Saturday, September 26, 2015

Album Review: Clutch - "Psychic Warfare"

Let’s skip the preamble – Clutch, at this point in their career, needs little introduction.  So getting down to brass tacks – what do you need to know about “Psychic Warfare”?

The good news here is that we see Clutch return to the halcyon days of their lyric writing – catchy songs about rigged-up sports cars, unexplained phenomena of a paranoid mind and crazy alien nonsense.  It doesn’t take long to get there, either, as you need only get to “Firebirds” to hear Fallon in full throat demanding a complement of energy weapons, no matter what it takes to get them.  Now, to give this some greater context than just a man yelling at the sky, the band backs up Fallon’s urgency with a rollicking and persistently driven beat that stomps along to a properly energetic riff.

This is hardly the only song that fits the bill.  Album opener “X-Ray Visions,” which essentially serves as the title track, boils down to one man’s bizarre statement to the authorities, not so different in tone from the excellent and timeless “Escape From the Prison Planet.”  Continuing the theme, this is long where Fallon has been at his best, when the presentation allows him to inject some of his own styling into the storytelling.  “Sucker for the Witch” is in the same blueprint, a catchy ride with big choruses that stay inhabited in the ear for as long as one is willing to listen.

What helps the overall momentum of “Psychic Warfare” is that the album keeps just about all of its material under the four minute mark, which makes for appreciably quicker pacing and keeps Clutch away from the fervent temptation to jam something out, thus leading to extended measures of tangential musical rambling.  The whole album is tight in this manner, as even the second half gems like “Behold the Colossus” stick to the working formula and leave the new-age hippie Clutch fans behind in the dust.

Now, Clutch has always danced on both sides of the thin line delineating the separation between ‘rock’ and ‘metal’ and always been at their best when they’ve blurred the line to the point of being inconsequential.  As far as that’s concerned, “Psychic Warfare” is very much a ‘rock’ album, but while it may not have the bite of “Pure Rock Fury,” it does have teeth.  “Noble Savage,” nestled in the record’s back half, works like so many pieces on the record because it finds a relentless home groove and never deviates in tempo or insistence.  These songs, like many of the great Clutch tunes of old, demand to be heard, which is a nice return to form for a band who hasn’t quite sounded like that in a while.  Couple this with the throaty guitar tones and pounding thump of the kick drum, and it’s a quasi-revival of “Elephant Riders.”

Old fans of Clutch will note that there’s still something ever so slightly amiss here, a hunger that permeated every pore of the band’s work from 1995-2005 and hasn’t quite been on the radar since.  “Psychic Warfare” recovers from that epidemic somewhat, as there is some of the anticipated power of those great, lost days.  Even with that though, this still feels a little bit like the following of a blueprint, akin to one of those high-end paint-by-number paintings that Robin Williams references in “Good Will Hunting.”  That doesn’t make “Psychic Warfare” a bad listen, but it does ding the authenticity ever so slightly.  As with any album, there are also a couple real duds.  “Decapitation Blues” has a nice riff, but something is just off about this song; the hook chorus fails to sell, and the song’s pacing can’t really decide what it wants to be.

Now, is this the best Clutch record since “Robot Hive: Exodus”?  Yeah, okay, I’ll buy that.  There’s an awful lot of things that “Psychic Warfare” does right, including the return to Clutch’s proper thematic material, if it can be called such.  This new effort is a genuinely enjoyable ride, even if it does seem that the out-and-out wanton chaos of the band’s past efforts has been replaced by a sort of gritty professionalism.  So if you’re fan of Clutch in the past ten years, pick this up without hesitation.  If you go back a little father, rent before you buy, but so do optimistically.  There’s a lot of good here, and it grows on you with time and repeated listens.

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