Clutch remain stuck in top gear with their energetic new album.

Set up in Sputnik Studios, Nashville, the home of country and western, it should be no wonder that Clutch, the four-piece from Maryland, who remain sonically inseparable from the Palm Desert Scene since their formation in 1991, sound as if they are in their element. With no aggression or diesel-fueled brashness lost from the punk roots of their debut, Transnational Speedway League (1993), Book of Bad Decisions (2018) serves up the same unrelenting energy and punch that graved the blown-out speakers of every monster truck back in the nineties. Granted, it could be considered somewhat ironic that Neil Fallon (vocals), Tim Sult (guitar), Dan Maines (bass) and Jean-Paul Gaster (drums & percussion) remain amongst the last to still to fly the stoner rock flag alongside Fu Manchu, Sleep, and Queens of the Stone Age despite being located in the opposite part of the States. This, however, has not prevented Clutch from being rightfully recognised as one the first to throw the cosmic flair of sixties psychedelia and the glass shattering riffs of Led Zeppelin under a bus made entirely of funk; catering for the fantasies of the most impassioned stoners and ‘shroomers even today. Whilst it may be the case that the band have channelled their inhibitions towards a more solid LP format in Earth Rocker (2013) and Psychic Warfare (2015), it has, without doubt, served them well commercially with both reaching number one in the rock charts at the cost of the much-revered improvisation that was embedded in their early work. Nonetheless, although their latest more-or-less corresponds with this linear progression, it would not be exaggerated to regard Book of Bad Decisions as one of Clutch's strongest releases to date, brought about by the influence of producer Vance Powell; the holder of a portfolio which includes Jack White, Seasick Steve and most notably Chris Stapleton. With the combination of Clutch’s compelling live presence and Powell, whose background lies very much within the school of live recording and analogue production, it comes as no surprise that every member found themselves stimulated and on board with the project’s possibilities. ‘Gimme the Keys’ sets the bar high and immediately, Powell’s presence is felt with the reversed textures, looped guitar delay and high-end fuzz in the intro before Fallon leads the way to inaugurate the drop that every Gearhead comes to crave. Admittedly then, the unceasing girth may be business as usual, but there is undoubtedly a considerable difference in how the band’s performing dynamic is translated; best described as an enhanced sense of live chemistry. This is precisely the effect that Powell has. ‘Book of Bad Decisions’, the title track, postures yet more enriching guitar tones created through the use of vintage 1950’s amps which sound progressively more seismic as the pulverising distortion ascends into ‘How to Shake Hands’ where Fallon, in all his uncompromised eccentricity, is also heard ironically recapturing the unhinged political climate that gave rise to Donald Trump’s election. Whilst admitting he is often none-the-wiser as to what inspires the frontman, Gaster plays along as if he is spiritually united indisposition. The fifteen songs, making the album considerably longer than its predecessor if anything signifies Clutch's creative productivity under Powell’s guidance. Whilst it cannot be denied that the extended jamming is to some degree missed, the gloomy but edgy contributions of ‘Emily Dickinson’ and ‘Lorelei’ more than make up for this, to leave the impression that this is not only an album constituted of songs that all make sense in themselves, but one that is bound by an identity maintained by both the band and their producer being naturally united their crunchy desert visions. Book of Bad Decisions, therefore, denies the right for anyone to remain fixed to their seat. It is no wonder that they are doubling down on their efforts to pay tribute to the Gearheads, as they do in ‘Sonic Counselor‘: on this form, they need them to create a higher gear for them to move into. Clutch play Manchester Academy on December 20th