Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Clash, Part 1

The Clash -- Complete Discography, Part 1
Album Rankings:
1) London Calling
2) Sandinista!
3) The Clash (US or UK)
4) Give 'Em Enough Rope
5) From Here to Eternity: Live
6) Combat Rock
7) Super Black Market Clash
8) Cut the Crap

       A strange choice, I know, but this was the very first non-Beatles rock band that I got into. This was...probably a bad decision on my part, as I still think that the band isn't the most accessible group in the world (an understatement), but it was what I did. For more info on how this happened, check the London Calling review, but yup. That's how it went down. And so, I have more of an attachment and love for the band than many people, even if I can freely admit that pretty much everything post-Sandinista was complete crap, and that Give 'Em Enough Rope isn't exactly a masterpiece. But man, the debut, LC, and the afore-mentioned Sandinista! are all friggin' aces in my book.
       So what do I like about the band? I mean, if you know my tastes, then you know that my very favorite genres are regular 'ole classic rock and country. Thus, you would assume that my favorite genre would be roots-rock. And yes, The Gilded Palace of Sin and the Stones late-60s/early-70s foursome are among my favorite albums ever. However, The Clash's main genres of specialty are...reggae and British punk. Now, I like me some British punk -- particularly Pink Flag and Singles Going Steady, but I would be hard-pressed to consider it one of my favorite genres. And as far as reggae goes...I don't mind it, but I don't think I own a single non-Clash reggae album...so....yeah.
       Also, I'm a Republican, so the band's socialistic lyrics are hardly a draw for me. Oh, and most of my all-time favorite albums have a flow or theme of some sort, and are thus what I and many others call "more than a collection of songs". I can't think of a single Clash album that I would consider more than a collection of songs. So....why do I like this band again???
       Because they made some of the greatest songs in the history of rock music. Melody, arrangement, variety -- when it came to writing songs, these guys had it all, particularly during the London Calling sessions. And also, they were incredibly varied with these songs, and they did loads and loads of genres fantastically well. Reggae, punk, acoustic ballads, pop, dance hall, rap, jazz, funk, hard rock, novelty, spoken word -- the band tried their hand at all of those throughout their brief career, and I'm happy to say that I could probably find at least one classic song from each of those genres...well, maybe not spoken word, but the rest of 'em? Yeah. They did the genre justice, and then some.
       Oh, and in my opinion, Mick Jones and Joe Strummer were one of the greatest songwriting duos in the history of rock music. Much like how Brian May and Freddie Mercury added doses of hard rock and theatricality (respectively) to their music, Mick and Joe both had completely different genres and styles in which they worked best in. This combo was a major boon for the band, as far as I can see. And also, the contrast of Mick's voice every now and then also helps majorly for variety within the albums.
       So there you have it. For anyone wondering the lineup is as follows: you got Joe Strummer providing extremely scratchy lead vocals and rhythm guitar, and Mick Jones providing extremely pretty occasional lead vocals and lead guitar. Paul Simonon was a guitarist who the band met, and said "Hey, can you play bass?" to which Paul responded "No, I can't" to which the band responded, "Hey, you can be our bass player!". So yeah, Paul Simonon the bassist was born. He also adds very occasional lead vocals. Like....three or so songs throughout the band's entire career. (But hey, all those songs were good!) The band's drummer for their first album was Terry Chimes, a decent, but not too special punk drummer. He was then fired and replaced by the fantastic Topper Headon, a jazz drummer whose sound fits in PERFECTLY with The Clash. He never really did anything too jaw-droppingly amazing, but his drumming was always incredibly solid and useful.
       Oh, and here's something cool! Have you read all the reviews and want to hear some of the music for yourself? Well, look no further! I've got a link to one of my absolute favorite podcasts, Discover Music Project!!! (For those not in the know, a podcast is a downloadable internet radio show.) DMP is hosted by the great Jonny Metts, and is a show where each episode, a different music artist is spotlighted. Songs by that artist are then played on the show, followed by discussion. Jonny does his own personal artist/song choices most of the time, but sometimes the floor is opened for listener playlists, such as in this Clash episode. In fact, this certain listener happens to be named Reagan. Hey, that's my name! Hey, wait....IT'S ACTUALLY ME!!!! That's right, this playlist was designed personally by yours truly! Ain't that swell? Anyway, here's the link: Discover Music Project: Episode 47 -- The Clash. (Oh, you may notice some extremely hyperbolic comments from me being read aloud. Yeah, I was kinda being a little over the top, to ensure that my playlist would be used on the show. And it worked!)

