It doesn’t seem like any time at all has passed since Clutch’s last album, Psychic Warfare, even though that record came out in 2015. Maybe that’s because Clutch are a band that tours relentlessly, and thus never really out of the public eye. That being said, their twelfth studio album, Book of Bad Decisions, is here, and much like the band’s touring schedule, it is relentless.
Relentless in that the band retired to Nashville to record with Grammy-winning producer Vance Powell, pounding out fifteen songs in just three weeks, utilizing vintage equipment and a very raw, spontaneous, unrefined approach to the sessions, to give us an album that sounds as though we’re sitting right in the room with the band as they jam through these tracks with wanton abandon.
Book of Bad Decisions is loosely based on events that have happened to the band over the past 27 years, both profound and mundane. Neil Fallon’s obtuse lyrics take these events and turn them into bizarre tall tales at times, leaving us as puzzled as always as to what exactly he’s getting at, be it about politics or Black Sabbath. Of course, it’s more Fallon’s delivery than the words themselves, as his “madman of the blues” persona elevates the material into memorable territory.
As “Gimme the Keys” fades in amid crackling fuzz, a feeling of psychedelia opens the album – although within thirty seconds the band kicks into familiar yet fuzzy gear. This fuzz and warm production dominates Book of Bad Decisions, but luckily the sounds are varied throughout – even the bass has different tonal features from song to song. Whereas the Austin, Texas-recorded Psychic Warfare took on a somewhat southern twang at times (“Sons of Virginia,” “A Quick Death in Texas”), this is more fully embraced here: a direct result of recording in Nashville with Powell.
“In Walks Barbarella” features a massive horn section, giving the song a James Brown feel, while “Lorelie” closes out the record in what is now a tradition: a slow, steaming, almost epic number that also has a good lyric which pays homage to Clutch’s past: “Riding elephants to glory.” “A Good Fire” is a rough and rowdy rocker, while “Emily Dickinson” provides respite from the hard charge midway through the album.
The only downside to Book of Bad Decisions is the decision to lay down fifteen songs. Even fifteen songs of Clutch is too many. Ten or twelve would have been perfect, and there are certainly a few songs that could have been left on the cutting room floor, which would make standout tracks such as “In Walks Barbarella” and “Lorelie” even more memorable.
Length aside, Book of Bad Decisions is yet another standout album in the Clutch catalog, full of memorable riffs and crazy lyrics. The fat, warm sound and the raw, somewhat out of control playing lend the album an undeniable charm. Fans of the band will revel in this approach: Book of Bad Decisions sounds as live as a studio album can.
(released September 7, 2018 on Weathermaker Music)
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Watch Clutch – “In Walks Barbarella” Video