Review Summary: The Carbon Bubble is worth a listen for diehard Clash fans, but if you’re not one of those, there’s probably not much of interest here.
Mick Jones and Paul Simonon have been touring and recording with Gorillaz
for the past year or so, but Jones also has a band with longtime friend Tony James (Generation X
, Sigue Sigue Sputnik
) called Carbon/Silicon
. Their claim to fame is their “M.P.Free” ethos. In other words, they give away all their music for free online. Pretty tech-savvy for a couple of old punks.
After being booted from The Clash
, Jones went on to form Big Audio Dynamite
. At the time, they were on the cutting edge of sampling techniques. All those old movie samples have made B.A.D. reissues a bit of a problem because they were never cleared for the original releases. B.A.D. is still a ton of fun to listen to, but generally sounds pretty dated.
Some early Carbon/Silicon material continued down the sampling route, featuring clips of well-known bands such as The Kinks
and The Beatles
, but it proved unreleasable (through official channels anyways) due to legal issues. Whether for that reason or others, Mick seems to have returned to his rock and roll roots. Well, almost. Carbon/Silicon, despite having a drummer for live shows, can’t seem to let go of using a drum machine on all of their studio recordings. This mechanical feel really sucks the life out of songs that have the potential to be great.
Drum machine aside, the album seems like a step forward and a step and a half back. First, the good: Mick really lets it rip on guitar on some of these songs. There are some scorching riffs and solos here, two things that have been lacking in previous Carbon/Silicon material. The bad? The album seems weaker lyrically than their past works. The Carbon Bubble
lacks any songs that really reach out and grab you - songs that show the band still has something important to say. And that's not to say they don't. They do. They've written some great songs like “The Gangs of England” or “Why Do Men Fight?” that take on larger issues while still managing to rock.
As strange as it may sound, the Clashiest part of The Carbon Bubble
is the fact that there are two Who rip-offs on it. “Make it Alright” is yet another remake of the “I Can’t Explain” riff, used in at least a few Clash songs as well as previous Carbon/Silicon material. Mick must really love that riff. The other, “What’s Up Doc?,” is a clear “My Generation” lift, and also the most fun to be had on the entire record. It’s the one song where the drum machine isn’t too much of a distraction. It just sounds like Mick and Tony rocking out in a garage, and honestly, that’s when they’re at their best.
It’s a good thing the best song is the second track or most listeners might never hear it. The album isn’t particularly bad, but it drags a lot. The shortest song clocks in at just over four minutes. The band just doesn’t know when to stop. Some otherwise good songs are ruined by sheer length and repetition. Other times the band slows down too much for its own good. Mick’s vocals aren’t what they used to be, and he can’t pull off the slower songs like he used to. “Unbelievable Pain” is compelling lyrically, but rather boring musically, and Mick sort of just sounds like he has a stuffy nose.
There are some other worthwhile songs on the record – notably “Don’t Taser Me Bro” and “DisUnited Kingdom” – but ultimately it’s a bit too slow, a bit too repetitive, and not exciting enough. The Carbon Bubble
is worth a listen for diehard Clash fans, but if you’re not one of those, there’s probably not much of interest here. For almost anyone, I’d recommend listening to the band’s live album, Carbon Casino
instead, which features much more energetic performances, and of course, a real drummer. Maybe someday Carbon/Silicon will release a great studio effort, but it hasn’t happened yet.