The Best Albums of 2018, #14

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14. Clutch, Book of Bad Decisions (Weathermaker)

When it comes to bands that I rank among my very favourite, I’m notoriously generous and forgiving. I won’t deny it! An artist I love has to really put out a steaming pile of dog feces to make me loathe it, but it has been known to happen. I’ve been cautioned enough about using the hyperbolic term “can do no wrong” when describing artists that I’ll never say it again for the rest of my life, but I will state that Clutch hasn’t put out a bad record in close to 20 years, and at the rate they’re going, I don’t see it happening anytime soon. They’ve been on an incredible creative run since 2004, and their last three records, including 2013’s Earth Rocker and 2015’s Psychic Warfare have seen them really put in an effort to keep raising the bar. 12th full-length Book of Bad Decisions is more ambitious than the comparably streamlined previous two albums, and boasting a sturdy 15 tracks, you can tell these guys are brimming with ideas. Of course, as always Clutch’s sound is firmly rooted in heavy rock and blues, but they’re always in search of new ways to boogie, ad there are loads of such moments: the greasy “Spirit of ‘76”, the funk-fuelled “In Walks Barbarella”, the barroom jam “Vision Quest”, the tight-but-loose “Sonic Counselor”. Brooding tracks like “Lorelei” and “Emily Dickinson” are well-timed changes of pace, while the raucous “Gimme the Keys” and the maniacal cowbell attack of “Weird Times” are songs that appeal directly to the rowdier side of the band’s fervent fanbase. Singer Neil Fallon continues to improve as a lyricist, too; in the past his wordplay could be unhinged to say the least, but his psychedelic verbage has been harnessed very effectively. There’s plenty of surreal humour (“How to Shake Hands” is brilliant political satire, while “Hot Bottom Feeder” is an hilarious recitation of a recipe for crab cakes) but there are some surprisingly sweet moments too, as in “A Good Fire”, in which he reminisces about a backwoods party where he heard Black Sabbath for the first time. There’s never a dull moment on Book of Bad Decisions as Clutch keep challenging themselves and succeeding mightily.