Clutch – Psychic Warfare

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Clutch are, what, 24 years old now?

That’s a very old age in Rock & Roll, especially when your music is about driving rock. Most bands burn out or get tired of rocking. They take the stage, get the girls and lose the frustration that makes for good loud music. Even the best turn artistic. Monster Magnet rediscovered Psychedelia and Local H flirted with Progressive Rock as soon as their started moving units.

Clutch never had that artistic bent. They were all about riffs and catchy hooks. You could lump them up other dumb Hard Rock like Drowning Pool and Nickelback. The only difference between them and Clutch is that Clutch had better hooks and and outsider’s perspective.

Clutch were outsiders, and still were. For all of their rocking and rolling, they had weird lyrics that were poetic as they made little sense. Neil isn’t a big rock star out for the sex and money. He’s a weirdo who likes turning up his weirdness loud.

That makes them an almost perfect band. Combine the hooks with the odd lyrics, and they sound more badass than anyone else. This also gave them a glass ceiling. They were so focused on just kicking rock songs that they will never make a masterpiece. If there was some hope in the past they might knock one out, it’s all gone on Psychic Warfare.

It’s a confusing album that will only make sense depending on what comes after. It’s either the sound of a band giving up and not even trying to make a “Mice and Gods”, or it’s the sound of a band being comfortable in their place and just having fun.

The first tracks rock hard and got the energy, but none of the hooks. They’re driven by sound with the melodies as an afterthought. “X-Ray Visions” isn’t sure what the melody for the hook is. If it wasn’t for Neil’s brilliant lyrics and charisma, the song would’ve been boring to death. “A Quick Death in Texas” is the only chorus that sticks, and would’ve been just another good song on Robot Hive/Exodus.

Clutch may be giving up, but every song is performed with enthusiasm. Clutch sound happy in their place. Neil sounds like he’s happy to spit big words like ‘dynamite’ and ‘telekenetic’ on “X-Ray Visions”. In another band’s hands, it would run out of steam in 30 seconds.

The second best song here is “Noble Savage”, and it’s where the band (again) declares how rock and roll is their life. It doesn’t have a melody, but the band sounds so energized that it’s convincing. Neil might be 43 years, but no one sounds better than him at capturing the appeal of rock and roll. It’s about having fun and letting out your weirdness. Other bands try to convince you they’re having fun by singing about how much sex they have. Neil has a wide-eyed approach that makes “Decapitation Blues” sound more fun than them. That one is about neck damage from headbanging.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Clutch are more interesting in performing live than writing songs. These songs are more about loudness and energy than melody. They’ve been rocking weird for 24 years. How much left do they have to say? Still, if they perform these songs with the energy it promises it means Clutch should keep going. If it’s a sign of things to come though, maybe they should stop. They’re still a melodic rock band, and a good live show is hard to make of bad songs nobody wanted to write.

3 noble savages out of 5

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Shinedown – Threat to Survival

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All the talent in the world won’t help you if you don’t have an idea what you want to be. “Cut the Cord” is a brilliant rocker and nothing here sounds like it. It’s the one song where Shinedown lets loose and just let themselves rock.

Shinedown have been moving away from Post-Grunge ever since Amaryllis. Trying to find new sounds after mastering your comfort zone is great, but Sound of Madness isn’t a transcending masterpiece. It’s just a really good Hard Rock album full of hooks that makes you hope that they got more hooks in store.

Shinedown never sounded like they needed a makeover, and so far it’s not convincing. They’re not adding new sounds, but just removing the Post-Grunge antics and replace them with empty stadium boomings. Stadium Rock can be a lot of fun, but there’s no fun in tracks like “It All Adds Up”.

The sentimentality of “How Did You Love?” can be tolerated in an otherwise more fun record. Here, it sounds like Shinedown are believing their own bullshit. Imagine if Nickelback wanted you to think “Gotta Be Somedy” is a profound song. There is nothing profound or deep about Hard Rock. That’s the whole point of the genre.

There’s an attempt to chuck guitar riffs and drums for textures and some atmospherics. What they hope to achieve with these atmospherics is unclear. The atmosphere is never distinct. There are no sounds to uncover with repeated listenings. When Linkin Park threw away guitars, they piled a lot of other noises that made their melodies and rapping stick out more. Shinedown has few riffs here, and a lack isn’t an impressive achivement.

On songs that Shinedown are supposed to master, they sound clueless. They proved they could make a beautiful ballad without guitars with “Through the Ghost”. They just kept a small string section and vocals. “Misfits”‘s musical backdrop sounds like it’s supposed to be an epic closer, but the vocals sing intimate lyrics. “Dangerous” is supposed to be a sequel to “Cut the Cord”, but there are no riffs and the lyrics are too serious. Being dangerous isn’t very dangerous anymore. Society loves dangerous people. That’s why James Dean is a sex symbol.

Nothing here is bad. Shinedown got enough melodies to the album pleasant enough. It’s even refreshing how the album is more focused on the melodies rather than making noise. Still, the end result sound too lifeless. There some songs to put on the playlist, but it Shinedown’s future doesn’t look so bright.

2.5 blackĀ CadillacsĀ out of 5