Clutch – The Elephant Riders

Elephant   1998 Columbia/Sony

If you’ve spent much time in the Abyss, you’ve probably figured out that Clutch is pretty much my favorite band ever…possessing all the elements I love about really great rock music.   The grooves, the guitars (LOTS of guitar), hooks and undeniable intelligence…it’s all here.

While Clutch really hit their stride with Pure Rock Fury, The Elephant Riders is the album where they really started to hone in on the elements that make them so unique.   Many Clutch fans regard this as their best disc, while I personally reserve that designation for Blast Tyrant or Robot Hive/Exodus, mostly because the production on this disc isn’t quite to my sonic liking.

Nonetheless, the songs are most definitely there, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for this and Clutch’s earlier releases after hearing them in the live context (see Full Fathom Five).   The hilarious visual of Civil War soldiers riding into battle astride elephants pretty much says it all.   This is music that exists for the pure joy of sound, and if you care to dig beneath the surface you will find layer after layer of intelligence and humor that are well worth your time.

The strength of the riffs is undeniable, songs like “The Soapmakers” and “The Yeti” just enjoyable beyond belief even before you dig into the lyrics.   Everything good about classic rock is on display here, including eclectic variety on songs like “Green Buckets” and “Wishbone,” the latter containing one of many funny Neil Fallon musings.  To wit:  For Thanksgiving we had taters, succotash and rutabegas.

The only other person I know of to use the word “rutabega” in a song was Frank Zappa on “Duchess of  Prunes” (from Absolutely Free), and that’s pretty good company to say the least.

I’ve gotta give props to “Ship of Gold” as the first Clutch song I can remember really sinking my teeth into.   Living in Dallas when this was released, I remember listening to this track over an over and just being mezmerized by the groove.   I just simply had never heard anything quite like it.

The crown jewel of this thoroughly entertaining carnival of sound, though, is my favorite Clutch song of all time “The Dragonfly,” which paints a captivating picture of the rites of spring from the point of view of a newly hatched dragonfly:  Oh in the sun she warms her wings, and listens to cicadas sing.   Or how ’bout …trees are all bendin’ in one direction, because of somethin’ – cross-pollination on the legs of bees in spring, it’s a beautiful thing.  There’s just no other band that can pull this off with such total conviction.   This song, however, is best experienced in the live context as a superb opening call-to-arms on the fierce Full Fathom Five live CD/DVD.

There’s really not a bad Clutch album in the whole bunch, and if you want to dig deeper into their back catalogue (pre-Pure Rock Fury) this is a great place to start, The Elephant Riders offering song after song of memorable hooks and sheer fun.

Rating:   4 out of 5

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