Ever sit back and look at your record collection of a favorite artist and consider which albums are the best? So do we! Rank & File is our way of telling you which albums are great and which ones are garbage (at least in our opinion). There are really no correct answers here, it’s all just a matter of taste, but inevitably, there will be parts of the list that you will completely disagree with, so make sure to let us know how you would rank the albums. Of course, when compiling a ranking system such as this, there have to be some guidelines in place. For Rank & File, they are:
- No E.P.’s (with rare exception)
- No Singles
- No live albums
- No remix albums
- If an artists discography is huge (i.e. Rolling Stones, Prince) only the top 5 will make the cut.
Clutch are an American treasure. One of the most electric, unclassifiable and out-and-out fun rock n’ roll bands in the world, they have evolved in many different and exciting ways over almost twenty-five years and 10 studio albums. Their touring schedule has always been and remains berserk to this day, with seemingly year-round shows never failing to deliver the Maryland quartet’s signature blend of stoner metal, delta blues , 60’s psychedelia and hyper-literate mythologized, paranoid, foilhat-wearing lyrical brilliance. With their 11th Album, Psychic Warfare being released on October 2, it seems fitting to break down what I see as the top five efforts from this incomparable band.
5. Blast Tyrant (2004)
Full title, “Blast Tyrant’s Atlas of the Invisible World Including Illustrations of Strange Beasts and Phantoms”, this one was a barnstormer for the band just as they began to get some mainstream notice. Probably their heaviest album from a “metal” perspective, it nonetheless featured some downtempo roots-soaked tracks (“The Regulator”, “Ghost”) that haunted just as hard as they headbanged. It also features “Subtle Hustle”, a funky take on one of vocalist Neil Fallon’s favorite themes, that of the snake-oil slick preacher man (such a persona being essentially the one Fallon himself most closely resembles in style) as well as album apotheosis “Spleen Merchant”, wherein Neil channels and warps John Lee Hookers sentiments regarding the afterlife into what can only be called one of the greatest goddamned rock tracks I’ve ever heard.
4. Pure Rock Fury (2001)
The new millennium saw Clutch really taking the form of the band they had been changing into throughout the nineties. Simultaneously heavier and looser than previous, PRF is the perfect gateway to latter-day Clutch, from the wild, concert-killer title track, to the esoteric madman storytelling of “Red Horse Rainbows”, to the elegiac beer-raising “Drink to the Dead” that finishes out the album’s new material. Inclusion of a spectacular live version of “Spacegrass” at the end serves both to close the record out strongly, as well as to show how much has changed with the band’s approach to their own music since 1993.
3. Elephant Riders (1998)
There aren’t precedents for albums like this 1998 classic. The band’s only record with Columbia, it proved too weird for larger audiences and got them quickly dropped. In fact, the album is out of print as of today with no plans for a reissue. This seems insane, as the fuzzy, unhinged fracas that makes up this record brings yet another experiment in excellence, with a definitive southern drawl presiding over proceedings. The set-to gets aggressively underway with the titular pachyderm riding confederates and rarely pauses to take a (probably whiskey-smelling) breath from then on. Best track on the album is a drunken bit of fisticuff between the redneck disco-beat and backwoods mysticism of “Soapmakers” and “Dragonfly” a heavier-than-depleted-uranium-eating-golden-corral insect fable that somehow feels at once transformational and transportive.
2. Clutch (1995)
Different sound, different time. 1995 marked the release of Clutch’s second, self-titled LP and while such a bizarre and creative group might seem out of place releasing an eponymous record, there could be no better label for this phenomenal collection of music. Neil’s beloved Jesus-peddling shyster makes a swaggering debut in the fabulous “Tight Like That”, and “Escape From the Prison Planet” features a stoner rock coda so good I’m actually bobbing my head in a silent room just thinking about it. And of course it features live show staple “Spacegrass” which would have to dominate any short list for a quintessential track from this band. OF COURSE this album was self-titled. It’s weird, nautical, mythological, funny, paranoid, science-fictional, swinging, raucous, and all around incredible. It’s Clutch.
1. Robot Hive/Exodus (2005)
Sometimes a band releases an album when they are all operating at the absolute peak of their creative capacities simultaneously. It’s not common. Wondering why I mentioned It? Well then wonder no more, because that very cosmic occurrence did happen in 2005 when, ten years after the release of the spectacular Clutch, Robot Hive/Exodus hit the shelves. The addition of a keyboardist/organist provided just the right tone to make this perfect synthesis of metal, blues and psychosis a record for the ages. From the opening one-two knockout of “The Incomparable Mr. Flannery” and its companion, the schizoid, time-signature devouring “Burning Beard” all the way to the fabulous, blustery blues cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking” that closes out the ceremony, this is the definition of an essential rock record. It serves as both a synthesis and an unpacking of the many disparate influences that make Clutch the singular band they are. And it’s got a song called “10001110101” for Christs sake, complete with catchy binary chorus. To me (and I know this is certainly controversial as all such statements about cultishly beloved bands must be), it represents the best output of the best band touring today.
Just missed the cut: Jam Room (1999), From Beale Street To Oblivion (2007), Earth Rocker (2013)