God Bless Clutch
As everyone knows, the area of the earth around the Equator region is a pretty wacky
place to live; time clocks shift, temperatures fluctuate inconsistency; the countries which
exist in this area are frequently hotbeds of instability (Ecuador, Colombia, the Congo,
In the United States, the equatorial equivalent would be the state of Maryland. The
nation's capital, Washington DC, itself a mish-mosh of rich history and urban decay, lies
within the Maryland area. Maryland; far enough South to feel the effects of Gulf
Hurricanes and swampy humidity; far enough North to feel the effects of Canadian wind
chill. Historically, it has never quite fit into any Regional label comfortably. During the
Civil War it was part of the Union... but was still a slave state.
This is the land Clutch inhabits. "In the North they call us Rebels, in the South they call
us Yankees" they sing in Rock and Roll Outlaw, never quite saying which label they'd
prefer. Simply because they are all these things. They are liberals; they are rednecks;
they are nationalist; they are suspicious of the government; Clutch is the Ultimate
American Rock and Roll Band and what better place can they hail from but the most
American state of all, Maryland.
The first thing that strikes the casual listener is the simplicity of the music itself. Riff
heavy, loud, crude, brutish. Not quite categorizable into a "hardcore" or "heavy metal"
label. Too sloppy and grating to be Metal; too slow and sluggish to be Hardcore. Easily
dismissable by musical highbrows as "unsophisticated".
My first impression of them, after seeing them open for Prong, was just that. I thought
they were terrible. I thought their equipment looked like it had been picked at a garage
sale and the sound that came from it reflected that cheapness and shittiness. I thought the
singer was a drunken hooligan, stomping around stage yelling nursery rhymes and
nonsense ("OOO-EEE-OOO-AHH-AHH!"). Nope, I didn't like them one bit.
A friend of mine who shared the same opinion, soon started changing his mind when he
started hearing the song "SpaceGrass" on the radio. He was sufficiently interested
enough to go out and pick up the album...He was hooked. He played me the album.
Again, I wasn't blown away. It sounded like it was recorded in a garage. The drum
sound was so dry that you could hear the squeaking of his chair. There was very minimal
guitar, at the most 2 overdubs, mostly though only one guitar playing single note riffs
doubled by the bass. Not very inventive, I thought. It sounded like the first Black
Sabbath album, a classic, but very much a product of its times (1969). I couldn't
understand why anybody, with such amazing technology at their disposal would want to
make an album that sounded like an old 70's throwback. The singer did his moan-and-
growl thing as usual, but at least I could hear what he was saying... and I gotta' admit, it
was silly stuff, but clever. Anybody making reference to Han Solo and Greedo has got to
be as least a little cool. And, boy, did those choruses stay with you ("Hee-Haw, Hee-
Haw, Hee-Haw; I'm a Rock'n' Roll Outlaw")
I saw them open for Life of Agony. This time they were fun. When they played
"SpaceGrass", the only song I could recognize right away, I found myself singing along
with the cryptic pseudo-chant in the beginning ("Dodge Swinger, 1973, Galaxy 5-0-0"
All right, who cares if we're singin about an old car that happens to be a spaceship; this
was kind of cool) This performance was enough to warrant me going out and making a
purchase and just finding out what all this nonsense was about.
A year and a half later, I am a die-hard Clutch convert, eager to preach the gospel of Neil,
Jean-Paul, Tim and Dan to the uninformed and uninitiated.
In response to the allegations of "simple, uninventive, derivative" music:
Yes, the riffs are simple and easily understandable. So was Black Sabbath but anyone
will tell you that the first six Sabbath albums are classics of rock-n-roll literature. Here
were albums that inspired and related to disenfranchised kids even more than Led
Zeppelin; here was music virtually anyone could pick up and figure out (Sure you know
the RIFFS to "Whole Lotta Love" and "Heartbreaker" but do you know the middle
sections? What about "Black Dog"? However, you probably DO know "Iron Man" or
"Paranoid", right) So one can clearly not count simplicity as a negative aspect. Black
Sabbath found a million cool ways to manipulate a blues scale and Clutch continues in
that tradition. It was Igor Stravinsky who stated that he believed there were still many
masterpieces to be written in the key of C.
