Originally published in The Daily Iowan 7/14/2009
Clutch’s new album, Strange Cousins from the West, makes it difficult to pass definitive judgment on the group. The band’s Southern rock/blues sound invokes thoughts of ’70s bands that tried to be an edgier — but were ultimately a lesser — Lynyrd Skynyrd. However Clutch gets credit for putting out a brand of rock that has taken a back seat to the likes of Nickelback and Fall Out Boy.
Strange Cousins from the West has the simple goal of rocking harder than Daughtry’s mom on a Sunday morning. The group’s ninth album achieves this goal with banging drums, blues guitar riffs, and lead singer Neil Fallon’s boisterous voice. This is also the Clutch’s first album in five years without keyboard player Mick Schauer. His absence goes unnoticed — it is hard to imagine Schauer or anybody else playing piano without changing the overall feel of the album. However, his inclusion may have been able to provide more variety, because the album’s general sound is much more memorable than any of the individual songs.
This sound is summed up in the album’s opening track, “Motherless Child.” It uses the same riffs throughout the entire tune and features the repetitive lyrics “My father tried to break me / my mother she tried to raise / the county correct me from my wild ways.” It’s the combination of these elements that makes most of the album sound as if it would be used somewhere on the soundtrack for the motorcycle drama Sons of Anarchy. Again, this isn’t a terrible thing but all of the other nine songs the albums sound the same.
For the most part, Strange Cousins from the West doesn’t change things up until its final song, “Algo Ha Cambiado,” which is, clearly, entirely in Spanish. The song also features the album’s most memorable guitar riff, but that’s about all it offers. Credit in this song, though, goes to Fallon and his ability to be consistent in his voice, even when singing in a foreign language.
Fallon is the main discovery for those who haven’t heard the band before. He delivers the deep voice necessary for these songs but also has a range of styles that can be rough and grimy as in the album’s first single, “50,000 Unstoppable Watts,” which showcases Fallon’s deep, bass voice.
Although Strange Cousins from the West is a solid album that differs from most typical modern rock, there isn’t much variance among the tracks. It would have been nice to see the band take more chances with the genre, even if it didn’t succeed.