There is one obvious problem with putting Clutch’s studio albums in order of preference: they have never made a crap record. Or even a good-but-not-great one. Thirty years into their career, theirs is one of the most ridiculously consistent and entertaining album catalogues in, let’s face it, the whole of human history.
If you like riffs, they’ve got tons of them. If you like songs about armies of Bono clones, the Marylanders have written at least one. Unquestionably one of the most exhilarating live bands on the planet and a group of musicians who genuinely seem to adore every second of their musical lives, Clutch make a lot of other bands look a bit shit.
12. Jam Room (1999)
It is important to note that Jam Room is Clutch’s shortest studio album, which is reason enough to put it at the arse-end of this list. Nonetheless, the cunning devils still managed to cram a couple of bona fide classics onto this rag-tag collection: Big Fat Pig has more great riffs than seems strictly fair, and Release The Kraken… well, it’s a Clutch song about the Kraken. What more do you want?
11. Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes & Undeniable Truths (1993)
When Clutch released their debut album, it was far from clear where the band’s sound was heading. Early releases like the Impetus EP had as much in common with Helmet and Unsane as they did with the burgeoning stoner rock scene. That slightly grittier sound continued on Transnational Speedway League, albeit with increasing amounts of swing and swagger, not to mention instant anthem A Shogun Named Marcus: still an occasional visitor to Clutch set lists.
10. Strange Cousins From The West (2009)
It is a testament to Clutch’s unerring consistency that an album as brilliant as Strange Cousins From The West should occupy such a lowly position on this list. The band’s first album on their own label, it was full of great songs like the strutting 50,000 Unstoppable Watts and wonky epic Abraham Lincoln, but somehow failed to capture the imagination with quite the same intensity as previous albums. It’s okay, there was another one along in a minute.
9. From Beale Street To Oblivion (2007)
Again, by most band’s standards, From Beale To Oblivion would be an obvious career high point. For starters, it features Electric Worry: quite possibly the most infectious and exuberant song in the entire Clutch catalogue. There are fast and furious moments, like nails-hard opener You Can’t Stop Progress, and rich meanders through psych-rock territory, like unsung gem White’s Ferry. The only downside to Clutch’s eighth full-length is that it was swiftly out-shadowed by the band’s next brilliant record. The scamps.
8. Psychic Warfare (2015)
By 2015, the expectation around every new Clutch album was that it would be a joyous feast for the ears. Psychic Warfare delivered precisely that, fine-tuning the band’s multifarious roots rock hybrid and summoning some of their catchiest and most ferocious tunes in the process. The first four songs are worth the price of admission alone: high octane single X-Ray Visions, the motoring Firebirds!, sun-ravaged cautionary tale A Quick Death In Texas and, best of all, the pure rock thunder of Sucker For The Witch. They’ve made seven better albums than this, apparently. Ridiculous.
7. Pure Rock Fury (2001)
Sometimes Clutch are rootsy and experimental, but their default mode is balls-out and all in the name of rock. Pure Rock Fury felt like a fresh distillation of the band’s influences, with their punk and hardcore roots scoring highly and a renewed sense of urgency propelling everything along. The title track remains one of Clutch’s most righteous and undeniable anthems; Careful With That Mic was hip-hop fed through a rusty tree-shredder; Drink To The Dead was the best song Tom Waits never wrote. Cameos from doom maven Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich and blues rock legend Leslie West simply added to the delights on offer.
6. The Elephant Riders (1998)
From its quirky, iconic artwork to the cartoonish squall of its production, The Elephant Riders was the perfect follow-up to the trippy and rambling Clutch. Showcasing another side to the band, while still delivering another glut of ingenious mutant blues riffs, it probably should have made them international megastars. People are stupid. Nonetheless, the third Clutch album rules hard for the entirety of its 51 minutes. It begins with the deeply funky title track, the turbocharged stoner rock of Ship Of Gold and the cracked-mirror blues of Eight Times Over Miss October. And then it continues to be awesome until the dying strains of low-slung jam The Dragonfly.
