Monday, 5 October 2020

The Clash - Look Here (1981-1982)

The Magnificent Seven/Hitsville UK/Junco Partner/Ivan Meets GI Joe/The Leader/Something About England/Rebel Waltz/Look Here/The Crooked Beat/Somebody Got Murdered/One More Time/One More Dub/Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)/Up In Heaven (Not Only Here)/Corner Soul/Let's Go Crazy/If Music Could Talk/The Sound Of The Sinners/Police On My Back/Midnight Log/The Equaliser/The Call-Up/Washington Bullets/Broadway/Lose This Skin/Charlie Don't Surf/Mensforth Hill/Junkie Slip/Kingston Advice/The Street Parade/Version City/Living In Fame/Silicone On Sapphire/Version Pardner/Career Opportunities/Shepherd's Delight  

"The album was made for people on oil rigs who couldn't get to a record shop regularly" - Mick Jones 
On to this controversial album. Bloated, self-indulgent, 15 tracks too long,..all the contemporary and continuing criticisms hold water. However, for me, despite all those drawbacks, it is only the last few tracks that I feel I could do without.

Sandinista! (inspired by the Nicaraguan left-wing resistance group) is a veritable cornucopia of musical styles - hip hop, rap, rockabilly, Americana, folk, cajun, country, 60s pop, disco, Motown, reggae, dub, jazz, bluegrass, gospel, calypso, funk, doo-wop, rock n roll, even waltz...why, they are all there. Everything it seems...except punk. The very thing that had catapulted The Clash on the road to stardom has been eschewed, big time.

To an extent, after the cross-genre success of London Calling, The Clash had suddenly become almost mainstream, and with that came an arrogance and cocksure attitude of untouchability and a feeling that they could get as drug-addled as they liked and, in White Album style, record what the hell they liked - rubbish or not.

From all accounts the sessions for the album, initially in Jamaica (initially the album was to be far more reggae-flavoured, featuring Mikey Dread as producer) and subsequently in New York City, were chaotic and over-populated with numerous musicians and hangers-on. Several different people played bits here and there on the album, it is certainly not all the four members only, far from it. Sometimes drummer Topper Headon was either too drugged up or frustrated by some of Strummer and Jones’ ideas and bassist Paul Simonon was missing on some occasions. Norman Watt-Roy (bass) and Mickey Gallagher keyboards) from The Blockheads were present for quite a lot of the sessions.

At times it seemed as if Strummer and Jones had been inspired by London Calling producer, legendary nutter Guy Stevens as they became increasingly off the wall in some of their musical experimentation. They also were apparently motivated to piss CBS executives off over various perceived injustices - still wanting to wilfully stick it to management, punk-style. Granted, you can pretty much write off most of “side six” of the original vinyl album, with its four dub versions that sort of became The Clash’s Revolution 9 or their equivalent of the final "jam" side of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, but, for the most part, their drug-fuelled apparent lunacy worked well. Time has served the album well, too, and it is now quite the revered creation.

Quite what they were trying to achieve with this album, however, is still unclear as indeed is whether they ever achieved it or not. Opinions are still divided. For some it is their best work. For others it is a sprawling, indulgent, intoxicated mess. Me, I have always had a lot of affection for it. It has become quite a fashionable thing among Clash aficionados to cherry pick their best tracks and make their own personal Sandinista!. So, I will do the same. There are too many tracks to detail them one by one so I will pick out my highlights to check out -

The Magnificent Seven - The Clash's first use of the burgeoning genre of hip/hop as an influence on a lengthy, lyric-laden, frantic urban rap. It has a totally infectious rhythm to it. Lyrically, it is wry and witty, again showing that the group had a sharp, humorous, observant side to them. A month before Blondie's Rapture, it was the first song from a white group to use hip/hop rhythms and, although the vocals were not pure rap as such, they were most definitely rap-influenced. The sound here was the first brick in the foundations of Mick Jones' next group, Big Audio Dynamite. Despite the rousing fare The Clash remain famous for, this is up there as one of their best ever songs.

