CLUTCH
"Robot Hive/Exodus"

(DRT Entertainment)

01. The Incomparable Mr. Flannery
02. Burning Beard
03. Gullah
04. Mice and Gods
05. Pulaski Skyway
06. Never Be Moved
07. 10001110101
08. Small Upsetters
09. Circus Maximus
10. Tripping the Alarm
11. 10,000 Witnesses
12. Land of Pleasant Living
13. Gravel Road
14. Who's Been Talking?

RATING: 8/10

It's a testament to the organic strengths of CLUTCH that when they set up, start dicking around, and hit "record," the results still outstrip almost every overcalculated bunch of try-too-hard scenesters currently stinking up the record racks. The follow-up to last year's "Blast Tyrant" is definitely less immediate and hooky than that opus, but it flows like a well-oiled machine, dealing out slippery groove after slippery groove, adding a full-time Hammond organist to the mix and just letting the charismatic riffs and oddball vocals flow nonstop.

After fifteen years and change together (the addition of organist Mick Schauer being the band's only lineup shift since their "Passive Restraints" EP in the early 1990s), these guys have a telekinetic bond. You can just picture guitarist Tim Sult making these myriad riffs up as he goes along, and bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster instinctively following along, putting in the starts and stops as easily as they draw another breath, existing as one of the best rhythm sections in the business without even trying. Vocalist Neil Fallon is at his quirky best here, ranting and raving like a Wild West carnival barker with sunstroke, telling whacked-out tales in his gruffly melodic bark over the fluid rhythms and from-the-gut riffs.

It's telling that the band closes the album with updates raveups through two hoary old blues covers — MISSISSIPPI FRED MCDOWELL's "Gravel Road" and HOWLIN' WOLF's "Who's Been Talking?" At this point in their strange career, no longer on a major label, one of the few straight-up rock bands able to make a full-time living out on the circuit, singing for their supper and playing unfashionable riff metal, CLUTCH doesn't have a damn thing to prove. They changed their stripes often in the 1990s, going from the angular noise-rock muscle of early songs like "Impetus" to singalong pit anthems like "A Shogun Named Marcus" to weird, chaotic spazzouts like "The Soapmakers". Now, you get the feeling they just wanna "be CLUTCH" for a while, fire up the bong, lock the studio door for the evening, and just rock out. Like those old bluesmen, they're just gonna do their thing, for those who like it, and screw the rest.

And that's what they do here on "Robot Hive/Exodus". It's not gonna win any new fans over, garner crossover radio success, or land them on the cover of Spin — and thank Christ for that. It's "just" CLUTCH being CLUTCH, loose and fun, sly and slippery, funky and heavy — just what the doctor ordered.

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