Retro-Review: ‘Transnational Speedway League’ by Clutch

In the world of heavy music, Clutch is an institution all to themselves and Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes and Undeniable Truths is where it all began.

Back then, we had not so much a clue that the groovy band with a goofy song and an equally goofy video called “A Shogun Named Marcus” would mark the beginning of a decades-long career or such a devoted fanbase, making them the equivalent of the Grateful Dead of heavy metal.

When you go to a Clutch show, you’re instantly among friends. The people are dedicated, with a contingent who try to follow the band wherever they play. It’s fun, the atmosphere is great and you see a band that’s out there to put on an A-plus performance.

To make this review easier, I’m just going to do like everybody else does and just call the album Transnational Speedway League.

Transnational Speedway League is not the best Clutch album and the band still hasn’t found a clear identity, but everything that would eventually make the Clutch we know and love is there.

It’s even got the same members as it does now, which is a feat within itself. There’s been virtually no turnover in the band since Neil Fallon came on as vocalist, sans a couple of years where Mick Schauer joined as keyboardist in the mid-to-late 2000s.

Aside from Fallon — who also plays rhythm guitar, harmonica, keyboards and some percussion on Transnational Speedway League — Clutch is Tim Sult on lead guitar, Dan Maines on bass and Jean-Paul Gaster on drums and percussion. Everyone in the band knows how to play their instrument and each gets a moment to shine, but nobody really buries everyone else, which is an accomplishment in itself.

The production of the album is great and you can hear every instrument when you listen for it. It’s clear, but manages to maintain that gritty sound that gives the album its character.

Anyway, how’s this album stand up 20 years later?

The album

The album kicks off with the track that made thousands of us who sat home on Saturday nights watching Headbangers Ball instant fans: “A Shogun Named Marcus.” This groovy little track with just caught us with the following lyrics:

So Beebopalloobopawopshamboo

And domo arigato if I got to

Bebopaloobopawopshamboo

And domo arigato if I got to

Bebopaloobopawopshamboo

And domo arigato if I got to

Bebopaloobopawopshamboo

And domo arigato if I got to”

Is that not awesome? How can you help but not love it?

The song may have not shot up the charts or onto the Headbanger’s Ball top 10 metal video countdown, but it garnered enough fans to set the groundwork for their future success. Those fans, who were probably mostly teenagers like me, have stuck with them for 25 years now and Clutch in return has supplied what seems to be an endless supply of quality music.

Sure, Clutch hasn’t quite reached its psychedelic metal it’s known for on this album, sounding a lot like a heavier version of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones sans horns, but hell, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones are a great band too.

For a debut album from a band that’s still developing its sound, Transnational Speedway League gives a good preview of what’s to come. You hear the elements that Clutch will take and refine, creating a sound that is uniquely them.

Of course, you can still listen to most songs on Transnational Speedway League and say “hey, that’s Clutch.”

There’s a lot to like about this album and, honestly, you can’t really say there’s a bad track on it.

Binge and Purge” is one of my personal favorites, particularly for its ferocity during the part where Fallon roars “C’mon motherfucker, c’mon motherfucker, c’mon motherfucker let’s throw down!”

The ferocity of “Binge and Purge” is followed by another personal favorite “12 Ounce Epilogue.” Now, it’s odd to have a song with “epilogue” in the title in the first half of the album, but that’s just me being a grammar literalist. This song is fast, driven by Maines’ bass and Fallon’s near death metal roar. It’s just a straightforward bashing by sound.

Other standouts include the groovy “Rats” and the slow-paced “Heirloom 13.”

If there is a weak point to the album, I believe it’s the last three songs. Not the songs individually, but grouping them back to back. “Heirloom 13,” “Walking in the Great Shining Path of Monster Trucks” and “Effigy” are pretty slow paced. It kind of makes the album feel like it lumbers to a close and unfortunately creates a feeling of deja vu three times in a role, leading one to think the songs are too similar sounding.

The verdict

I definitely recommend Transnational Speedway League for Clutch completists. I also recommend casual fans give at least the songs I mentioned a listen.

Like I said, it may not be the best Clutch album, but for Clutch, the bar is so high that a weak album for them is “good” compared to most everything else out there overall.

 

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