War Pygmalion - Clutch's 'The Elephant Riders'

Fri 31st August 2012


/incoming/220px-Clutch_-_The_Elephant_Riders.jpgNumber five in our series of snarky look backs at classic albums that our erstwhile reviewer Gareth hasn't given the time of day to previously...

PLEASE NOTE: We know the album was released AGES ago, it is not a review, rather an angry look back or longing gaze, depending on how we feel that day, feel free to discuss the album below, we welcome your comments...

Feed Mike enough beer and he'll happily sing most of the Clutch back catalogue at you, whether you want him to or not (As witnessed very recently, sorry.. Ed).

I've also seen them live around the time of Robot Hive/Exodus at the suggestion of some of the original 9Hz crew so I'm not unfamiliar with the band, I just haven't given their albums any play time. The reason for this is possibly that I don't like the idea of them; if you've read the article on Down's Nola you'll know my tolerance for bands who insist on highlighting the area where they live is low, and like Down, Clutch are unashamedly Southern rawk in musical style and lyrics. Irrational? Possibly, but anyone who rolls their eyes every time the Red Hot Chili Peppers release a song mentioning California (112 and counting) feels the same effect to some degree.

This means Clutch are starting on the back foot. Add this to the fact that the mention of "blues rock" immediately brings to mind bands of white, middle aged software analysts in stonewashed jeans playing 45 minute sets of identical sounding three-chord standards, or even worse, post 1980's Eric Clapton (also known as "Slow Hand", possibly because he's been making music since 1963 and seems to only know one scale). So do Clutch manage to sidestep the obvious cliches inherent to the genre? Frankly, no.

But it doesn't matter.

Let's backtrack a little; for the newcomer, Clutch mostly play blues scale based, heavily syncopated rock. Lyrically, there's a lot of singing about Southern staples such as food, music, beer, trucks and a lot of other things that should by all rights leave me in a permanent state of annoyance. And when you think it can't add another possible obvious musical aspect to highlight where their influences lie, (the band as a collective come from the comparatively un-rootin'-tootin' Northwest state of Maryland), in comes the banjo. But I don't find it annoying. And while I could sit here and analyse why, it boils down to two main reasons.

Musically, a lot of albums I find dull to listen to tend to have too much going on. We all love riffs, but if an album is just a series of riffs played one after the other it all blends together into a dull mess, but there's enough space on here, both in the album as a whole and the individual sections to mean that despite the similarity in style, each song stands up on it's own.

Secondly, and this is the main one; Clutch are fun. There's a strong groove in most of their music that leaves you tapping your foot even if your mind wanders, and if you're lyrically inclined, the vocals are quirky enough to stick with you. Songs like The Soapmakers are catchy enough to be hummable after one listen which is something of an achievement, especially for someone like me who tends to tune out vocals from most music.

So, am I a convert? Nope. A few tracks from Elephant Riders will doubtlessly get a few spins in future if I find myself in the right mood but it hasn't inspired me to delve deeper into their catalogue. They make the most of blues rock but it's not a style I hold much interest in, so while I have a lot of time for a band who manage to make such a well trod genre genuinely interesting, this is more of a respectful nod at a passing vague acquaintance than love at first sight.


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    •  mikemike
    • Add your comments here!
    •  PodgePodge
    • I'd have put Pure Rock Fury and Jam Room as better albums than Elephant but I suppose that's just personal choice
    •  EggyEggy
    • Pure Rock Fury was the first Clutch album I heard and got me hooked. Blast Tyrant is my all time favourite, but I'm having an Elephant Riders phase most recently, helped along by those drunken antics on sunday night.

      I can happily listen to Clutch for hours, days and weeks at a time, they're my most listened to band, I've recently gone a fair few weeks, or probably months without listening to them at all. Never get tired of listening to them, and their music is pretty uplifting too. I personally can't understand what there is not to like about the band, I just wish I'd have got into them a good few years sooner.

