Friday, January 09, 2009

the Clash - The Clash

When I got the first Clash album, I really loved their abandon, noise and (comparative) variety of sounds and styles. They were probably my favorite British punk band at the time (I loved American punk a little more, in general). I didn’t care for the way they cleaned up after this release, though, and never bought another album after the disappointing (to me) Give ‘Em Enough Rope. I now think that they wrote some good stuff later but there was also plenty of complete, unadulterated and unlistenable crap. Of course, the things that I hate the most were their biggest sellers, so what the hell do I know?

This record opens with a powerful blast that ironically has probably their least consequential lyrics, “Janie Jones”, indirectly about a British pop singer/madam! It is actually more about a fan of Janie that hates his job, but Strummer sounds appropriately pissed as the band howls through this number. They’re a little more melodic in Mick Jones’ “Remote Control”, but still energetic, with plenty of power chords.

I thought they were being a bit silly with “I’m So Bored With the USA” seeing as they were obviously very influenced by the American music scene past and present. Of course, it was initially written as “I’m so bored with you” and they just added their sarcastic xenophobia to the tune. It is a good, upbeat song with a singalong chorus and some interesting guitar fills.

“White Riot” is a riotous, raucous, chant-along punker with frantic energy and more somewhat naïve lyrics such as “no one wants to go to jail”. Of course no one WANTS to go to jail, though some are willing to for the right cause. In any case, more nice guitar lines throughout by Mick Jones – he provides good interplay on many of the songs here.

Mick seemed the more melodic of the songwriting duo and “Hate & War”, despite the sensational title, is a well written piece, with plenty of clever vocal interplay and nowhere near as manic as some of the other numbers. Keith Levene (an early band member and later of Public Image) co-wrote “What’s My Name” with Mick & Joe and this also has musical twists and turns and a catchy chorus. “Deny” is one that it not referenced much from this album, but it is filled with minor keys and more highlights from Jones, as well as a cool, repetitive “what a liar” chant at the end.

Strummer is raspy and sarcastic throughout “London’s Burning” (“with boredom now…dial 999”). This has an insistent beat from drummer Terry Chimes, who left the band prior to the release of the album. I kinda thought that “Career Opportunities” was kinda ironic since most punks in the States were trying NOT to work and here the Clash were complaining because they couldn’t get a job and “had” to be on the dole! Very different attitudes at the time! Fast, furious and rockin’!

Singing about the violence on the scene, Strummer still manages to fit the song with catchy bits (the “cheat, cheat” chorus), while Mick adds his guitar and there are some unusual (for this record) production flourishes included. Jones’ most hectic tune is “Protex Blue”, his ode to a condom! I never knew that the shout of “Johnny, Johnny” at the end was due to this being a slang term for rubber before!

I was never much of a fan of reggae (with a few exceptions) but I always really dug the Clash’s version of “Police and Thieves”. This really helps to add variety to this album and it is far from a laid-back Jamaican number! They definitely put their own stamp on this one and gave me more of an appreciation of reggae in general!

A return to wild chaos is “48 Hours” with a mangled guitar solo and a a great chorus! Another humorous moment for me was after listening to the whole record I saw that there was a title “Garageland” and I thought “I don’t remember hearing that one”. Then I played the track and discovered that their heavy accent pronounced it gar-age-land instead of ga-rage-land as we Americans do! This was written in response to a derisive critic, which shows they had a sense of humor! More good, catchy punk rock!

As I said, for me this was by far their finest hour. This is crazed punk, obviously influenced by American garage, Detroit rock and early punk, but with a flavor all its own. They made their money by polishing their sound and I can’t fault them for that, but I would have loved to have heard more by the band with this wild edge! An essential record!
(PS - there are some amazing live videos floating around from this time period where they look great and are thoroughly maniacal!)