As far as musicianship in the group is concerned, on closer examination, Jean-Paul
Gastor is a drummer of high caliber. It would appear that he has an easy job, that of being
the bulldozer, driving the band along with his propulsive rhythms. But never before has a
rock drummer done it with such finesse and style. Making full use of the variety of
colors and sounds from a simple vintage Slingerland trapkit (frequent use of high-hat,
choking a cymbal abruptly at the end of a long fill, an unmistakable ride-bell), here is a
drummer who is able to swing in his groove, who pulls back on the tempos and delays the
backbeat, like Al Jackson, Jr. from Booker T. and the MG's. Think Bill Ward combined
with Gene Krupa (he even has an old Krupa style logo on the front of his bass drum).
Next time listen to the sounds of the drums on any Clutch song and you will discover that
he is much smarter than the average bear.
At first glance, a song like "Juggernaut" makes the band sound like a half-breed, greasy
cousin to a band like Helmet. But on close examination of the words, you realize that
catchy "Orgy-Porgy" chorus you've been singing along with is taken word for word from
Aldous Huxley's future dystopia masterpiece "Brave New World". The "Juggernaut" title
is also the moniker for the unstoppable evil Cain Marko, the estranged brother of
Professor X from Marvel Comics' X-Men comic. From this one song you realize Neil
Fallon is at least somewhat well-read.
To me, the lyrics are probably the most interesting aspect of Clutch and the thing that
makes them more enjoyable to listen to than the easily more musically talented Helmet.
Over the course of two albums (1992's "Transnational Speedway League" and 1995's
"Clutch") an EP (1992's "Passive Restraints") and several singles and B-sides, Mr. Fallon
has covered a wide range of weird topics: redneck ideaologies, mysticism, folktales,
conspiracy theories, 70's sci-fi movies, trucks, pirates, aliens. Most of it is an accurate
reflection of white-trash culture. This is, after all the same country which gave us Abe
Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth; John Wayne and John Wayne Gacey; heroes and
villains, the revered and despised; all Americans. Travelling through space in a
convertible Dodge, a redneck Shogun named Marcus, alien infiltration into our culture,
colourful characters that are well drawn and described.
Of course, there is a big reason why those choruses are so catchy. Neil Fallon takes the
catch-phrases of advertising, the nursery rhymes of the past, cliches, tidbits of wisdom
and the nonsensical words ("YabbaDabbaDoo" "BeeBop-a-LooBop-a-WopShamboo")
that have been hammered, instilled and drilled into our skulls since we were old enough
to crawl. These choruses are so catchy because we know them already; we've been
singing them since we learned them in kindergarten, watched them in cartoons, read them
in car ads, heard them from our elders. All these words mean sometimes absolutely
nothing ("EE-I-EE-I-OH!") but are completely, uniquely American.
For better or for worse, this is the same country that gave us MLK and the KKK, Charles
Lindberg and Bruno Richard Hauptmann (the man accused of kidnapping Lindberg's
child), George Orwell and George "the Animal" Steele. This is the same land that
believes in Right to Life and the Death Penalty, tougher crime laws but legal sales of
assault weapons. A land of standards and contradictions, moralists and morons; Land of
the Free and the Home of the Depraved. Clutch inhabits all these realms, musically
(Hardcore vs. Metal) and philosophically. Give them a chance next time. Exercise your
Freedom of Choice and give Clutch a try. God Bless the USA and God Bless Clutch!
******** the following is an update as of 09-12-00 ********
since this article's writing (Spring 98), Clutch went on to release
the astounding Elephant Riders LP and were later dropped from Columbia (their
third major label in as many records). They recently put out Jam Room on
their own label and made it available only through the internet. The three
instrumentalists of Clutch also record and perform w/o vocals under the
moniker The Bakerton Group. Clutch seems content to remain autonomous and
their next album is expected to be available on the web in the autumn. Look
for a Slender review of Jam Room in the upcoming weeks.
Written By: Sir Brian C.