The Clash (UK or US) (1977/1979)
Rating: 13 (for both)
"They're always on the TV / 'cause killers in America work seven days a week!"
Best Song: Janie Jones for the UK album; Complete Control for the US one
Worst Song: What's My Name? (both)

       Yeah, I decided to review them together, because unlike most people, I think that the US and UK versions are pretty much equal in quality. For those of you who don't know, the original version of the album, released in the UK in 1977, was a straight punk album. However, when CBS wanted to release the album in America two years later, right before the release of London Calling, they thought the album was a little too....rough around the edges. So, they decided to cut off the worst tracks (arguable, but I'll get to that later) and stick on a bunch of much more advanced singles that the band had released in the years since the original's release, as well as a re-recorded version of one track from the original, "White Riot". Thus, we're left with two surprisingly different albums -- one with nothing but fast, short punk songs, and the other with more varied material. 
       Most people prefer the US version, as the songs added are all quite excellent and interesting, and the songs excised aren't exactly the greatest tracks in the world. However, to my ears, one thing holds the US album from being way better than the UK version and a guaranteed 14. That, my friends, is the sequencing and flow. I can't explain why, really, but "Remote Control" sounds WAY better following "Janie Jones" than it does following "I'm So Bored with the USA". Also, I find that most of the worst tracks are all bunched together on the US version towards the end (London Calling, anyone), while the weaker tracks on the original version are more spaced throughout. Not to mention that the more advanced material is a bit of a sore thumb stuck among the original punk songs.
       But even though I don't think that the US version is that much better than the original, I do think that it's at least slightly better. "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais" is a fantastic reggae song with an awesome opening, funny lyrics, a great melody, and some whacked-out harmonica. What more could you want from an early Clash reggae song? Nothing, that's what!
       Even better is the cover of "I Fought the Law", which is way more fun and anthemic than it should be. Oh, and listen to that guitar playing! And listen to "Jail Guitar Doors", which is extremely underrated! Sure, the "BANG! BANG!" and "CLANG! CLANG!" lines are kinda goofy, but it's an extremely catchy rocker, and one of my personal favorites on the album. I'm not as crazy about the opener, "Clash City Rockers", but that's only because of the ridiculously muddy production. (WHY DOES IT SOUND LIKE THEY ARE PLAYING THROUGH A FILTER? WHY?!?!) The song itself is a fun little "I Can't Explain" rip-off with a great vocal melody.
       Ah, but none are as good as "Complete Control". This one takes a while to grow on you, but eventually it does, and man...it's absolutely brilliant. Mick's off doing crazy guitar fireworks the entire time as Joe spits out his incredibly angry lyrics directed towards CBS about their dealings with the band's material. And while the song's pretty good for a while, it REALLY takes off when Mick starts chanting that "CONTROL! C-O-N! CONTROL!" lyric at the end as Strummer starts screaming completely unintelligible bits of furious scatting! And all the while Mick's guitar is just squealing like a madman all over the place! Heck, this outro is so epic that they could carry it on for five minutes, "Hey Jude" style, but they cut it after one! Ooo, it's such a great song.
       I guess I better talk about the punk songs on the original, eh? "Career Opportunities", "Protex Blue", and "White Riot" are all great, fun little punk numbers that are catchy as anything The Ramones (or any other punk band, for that matter) ever put out, as is "I'm So Bored with the USA". I particularly like Mick's backing vocals in "USA"'s chorus. They're surprisingly chilling, actually.
       "48 Hours", "Garageland", "Hate & War", and "Remote Control" are all merely decent and don't really do much for me. They're certainly not bad, but eh...the band could obviously do much better. The UK version's opener, however, is simply excellent. "Janie Jones" is two minutes of catchy punk fury, and it captures the album as well as anything else here. And isn't Jones' little "Let them know / Let them knoooooooooooooow!" line at the end not beautiful? I think it is, personally.
       Then there's the album's odd duck, the 6-minute reggae cover "Police & Thieves". It's not nearly as good as "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais", but it doesn't really harm the album in any way. It's fun, the bass line is pretty cool, it's got a decent guitar solo -- not bad, not bad at all. Also, this album's version of "White Riot" far exceeds the re-recorded version on the US edition. It's way more fun and energetic here. Heck, it almost reminds me of "Blitzkrieg Bop", funny enough.
       Ya like punk? Get this. Immediately. Heck, I'd even say it's a good starting place for the band, which is rather contrary to popular opinion. You see, it's a lot easier (to me, at least) to get used to Joe Strummer's voice singing punk than another genre, simply because his voice fits punk much, MUCH better than it does pop, or jazz, or ballads, or whatever. Which version? Eh, start with the US one, but if you like it, I HIGHLY recommend the UK version as well. It's probably much more different than you would think, both in content and flow. They're both great, in my opinion.

