Icon: The Clash
It took the Clash just six years to go from Westway to the world, to evolve from the small-bore punk vitriol of “London’s Burning” to the sophisticated Top 40 global consciousness of “Rock the Casbah.” Unfettered by careerist logic and armed with passion, conviction and a flair for dramatic poses, they were the most exciting — and unpredictable — band of their era. Inscrutable, confounding and glorious in their imperfections, the Clash inscribed a cultural arc as complex, contradictory and compelling as any in rock. Their five original albums had progressively wider horizons, letting one album’s exceptions (reggae, barrelhouse) flourish on the next. In between, they pumped out 45s of monumental clarity and relevance. If Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were neither as saintly nor as sincere as their image, the records they made with bassist Paul Simonon and two alternating drummers remain a potent reminder of true artistic courage, of truth sung to power.
In Order of Importance
As genial and familiar as the ripping guitars, rushing tempos and barked Britishisms of Joe Strummer's vocals now sound, The Clash arrived in 1977 as a blistering jolt of punk ire. Although not every lyric offers the timely social critiques of "Career Opportunities," "I'm So Bored With the U.S.A." and "White Riot," the songs jab furiously at all comers, even a dishonest junkie ("Deny"), the record business ("Garageland"), weekends ("48 Hours") and... prophylactics (the Mick Jones-sung "Protex Blue"). A funky cover of the Junior Murvin reggae number "Police and Thieves" signals a willingness to defy doctrine, an ethos furthered on the album's belated American edition, which dropped four lesser tracks for three monumental singles, taking stunning measure of the band's accelerating stylistic growth.more »
Although it might not have suited them to think (much less acknowledge) it, the Clash were a great singles band. Both The Singles and Super Black Market Clash are essential compilations of 45s, the former concentrating on a career's worth of A-sides and the latter going deep into B-sides, rarities, remixes and bonus tracks. Owning the American edition of The Clash partly obviates the need for The Singles, as both albums include... the label-attacking "Complete Control," the furious "Clash City Rockers" and the droll insights of "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais." The material on Super Black Market Clash is likely to be unfamiliar to casual listeners, but the songs ("Jail Guitar Doors," "Capital Radio Two," "Gates of the West," "Robber Dub" and 17 more) give away nothing for their second-billing. The Story of the Clash Vol. 1 largely duplicates The Singles, but adds a handful of album selections, from The Clash to Combat Rock.more »
Having fired Jones and reconstituted the Clash as a generic-sounding rock quintet, Strummer and Simonon made the all-but-posthumous Cut the Crap, an album so anomalous that it is rarely counted in the band's oeuvre. If not for Strummer's clattering Big '80s production, the songs -- all co-written by original Clash manager/manipulator Bernie Rhodes — could have made him a passable solo platter. Styled with castoff DNA of the era's MTV clones (which... actually suits the rueful, elegant "This Is England"), the album leads with its chin on nakedly defensive songs like "Dictator" and "We Are the Clash." If not quite as awful as it seemed at the time, Cut the Crap is the only Clash album that doesn't matter.more »