I had two initial thoughts upon hearing the new Clutch album, Earth Rocker, for the first time last night.
The first one was: “These lyrics are cheesy, even for them.”
Followed immediately by: “But damn! This album rocks!”
Luckily the first in no way detracts from the second. In fact, Clutch’s lyrics have often tended to the side of that magically delicious food that my doctor now tells me I should avoid, as it’s bad for my cholesterol; it’s one of the the things that endears me to them, actually. Luckily, my doctor suggested no such restrictions on my listening habits as he did my dietary habits.*
I was more glad for my second thought, as I had thought their previous album was a little lacking in this respect, and I’d seen enough examples of other bands that have been around as long as they have—20 years at this point—start to lose their edge after a while. It’s understandable to a point, especially for hard rock bands, as the energy that sustains that edge is easier to muster up when you’re in your 20s than when you’re in your 40s. (Note: I don’t believe the same to be as universally true for heavy metal bands, as energy and aggressiveness are defining characteristics of that genre; whereas there are plenty of sackless “hard rock” bands who’s only primary defining characteristic is a distorted guitar.)
In thinking about the new Clutch album, it got me further thinking about the style of music, and other bands that I’ve listened to that I could most closely equate with them. And I came up with two (at least one of which Clutch fans are going to hate me for): Rage Against The Machine and 311.
The RATM comparison is probably more obvious, but I include 311 because the quality that I feel all three share that none of the other bands I ever listened to regularly at some point in my life ever did is that all three are (or were, in 311’s case) hard rock bands with a solid and definable groove. While all three bands have it, all three stem from different influences: Clutch from blues and blues rock, RATM from hip-hop (although this stemmed largely in part to Zack de la Rocha’s vocals), and 311 from reggae.
What I found myself wondering, once I reached this conclusion, was why I’ve found Clutch more endearing for a longer period of time than I did the other two.
The answer: those cheesy lyrics.
All three bands have some excellent music, albeit to differing degrees. And 311 only up until their self-titled album, which in retrospect I find to be the clear delineation of when they started to suck (much like Metallica’s black album or when the Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote “Under The Bridge). But Rage Against The Machine were busily raging against whatever social or political shortcomings struck their ire at any given time, which was never something that interested me (not to mention exhausting, even just to listen to). Even to this day, where I have a slightly elevated interest in such things, I still strongly tend more to a “live your own life and laissez-faire” style lifestyle. You’d think that’d land me square in the camp of 311’s reggae-hippie philosophy. But while there’s one aspect of hippie culture I can identify with (the pot), generally hippies are just plain annoying. Amber is NOT the color of my energy.
Meanwhile, while sometimes straying into territory that RATM might cover, when their at their best Clutch are singing about Camaros, Dokken, playing music loudly, and being tougher than the devil. All things that are just…well, cool.
If you think that sounds like 16-year old me talking, you’re not entirely wrong. Some of this might be a backlash to when I discovered RATM and 311, which was in my college years, which was a time where discovering new music you thought was cool came with the caveat of also hoping that others thought you cool for liking it. It was that period of time where claiming you liked a band prompted self-reflective questions like: Will people ridicule me for liking this?, or Will having this album in my collection get me laid?
Luckily, this was a phase I eventually grew out of, returning more to my teenage years reasons for liking music: because I just fucking liked it. 16-year old me played music loudly and like Dokken, and while I neither owned a Camaro nor was tougher than the devil, these were things I’m sure I would have aspired to at that age.
So maybe I like the new Clutch album because it brings me back to those good old days. Or maybe I like it because it just rocks. Either way it doesn’t matter. I just like it, and that’s all I care about.
*Not that I’m particularly paying much attention to said dietary suggestions.