Leave it to CLUTCH to goof on the totalitarian MCP from the original "Tron" as a spit upon the digital era through the artwork of their tenth album, "Earth Rocker". Old-school remonstration from old school rock dogs who refuse to answer to the directive, "End of line".
The Maryland-bred sludge troupe has always seen things through a three-quarters-full glass and they've always found an outlandish view through the antimatter contained within. What's made CLUTCH such a pleasure over the years is how they've retooled ALLMAN BROTHERS and LYNYRD SKYNYRD swamp juice boogie modes for a decibel-addicted culture. It just so happens that Neil Fallon and CLUTCH have spent more time consuming sci-fi, outsider literature and "Heavy Metal" magazines, plus presumed repeat viewings of "Southern Comfort" and a steady diet of Sundance-worthy underground films.
By now, CLUTCH has said all they've wanted to say musically with past classics such as "Elephant Riders", "Pure Rock Fury", "Blast Tyrant" and "Jam Room". "Robot Hive/Exodus" was CLUTCH's refreshing attempt to stir some fiery soul and gospel revival okra into their sonic gumbo. Appositely, "From Beale Street to Oblivion" set the band onto a straightforward course more focused upon snaggletoothed though refined piss rock. Funny when you consider their central hub of Germantown is an industrialized suburb of the nation's capital. The fact CLUTCH sounds more like they belong in a Louisiana honky tonk than in the commercialized shadow of D.C. has always been the understated kitsch to this band.
Their latter trend towards straightforward blues and classic rock has since carried CLUTCH forth through a reputable career, thus "Earth Rocker" is status quo, for all intents and purposes. If anything, "Earth Rocker" (like "From Beale Street to Oblivion" and "Strange Cousins From the West") streamlines CLUTCH's effects to a settled concentration upon lending a goodtime, rocka rolla soundtrack to their usual nutjob lyrics. This time, they corral everything from cyborgs to lycanthropes to Piers Anthony time lords to a thousand Les Pauls begging for attention as one under the suppression of a prefab, electro-raped music world.
If anything, there's a bit more underhanded protest going on by turning Washington, D.C. into a necropolis with "D.C. Sound Attack!" and by chawing sardonically about the slow demise of rock 'n roll beleaguered by the synthetic reek of 21st century pop through "The Face". The title track launches "Earth Rocker" with a blaring rump shake and Neil Fallon hilariously crooning gobbledy-gook in his attention-grabbing rebuff of today's nanotech-blipped biosphere. In a sense, "Earth Rocker" bookends nicely with the crazy closing number "The Wolf Man Kindly Requests?" if not from a lyrical standpoint, but from the fact Fallon gets to let his moon-afflicted id carouse to its fullest content.
Despite reverting to their original band logo for this album, CLUTCH doesn't necessarily revert to their old thundering trick bag. "D.C. Sound Attack!" has a quick drum 'n cowbell poke-along from Jean-Paul Gaster that hints of the easygoing improv of "Jam Room", but instead of clawing for the old Southern delta swings and jacked-up power that gave them a sweatier cut above their peers, CLUTCH maintains their emphasis upon no-nonsense, headstrong rockers. Tim Sult has a psychedelic party all to himself in the midst of the "Mettle" era PINK FLOYD drive on "Oh, Isabella", while there's a series of Hendrix-minded static jives shuffling behind "The Wolf Man Kindly Requests?"
For the first few songs, "Earth Rocker" is as loud and proud as anything CLUTCH has put down, albeit the difference these days is they're perhaps too clean. What made CLUTCH such monsters of their trade in years past was how dirty they sounded on top of bombastic. "Crucial Velocity" is a mean mother and it hums along nicely with Tim Sult's aquatic feedback, while "Mr. Freedom" again hails Jimi Hendrix's bluesy distortion modes. CLUTCH pushes it all fluidly if not with their early days' heft. On the flipside, "Gone Cold" checks down with a slow and shimmying melancholia that allows for a quick-picking acoustic solo nibbling along Dan Maines' lazy bass drawl.
What CLUTCH sells these days is hardly criminal. They're one of the tightest rock bands on the planet and only these guys could get away with tweaking a plot from "Spongebob Squarepants" (i.e. the episode where Plankton trades in his computer wife for an upgraded model) with "Cyborg Bette". It's a genuine gut buster when Neil Fallon growls like a spoiled spouse, "When I ask you for water, you give me gasoline" on that loony tune.
At the same time, CLUTCH's juniors THE SWORD have picked up the few stray amps that have ominously dwindled from the former's stacks and a swing in favor may be on the horizon. To whatever credit you give them, CLUTCH have nothing to prove and they sound like it. They're answering their own call since only the booming and gritty "Unto the Breach" is the closest thing to resemble the CLUTCH of yesterday. Still intelligent and gonzo when they want to be, CLUTCH are entertaining rockers. Better, they stay true to their three-quarters-filled mission.