How the hell aren’t Clutch one of the biggest bands on the planet right now? Nearly twenty years of hard graft and nine consistently awesome albums, a frontman with a lyrical gift that just keeps on giving and grooves that put Shaft to shame, Clutch are something else. And yet, last time they popped over to the British Isles I saw them play a room no bigger than a Guantanamo prison cell, and a damn sight dingier to. Just what the hell is going on?
Who knows? Maybe some things are too good for the musical plebeians of the Earth, but for those in the know allow me to reassure you – Strange Cousins From the West is another slick work of art from the Maryland rock (should-be) legends. The sound is at once familiar, Neil Fallon’s preacher man voice hollering over the rhythmic bluesy flexes of instrumentation, and whilst the band could be criticised for not pushing the envelope too much, everything here is refined to a perfect veneer.
As the first original full length to go out on the band’s own Weathermaker Music label it provides everything you’d expect from them, in abundance. Fallon weaves mysterious narratives into every track, fulfilling the role of sage and story teller to maximum effect. ‘Let a Poor Man Be’ has him cutting loose an overbearing female companion – ‘I’m gonna build a castle out of Goodyear tires/Cinderblock and busted doors; that’s where I’ll retire/Gonna dig a mote. Fill it up with ale/Not much of a defense, I know, but the supply never fails’. He applies his impressive imagination across many worlds, creating characters and settings that are more interesting than anything Harry Potter could offer.
It’s not just Fallon that impresses. Tim Sult’s guitar riffs are catchy as hell, with a notable mention to the intro of opener ‘Motherless Child’ and the slow burning, patriotic nature of slithering guitar on ‘Abraham Lincoln’, each note just emphasizing Fallon’s throaty vocal performance. The relationship between Sult and bassist Dan Maines is also wonderfully exploited, with the best example coming from ‘Minotaur’, where the two are practically teasing eachother into bed with their various hooks and lines.
What’s most encouraging is that despite this being the band’s ninth album, (not including the various different side projects that they all dabble in) nothing sounds forced. The songs are tight, concise and more infectious than H1N1, and they’re all delivered in an assured but laid back manner that suggests this band are nowhere near running out of ideas. It might be considered a bit of a stretch to say that Strange Cousins… is Clutch’s best effort yet, but it certainly isn’t out of line to say that it is the perfect culmination of years of practice, mining out their own niche sound to a near-perfect standard. Old fans will feel immediately comfortable, whilst any new listeners who don’t find themselves tapping their feet within moments don’t deserve to have the ability to hear, and should consider inserting screws into their ears.