      Agree about the Chili's who have done the California thing to death, but generally that sort of thing doesn't bother me.
    •  OllieOllie
    • I think I first heard Clutch in around '91 or '92 on Earache's Naive sampler and was blown away by them and Sleep...then I kind of lost touch until about 1999 when I was introduced to Elephant Riders and the self titled album. Since then I've been hooked.

      I think they go way beyond the usual blues rock cliche's, "Elephant Riders" is full of little musical twists and turn especially. They're always catchy as hell and Neil Fallon pretty much avoids every musical cliche going and when he does use them it's either with due reverence in a knowing way or tongue in cheek.

      The self titled 2nd album is my clear has a killer groove throughout, the sound is cleaner and less metal yet the vocals have a real aggression to them.
    •  PetePete
    • Funny there is no clear favourite. Mine are s/t and Robot Hive, but I love ER and BT more than the best albums of most other bands also.

      Funny the review centres around the blues theme - I never think of them that way (except the disappointing last 2 albums, and the purposefully-blues likes of Gravel Road), even though technically it's a correct analogy. (Probably because I got into them from s/t onwards.)

      What I have always loved about them is their individuality in sound, even when being compared to blues, stoner or hardcore - the way sentences wrap over the end of the lines rather than fitting the music, and especially the lyrics - the only band I have ever really listened to lyrics, before and since.

      And finally, I cannot reply to an ER thread without saying... I love Dragonfly.
    •  mambamamba
    • I didn't get into Clutch until Blast Tyrant, and then Robot Hive, when I got a bit obsessed.

      I don't listen to them that often these days, but Elephant Riders is usually the album I reach for first.
    •  GarethGareth
    • Ollie says:
      I think they go way beyond the usual blues rock cliche's, "Elephant Riders" is full of little musical twists and turn especially. They're always catchy as hell and Neil Fallon pretty much avoids every musical cliche going and when he does use them it's either with due reverence in a knowing way or tongue in cheek.

      This pretty much sums up how I felt about the album, plus having recently played Driver: San Fransisco I enjoyed the funk influences as well. I agree that they're not really blues rock as such but there's a strong blues influence there.

      If anyone wants to make me an 8-10 song Clutch 'best of' on Spotify I'd like to give it a listen but I'm not inclined to plough through 9 albums to find stuff I'd like.
    •  sabbathfansabbathfan
    • Not that big a Clutch fan but if you're going to hear one other song by them Gareth then it's got to be Spacegrass.
    •  mikemike
    • I'd recommend a listen to Jam Room Gareth, really unusual and throws a curveball at everything you've written.

      That said, Transnational Speedway League sounds like a gorilla fronting a chuggy hardcore band at times.

      Elephant Riders and Pure Rock Fury are the best lyrically by a mile, PRF in particular.

      Fave tracks of mine include: Dragonfly (Pete's fave I think), Prison Planet, Bertha's Big Back Yard and Big Fat Pig, The Yeti, Red Horse Rainbows, Careful With The Mic, PRF, actually, there's loads.
    •  GarethGareth
    • Sounds like I've got a few albums to get my head round before I decide I'm done with this band. Can I start with 'Elephant Riders' and finish with 'Robot Hive/Exodus' or will I be missing something amazing?
    •  mikemike
    • Self titled is ace too, sorry!

      I don't care for Beal Street onwards I'm afraid.
    •  HopkinsHopkins
    • all about BT and RH/E for me
    •  EggyEggy
    • how the hell does anyone pick 8-10 songs for a playlist. I'd find it really hard to just pick one per album, I might attempt to give it a shot though. In fact if we all get our heads together we could each send G a playlist with no songs the same on, then he'll get a fair mix to enjoy! :D

