The Clash (1977)
Job songs, life songs, youth songs, law songs—we’ve heard it all before, more so back then to tell you the truth, not nearly enough now. If Joe Strummer was around to see that jobs, life, youth, and the law are exactly as they were back then as they are now I was originally unsure on how he’d feel. I thought about it for a while and came to “content” looking at the likes of John Lydon’s pro-vote revolutionary reformation and Tom Robinson’s embrace of modern Britain. But Strummer actually seemed as disgusted with society in 2002 as he was back in 1977. I’m bored with the USA, too, Joe. Though Strummer thought of schooling as a means of teaching you “to be thick”, he still wants you to get up and go about it yourself because he knows education is worth something, even for that job you don’t want now but will when the shit hits the fan. “Black man gotta lotta problems/But they don’t mind throwing a brick” is beautifully orated, particularly in the faux anarchism that’s going on now. I doubt he’d be surprised. Oh yeah, the London traffic system is crap, did you know that?
Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978)
The sardonic tone of this record lies purely in the frustration of the messages they’re attempting to convey – anti-drugs, anti-guns, anti-gangs and sometimes anti-things-that-are-anti. Even if it’s pushing the art-through-frustration boat too far, it’s more than commendable.
Lacking some of the individual brilliance of the debut, its consistency is down to their angelic anti-anarchism – that’s clichéd punk, but it’s the best kind, always has been. The middle of the record is met with glorious goodies – the lyrical locutions of “Last Gang in Town”, more Americana-bashing in “Guns on the Roof” and the sarcastic and very slightly jazz-influenced (I heard a sax, okay?) “Drug-Stabbing Time”. “Stay Free”‘s irony almost seems… anti-ironic. Mick Jones’ released friend(s) from Brixton seems to fill him with joy and the initial need to “hit the town” and “burn it fucking down to a cinder” when he’s/they’re finally released, which fulfils his impatient desires. I hope that’s anti-gang. It probably is. Ironic, eh?
The music is dense, thick and condensed, met with off-hand remarks and bursts of musical prose. They fear a lot, but so does society – real men read and write while the rest stab for money, drugs and the cult they’re affiliated to on the streets. I was waiting patiently for a job song, you know? I got it, and they still crack me up.
London Calling (1979)
I tried (I really did) not to fall into the trap of loving this record for purely the name it holds, but it’s difficult when it’s actually a diverse work (pretty much) of art. The usual simple chord and note changes add to the simplicities their influences possess.
Reggae, ska and jazz permeate this album for the simple fact they stand for and are against exactly what The Clash stand for and is against – world music, the racial divide, blah blah blah. The multitude of instruments – brass, organs, saxophones and so on – add to the punk aesthetic even if it is uncommon in its approach. Strummer’s self-justification to fling forth his dejected civil war musings is as erudite as his knowledge of Spanish poetry – both in tip-top shape, it seems.
Paul Simonon adds black authenticity in more than just “The Guns of Brixton” and Jones’ vocals are more and more confident as you progress, particularly with the finale.
A near two-and-a-half-hour trudge it must be said, not at all pointing to any conceivable reason that this album is inferior in any way to any other world music objet d’art of the time, however. The fact there’s too much going on is almost what saves it from the black-influenced monotony.
The hip-hop vocals shed light on Strummer’s black music knowledge; they sound as bona fide as any imitators of the time (I’m sure) even if the mainstream stuff hadn’t hit us yet. What you must realise is the good stuff is worth rooting around for. Sandinista! is trying but the vaudeville clatter – that’s difficult to accommodate on side six all told – is more often than not an education if not tireless.
Highlights: the black-influenced “The Magnificent Seven”; the black-influenced “Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)” and to a lesser extent, the black-influenced “The Call Up”.
Combat Rock (1982)
As genius… yeah, let’s use that word… as genius as the first side’s condemnation of the law is, the second half’s over-articulation isn’t over-elaborate but almost half-assed, excluding Allen Ginsberg’s protracting prose.
Strung out on their need to “keep up” (they’re probably ahead, actually) with the post-punk aficionados of the day, their less brusque verbals but just-as-choleric perspective can be viewed as… “moving forward”, if you wish. It’s not that I miss the old Clash but I do miss the straight-to-the-point clarity and a less of a need to decipher the content they’re vexed towards – “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.”, in other words.
Is “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” Mick Jones’ best? Yes, obviously. Does “Rock the Casbah” make more sense than any American invasion? Yes, obviously.
Cut the Crap (1985)
Not anywhere near as deplorable as the fanboys are willing to admit – just as vexed, just as rollicking (maybe more); even the drum machine is merited, at times warranted.
Don’t let the opener’s synths and “horn” put you off; this record’s soul and bones are in existence, even in Bernie Rhodes’ over-zealous production and ’80s-stereotyping disco-mix. “This is England” is as socially-sermonising as anything they’ve left behind, or better yet, attempted before. How ’bout that? No?
There was plenty of this in 1985 – Killing Joke, Bauhaus, The Damned… Strummer is still laying out his three-chord self, “The Clash” or not.