Clutch is a rarity; a band that can be appreciated on several levels:
1. A politically-minded and erudite crew; quieter than more traditional politicking rock bands, but no less informed and polemic- and perhaps their relative reticence is just what makes them so endearing, as they’re confident enough in message to forgo loud and flashy delivery. Neil Fallon delivers lyrics on par with the most seasoned wordsmiths, all informed opinion and esoteric commentary.
2. A progressive band in the sense of always pushing their own limits and showing growth from album to album. They consistently produce an aural zeitgeist that is representative of the basics on which they’ve built their career, but also nuanced enough to stand apart from past releases. In a career spanning 16 years, the few exceptions to this are forgivable; most bands have fewer stellar records than Clutch have throwaways.
3. A perfectly fuzzy, precisely-heated blanket of distortion to wrap around a reefer-soaked brain for what should be patented as The Most Relaxing Experience Ever. Even without the reality enhancement, put on a pair of headphones and Clutch will build a chunky fort of riffs around you, making it easy to- nay, near impossible NOT to- pull the power cord on the real world. Escapism, thy name is Tim Sult.
These elements all gleam on From Beale Street to Oblivion– frankly, this album shows Clutch stronger than they’ve ever been. They’ve started with their trademark cleverness and dirty, bluesy sound, then shaped it with the straight ahead rawk of 2001’s Pure Rock Fury and wrapped it in the accessibility of 2004’s Blast Tyrant. Then, in their latest incarnation, they’ve deep-fried it all in a thick batter of country-swing: From Beale Street to Oblivion has both more twang and more behind-the-beat, intentional imprecision than Clutch have revealed themselves capable of in the past. â€˜Twas a bold move for them to incorporate a healthy dose of organ, slide guitar, harmonica, AND clean licks akin to Tres Hombres-era Billy Gibbons into their established down â€˜n’ dirty formula, but- thank the stoner gods- it all weaves together into a precisely engineered album that’s ass-shaking ditties from start to finish.
The refusal to deviate from this formula is where the fault of this album comes in. Clutch have shown a unparalleled talent for producing passionate ballads in the past; From Beale Street… has a dearth of these. Their only nod to a more somber style are interspersed parts of â€œWhite’s Ferry,â€ delay-laden slices of dream which would’ve fit right in on Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs. They’ve also done away with the jams, no doubt alienating old-school fans. The band does play around with rhythm, but within tight parameters- the lack of variation in overall pace is tiresome, which makes the album seem overly long and monotonous. Throwing a couple of relatively less upbeat selections in there would’ve broken up the album nicely, though their negligence to do so hardly detracts from the quality of those they did choose to include. At its core, they’re still the same old ingenious Clutch, but their evolution is proudly showing.