Clutch may be one of the most reliable rock & roll bands around, but there’s a lot of trepidation surrounding their twelfth full-length album Book of Bad Decisions. 2013’s Earth Rocker set an incredibly high standard for their third decade together, and 2015’s Psychic Warfare followed it up with more of the same sound, leading one to wonder how similarly a follow-up to these twin turbos would pan out. It only got weirder when a full fifteen song tracklist was announced for the album, a move not seen since the days of Blast Tyrant and Robot Hive/Exodus’s free association grooves.
Sure enough, Book of Bad Decisions isn’t too far off from those albums’ style either. It’s a very laid-back listen compared to the last couple, not quite soft but comprised mostly of smooth mid-tempo songs with the speedier songs rooting themselves in bouncy attitude rather than ass kicking overdrive. The comparisons are further reinforced by the inclusion of keyboards for the first time in a decade on songs like “Vision Quest,” as well as the upfront horns on “In Walks Barbarella.”
A fifteen song total ends up being a liability due to the songwriting not entirely grabbing one’s attention, but the band’s skills do ensure that plenty of good comes out of it. As much as the last couple albums stood out for their power, the mellower songs come out on top with “Emily Dickinson” and “Lorelei” standing for their stirringly somber airs. Neil Fallon’s lyrics are also as brilliantly charismatic as ever. No other frontman could make the literal crab cake recipe on “Hot Bottom Feeder” this endearing, and I eagerly look forward to the inevitable epic where he bellows the phonebook for twenty-five minutes.
Unfortunately, the production job ends up being an even bigger liability. The mix is overwhelmingly claustrophobic with the vocals having to compete with static fuzz guitars, bass heaviness that doesn’t emphasize the actual bass playing, and a rather rough drum sound. The band was clearly aiming for a raw sound but instead of hitting the organic sweet spot of past outings, they ended up with severe Loudness War fatigue. That said, the more mellow tracks still manage to breathe, and the abrasiveness can remind one of Pure Rock Fury in the right mindset.
True to title, Book of Bad Decisions is a good album dealing with a few more setbacks than usual. In addition to having to follow up two of the strongest rock albums of the 2010s, the rough production and high song count make for a daunting listen by Clutch standards. Dedicated fans should be able to look past these factors, and the band is still doing a pretty good job beneath all the static. I hope the band will be confident enough to perform this material on their next tour. If there’s one thing I know about Clutch, it’s that they never sound more complete than when they’re on stage.
“In Walks Barbarella”
“Hot Bottom Feeder”