Hitsville UK - Mick Jones' then girlfriend Ellen Foley leads the vocals on this quirkily appealing, Motown-influenced number. It stands out completely from the rest of the album due to its unashamed poppiness and female vocal. Nobody could really say it was The Clash, it was just a good song, written by them.

Something About England - Jones delivers a plaintive, heavily orchestrated song about British social history. Jones always had a good feel for the past, particularly London's, and it comes through clearly here.

The Crooked Beat - Dubby reggae grooves and typically deadpan vocals from Paul Simonon and supplementary toasting vocals from Mikey Dread.

Somebody Got Murdered - The only remotely riffy/new wave number on the album, along with Police On My Back. Jones's trademark melodious guitar and plaintively light vocal are great and it would not have been out of place on London Calling. On first listen to the album, I remember being taken aback, initially, by the music of the preceding tracks and being reassured by this one that The Clash were still The Clash.

One More Time/One More Dub - A muscular, dubby Strummer piece of urban observation over a slowed down vaguely funk/rock/dub beat. Once again, Mikey Dread lends his toasting skills to proceedings. It mines the same dubby seam that Armagideon Time had done and is full of late seventies/early eighties punky reggae party crossover vibes.

If Music Could Talk - A bit similar to Broadway. A jazzy, saxophone-enhanced laid-back stream of consciousness from Strummer. A fine bass line (Watt-Roy, I am sure, but never confirmed) renders it an intoxicating offering, one of the album's unsung heroes. It is a deceptively fine offering. Its barely comprehensible lyrics contain a wealth of great lines - you definitely need the lyric sheet, though.

The Sound Of The Sinners - The Clash try their hand at gospel on this lively, fun number, assisted by Den Hegarty (who does the Vicar voice at the end too) from doo-wop/pop group Darts. You can't help but be lifted by this as Strummer gets into it. To think that a punk group could now be experimenting with stuff like this would have been incomprehensible in 1977. It shows just what a clever guy Joe Strummer was. It is intuitively brilliant.

Police On My Back - The album's only truly punk riff can be found on the intro to this tub-thumper. It is a cover of an Eddy Grant song.

The Equaliser - More reggae-influence here, this time from Strummer. Very dubby in places. It is chock full of dub atmosphere, those funny synth-drum noises and some excellent electric violin enhancement. The vocals are sparse, but that adds to the whole feeling - one of a menacing, late-night urban landscape. It is a song that gets int your system and the refrain of "we don't want no gang boss - we want to equalise..." sticks in your head from the first listen. In many ways, material like this was just as representative of The Clash's sound as White Riot or London Calling. Check out that big rumbling bass - later-era Clash heaven.

The Call Up - One of the album's more commercial-sounding numbers. It contains a great hook, an evocative, haunting ambience and a strong anti-war message. Listening to those sirens and military drums at the beginning still sends shivers down my spine, as does Strummer's baleful, foreboding-laden vocal.

Washington Bullets - One of the albums best cuts. Full of cynical political comment concerning Latin American/US corruption, based, no doubt, on the Sandinista-Nicaragua-US situation. I have always loved the line "in a war-torn zone, stop any mercenary - check the British bullets in his armoury...".

Broadway - Possibly the album's most surprising track - a totally un-Clash piece of late night, slurry jazzy blues. Who would have thought, three years ago, they would have done stuff like this? "It ain't fault it's six o'clock in the morning..." groans a totally done-in sounding Strummer as a jazzy reggae beat tiredly kicks in. You feel you have a hangover yourself just listening to it. Beneath its surface torpor lies a great, almost Bowie-esque piece of gold, however. The piano/bass/drum interplay reminds me of Aladdin Sane and Mike Garson's piano.


Charlie Don't Surf - Strummer's Vietnam obsession rears its head, quoting the movie Apocalypse Now on a shuffling, rhythmic groove. It is a song more popular with others than it is with me, so its place in this list is precarious.

Version City - One of the only truly listenable tracks on the last side, in fact the only one. It is a fetchingly rhythmic piece of bluesy funk with impressive bass and harmonica swirling around. A last late treat. Actually, I tell a lie, Mikey Dread's dub-drenched Living In Fame (a dub version of If Music Could Talk) kicks dubby ass too.

