Review Summary: Better find another solution
Give me a classic punk album. Ramones? Good answer, well done. Never Mind The Bollocks? More defining, but as far as following the original punk blueprint goes it’s more of an idealistic second phase.
Now, how about an album that combines the classic message of Ramones with the revolutionary unrest of the Sex Pistols, covered by a blend of thoughtfully crafted intelligence and sound that had not been seen since Dylan? The answer is The Clash.
The Clash are one of those bands who arrived at the right time in the right place. England was a mess when Mick Jones fired out that defiant opening riff of ‘Clash City Rockers’. Political inaction and ineptitude following World War II had left a weakened economy, a steadily climbing unemployment rate, increased drug addiction, political indifference to the working class and a slowly boiling undercurrent of frustration and class hatred. The boys of The Clash were a part of this suffocating, sluggish recession, and they became a voice of catharsis and a personification of the aggravation that was waiting to be unleashed.
It is this perfect storm of political frustration, social disappointment and the beginning of a new, raw punk revolution that makes up The Clash.
The Clash is an ideological, topical stewpot, combining every problem and weakness of England into an angry, tight, oh-so-important album. Musically, they take the new bare minimum trend of punk and make it as large as they can, particularly in ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’ and ‘I Fought The Law’. Joe Strummer barks like a feisty terrier throughout the album, sometimes furiously, as on ‘London’s Burning’ and ‘White Riot’, sometimes mournfully on ‘Police and Thieves’ and ‘Garageland’, his working man philosophy pitched intensely and perfectly against Jones’s punching, staccato chords and Topper Headon’s Phil-Rudd-meets-Charlie-Watts drumming. Strummer’s idealogy must’ve inspired a million scrawled one liners on public toilets, schools, workplaces and brick walls of the United Kingdom in the months following the release of The Clash.
“The truth is only known by guttersnipes.”
“Can’t make no noise, can’t make no gear, can’t make no money, can’t get out of here.”
“You think it’s funny turning rebellion into money?”
“Hate and war: the only thing we got today.”
The emotions of The Clash are carefully articulated throughout the album. Opening with a hip-hop level of arrogance and come-and-get-us on ‘Clash City Rockers’ (“Better leave town if you only wanna knock us/Nothing stands the pressure of the clash city rockers!”), working class rage overtakes the album until ‘White Riot’, as the diminished expectations of racial equality are illuminated. Subtle sarcasm is the sneering tone of ‘(White Man) In Hammermsith Palais’ and ‘London’s Burning’, but it’s a return to proletariat fury on the blistering ‘Career Opportunities,’ ‘What’s My Name’ and ‘Hate & War’, with political undercurrents.
The final movement of the album is winding down under a darkening sky, to be played under a flickering lamp on a lonely night, particularly the slow reggae of ‘Police & Thieves’ and retrospective sigh of ‘Garageland’, a perfect foreshadow to punk’s next step: the Seattle grunge movement.
As for the overall quality of the songs? They make up a genuinely excellent album, far more consistent in thought than London Calling, and with much less filler. ‘Clash City Rockers’, ‘I’m So Bored With The U.S.A’, ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’, ‘I Fought The Law’, ’Career Opportunities’ and ‘Garageland’ are all definitive punk anthems, articulated, powerful and without a wasted word. ‘Remote Control,’ ‘Complete Control’, ‘London’s Burning’, 'Janie Jones', ‘What’s My Name’ and ‘Jail Guitar Doors’ are working class slogans with snapping, punching guitar and terse messages.
In short, listen to The Clash if you haven’t already, for the most consistent, across the board album of the UK punk movement.