      1. Gnome Enthusiast is one of my favourites on Jam Room.
      2. Careful with the Mic (Pure Rock Fury) is totally different to anything else and if someone to hear that as an introduction to Clutch it'd certainly smockraffle them.
      3. Ghost - Blast Tyrant - my favourite track but not typical of the album
      4. I'd probably go for 10001110101 from Robot Hive, but change my mind in a few seconds and then confuse myself further.
      5. the live version of Spacegrass is one of the best songs ever - it leads into Escape from the prison planet, the original(s) are on the s/t album, but the live version is on the end of Pure Rock Fury.
      6. Big Fat Pig - Jam Room
      7. Open Up the Border from Pure Rock Fury.
      8. Promoter (of Earthbound Causes) - Blast Tyrant again, more typical of the album I'd say.
      9 I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth - on the Clutch album
      10. Milk of Human Kindness - Transnational Speedway League - love that album, so raw and heavier than the rest.
    •  OllieOllie
    • Live at Flint Michigan is a good one as they're an awesome live band and it has a great cross section of stuff from the very early days up to Blast Tyrant
    •  PetePete
    • Go back one album Gareth - from s/t to Robot Hive.

      A couple of songs from each I'd recommend...

      Clutch - probably my fave, has an other worldly feel
      Songs - Big News I and Escape From the Prison Planet

      Elephant Riders - you know

      Jam Room - Not essential but cool and interesting
      Songs: Who Wants To Rock and Basket of Eggs

      Pure Rock Fury - Considered the most commerically sounding album (mainly due to the first 4 tracks), but has a real great mix of stunning, interesting stuff towards the back end.
      Songs: Sinkemlow and Brazenhead

      Blast Tyrant - It took me a while to get into it, but it again has a hidden depth.
      Songs: Cypress Grove and (In the Wake of) The Swollen Goat

      Robot Hive/Exodus - Brilliant mix of all that came before with added regular organ
      Songs: Burning Beard and Circus Maximus

      If you're still interested after that, check out Slow Hole to China (odds and sods album that is still amazing - seek out the song 'Rising Son' especially) and for historical purposes the early EPs (Impetus and Pitchfork are pretty good) and TSL (mainly for A Shogun Named Marcus). There's two post-RH/E albums as well - Beale St is okay, has a couple of obvious-Clutch songs that are good, but I've barely listend to Strange Cousins... and both reinforce the blues thing without the Clutch invention, in my opinion.

      There's some live albums as well, but I'm no fan of live albums even for my fave bands (they make me want to put the originals on).
    •  PetePete
    • PS nearly all Clutch fans recommend Spacegrass as their best song ever - but I think it's terrible and have never got it...
    •  sabbathfansabbathfan
    • I probably liked Spacegrass initially because it doesn't sound like a typical Clutch song; it's got more of a straight-ahead heavy riff type feel to it.

      I've actually got into Clutch a little more since then - Blast Tyrant is a good album with some really good stuff, RH/E has Mice and Gods which is an amazing song. I think when I was younger Clutch weren't the type of music I was looking for, but I can see now why people love them.

      Though I haven't heard them, I can't quite understand why nearly all the Clutch enthusiasts who post here aren't at all enthusiastic about the last two records - did they have some kind of huge stylistic shift or something?
    •  mikemike
    • Not massive but they kind of went 'normal' and seemed to lose that lyrical and unusual edge a bit for me.

      Oh and just to say, Clutch are one of the only bands I know with a song about recycling in the form of 'Green Buckets.'
    •  EggyEggy
    • That song is great, I have a habit of singing this part:

      "There's a woman down at 314
      who can't keep the stains on her kitchen floor clean.
      And there's a man who's been knockin' on his door
      for three years, or has it been four?"

      Then the chorus.
    •  GarethGareth
    • mike says:
      Oh and just to say, Clutch are one of the only bands I know with a song about recycling in the form of 'Green Buckets.'

      Devin Townsend too
    •  seansean
    • :)
    •  mikemike
    • Gareth says:
      mike says:
      Oh and just to say, Clutch are one of the only bands I know with a song about recycling in the form of 'Green Buckets.'

      Devin Townsend too

      That cheesebreath doesn't count.