There you go. More than enough to be getting on with. Stick with it. It gets better with each listen. It is probably clear, though, that I have selected according to my taste - the reggae/dubby ones are there plus the more vaguely Clash-sounding ones. Some of the initially weirder ones (perhaps) - the bluegrass and folky Americana numbers like the jazzy Mose Allison cover Look Here, the actually pretty irresistible bluesy jazz of Midnight Log and the thoroughly atmospheric Rebel Waltz haven't made it, neither the frantic, bassy doo-wop anti-media rant of The Leaderthe politically-inspired pop/dance groove of Ivan Meets GI Joe or the complex pseudo funk/rap of Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice). Despite the eclecticism of these tracks, it was a close thing for all of them. I could make a case for any of them.

Then there is the catchy, reggae-influenced groove of Strummer's Junco Partner, madcap fiddler Tymon Dogg's guest contribution, the folky Lose This Skin and the lyrically Latin-inspired, beguiling Corner Soul. All good tracks that compete for a place on an abridged version of the album. Jones's riffy and tuneful Up In Heaven (Not Only Here) deserves to make the cut, to be fair. It is very similar in feel to Somebody Got Murdered, just not quite as instantly appealing. The bass and drums at the end remind me a lot of Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler from The Jam. The punky dub sound of Kingston Advice is an underrated track from amid the murk of the album's final passages. There are also good points to The Street Parade, with its fine funky saxophone and the loose vibe of Junkie Slip.

Thinking about it again, as I always do with this album, I may put the catchy steel band and calypso-influenced Let's Go Crazy in there. Yes, I will - you see, I've changed my mind already - that's the whole point with Sandinista!, it gets you thinking about all the tracks on offer and all their manifold differences. In the end I find I want to put about twenty-five or more tracks on there, giving me at least a double album's worth. In fact, take the original album's first four sides and you've got a great double. I will also make one final belated case for the dub versions on side six too - back in 1981 people just weren't used to nearly a whole side being made up of such seemingly indulgent "filler" fare but, taken as part of a box set of music these days, where endless demo and alternative versions thrive, they would be accepted far more, for they aren't bad at all. Shepherd's Delight, for example, with its braying farmyard noises, received a severe slagging at the time, but Lee "Scratch" Perry has used similar noises several times and is hailed as a dub master.

Mick Jones, slightly tongue-in-cheek, later said the overflowing album was made for people on oil rigs who couldn't get to a record shop regularly. Whatever, it is certainly a remarkable piece of work. Every time I listen to it, the more I think that it is a work of bloody instinctive genius.

** The non-album material from the period included the atmospheric single Bankrobber, with its reggae influences and its dub b side Robber Dub

Also around was Rockers Galore, an addictive number which utilised the Bankrobber rhythm together with vocals from roots reggae artist Mikey Dread about touring with the band.


Other b sides were the muffled vaguely jazzy anti-nuclear protest number, Stop The World (from The Call Up), The Cool Out (an enjoyable instrumental version of The Call Up), Radio One (from Hitsville UK), which has Mikey Dread toasting over a dubby beat for six minutes and The Magnificent Dance, a deep, bongo-driven, funky instrumental version of the single The Magnificent Seven

There was also the experimental dance/hip-hop of the stand alone single This Is Radio Clash, which had an alternative version of the same song as its b side. The latter is a minute short and is slightly more funky and urgent. Both of them are quirkily impressive, though, as the band changed direction again.

A rarity from 1980 is a cover of the Brenda Holloway song, Every Little Bit Hurts. It was recorded as Jones liked the song, in two takes. For such a incongruous song for The Clash to record, it is done surprisingly well, with Jones on vocals over a nice soulful backing. Heaven knows what people would have thought if this had been released as a single! Norman Watt-Roy of The Blockheads plays a sumptuous bass on it. Neither Joe Strummer or Paul Simonon were involved in its recording.


Combat Rock (1982)

Know Your Rights/Car Jamming/Should I Stay Or Should I Go/Rock The Casbah/Red Angel Dragnet/Straight To Hell/Overpowered By Funk/Atom Tan/Sean Flynn/Ghetto Defendant/Inoculated City/Death Is A Star  

"Their biggest seller - but the beginning of the end" - Q Magazine   
Released in 1982, this was the last proper Clash album, and, to be honest, the one to which I return to least frequently. It was the one that people who knew little about the group's first album bought, attracted by the big hit single that it contained. It has never convinced me as an album, unfortunately. I find it lacks cohesion and intent.

Let me try and explain why. Unlike many, I have never particularly liked the Stonesy and incredibly popular Should I Stay Or Should I Go, and also, as the old “side two” progresses, the songs get increasingly lazy and unappealing - particularly the melodic but strangely incoherent Inoculated City and the rambling, jazzy Lou Reed's Berlin-esque Death Is A Star. These latter two tracks tried, but failed, to summon up a post-apocalyptic Diamond Dogs-style urban nightmare. I know where they were trying to go, but they never got there, for me. They remind me of the final batch of comparatively patchy compositions from Sandinista!. The band were imploding behind the scenes - Strummer and Jones constantly rowing, Headon taking more drugs. These sub-standard songs stand as examples of that, for me. 

The half-formed, experimental Sean Flynn could also fall into that category, but it has a sort of atmospheric appeal to it. The same is true of Ghetto Defendant, which is very beguiling, with its spoken lyric part about Jean Arthur Rimbaud and the Paris commune. This is quite a typical track for this album - apparently full of meaning, portent and importance - full of lyrics about nineteenth century Paris and so on but maybe just full of pretentious guff. The same applies to the Vietnam mystery and romanticism of Sean Flynn - Joe Strummer was always fascinated by Vietnam and this is also reflected in the "Vietnam chic" of the SE Asian/tropical front cover. 

So, while there was some commercial stuff on here, there was also, as I have highlighted, some sloppy, half-baked material too. The same accusations can be levelled at Atom Tan, which is ok, but doesn't really get anywhere with its slightly clumsy vocals, although Paul Simonon's Red Angel Dragnet has a gritty, bassy appeal, though. Half reggae, half funk, it has a mysterious allure to it added to by Simonon's decidedly odd semi-spoken vocal. He had a strange manner of diction, did Simonon. These tracks are acceptable, but, previous to this, The Clash hadn't done simply acceptable, had they?

On to the good stuff, however, of which there was some - my personal favourites have always been the quirky, infectiously rhythmic number, Car Jamming; the visceral, confrontational, politically-motivated minimalism of Know Your Rights and the monumental, evocative Vietnam-inspired Straight To Hell, with its intoxicating South East Asian percussion sound and moving narrative. There is a case for this being one of The Clash's finest ever tracks, it builds up superbly and is packed full of atmosphere, both musically and lyrically. Topper Headon's Eastern-style drumming is completely intoxicating.

These are the high-points of the album though. As I have said, it is certainly not all of the same standard. There are still a couple more to discuss, however - one of which was a huge hit.


"This is a public service announcement, with guitar..." barks Strummer at the start of Know Your Rights. It was a promising start, but unfortunately, by the end of the album, I can't help feeling that it had become a patchy one overall. It just seems to ebb away, losing energy and commitment with each track. Overpowered By Funk tries to continue where The Magnificent Seven left off, with its frantic rhythm, but doesn’t quite get there, for me, despite having good points, such as being packed full of witty lyrics.

Of course, I have to say that Rock The Casbah was an absolutely great single too, with a killer chorus and catchy piano riff. Look - all things considered, it is not a bad album, but only a “good in parts” one - a bit like The Jam's last album, The Gift. You could somehow feel the lack of cohesion within the band's dynamic, though. It definitely comes across in the songs and their running order. The first half of the album (the old "side one"), is definitely the superior. Not long after this The Clash as we knew them were no more. That was no surprise, really. However, let it not be forgotten that it had been five simply great years.

Thanks for the memories and the music.

** The non-album material from 1982 included the evocative, underrated b side of Know Your RightsMick JonesFirst Night Back In London. I love this track for its broody, menacing late night urban simplicity and it is one of my favourite Clash obscurities. It was miles away from the band's debut album but then so was everything they did in 1982.

There were three other b sides, the lively, modern rockabilly of Long Time Jerk (from Rock The Casbah), the industrially harsh, gritty reggae of Cool Confusion from the 12" release of Should I Stay Or Should I Go and the bongos and bass version of Rock The Casbah in Mustapha Dance, also from that track's single release.  

There were also three tracks from the sessions for this album that were not used. They were the lazily melodic paean to madcap producer Guy StevensMidnight To Stevens, which dated from the pre-Combat Rock sessions in 1981, the oddly jaunty Latin-ish pop of The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too from 1982 and Idle In Kangaroo Court, which had a staccato, jerky Caribbean beat that was pretty difficult to categorise. All these songs would not have been out of place on Sandinista! Actually they would have done ok replacing some of the less impressive tracks on Combat Rock.

Of all the Mick Jones-supervised 2014 remasters, this is the one in which there is little difference between this and the 1999 remaster. The others sound revelatory, not so much on this one, for whatever reason.


From Here To Eternity: LIVE 1978-1982

Complete Control/London's Burning/What's My Name/Clash City Rockers/Career Opportunities/(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais/Capital Radio/City Of The Dead/I Fought The Law/London Calling/Armagideon Time/Train In Vain/The Guns Of Brixton/The Magnificent Seven/Know Your Rights/Should I Stay Or Should I Go/Straight To Hell/Drug Stabbing Time/Janie Jones   

As noted elsewhere, not much Clash live material exists. Live At Shea Stadium is the only full concert recording, otherwise it is six tracks on the Sound System box set, or this excellent compilation of live recordings that date between 1978-82. They are not in chronological order and come from various concerts, but, strangely enough, they play like one concert and the track list reads like a convincing set list. The wonders of digital technology allow you to programme the tracks in chronological order, should you so wish. 
The older ones are, unsurprisingly, more rough and ready, but the sound quality is pretty good on all of them. Complete Control is just an excellent opener and there are storming versions of London's BurningWhat's My Name, Clash City RockersCity Of The Dead and the piledriving I Fought The Law as far as the punkier tracks go.

The reggae/dub ones such as a dubby Armagideon Time, featuring Mikey Dread, and Guns Of Brixton are great too. Even the difficult to play (I should imagine) White Man In Hammersmith Palais is done well. 

Train In Vain features a great bass line from Paul Simonon. London Calling bristles with all the vitality of the original. 

The Magnificent Seven rumbles on full of bass and funk rock. Great stuff. Know Your Rights was always an underrated, latter day Clash classic and the same applies to the marvellously evocative Straight To Hell, which loses none of its atmosphere here. 

Overall, it is as good as we are going to get. Such a pity nothing more is available and that no radio broadcasts have come out of the woodwork, as they have done for so many US bands.

Live At Shea Stadium (1982)

Intro/London Calling/Police On My Back/The Guns Of Brixton/Tommy Gun/The Magnificent Seven/Armagideon Time/The Magnificent Seven (Return)/Rock The Casbah/Train In Vain/Career Opportunities/Spanish Bombs/Clampdown/English Civil War/Should I Stay Or Should I Go/I Fought The Law

There is a paucity of live Clash material, apart from From Here To Eternity, which is a compilation of live cuts from 1977-1982, there is not much else. This, at least, is a full concert, from the end of The Clash's sadly all-too-short career, supporting The Who in the USA in 1982. They weren’t headlining though. The crowd were there to see The Who.

It is a shame that by now, The Clash had become a "stadium band" supporting a big, bloated rock act in the US. I prefer to remember them as I saw them, in 1000-capacity venues like Friars, Aylesbury or London's Lyceum. That was the true essence of The Clash live, a thousand pogoing, sweaty punks in a cramped indoor venue, not huddling from the rain outdoors, as they are here. Some of that feeling is caught on From Here To Eternity where there are some earlier tracks, but actually, about a third of that album comes from the 1982 US tour. There are also six tracks from 1978 at the London Lyceum included in the Sound System box set. These are probably the best live cuts out there.


Despite that, the material here is good. The band deliver some excellent versions that cover their all too brief career. A great mix of The Magnificent Seven and Armagideon Time; a powerful opener in London Calling followed by a rousing Police On My Back and then the bemused audience trying to make sense of the punky reggae of Guns Of Brixton.

Unfortunately, a punk classic like Career Opportunities gets a bit "stadium-ised" and loses a lot of its original energy. However, overall, the album is a good one. The sound quality is surprisingly good for an outdoor gig from 1982. A powerful memory of just how good The Clash were and what a shame it was that they split soon after this. Any bad feeling is certainly not apparent here, they go for it.

I must admit to a certain amount of pride listening to this oh-so-British band hitting the American audience between the eyes with London Calling at the beginning of the show. Then Joe Strummer tells the audience to “stop yakking” during Police On My Back. You tell ‘em Joe.


The Clash Goes Jamaican: Various Artists

This is a most interesting compilation. Given The Clash's love for reggae, it is not surprising that someone eventually came up with the idea of having various reggae artists covering The Clash's music in authentic reggae style. The artists are not well-known ones, but it doesn't matter, the sound quality and delivery is excellent. In fact, I haven't heard of any of the artists.

The songs are played in various reggae styles - rocksteady, dub, roots, lovers, ska. There are thirty-one tracks on the album, and a bit like The "Bryan Ferry Orchestra's" jazz interpretations of Ferry and Roxy Music's material, some are more recognisable than others. More of these are identifiable compared to that album, however. Some have vocals, others are purely instrumentals. Surprisingly, two of The Clash's most authentic reggae cuts, Armagideon Time and Guns Of Brixton are not one here. I think the intention was more to "reggae-fy" less obvious contenders.

Spanish Bombs is done in a melodious, easy style with a fetching female vocal and some sumptuous Rico Rodriguez-style trombone at the end. White Riot is turned into a dubby instrumental, which is certainly interesting. Of course, it takes away all the song's fire and attack, but it is a good piece of dubby groove anyway. Ghetto Defendant uses the same slightly sampled spoken vocals of the original and the beat is not much changed from the original. Train In Vain is given a lively ska makeover, as is London Calling, which is given a mysterious vocal. White Man (In Hammersmith Palais) keeps in intoxicating original skank ad has a convincing vocal. Nothing experimental on this one, more like a reasonably authentic cover version.

I Fought The Law has a vibrant, lively ska bluebeat rhythm. It is irresistible. Clampdown sounds not so much like reggae, but more like early T. Rex, with its frenetic bongo backing. A dubby groove doesn't really work with Janie Jones, though. Washington Bullets has a croaking "toasting" Prince Far I-style vocal order a Latin acoustic rhythm. Bankrobber has a rocksteady sixties beat to it, driven by melodic keyboards. Revolution Rock is dreamily dubby in an Aswad/Third World sort of way. Stay Free has a seventies mid-pace, horn-driven ska beat that really suits it. Straight To Hell is beautifully dubby, with no vocals. Safe European Home skanks it up to the max and with a growling vocal sounds superb. Lovers Rock is played dubby and rootsy by Chris Murray and in a sort of psychedelic way by Sarah Connors (quite who Sarah is is unclear - the track has a male vocal). Rebel Waltz is a ska-ed up slice of dub.

Ok, I could go on about the style of each track, but I am sure you get the picture. It is an interesting album of covers done in a myriad of reggae styles and is worthy of half an hour's dipping into every now and again.

Cut The Crap (1985)

Dictator/Dirty Punk/We Are The Clash/Are You Red...y/Cool Under Heat/Movers And Shakers/This Is England/Three Card Trick/Play To Win/Fingerpoppin'/North And South/Life Is Wild

This, then, is The Clash's last sad chapter. Three years after their split, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon* re-convened with two "gun-for-hire" guitarists, a keyboard player and a new drummer to produce an album which has been all but airbrushed, Gary Glitter-style, from Clash history. I remember buying it on cassette and playing it on new new Sony Walkman back in 1985, feeling really disappointed, having expected so much more. Does it deserve a re-assessment? Possibly, from a completist point of view, but not in order to grant it anything like a reasonable amount of kudos. 

* Simonon didn't appear on the final recordings, being replaced by The Blockheads' excellent Norman Watt-Roy. ( I have never been truly convinced that Simonon played on the band's debut album either, whisper it quietly)

The problem with the album is that, while it contains some reasonable Strummer songs -including one absolute classic and one 9/10 one - it is a victim of the eighties. Mick Jones' clarion call guitar has been replaced by deafening synthesiser riffs which all but drown out Strummer's typically garbled vocals and furthermore, the guitarists leant some terrace-style chanted backing vocals to most of the songs too. Were the songs kept as bass/guitar/drum and Strummer ones, it may have been a much better album. In many cases, it is the production as opposed to the songs which sees it fall down so lamely.

Anyway, let's take a listen, shall we? For the first time in thirty-five years.

Dictator starts well, with some radio frequency sampling and a fine bit of attacking percussion but then the synths, synth drums and the backing vocals kick in, Strummer's incoherent at best vocals can barely be picked out and the whole thing becomes a synth-dominated mess. Oh for no keyboards and some proper drums because the song does have some potential, somewhere. as it stands, though, it is a sad postscript to the career of "the only band that matters".

Dirty Punk starts with some debut album-style grinding riffery but then the multi-voice oik-ish backing vocals arrive, as I said, drowning out Strummer. It is lively enough, however. 

We Are The Clash is an absolute nadir for the reconstructed band as they become Sham 69 with keyboards, full of football crowd chanting, telling us that "we don't want to be treated like trash, we got one thing, 'cos we are The Clash". Oh dear. Try not releasing stuff like this, then. The song sounds a bit like The Ruts too, and once more, Strummer's voice is far too low down in the mix - always indistinct, it is now barely discernable.

A programmed but catchy beat backs Are You Red...y (not sure about the title). Again, it is ok, but is blighted by synths and more too-loud, boorish, braying backing vocals. 

Cool Under Heat is a riffy number that closes what was a pretty lamentable 'side one' and is probably the best of a bad lot, but guess what? You got it - it is ruined by the chorus vocals. 

Oh, I forgot about Movers And Shakers - this is one that follows the same blueprint, I'm afraid - a good song spoilt by the instrumentation of the time. Give it some classic Jones riffs, ditch those accursed synths and it wouldn't be half so bad.

Now the standard ups considerably. This Is England is a stonker of a Clash classic. It is the only one from this era to be acknowledged, appearing as it does in the Singles Box Set. It is anthemic in its ambience - Strummer spitting out his 'does it mean everything/does it mean nothing?' perplexing invective that gets one all self-righteous whether you know what he is going on about or not. For once, the keyboard backing is most effective, as are the programmed drums. "This is England, this knife's from Sheffield steel. This is England, this is how we feel.." slurs Joe, effectively. It's bloody great - one million times the superior of Should I Stay Or Should I Go. Stick it on Combat Rock and it would improve that album considerably. 

That goes for the next one too - a spine-tingling Clash reggae rock groove in Three Card Trick - a track that wouldn't have sounded out of place on London Calling. Strummer's voice has that pathos in his growl that I so loved and so dearly miss. Great track. End of. 

Play To Win has echoes of Big Audio Dynamite in its sampling and airs of some of Sandinista! too. It contains a feel of detached mystery that serves it well. For once you can hear Watt-Roy's dubby bass - just. 

Fingerpoppin' is not the Ike & Tina Turner song but a half decent Strummer semi-funky groove. 

North And South isn't too bad either, beneath the murk. 

Life Is Wild is sort of Strummer by numbers, with that awful chorus vocal featuring again. Not a great end to not a great album. 

Look, there are clear and obvious faults in this album's entire conception, but, beneath that, some of the songs are better than the worst, laziest ones on Combat Rock so there is a tiny positive to go away with. I have written much more about this than that album so that has to say something - maybe it is my frustration pouring out though.


Clash "best of" compilations are best served by these three:-


  1. I wanted to see if you reviewed Cut the Crap. Guess not. Instead of Cut the Crap it should have been called This is Crap. LMAO. I have a friend who loves it and thinks it is truly great. He says it's just that nobody understands it and it's really one of their best albums.

  2. Yes, there is that school of thought about Cut The Crap - that it is a work of genius.

    I used to have the CD but no longer. I haven't reviewed it, maybe I ought to! It has somehow been airbrushed out of Clash history. For example, I saw The Clash live four times (1978, 1980 x 2 and 1982) but I also saw the Cut The Crap line up (in 1983 I think) but I don't count that. A bit like when I saw Springsteen without the E St. Band. Not the same.

    This Is England is a great song, though.

  3. By the way, are you familiar with much of Joe Strummer's solo work? I've reviewed some of it.

    Oh and that guy on Aphoristical's site was very sneery about Neil Diamond, wasn't he? Personally I don't give a shit who is "cool" or not. If I like it, I like it.

  4. I have reviewed Cut The Crap now (see above).

    It think it was 1984 I saw this line-up, not 1983.

  5. I've heard either one or two of those Mescalero albums and one like solo one I think. None of them really stuck with me.
    I'm glad you reviewed cut the crap cuz I wanted to see what you had to say. At least you're able to differentiate between the tracks because I can't even do that much. To me they all have the exact same awful sound, and I never really learned one from the other. And all his cheap political sloganeering was okay in The Clash because the music was so good. But on this album it kind of just lands with a thud. It doesn't go down easy at all like it did on The Clash albums. But I never really liked Combat Rock too much either. Everything that sounded great on Sandinista just wasn't as good on Combat. I guess the singles were okay and gave the Clash a couple really big hits in America, which I think were their only ones here.

  6. I agree - the sound is god-awful. As I said in some of the reviews, Strummer's lyrics sounded meaningful but, for me, I often didn't really get the meaning, it just sounded good and gave me something to rail at. I agreed with Strummer's political stance (or at least I think I did!). As you say, in The Clash it was the whole package that appealed.

    Personally, Combat Rock is easily the worst of the Clash albums.

  7. About 10 years ago I went to this flea market that I always go to because they have a whole bunch of people selling used vinyl and CDs, and I found this vinyl that was some kind of promo thing of Sandinista that I think had 15 tracks on it and they were mostly the ones that I like the most. And I thought that this was how they should have released the album instead of the three disc thing. It was really good. And then one time I had some kind of 12 inch dance thing that had Radio Clash and Magnificent 7 and different versions of those and something else. it was awesome.

  8. Yes, a double Sandinista! would have been fine, but somehow I'm used to the triple album format after all these years.

    Are you a big vinyl guy? Most knowledgeable music fans seem to be - apart from me! I hate it. No, I fucking hate it. All that deteriorating sound with every play, scratches, jumps, dust and having to get up and change the disc every fifteen minutes (or three for a single). I don't even have a CD player anymore. All my collection is digital (50,000+ songs), something that horrifies many people. I enjoyed collecting lots of vinyl singles and albums when it was all there was, but as soon as cassettes gave you 45 minutes of continual, uninterrupted music I was sold on that, and on the 'random mix/playlist' concept. I sold my last vinyl back in 1993.

    I miss album covers though, I have to say, and the feel of an album in my hands.

  9. Well actually, I'm not really a vinyl collector anymore. I stopped around 10 years ago. And unbelievably, now I only listen to music by streaming. I thought that would never happen. I even got rid of most of my vinyl. That's okay because it was getting to be too much of a pain in the ass lugging all that s*** around with you every time you move. The chips too heavy and takes up too much room. I didn't feel like lugging it around anymore. All I've got left is a few crates up in my brothers attic. Probably about a hundred or so albums maybe. And I haven't even had a turntable in 4 or 5 years ever since my last one took a shit. But mostly I collected vinyl just for the sake of collecting it. After a while I rarely even listened to the ones that bought.

  10. "I collected (vinyl) just for the sake of it". Your quote really rings a bell with me. I have collected loads of stuff over the years just for the sake of it. Every now and again I come across an album and think I will check it out, only to find that I already have it and have never played it. I don't know what's in my own collection.

    Worse by far than vinyl obsessives, though, are "audiophiles" - people who are more bothered about sound masterings than the actual music itself and spend their time analysing waveform graphs and moaning about compression etc. Give me a break - just listen to the music.