Give 'Em Enough Rope (1978)
"I went to the place where every white face is an invitation to robbery"
Rating: 11
Best Song: Safe European Home
Worst Song: Cheapskates

       I was planning on giving this one an 10, but I dunno...it's really grown on me. Songs like "Guns on the Roof" and "Drug-Stabbing Time" sounded like boring, generic rockers upon first listen, but now they sound like...really well-done, generic rockers! No, this stuff isn't exactly brilliant, but it's oftentimes catchy and pretty much always fun. I feel about it the same way I do about Radiohead's The Bends -- fun, if not derivative guitar rock that is by no means mind-blowing or perfect (and also contains a few rough patches), is extremely pleasant and well put-together. Thus, they get the same grade. 
       Enough Rope opens with full-blast with the awesome "Safe European Home", easily the best thing here. The super frenetic riffage, Mick's awesome little "Wheeeere'd ya go?!?"'s, Joe's awesome delivery ("They goht tha weed and they goht the tax-ees!")-- yes, it's definitely the best thing here. Not far behind, however, is the strangely anthemic and sentimental "All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts", which is essentially Mick and Joe trying to create a sort of "All the Young Dudes" for the punk kids. Lyrically, I'm not so sure it completely works...but hey, the melody is great, and the aforementioned sentimental feel is rather sweet.
       Also confusingly and un-Clash-ly sentimental is Mick's "Stay Free", a sort of recollection of his young adulthood. It's nothing amazing, but it's definitely not bad. Also not amazing, but definitely not bad is "Last Gang in Town". If it was 3 minutes, it'd probably be pretty great, but at 5? Eh...it's a bit overlong.
       Better is the "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" rewrite, "English Civil War". The guitars are awesome and Mick's harmonies are chilling, and it's overall a very cool, fun, and creative take on a melody we've all heard hundreds of times before. There are also the two gun-oriented riff rockers, "Guns on the Roof" and "Tommy Gun". "Guns on the Roof" is yet ANOTHER song based off of the "I Can't Explain" riff, but to be honest...I think I like this one more than "Clash City Rockers". The tone is AWESOME, the production is way clearer, and the vocal melody is at the very least equal to "Rockers". I don't really have much to say on the "Tommy Gun" front. It's fast, it's fun, it's catchy, and it's a riff rocker. Yup.
       I really dig the bouncy, piano-driven "Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad". It's got some seriously entertaining lyrics as well as an awesome baseline and the aforementioned piano. Heck, it almost sounds London Calling-y. Good stuff. The only track that I really don't like is the extremely forgettable "Cheapskates", which is yet another riff rocker that features pretty much nothing of interest. Yawn.
       I like this album quite a bit. It's not quite a classic, but it's not THAT far behind The Clash or Sandinista. After the big three, come here first. 

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