Now aligned to Clutch’s Weathermaker Music imprint, corporately themed supergroup The Company Band make their latest wager in the form of the five-track Pros and Cons EP. Like the band’s past works – 2009’s self-titled full-length (review here) and 2007’s introductory Sign Here, Here and Here EP – Pros and Cons was produced by Andrew Alekel, and to The Company Band’s credit, aside from replacing bassist Jason Diamond of MIA NYC rockers Puny Human, they’ve managed to hold together a very busy lineup for half a decade now. That lineup shakes down as follows:
Neil Fallon (Clutch): Vocals
Jim Rota (Fireball Ministry): Guitar
Dave Bone: Guitar
Brad Davis (Fu Manchu): Bass
Jess Margera (CKY): Drums
Not exactly small potatoes as regards pedigree, and though The Company Band has never toured – they’re doing a few East Coast shows in support of Pros and Cons – their recorded output has remained as consistent in quality as their lineup has stayed stable. Their process seems to be that every so often the musicians get together and rock out some new tracks and then Fallon either tops those songs in the studio with them, as was the case with the LP, or on his own, as is the case with the new EP. Rota, Bone, Davis and Margera recorded with Alekel out on the West Coast, and Fallon put his vocals to the instrumental tracks afterwards, the steady hands of Clutch familiar J. Robbins helming the recording. The result on these five songs is a few strong chorus, some excellent straightforward riffing, Davis’ always stellar bass, and an overall mixture of elements that’s distinct from each individual part while not necessarily separate in terms of genre. Heavy rock persists, is another way of putting it. Rota has long since proved his songwriting acumen in Fireball Ministry, and he’s got excellent collaborative accompaniment in the rest of The Company Band. Perhaps most importantly, as much as it’s been enjoyable to follow the project’s periodic installments since their 2007 first outing, the players’ enjoyment and respect for each other bleeds into everything they create, and that can be heard here from the opening strains of “House of Capricorn” to the fadeout of “El Dorado”’s catchy title line.
Fallon peppers the lyrics of “House of Capricorn” with the kind of tongue-in-cheek corporate-speak that has in no small part defined the course of the band since their inception. It’s almost an exit interview, or the kind of questionnaire one might get upon calling a “How’s my driving” number on the back of a track. The lines, “Welcome everybody to the House of Capricorn/Here’s a short presentation/Please enjoy your stay and thank you in advance for your kindness and participation,” serve as a verse in what I can only imagine is a perfect live set kickoff. A subtly righteous guitar lead is worked into the end, and with its pointedness of direction, “House of Capricorn” is every bit the strong opening statement, following “Zombie Barricades” from the self-titled and the course-setting “Company Man” from the first EP in that regard. The Company Band, it seems, know how to launch a release. Davis’ bass at the beginning of “Black Light Fever” double-times the guitar and commences to launch a profitable groove in the verse, which leads to a grower chorus, Fallon eventually answering himself in a revivalist mode bound to be familiar to anyone who’s gotten down with latter-day Clutch. Moments like that leave me wondering what would happen if Rota was charged with backup vocal duties, what he might be able to do to complement Fallon’s ultra-distinct, ultra-established methods, and how much potential there is there that’s yet been unexploited. Whatever methods they take to get there, The Company Band has never yet failed to produce top-grade choruses, and as the rest of Pros and Cons plays out, it quickly becomes evident that “House of Capricorn” and “Black Light Fever” are, figuratively as well as literally, just the start.
If anything has changed between 2009’s assemblage and 2012’s – aside from the drum levels; Margera seems lower and more naturally placed in this mix than he did on the full-length – it’s the comfort level overall among the group. The Company Band in 2009 was a side-project with an EP. In 2012, they’re an occasional stopping point from a collection of dudes who enjoy writing and producing songs together. That’s a big difference and it shows in the songs. “Black Light Fever” is a solid follow-up to “House of Capricorn,” and though there’s a dip in terms of catchiness with the centerpiece “Kill Screen,” the track makes up for it with its driving early ‘80s motor rocking riff. Funny that it would be the following cut, “Loc Nar,” that actually makes the reference to the movie Heavy Metal, but “Kill Screen,” at 3:46, is the shortest burst on the EP, fastest and seems as well to be the least centered on a heavy rock groove. In a way, it’s hard to separate a lot of what The Company Band does from Clutch’s legacy, because Clutch has been so pivotal in the development of heavy rock as a whole – not to mention Fallon’s vocals are so easily picked out of a crowd – but “Kill Screen” makes it easiest of all. It’s neither Clutch, nor Fu Manchu, Fireball Ministry, nor CKY. Maybe Bone wrote it. Either way, it might be the farthest The Company Band have yet gone in establishing a personality of their own, and its chief success is in that, whereas with “Loc Nar,” it’s back to the mid-paced nods and the mega-hooks, which, while less distinctly The Company Band’s own, are no less welcome. “Loc Nar” has the best of those hooks, arriving after a familiarly patterned verse, and the song is further distinguished by a quiet, bass-led break in its middle third that leads back to the chorus and out, leaving just the 5:08 closer “El Dorado” to finalize the collective’s presentation for this quarter (decade).
And yeah, it’s fun to use a bunch of corporate-sounding jargon in reviews of The Company Band, and that’s all good times, but what “El Dorado” emphasizes is that these guys are nothing short of masters in their craft. More subdued in its verse with a chorus that picks up some but is still relatively laid back, “El Dorado” is about as close as they’ve yet come to a pastoral feel – the guitar lead after the first chorus leading the way back into the verse is a charming Southern rock hint that contrasts the cyborg-themed lyrics but still works in the song overall. Margera’s snare feels more forward on “El Dorado” than anywhere else, but it isn’t so up front as to annoy, and the song rounds out with a stirring recitation of the title line that works well into the fade. On first listen, I kind of hoped they’d go ultra-stoner rock with it and bring that fade back up for another run, but this is a professional operation, and no such luck. Yet again, The Company Band turn corporate propaganda on its head while sounding neither forced nor hackneyed. If anything, Pros and Cons is their most solid outing yet, as it presents sides of the band that are the most wholly their own yet, while also capitalizing on the experience in craft of its members. I guess that’s the foundation of any strong company, but it works with the band too, and if you haven’t yet signed on to their low APR financing, the latest offer might be the best yet.
Tags: CKy, Clutch, Fireball Ministry, Fu Manchu, The Company Band, The Company Band Clutch, The Company Band Pros and Cons, Weathermaker Music