Review Summary: The Clash's career never recovered from this ugly dud.
It's not hard to estimate the mindset of The Clash post-London Calling
proved that, if they couldn't actually do everything, they at least thought it was worth trying. It resulted in an album that was inconsistent to say the least, but also full of highlights. Depending on your mentality, it was either an admirable failure, or an unlikely, messy success. And that is what people often overlook when they call Combat Rock
a mini-Sadinista - within the earlier effort, there was a great single album hidden, and that made it worthwhile. Combat Rock
, on the other hand, is basically an utter failure.
"Know Your Rights" sounds as if it's going to kick the album off on the right foot. Although it's a little too preachy, it is, at the very least, interesting - there aren't many other examples of such obvious, blatant politics being spouted over music as poppy as this. There are, it must be said, less accessible songs than this by Girls Aloud. That, of course, made a lot of short-sighted, stupid punks call them 'sell-outs', ignoring the fact that this is actually a pretty good song, and if ideologies matter more to them than music then they should stop buying records and spend their time visiting preachers instead. Like any opener should, it sets the tone, but in a bad way. While it looks as if it's going to lead to an album that exploits their pop instinct and add the politics of their debut into the mix (an impression helped by "Car Jamming"), it actually leads into a series of genre experiments, of which "Know Your Rights" is one of only 2 successes.
The other success is, of course, "Rock The Casbah". It's a flat-out awesome song, no two ways about it, and it will forever rank as one of the best things The Clash ever did. Rather than being a straight genre excursion, this brings in African percussion, jazz piano, Phil Spector-esque handclaps and harmonies, dubby sound effects, and a disco rhythm. The end result is stunning. It was their first real US hit, and deservedly so.
There is but one more pleasure - "Should I Stay or Should I Go", for better or worse, set the tone for much of the '80s stadium pop/rock that followed, both in its simplicity and production. Never mind that though; it's a great song, and it sticks out like a sore thumb because it is just that. This is the only song on this album that doesn't see The Clash trying to impress the listener, or prove that really, they're down with all that black music the kids are listening to.
They were, of course, but much of Combat Rock
plays like a band attempting funk and dub having heard only one album from either genre. "Red Angel Dragnet" brings the album to a grinding halt, its music indistinct, its spoken word lyric far too cheesy an approximation of reggae toasting to ever work. And from that point on, the album never recovers, Strummer and the boys decided that instead of writing great rock songs and dressing them up in other genres, they'd forego the songwriting and just try and sound like something they're not. Even one of the song titles gives that away - The Clash's attempt at a funk song is called....wait for it...."Overpowered By Funk"! Brilliant. Could you imagine The Clash
containing a song called "Overpowered By Punk"" The track entirely fails to overpower the listener with anything except bemusement, sounding like a rejected song from the Sonic The Hedgehog soundtrack. The rest is the same with different genres - "Sean Flynn" is lazy, derivative world music that sounds like it belongs on a documentary, and would have been a boring filler on Paul Simon's Graceland; "Ghetto Defendant" is more boring reggae; "Death Is A Star" is an attempt at sounding European that would maybe have a shot at being on the bed for Eurotrash, if it was lucky. That, in a nutshell, is the reason that Side 2 of Combat Rock is one of the most pointless listening experiences I've ever been through. Each song here sounds like it should be on a TV show or video game; like it was written in 15 minutes by a faceless session composer with no passion for pop music (nor any skill for composition, quite frankly). Even the much-vaunted "Straight To Hell" is pretty poor.
This is the sound of a once-great band falling apart into mediocrity. If London Calling
was their Revolver
or their Sgt. Peppers
, and Sadinista
was their The Beatles
, then this is The Clash's Let it Be
- a desperately inconsistent album that holds far more crap than gold, but still has 2 or 3 songs that remind just how great this band once were. In short, it's a disappointing, depressing, boring album.