The Elephant Riders 
Artist: Clutch 
Label: Columbia Records 
Time: 10 tracks/51:03 

When I bought this, the clerk asked me if I had heard how at their shows Clutch says they'll let the first 150 girls in free, because so many of their fans are male!  I can't understand why....these guys rock!  If they were a club sandwich, they'd have old Zeppelin and Sabbath riffs for the bread, funk rhythms for the meat, psychedelic lead guitar the cheese, freakabilly blues the lettuce and tomato, and all the crazy alterno-native grooves and tricks the special sauce that glues it all together.  Or imagine if 16 Horsepower decided to play hardcore.  Or...if somehow Beck was in Led Zeppelin, and they were all abducted by aliens for several years and forced to work the mining pits of Planet Z(!) before being given back their instruments.  Or . . . okay,  I suppose that's enough.  We've got buzzing basslines and big bad riffs like 
nobody's business, and low-slung, stripped-back bass/drum/lead snap-into-a-slim-jim outings as well, but they're all distorto-grooves that  make me want to just close my eyes and bounce my head all around as I slink and skank and slam to the sounds.  Delfeayo Marsalis even provides nice jazz  trombone improvisations on a couple of tracks.  The Elephant Riders doesn't seem to be as spacey as their last album, but takes on a more upbeat slant that's still pure Clutch. 

Neil Fallon's vocals are so rowdy and flamboyant, it sounds as though he has to swallow a mouth full of pebbles and then stick his head underwater to sing...you just wouldn't be able to handle him otherwise.  But actually, he has very definite pronunciation--so you can catch every strange phrase--and tons of variety in his singing, from low-voiced spoken words to harsh shouts to slurred musings to raging gurgles.  His vocals are always very rhythmic, packed with personality, and matched fully with the music.  

Of course, Clutch's coolness doesn't dissipate with the lyrics either.  I've heard them described as "Dr. Seuss stories gone very wrong," which is a perfect way of putting it.  The title and subsequent album art came about when one of the members wondered what it would be like if there was a cavalry troop in the Civil War that rode elephants instead of horses? Hmm....such is the world of Clutch.  They throw in subtle social commentary on "Green Buckets": 

    Here in my neighborhood there is the strangest thing-- 
    Green buckets every Friday at every driveway. 
    They're filled with glasses, plastics, and newspapers too. 
    They say they recycle and bring them back to you.
    I would like to love you I sure would treat you right, 
    We could take the trash out every Thursday night. 
    We could be a family, consume many goods. 
    WE COULD BE THE PILLARS OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
While I've never heard that the guys are Christians, they always make reference to God somehow in the midst of their bizarre lyrical spins (college radio listeners might recognize "Jesus on the dashboard!"). Wrinkle your brow over "The Yeti": 
    Across the plain I see a figure every instant growing bigger. 

    Instinct tells me to run away, while faith proposes that I wave. 
    He approaches to a rod. 
    I whisper up a prayer to God. 
    The stranger asks me with a grin, 'Do you have the time my friend?' 

    Himalaya is my old time stomping ground (Oh yes, time is of the essence). 
    Manitoba, better snows I've never found (Oh yes, time is of the essence). 

    The author looms above his page and thinks it strange 
    that at his age He cannot find the words to describe his only world. 
    One would think that in a life where no two snowflakes are alike, 
    One would have a rhyme for each and every bit of time.

And furrow your forehead over the thoughts of a young soldier dying in "Ship of Gold": 
    Oh, I'm sorry that I left my home.  Oh, oh, oh, I'm 
    sorry that I left my home. Oh, oh, oh. 
    LOOK OVER YONDER there on the farther shore, on the 
    farther shore. 
    LOOK OVER YONDER there, I see a ship of gold, I see a 
    ship of gold. 
    BEYOND THAT MOUNTAIN there I see a Citty-on-a-Hille. 
    ITS GATES are open wide.  I hear the ringing bells. 
    LOOK OVER YONDER there on toward the burying ground. 
    POOR BOY IS ALL AFIRE.  Poor boy is dead and gone. Oh, 
    poor boy is dead and gone. 

    One of these days the ship of gold will carry me to my reward. 
    Out of the world it will take me to hear the horns of jubilee.

Clutch is just a one-of-a-kind band, and they've done it again on their third album--created some out-of-this-world good music.  The enthusiastic weirdness may get a tad tiresome two-thirds of the way through, but that's a minor complaint.  If you find your current diet of music to be stale, get your hands on some Clutch and trip out to the funky hardcore rocketship just back from the outer reaches of space...all girls allowed! 

By Josh Spencer