and a record of a band intent on making an immediate impression. Binge And Purge shifts into a moodier and leaden piece, slightly threatening in a vaguely psychotic way – the “the root of the problem has been isolated” mantra giving way to some rather passionate aggression.
The songs continue to stomp and crack the whip, proving more brutal than rocking and the foot on the wah wah pedal in the three-minute blast of Rats takes us into Psychedelic Rawk territory. The closing trio provides a balls-out dose of relentless test of stomping and drooling, treacle thick riffing. Indeed, the cries of “what have I done?” indeed are fully justified.
First impressions of the self-titled release from 1995 are of a much cleaner and polished sound. The pairing of Big News I and II retain that vital aggressive delivery from Neil Fallon that swings twixt frantic raps and demonic growls and offer a first glimpse at the variety within.
That comes courtesy of the alternative meandering on Spacegrass (there’s a nice liver version on Pure Rock Fury), the deeper blues via a dash of dub direction of 7Jam (a live version on the fourth disc) and the Zep-on-acid riff on Texan Book Of The Dead. Slow down the latter, get Percy Plant wailing over it and it’s a different tune, even with a snippet that to some, might sound like a bit of the old Black Dog. The latter comparison hits home again when the stop strt riff of Escape From Prison Planet kicks in
Tight Like That more off-kilter as it jerks on and off alarmingly and the initial space on Droid shows how the band was starting to understand that less could be more. The intense rage (the threat of “we know where you live” seems very genuine…)replaced with a ‘not everyone has to play at once’ philosophy. The bluesier, stoner direction was clearly one that caught the attention of the major labels.
We jump to Pure Rock Fury from 2001 which was issued on Atlantic – another minor flirt with the majors – and an album that does what it says on the tin. There are guest appearances from Scott Weinrich and Mountain’s Leslie West and from the off, American Sleep seems to indicate that the Clutch sound is evolving and refining. The Fallon vocal is more in check and the songs are becoming more accessible. My pick of the three full albums in the set, the developement into a more friendly but raw rock style albeit in a hard and heavy vein. Very much suits me with the fuzzed and overdriven guitars and thick bass ouns that coat the album.
The links with their earlier work comes with the fluid rapping on Careful With That Mic and once you have the Zep connection in your ears, little whiffs keep popping into the consciousness. Red Horse Rainbow is a brilliantly cool groove and the elements of Psych via some liquid guitar sonics add a not essential, but very welcome, topping. Check out The Great Outdoors for a hefty slice of dirty cool or toss a coin for the pick of ‘riff of the album’ between Smoke Banshee or Open Up The Border.
The pick of the add-ons might be the thirteen minutes of Frankenstein (Extended…) although the deeper fans might appreciate the selection more. However, for a Clutch newcomer, this is a pretty good starting point. Let’s begin at the beginning as Frank Turner says, where we can chart the story rather than being seduced by the current album and having to backfill the story for a band that exists on an above and beyond the whole nine yards philosophy. It’s the first step on the path towards good time, raucous rock. Be sure that having digested some of these songs of much gravity, the almost thirty-year, twelve or so album career, the Clutch catch-up is on.
Here’s Pure Rock Fury: