Main Index Page General Ratings Page Rock Chronology Page Song Search Page New Additions Message Board


"Nothing stands the pressure of the clash city rockers"

Class C

Main Category: Punk/Grunge
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Reggae
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties




Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Clash fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Clash fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

For reading convenience, please open the reader comments section in a parallel browser window.


Trying to put down the Clash is just as ridiculous as putting down the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, for these guys were both the Beatles and Led Zep for the whole punk generation. Like 'em or not, they're there; you can say "I hate that fuckin' Mount Everest and its stupid look" for all you want, but unless you actually get there and cut it down with a pickaxe, nobody's gonna be interested. Personal relationship is a different thing altogether, and I do have a hard time with unbridled Clash veneration, although definitely nowhere near as hard as I have with the Sex Pistols, but you saw that coming.

The best thing about the Clash, I guess, is that these guys were BIG. Maybe more so than any other late Seventies/early Eighties band, even more than the Police (although these guys come close), they starkly refused to be pigeonholed, proving that there was still time and place for the Renaissance-like approach to music as, well, Music, not as a circular pie neatly cut into slices where you're supposed to take one and leave the rest to somebody who knows better. They started out as more or less pure punk (although already their first album showed signs of poppiness and incorporated reggae influences as well), then moved closer to traditional hard rock, and then exploded into a gazillion of styles, combining their modernistic preoccupation with punk riffs, disco beats, and electronic pulses with a newly-found love for reggae, jazz, pop, and rockabilly. Boasting two talented songwriters (Joe Strummer and Mick Jones) and a highly professional - for a supposedly "punk" outfit - rhythm session, they not only did everything, but also did everything well, enough to earn their legendary status and all. Eventually, they got so big, with the triple Sandinista! album, that even the mainstream rock press thought it a bit too much (although as time goes by and "pretentious" starts losing some of its negative flair, Sandinista! gets progressively more and more acclaim); but the fun thing is that the Clash only really started to suck when they made a conscious attempt to pigeonhole themselves - and then they started sucking really really bad.

The Clash had also a lot of social relevance, but I guess I don't need to tell you that; in the era of early Eighties' conservatism, they were at the forefront of the liberal movement in art, and provided the soundtrack to the life of not only socially conscious angry punks, but more or less to every sensible person with a democratic state of mind (and I don't mean their debut record here, more like the London Calling/Sandinista! stuff). One can now start a long discussion about whether the Clash were putting on an act or not, but the important thing is that to my ear, their music sounds sincere and nowhere near contrived. Sure Joe Strummer was a middle-class kid from boarding school, but he did consciously choose to mess around with low-class "scum" instead, and while his lyrics, quite sophisticated for a "punk" (compare any random Clash song with any equally random Sex Pistols song and you'll see what I mean), betray his education and intelligence, his tenure has always been radically anti-establishment. Yeah, even on Cut The Crap.

It also amazes me how fast the band made the transition from minimalistic arrangements and melodies to an all-out celebration of complexity and sophistication - and yet managed not to betray the "spirit" that was already there starting right from 1977. Melodically, I couldn't say the Clash are among the greatest of all time, but they're in the second row for sure, with a serious knack for hooklines and captivating, emotional tunes, a knack that only grew with time (yes, I am ready to run ahead and tell you that I actually think their self-titled album is one of their weakest), at least, until they made the fatal mistake of kicking out Mick Jones and trying to grow mohawks or something. Plus, there's the insane rate of productivity. During the "Golden Years" (1979-1980), they churned out five LPs worth of material - not free of filler, as far as I think, but with an awfully impressive percentage of first-class material at that; I guess they could hold a sort of personal record to be the band that has recorded the maximum number of good songs in a two-year period.

In short, The Clash are a force to be reckoned with, no doubt about that. Are they overrated? Oh sure, if you mean "General Critical Opinion". Too much responsibility has been laid on their shoulders, more than any mortal could possibly bear, and they are, partially at least, responsible for that responsibility themselves - an album like London Calling tacitly implies that whoever did it lays claim to the title of "Greatest Rock Band In The World", whether he explicitly says it or not. And personally, I prefer more humble displaying of megalomania - like The White Album, for instance, whose humour, seeming disjointedness and generally unpretentious atmosphere prove that the Beatles weren't succumbing to any delusions of grandeur at the time. Or, if we're speaking of contemporaries, I will always cherish the Police above the Clash, too. Both bands, by the way, were quite similar: both started out with punkish backgrounds (much less evident in the case of the Police, though), both experimented with reggae, both had their sound rapidly evolving over a matter of just a few years, both became artsier and artsier as the years went by, yet neither actually betrayed their initial "vision", if there ever was one. Yet the Police always valued substance over style and image (at least until the beginning of Sting's epochal ego trip on Synchronicity), whereas I couldn't really say the same about the Clash.

Still, fact is, the Clash were great. It's pointless to deny that. Who else but an utterly great band can make five time-defining LPs in two years and then make the biggest pile of stinkin' crap to ever come out of the hands of a seminal act? Not even Rod Stewart could boast such a double achievement.

Lineup: Mick Jones - lead guitar, vocals; Joe Strummer - rhythm guitar, vocals; Paul Simonon - bass; Topper Headon - drums. Headon left, 1982, replaced by old band member Terry Chimes. Chimes left 1983, replaced by Pete Howard. Jones got kicked out of the band, late 1983, replaced by Nick Sheppard and Vince White, both on guitars. The group disbanded for good in 1985.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

No immense social importance can hide the fact that this is... just... a good record.


Track listing: 1) Clash City Rockers; 2) I'm So Bored With The USA; 3) Remote Control; 4) Complete Control; 5) White Riot; 6) White Man In Hammersmith Palais; 7) London's Burning; 8) I Fought The Law; 9) Janie Jones; 10) Career Opportunities; 11) What's My Name; 12) Hate And War; 13) Police And Thieves; 14) Jail Guitar Doors; 15) Garageland.

So here it is, the most famous album from the entire punk scene, the "one punk album to buy if you only buy one", the indispensable Bible of every trendy critic alive and the supposedly greatest "teen anger" record of all time. I've been laying off on actually putting down a review for this sucker for a ve-e-e-ry long time because, frankly speaking, I'm absolutely not in love with it like the rest of the world, and my review will probably not please anybody. But like an enraged warhorse, I plummet on, and here is what I've got to say.

The Clash is usually discussed with regard to both of its versions - the American one and the earlier, original, British one. The American is the one more readily available on CD, and this is the one I have: it omits a few tracks from the original in favour of a couple of the band's more well-known singles, as was the usual practice. Not having heard the British version, I can't really compare the two; rumours have it that the American song selection is stronger, but the album flows somewhat more poorly than the original as a result. You take it from here. Only thing I can say is it's a wonder the Americans haven't edited out 'I'm So Bored With The U.S.A.' with its absolutely transparent anti-American message (of course, it's not about the American people, rather about the American way of life, but shouldn't that message enrage the big bosses from the record industry even further? Talk about embarrassing...)

Anyway, this CD puts together fifteen prime punk rock numbers - yeah, the ones that sound all the same on first, second and third listen. I won't speak a lot about how monotonous and samey all this stuff sounds, though, as it's the usual punk trademark and it's already been dealt with in the intro paragraph. Instead, just one remark: the only number that steps away from the formula is the band's six-minute take on the reggae number 'Police And Thieves', and ironically, the only song to seriously crash the three-minute barrier also crashes it mercilessly - as if the band thought that 'if it ain't punk, it needs to be long'. That said, the song is quite good, with Joe Strummer's hoarse voice perfectly suiting the ragged, blazing power chords counting out the bouncy reggae rhythm, and a nice Beatlesque solo.

Otherwise, it's just one short-lived explosion of rage and anger after another. For me, the best stuff on here can all be found on the first side, with hardly an exception. Of course the band can't but start off the record with an obligatory reincarnation of the riff from the Who's 'I Can't Explain' - the most classic punk riff of all time, recycled on probably billions of better and worse songs; this time it is used as the basis for the band's notorious anthem, 'Clash City Rockers', a song whose choice as 'off-kicker of things' for the American audience was brilliant, as the band announces its arrival with a real crash-boom-bang. After the introduction, comes the backlash - 'I'm So Bored With The USA', with its classic poppy bounce (it's essentially poppy, indeed, with a punk arrangement) and raging anti-Yankee pathos. And then, just to show that the Clash weren't completely anti-melodic or something, they surprise the listener with 'Remote Control', a song whose melody borrows quite a lot from Kinkish Brit-pop: just listening to Joe Strummer chant 'whoooo neeeds... remote control... from the Civic Ha-aall...' makes it apparent which country the band are from - they did spend quite a few time listening to Ray Davies, after all. The immaculate interweaving of these sly, gentle intonations with the usual grittiness of the three-chord formula makes up for objectively the most interesting song on the album. I guess.

Pretty catchy can also be called 'White Riot', 'London Burning' (the titles speak for themselves), and the band's hilarious take on the very appropriately selected traditional tune 'I Fought The Law' ('..and the... LAW WON!'). But then things start getting rougher - the monotonousness starts getting on your nerves, and it sure doesn't help that they had placed the most solidly written tunes in the first half. Apart from 'Police And Thieves', the melodies of just about everything on the second side escape me completely, which is only natural, as with such a highly formulaic sound you'd have to struggle like mad in order to get your melodies distinct and highly different from each other. No such struggle here.

Of course, it goes without question that if you're an eighteen (or fifteen, or twenty) years old young dude with your heart on fire and your conscience exploding, these songs will speak to you like nothing else. But you might have noticed that I never even mentioned the lyrics off this album, apart from in relation to music. Why? Because they're kinda obvious. Strummer and Jones never barked out anything that the other punks didn't - he just did it in a slightly more subtle and polished way, using certain metaphors and images that the other punkheads simply didn't have enough brains for. But subtle or no, he's certainly no Bob Dylan, and he ain't even no John Lennon; and essentially it's just the same old messages of anger and hate - anti-government, anti-establishment, anti-Yankee, anti-big bosses, anti-industry, anti-everything. The Clash is not a serious artistic statement: it is, naturally, a call to arms, and thus, can interest all those who are interested in calls to arms. But I'm not interested in calls to arms; I'm more interested in finding out this album's musical value.

And the results? Sure, this album does have musical value; I would be the biggest fool on Earth if I ever tried to deny it. All of the above-mentioned songs are definitely good - well-written and catchy, even if some of them are based on riffs and ideas ripped off of their British predecessors (oh well, the punks never denied that themselves). But this certainly is not the basis according to which the record is usually put on its pedestal. Without the lyrics, the atmosphere and - most importantly - the happy time when the album was recorded, it wouldn't even have made the top ten thousand records in any classification imaginable. On any site that rates the records according to their social importance (similar to Brian Burks' 'Creative Noise', for instance - I'm not putting the site down, but it does have a heavy penchant in the direction of the working class problems), The Clash would definitely rate as a great album. But I rate it according to the melodical side, and in this respect, it only scores a 'good one' from me (ten out of fifteen). And even so, only after repeated listenings.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

More music, less revolution. Less importance, more hooks. Still rather monotonous, tho'.


Track listing: 1) Safe European Home; 2) English Civil War; 3) Tommy Gun; 4) Julie's In The Drug Squad; 5) Last Gang In Town; 6) Guns On The Roof; 7) Drug-Stabbing Time; 8) Stay Free; 9) Cheapskates; 10) All The Young Punks (New Boots And Contracts).

I'm definitely the only guy around who likes the Clash's second record not any less and maybe even more than the first one, although it's still not at all great and it took me a longer time to appreciate it. But let me explain. At the time of release, Give 'Em Enough Rope was somewhat ridiculized by many fans and critics alike - the problem was that the Clash got slower, and their songs got longer, which was definitely not the kind of thing that true punk rockers were supposed to do. Some, in fact, put the label of "heavy metal" on this record, which is even more ridiculous; these songs have nothing to do with heavy metal, even if the album was produced by Sandy Pearlman of Blue Oyster Cult. It's just slowed-down punk rock; essentially, the guitar tones, the song structures, the riffage, everything is left intact, it's just that somebody seems to have put some sticks in the band's wheels so they don't normally roll as fast as they used to.

But that's about it. On the other hand, the fact that most of the songs are longer than they used to can also be treated in a positive way - they give us enough time to dig in the actual grooves. There are but ten songs, and these are songs, not just momentary catchy (or, worse, non-catchy) explosions on the previous album; songs that can actually be discussed and appreciated, or not appreciated, as individual pieces rather than a furious non-detachable mess. And considering that there are not any less vocal or melodic hooks on this record than there are on The Clash, I'm really seriously baffled about why some reviewers, notably the illustrious Mark Prindle himself, tend to put the album so deep down in the shitter (while at the same time praising some completely worthless Aerosmith tripe). No, it's not a great piece of work; and I haven't yet said that it certainly suffers the fate of a "follow-up" - the novelty factor is gone, since the Clash have already declared their thunderous arrival on the scene a year earlier and you can't declare a thunderous arrival on the scene twice unless you stage a disbanding of the group and then get them back together in which case you're just an attention-attracting commercial twat. But hey, all odds considered, and keeping in mind the limitations of punk rock as a genre, I'm still surprised that the record turned out to be as musically acceptable as it is.

I mean, let's be serious. On at least half of these numbers, hooks galore - mostly vocal hooks, as I have never really cared for the Clash's stinted brand of generic three-chord riffage (well, I've never cared for the Ramones' stinted brand of generic three-chord riffage either - it's the poppy vocal melodies that do 'em for me), but at least they're placed on a justifiable musical base which isn't all noise and power chords. As usual, Jones is still coming up with deeply political, aggressive lyrics, which are surprisingly getting deeper and deeper with each new try; but as usual, I'll stay away from discussing the lyrics because the record's social importance is obvious and has been well discussed in a million other places.

Highlights, for me? Well, just about the entire first side will do. 'Safe European Home' is an excellent pop-rocker with carefully crafted vocal harmonies, and this is also where the Clash's extended coda thing works really fine - as if by magic, they suddenly transform the all-out rocking ending into a bizarre reggae chanting before switching back to "ROCK" and putting the final touch to the song on a completely unexpected note. 'English Civil War', a reworking of the traditional anthem 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home", is a great piece of boogie with excellent basslines and a fine Chuck Berry-style solo. 'Tommy Gun' could have easily fit onto the debut without anybody noticing the swindle - so what if it's a wee wee bit slower than 'I'm So Bored With The USA'? It's just as powerful. 'Julie's In The Drug Squad', on the other hand, doesn't fit in with either of the two albums, maybe that's why I like it so much. It's actually a barroom tune with tasty saloon piano throughout! The least thing at all to expect from Clash, yet somehow the fans never seemed to accuse them of selling out to Southern rock. But it's actually one of the most obvious predecessors to the band's diversity on London Calling. And then there's 'Last Gang In Town', of course, again, not too much of a punk song unless you give it the SPEED UPS; but a great rocker dedicated to life in the streets, with a marvelous idea of alternating rather routine upbeat verses with a very threatening, moody chorus ("the Crops hit the Stiffs...", etc.). And hey, Mick Jones's actually playing that solo with a nod to the great Bloozy tradition. Cool.

The second side is a little less inspiring (what with yet another 'Can't Explain' rip-off in 'Guns On The Roof' and a couple throwaways like 'Cheapskates'), but still, it does have a great Beatlesque pop number in 'Stay Free' (is that really Strummer singing? Sounds more like John Lennon to me!), and the band's personal anthem 'All The Young Punks', certainly a specific response to Bowie/Mott the Hoople's 'All The Young Dudes', is a good note to finish the album on.

In all, you may crucify me for betraying public taste, call me elitist, call me Ben Greenstein, whatever, but I really think Give 'Em Enough Rope is a progression, not a regression from the early album. Come on people, I respect speed, but speed is never the defining moment when it comes to actual musical value. You might just follow Prindle's recommendation and play this stuff at 78 speed. You'll then see that these songs are actually more complex, well-thought, creative and even more catchy than a large part of the stuff from The Clash you usually headbang to. The Clash showed the world a serious, intelligent punk rock band; Give 'Em Enough Rope showed the world that this serious, intelligent punk rock band was actually good enough to break out of the genre's formulaic limits and expand its sound, thus giving their songwriting talents a better chance. Further proof for me that "punk rock" in its pure form was nothing more than a brief launching pad for serious New Wave/early Eighties pop bands to kick off, just like Fifties' rock was an excellent launching pad for starting the careers of all those wonderful British Invasion bands.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

The filler's somewhat of a problem on here - but this is the Clash at the height of their power, and what's a fillerless Clash album?


Track listing: 1) London Calling; 2) Brand New Cadillac; 3) Jimmy Jazz; 4) Hateful; 5) Rudie Can't Fail; 6) Spanish Bombs; 7) The Right Profile; 8) Lost In The Supermarket; 9) Clampdown; 10) The Guns Of Brixton; 11) Wrong 'Em Boyo; 12) Death Or Glory; 13) Koka Kola; 14) The Card Cheat; 15) Lover's Rock; 16) Four Horsemen; 17) I'm Not Down; 18) Revolution Rock.

Aaah, now you're speaking my language. No self-respecting punk band stays a punk band for more than two years, not in the late Seventies at least - and so while the Ramones were teaming up with Phil Spector to tie their sound even closer to their early Sixties idols, the Police were dabbling in white reggae and New Age experimentation, and the Jam were writing concept albums about mah generation a la Pete Townshend, the Clash decided to do a little bit of everything. After all, they had this "greatest punk band" tag to live up to, and if the greatest punk band is going to evolve, it should do that in a grandiose Beatlesque way instead of just grounding itself in one particular dimension.

So London Calling is, in fact, a very pretentious album. It's double, it alternates between at least half a dozen musical styles, and it has Paul Simonon smashing his guitar on the cover. It's also a little inconsistent to live up to its impeccable Rolling Stone reputation, and while I originally thought that the second half of the album was generally less memorable than the first just because it came second and the first half came first, the impression never passed even when I tried playing it in reverse order, or in random order. Now given the solid quality of a bunch of tunes from The Clash and of the majority, but not all, of the tunes from Rope (yep), you could predict something like a lot of classy songs interspersed with some forgettable ones, and this is what you get, and the forgettable ones bog the record down, to the point that I'm unable to view this as a solid 13-star album. Weak 13, maybe, never a strong one.

What London Calling is in the artistic sense is, well, similar to what The Clash was, but not identical. There's almost no more direct calls for violence, or direct straightforward condemnations of the you-know-what. The lyrics mature with every day, and the old foam at the mouth has been replaced with a far more careful and subtle social commentary on pretty much everything, from the ecological problems to drug dealing to the consumer philosophy to fascistic ideology to personal relationships. And now they put these lyrics to music that's much more carefully fleshed out, not to mention the production and arrangement. Brass instruments are extensively used throughout the record, giving the music a full, powerful thrust, and there's enough guitar and occasional piano overdubs so the songs don't sound like they were recorded in one guy's basement on an old dusty audio tape. (That's how much of the Jam's output sounds, for comparison).

Reviewing all of the nineteen songs (including 'Train In Vain', the last "hidden" number that's never present in the track listing because it was added to the record at the very last minute after the sleeves had already been printed) would be a gargantuan task fit for a true Clash admirer, which I never pretended to be, so I'll allow myself just to concentrate on the highlights. Thus you may know that every song I have not listed on here I consider to be filler, although, to be frank, it's never annoying filler. This ain't a punk record, you know, and bad punk is far more annoying than anything else (okay, bar Aerosmith power ballads, aka the last Egyptian punishment Moses forgot to release upon the poor Pharaoh).

So! The title track is by far the most apocalyptic thing the Clash ever did. Of course, that melody is stolen directly from the Kinks' 'Dead End Street' - listen how the bassline repeats the brass notes on the Kinks classic. But it's used in an entirely different context, and somehow the minimalistic guitar punching, when coupled with the echoey 'London calling!' chorus, produces a truly ominous feel - and the thunderous '...I live by the river!' conclusion gives me the shivers every time. Plus there are backwards guitars imitating sirens and lyrics about ecological devastation.

And right after that, in direct opposition to the end-of-the-world mood, the Clash rip it up on their most successful classic rocker, 'Brand New Cadillac', where they actually show they can do jagged, edgy blues-rock if they want it. Tremendous drive and a tasteful guitar solo, too. The countryish 'Jimmy Jazz' slows down the pace and tells the touching story of a renegade, all wrapped in phased rhythm guitar and wah-wah soloing and brass as the song gradually begins sounding jazzier and loungier. 'Hateful' lacks the chainsaw buzz, but otherwise is very similar in mood to a Ramones song, except that there's no goofy humour involved as the song's dedicated to the drug problem. Yeah, sometime ago Steppenwolf used to sing 'god damn, god damn the pusher', and now the Clash are singing 'anything I want, he gives it, but it's not free, it's hateful, and it's paid for and I'm so grateful to be nowhere'.

'Rudie Can't Fail' is just a delightful cross between a Bo Diddley-style tune and a reggae stylization, catchy and fun. 'Spanish Bombs', dedicated to the Civil War of the thirties, of course, is the Epic Tune #1 on the record, with weirdly uplifting arpeggiated guitars and a great catchy refrain. The contrast between the venomous lyrics and the overall optimistic musical mood is particularly strange.

From there on, it gets kinda patchy, so 'scuse me for skipping. 'Lost In The Supermarket' is a delicious slab of personal, almost intimate commentary - just a guy depicting his problems in this huge commercialized world. Geez, is this the prototype for all those third- and fourth-rate "serious" personal statements from phony punk/alternative bands we see in droves on MTV nowadays? If you ask me, 'Lost In The Supermarket' automatically makes about 50% of the music I see on that channel superfluous. And funny how that rhythm is almost "proto-techno" in its simplicity and steadiness and speed. Paul Simonon's 'Guns Of Brixton' is, of course, an undisputed classic, and one of the band's best reggae tunes. The trick with the song, I think, is that the Clash were the first ones to make their reggae sound dangerous and menacing - turning the essential music of pity, compassion and love into a vehicle for exorcising their aggression. (Not that it's dumb exorcising or anything - like I said, the days of dumbness are already long gone by).

'Wrong 'Em Boyo' is a personal favourite of mine - I personally find the combination of lounge jazz with straightforward ska a hilarious and unique musical marriage, plus the brass section kicks ass and the chorus is catchy as hell, and there's a sense of humour, and part of the vocal melody is taken straight from 'Sloop John B'. 'Death Or Glory' has some of the album's best lyrics ('every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock 'n' roll/Grabs the mike to tell us he'll die before he's sold/ But I believe in this, and it's been tested by research/That he who fucks nun will later join the church' - so what is this, self-delivering an indulgence for potential sellout in the future? Eh?), and a catchy chorus to boot.

After that, a long stretch of songs that absolutely leave me cold, right until the beautiful 'I'm Not Down', with its chugging powerful bassline and great life-asserting potential. This is the kind of musical therapy I crave, self-assertion and simple, unassuming 'I'm-still-alive-you-fuckers!' attitude, without all the phoney working class romantic heroics of Bruce Springsteen - pick up on the differences between this and, uh, 'Thunder Road', for instance. Heh. The reggae cover 'Revolution Rock' is quite fun as well, but drastically overlong, so you're fully justified to skip it right to the 'hidden bonus' - 'Train In Vain' is one excellent conclusion to the album. What a better way to close the album than with an "anti-love" pop-rocker, anyway?

And there you have it, after all the filler and all the minor and major glories, the album that, as every reviewer already pointed out, Rolling Stone named the # 1 album of the Eighties (which is pretty pathetic, considering that it actually came out in 1979 - hey, Mr Wenner, were the Eighties that pathetic? What about Milli Vanilli??). Maybe not # 1, after all (a little something called Zenyatta Mondatta, eh?), but it's undoubtedly one of the most important "non-post-modernist" products of the era, meaning that in order to enjoy it you don't have to wire yourself up to the state when sincere emotionality and directly speaking lyrics don't matter any more. Oh well, then there's always REM and the Replacements, I guess, but leave me out of the fighting, please.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

The ultimate package of angst and bitterness dressed in a million forms - all similar and different at the time.

Best song: disc 1 - THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN; disc 2 - POLICE ON MY BACK; disc 3 - CHARLIE DON'T SURF.

Track listing: 1) The Magnificent Seven; 2) Hitsville UK; 3) Junco Partner; 4) Ivan Meets G. I. Joe; 5) The Leader; 6) Something About England; 7) Rebel Waltz; 8) Look Here; 9) The Crooked Beat; 10) Somebody Got Murdered; 11) One More Time; 12) One More Dub; 13) Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice); 14) Up In Heaven (Not Only Here); 15) Corner Soul; 16) Let's Go Crazy; 17) If Music Could Talk; 18) The Sound Of Sinners; 19) Police On My Back; 20) Midnight Log; 21) The Equaliser; 22) The Call Up; 23) Washington Bullets; 24) Broadway; 25) Lose This Skin; 26) Charlie Don't Surf; 27) Mensforth Hill; 28) Junkie Slip; 29) Kingston Advice; 30) The Street Parade; 31) Version City; 32) Living In Fame; 33) Silicone On Sapphire; 34) Version Pardner; 35) Career Opportunities; 36) Shepherds Delight.

Before I fall down lifeless under a barrage of bullets from angry fans of London Calling, let me ask you a simple question: "What is better - ten good songs and five bad songs or fifteen good songs and fifteen bad songs?". Obviously, you can't give a definite exhaustive answer, because it all depends on whether you're more interested in praising the good or in putting down the bad. Well, I've always been a fan of the former approach. And judging by that approach, Sandinista! is hands down the best Clash album, not to mention definitely the best Clash album money can buy - Joe Strummer used to mention how he generously rejected the royalties from the album so that its price could be lowered in pretty much every interview I've read with him, and, well, he had a full right to brag about that, too.

So Sandinista! is a triple album: six LP sides, two seventy-minute long CDs, thirty-six tracks in total. "Overload" would be too mild a word to use. Why the hell The Clash decided to make a triple album (absolutely unprecedented in rock - even All Things Must Pass essentially had just a bunch of stupid jams for the third record) has never really been explained. Obviously it wasn't due to an excessive amount of writing, because a large percent of the songs here are remixes, novelties, and quickly tossed-off filler - no, it seems pretty evident to me that the idea came first and the material came next. Megalomania is the only possible explanation here: with their status already half-mythical after just three years of recording, the hype went to Strummer's head and he decided to make a sweeping statement of unprecedented grandiosity. Sandinista! abandons nearly every last sign of the band's "punkish" past, but in terms of the overall vibe, the punk spirit is still there, and so the album can easily be called the Tales From Topographic Oceans for the punk movement.

But just as much as I've always felt bored to death by TFTO, so does Sandinista! thrill, excite, and entertain me almost from beginning to start. Now the essential problem here is - DON'T GIVE UP. Even if the Beatles had recorded a triple album, it'd be hard to sit through it all at once; with a band much more limited in stylistic capacity such as The Clash, the problem is much harder. There's just one singer - Mr Strummer (with a couple novel exceptions on which see below), and his bark-and-sneer can wear off you pretty quick. There's not a lot of diversity in the arrangements, with the band now heavily involved in the electronic movement, adding barrages of modernistic synth effects and employing the same "echoey" style of production on pretty much every track. And there's a whole lotta reggae, too, and all reggae sounds the same you know. And with two and a half hours of music, well... it's no surprise few people ever took the pain of assimilating all this material, and I'd never blame those who haven't. I mean, there can be more, er, utilitarian things to do about your life, aren't there? It sure takes a long time to even give this the required three listens...

But, like I said, don't give up. Two general things need to be said in the band's defense. First, there's the matter of the spirit. Sandinista! is as inspired as everything else The Clash did before, with Strummer delivering all of his messages with not an ounce less of the same old powerhouse conviction he had on the band's debut, and Mick Jones absolutely revels in his playing, while the rhythm section seems only too happy to be given the chance of proving itself on a million new tricks. And that's the second thing - there is, indeed, a tremendously eclectic approach to material here. Over the course of these two and a half hours, The Clash do reggae, funk, hip-hop, power pop, rock'n'roll, rockabilly, Brit-pop, country, fast jazz, gospel, avantgarde experimentation, heck, even Broadway arias. Like I said, the production values are very similar on all tracks, so, unlike The White Album, there's much more uniformity to the material - but it also gives the album extra cohesiveness, the apparent "lack" of which is often cited as the album's main flaw. Heh! If anything, it's a bit too cohesive. The Clash are also seriously going political, what with the album title and songs like 'Washington Bullets' with its explicit references to American external policies, but mostly it's the same old rant about the evils of the oppressive bourgeois society, y'know the drill.

Without going into detailed count or attempting to review every single separate track (an occupation for a madman with too much time on his hands and too much strain on his straitjacket), I'll say that the songs can be more or less equally divided into the four categories of Highlights, Novelties, Backgroundies, and Misfires; out of these four categories, only the Misfires truly suck, because the Novelties are usually fun and the Backgroundies are unmemorable but still kick ass. Under "Misfires" I mean what seems like really really failed stuff to me - like 'Broadway', for instance, which is just four minutes of Strummer essaying something in between true Broadwayish sentimentalism and the murmur of an old toothless paranoic, set to a complete lack of melody; or 'If Music Could Talk', another vamp of tune "graced" with a limp, flaccid, wailing sax - even Sting wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. But I can't truly remember any other tune on here that would seriously offend me.

Because even the "Backgroundies" have their charms - all these reggae tunes, for instance, where Strummer tries to imitate the funny Jamaican accent. 'Crooked Beat' has a bassline to die for; 'Junco Pardner' has these funny fart noises from the synths and the ultra-cool violin screeching in the background, etc. Even when the far superior 'One More Time' is followed by a wimpy instrumental clone, 'One More Dub', we get to enjoy some fabulous percussion work and lots of creative mood changes all over the place. The "Novelties" would include stuff like 'Mensforth Hill', a wild experiment with backwards tapes and gloopy synth effects that rocks, unlike, say, 'Revolution # 9', or the child-choir-sung "remake" of 'Career Opportunities' (at the end of 'Broadway' there's also a short snippet of what sounds like a four-year-old child singing a snippet of 'Guns Of Brixton'!).

And the highlights? 'The Magnificent Seven' - the Clash trying their hand at hip-hop and landing with probably the first really powerful hip-hop declaration from a white (not to mention British) outfit. Never mind that twelve songs later it is remade as 'Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)' - it has a different chorus and rocks just as hard anyway. 'Hitsville UK' - glorious power-pop even if this one does not have a chorus at all. 'Ivan Meets G.I. Joe' - never has a furious rocker been made that could be better enhanced by what sounds like a huge cauldron of electronic soup bubbling over the fire. 'Somebody Got Murdered' - a really touching, really pissed-off lament about the value of human life that manages to rock and be gentle and sensitive at the same time. 'Let's Go Crazy' - calypso has never sounded more invigorating than this. 'The Sound Of Sinners' - what better way to put down Religion and The Cult than by doing it within the framework of a catchy-as-hell fast gospel number? 'Police On My Back' - the one song on the album that hearkens back to the sound of London Calling, an all-in-all furious, invigorating pop-rocker that, perversely enough, is in itself a cover of a formerly reggae tune. 'The Call Up' - gloomy, ominous, creepy, almost hideously and terrifyingly prophetic with its melancholic 'it's up to you not to heed the call-up' chorus. 'Lose This Skin' - some hate Tymon Dogg's guest-singing on here due to the in-yer-eyes Geddy Lee vocal connection, but I have no problem with that, I'm just too busy to dig the passionate 'lose this skin I'm imprisoned in' chorus and the wild wild violin to take offense anyway. 'Charlie Don't Surf' - more insanely catchy pop...

...okay, well, the sixth side more or less blows in terms of catchy songs ('Version City' is great though), but the thing is, I dig the style. It's radically different from London Calling - up to now, The Clash hadn't been at all technophilian, but here they go wild with all their gadgets, and yet never forget that they're still a powerful rock band at heart. This is no basic three chord banging; this is the band really showing their true face - that they were a bunch of technically gifted intellectuals all along, that their punk image was due to their willing to sympathize with the lower class and to pander to it, not to their being lower class. No wonder critics hated it, calling it bloated and pretentious; even after the tremendous horizon expanding on London Calling, Sandinista! still must have felt as a betrayal. But hey, what's bad for traditional criticism is good for me.

Sure it ain't perfect - hey, how can a triple album be perfect? And sure, had all the songs I've mentioned as highlights been released on a single album instead, they would have constituted a perfect masterpiece. But then again, The Clash aren't a band that should strive for perfection. Instead of a little well-polished square with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, they've given us an enormous jungleland where you never know if you should expect a stinking bog or a marvelous cluster of wild flowers when you turn round the next corner. I've been listening to this THING for more than a week, and with every new listen, I was discovering something new. And I'm sure I still will be - in the meantime, I give it an easy 13 and urge everybody to be very, very patient with this monster. It'll pay off eventually.



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

This looks kinda small and wimpy after that last one, but at least there's some good stuff, too.


Track listing: 1) Know Your Rights; 2) Car Jamming; 3) Should I Stay Or Should I Go; 4) Rock The Casbah; 5) Red Angel Dragnet; 6) Straight To Hell; 7) Overpowered By Funk; 8) Atom Tan; 9) Sean Flynn; 10) Ghetto Defendant; 11) Inoculated City; 12) Death Is A Star.

Oy! This doesn't look as heavy as Sandinista! at all. Capitalism wins at last - here I was, the average Clash fan expecting to get a quadruple album called More Ganja To The Politbureau for the price of a 7" 45 rpm single, and instead I get a full-priced (more or less, at least) single LP called Combat Rock with the guys looking all mean and lean and scruffy waiting to blow up the Silver Train or something, and - picture this - it doesn't even rock. Who needs these fuckers now? Toss 'em.

Seriously, though, Combat Rock looks like a compromise between a compromise and a burnout. Come to think of it, I can't even imagine where the boys could be headed after they pretty much did everything on that triple album mammoth. Maybe they could go into first-class adult contemporary synth-pop, like the Police, but they were too oppressed with the image; I mean, really, it's okay if you're even doing retro jazz, as long as you do it scruffy and dirty, but adult contemporary requires you at least wash your hair or something, and for the Clash, that would be total self-destruction. But if not, then where to now St Peter?

Well, at first it sort of sounds as if they decided to revisit the old days - draw in some inspiration from the roots, you know. 'Know Your Rights' opens in prime punk fashion and more than that, baby, it's essentially just one chord blaring out from your speakers. I've never cared much for the song, though; I'm probably the only man in the world to cringe at Strummer's "this is a public service announcement... WITH GUITAAAAAAR!' introduction, and I also find the lyrics pretty obvious, too, not quite deserving of a band as arguably witty as the Clash. It's not a song, actually, it's a manifesto, which explains why there's no real melody, and it's sort of populist, like a big hello to all the oppressed and all the exploited from the Big Protective Guy Who Really Cares (But Couldn't Quite Express It Explicitly Over Three LPs Of Material Two Years Ago).

Still, it's at least novel. But it's also about the only "punkish" track on the entire album, and one of the very few "rock" tracks either - if there was somebody who bought the record hoping it'd all sound like 'Know Your Rights', I can't imagine a way in which his hopes could be dashed more cruelly. One thing that could console him is that Combat Rock doesn't at least sound like Sandinista!. The overall style(s) is (are) much lighter, with fewer overdubs, much less reggae, and more audible guitar presence; likewise, Strummer's vocal presence is made much more prominent, unshadowed by all the electronica, so he sort of gets closer to you people. Whether it's good or not, you can decide for yourself.

The important thing is that already the second song, 'Car Jamming', is bossanova rather than rock - repetitive but energetic and with a catchy chorus (and some nice electronically processed, almost King Crimsonian guitar work from Mick Jones throughout). After that the Clash do return to rock territory with the even catchier stomper 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go', but get this, the song's stop-and-start rhythm and the steady mid-tempo beat bring it closer to AC/DC territory than to anything formerly Clash in nature (it keeps reminding me of 'You Shook Me All Night Long', to be precise). And the big fun attraction of 'Rock The Casbah' is more a dance-pop number than anything close to "aggressive" and "protest". With this realisation, any hope of pigeonholing the Clash back to where they originally belonged is gone.

And not too soon, because right away the record becomes a total melange of styles and almost as diverse, or even more diverse, than Sandinista!. What you get next is a weird New Wavish Talking Headish rocker ('Red Angel Dragnet'), reggae ('Straight To Hell'), funk ('Overpowered By Funk'), pop-rock ('Atom Tan', 'Inoculated City'), atmospheric jazz ('Sean Flynn'), Captain Beafhart-like avantgarde rock ('Ghetto Defendant'), and quasi-psychedelic folk-rock (sic! - 'Death Is A Star'). It's as if the band treated their inclusion of 'Know Your Rights' as a compromise and treated it as their free pass into the land of do-what-you-like; not that they needed one after Sandinista!, but maybe they thought they did.

The problem is, none of the songs bar 'Rock The Casbah', which is indeed catchy, powerful, well-produced and well-sung, strike me as great. Perhaps the low points (for me, these are the boring-as-death 'Sean Flynn', whose goshdarned saxes think it's enough for them to be played in order to make the song a masterpiece - this could serve as the blueprint for every boring song in the Sting solo catalog; and 'Red Angel Dragnet', because the Clash just can't do the paranoid New Wave rocker style as well as Byrne and Co. did), yeah, well, perhaps the low points aren't nearly as low as the low points of Sandinista!, but it's one thing when you have a bunch of very dull songs amidst a sea of inventiveness and creativity and another thing when you have a bunch of dull songs amidst, well, a bunch of not-so-dull songs!

Basically, I find the power mostly gone. For 'Ghetto Defendant', they drag in Allen Ginsberg to recite some poetry (or, rather, some bits of rhymed text), which he does in a totally Don Van Vliet-like style, but the song itself is a vamp, all style, no real substance. 'Atom Tan' is merely a riff repeated over and over, and for some reason I still can't remember it. 'Straight To Hell' and 'Death Is A Star' are touching, and 'Overpowered By Funk' has a good groove going on, but somehow I lack the Clash's true identity on all of them. Suddenly it all starts sounding just a little bit tired and, well, out of focus, if you get my a-meanin'. Mind you, there's nothing truly offensive, and I, for one, am glad that they are still showing a will to change and experiment and not fall prey to expectations, but it just lacks the classic punch that every other Clash album - even the debut - does have. And if you think I'm nuts for rating this three points below Sandinista!, just ask yourself: is there one song on this puppy that would come within ten miles of the breathless grandeur of 'Somebody Got Murdered' or would rock just as mercilessly as 'Police On My Back'?



Year Of Release: 1985
Record rating = 2
Overall rating = 5

Gee, and a mohawk on the front cover, too. This is not punk, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Skunk Rock Heaven!


Track listing: 1) Dictator; 2) Dirty Punk; 3) We Are The Clash; 4) Are You Red..y; 5) Cool Under Heat; 6) Movers And Shakers; 7) This Is England; 8) Three Card Trick; 9) Play To Win; 10) Fingerpoppin'; 11) North And South; 12) Life Is Wild.

In 1983, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones parted ways. Boo! Mick was driven out because of creative disagreements or some other shit like that and started a group called Big Audio Dynamite which I've never heard. Strummer, in the meantime, picked two new guitarists instead (Mick musta been flattered) and decided to "cut the crap" indeed, by which I mean "returning back to the roots". I mean, sure, why not? History teaches us that it's useful to revisit your roots from time to time. And since with Combat Rock, particularly its second side, it looked like the Clash had forever drifted away from the shores of punk, Strummer decided it was time to pick up some steam again. Show all 'em sissies and all 'em doubtful whinies what it takes to be a mean and lean ass-kickin' punk outfit caring for the good of the common man.

Unfortunately, the times played a cruel trick on him. Now I really don't know which part of this horrible mess Joe was responsible for himself, but one of the versions I've heard says that the band's producer, Bernie Rhodes, took their raw, minimalistic demos and then drenched them in his own production, subsequently adding his name to all the songs so that everybody could know he was "collaborating" with Strummer. And normally, this is considered sort of a cheat when the producer receives songwriting credit for adding arrangement details, but in this case, it would perhaps be wiser had he removed Strummer's name altogether.

Because the album is a nightmare. You can just hear these guys trying to "wear and tear" somewhere in the background, and you can hear bits and pieces of melodies scattered all over the place, hey, sometimes even good melodies. But they are buried ten feet under a wall of electronic drumbeats, gloopy hi-tech synths, artificially processed, ridiculosly distorted guitars, and loads and loads and loads of idiotic voice and sound effects seemingly piled one upon another according to the mighty principle of Random. Take the very first song, 'Dictator'; starting from about the second minute, you are absolutely lost in a chaotic mess of "fake" horns blowing against each other in total cacophony, 'Ivan Meets G. I. Joe'-related space invader noises and totally out-of-place megaphone calls, plus some of the worst drum machine programming in history. Wait, no, the noises come in other songs, but frankly, it doesn't matter much. Could this song be better? Well, maybe not by much, but at least they could have given it the proper treatment. Heck, at least they could have removed the nauseating pseudo-horns! It's torture!

It's all the more ridiculous when you realize how much of a "look at us, we're still angry rockers" self-advertising campaign this record is. The second song is called 'Dirty Punk', and the third song is called 'We Are The Clash'. The lyrics are appropriate, too: 'Gonna be a dirty punk/While my brother dresses clean'. Gee, Mr Strummer, could you be a little less oblique, I don't quite get your sophisticated message here. I guess it's not just Bernie Rhodes who's the problem, after all. He even goes for a cockney accent on 'We Are The Clash' in a couple of places; I don't really recall him trying to sound like that even on the self-titled album.

Fantastic, really: I never really thought a band like the Clash could stoop to recording an album with next to no good songs at all on it, but apparently, there are these treacherous loop holes in time, you know, when you've lost a key member of the band, when you've run out of creative inspiration, when you have to consciously return to an image that does not any longer truly suit you, and on top of that, get a producer who's just aching to reduce whatever you offer him to typical mid-Eighties tripe. Since then, Strummer himself had many times publicly denounced the album, calling it his big mistake, and while he might have bought himself an indulgence with these words, the album still remains available - you don't get rid of your past that easily, although I sure would suggest a big "record burning" campaign in this particular case.

It still gets an overall 5 and not an overall 3 or 4 or whatever because of the following: a) the song 'This Is England', a powerful Sandinista!-style anthem that carries a little spark of the band's former majesty which even the abysmal drum programming (Phil Collins, eat your heart out) cannot fully spoil; and b) my realisation that, in fact, some of the choruses here are memorable, and that 'Cool Under Heat', 'Three Card Trick', 'North And South', and even 'We Are The Clash', in another life, could be seen as acceptable second-rate candidates for inclusion onto the above-mentioned Sandinista!. Still, dammit, man, there can be ways to make good melodies sound good even with typical Eighties production - look at those early Madonna hits for proof. Cut The Crap, on the other hand, is proof how Eighties production can ruin anything. It is simply a classic, proverbial example of How To Make A Bad Album. Remember what I just said? Kick out a major talent, run out of creative steam, pigeonhole yourself into one grossly overexaggerated style, and be sure to get a producer who has not the slightest bit of understanding concerning your real needs. There, you're all set, now it's time to cut the crap!

And dissolve the band soon afterwards, because, honestly, there won't be anything left to do anyway.


Return to the main index page