5. Earth Rocker (2013)
Roaring back to top form after the only-slightly-less-than-top-form Strange Cousins From The West, Clutch sounded like a band with fresh creative winds billowing their sails. From the nuts-to-the-wall groove of the title track onwards, Earth Rocker was a noisy and fascinating reminder of the quartet’s unique power. Whether flooring the accelerator on Crucial Velocity or whipping up a storm of tooth-rattling hobo funk on D.C. Sound Attack, the tenth Clutch album lived up to its title in no uncertain terms. Everybody get the message?
4. Clutch (1995)
Amidst the red-eyed fervour of an emerging stoner rock scene and, seemingly, in spite of the looming menace of grunge, Clutch pulled an outright masterpiece out of their hessian knapsacks at the second attempt. Slamming down a sonic template that they have tinkered with and twisted endlessly ever since, Clutch introduced the world to the full brilliance of guitarist Tim Sult’s riffs, bassist Dan Maines' and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster’s unstoppable funkiness and the glorious ingenuity of Neil Fallon’s lyrics. Again, you may wonder why the band didn’t immediately become global legends on the strength of songs like Big News I and Spacegrass, but it matters not: Clutch was a classic and it still does the job… whenever it feels RIGHT!
3. Book Of Bad Decisions (2018)
As they released their 12th studio album, Clutch were steadily beginning to enjoy a new level of recognition and success. Quite what took the world so long to realise that the Maryland crew were the best rock’n’roll band on the planet is anyone’s guess, but Book Of Bad Decisions hammered the point home again with a gleeful flourish. Two preview singles set the scene: the grimy and rollicking Gimme The Keys and the rampaging poli-tricks of How To Shake Hands. Elsewhere, In Walks Barbarella and H.B. Is In Control brought badass funk vibes to bear on yet more razor-sharp Tim Sult riffs; Emily Dickinson gloried in shimmering, psychedelic desert mirage vibes; A Good Fire was a rumbling riot of cowpoke hardcore. Vivid, versatile and almost comically overburdened with instantly memorable moments, Book Of Bad Decisions turned out to be an extremely wise move for all concerned.
2. Robot Hive/Exodus (2005)
Released during an absurdly fruitful period that we might as well call Peak Clutch, Robot Hive/Exodus was released just over a year after the widely acclaimed Blast Tyrant and seemed to suggest that Neil Fallon and his comrades were incapable of having a bad idea or writing a crap song. This is one of Clutch’s most joyous and adventurous records, with an increased role for a simmering Hammond organ and some of the funkiest material the band have ever recorded. When it comes to certified classics, you can take your pick from sing-along smashes The Incomparable Mr. Flannery, Mice And Gods and 10001110101, and the gorgeously wobble-hipped blues of Gravel Road. But Robot Hive/Exodus works best as a single journey through multiple styles and sounds, with the coolest tour guides of all time at the wheel.
1. Blast Tyrant (2004)
The task of picking the best album from Clutch’s magnificent catalogue is a self-evident poisoned chalice, but if we could take a quick straw poll of their entire fan base, Blast Tyrant would almost certainly come out on top. Trust us, it’s science. A stone cold masterpiece that took the unique idiosyncrasies of Clutch’s earlier albums and injected them with myriad new colours, the band’s sixth album is a non-stop feast of wildly imaginative songwriting, righteous grooves and fiendish, sardonic wordplay. Profits Of Doom, The Regulator and The Mob Goes Wild are the obvious anthems, and both make regular appearances in Clutch set lists to this day. But Blast Tyrant is a many-layered listening experience, rich in old school rock’n’roll values but also sonically vibrant and subtly subversive. It reaches a sublime peak of potency on the semi-acoustic psych reverie of Ghost, wherein Neil Fallon sings of a grieving widow “stabbing madly at the roast” as paranormal activity erupts around her. Blast Tyrant is 55 minutes of 24-carat fun deluxe, with extra riffs.