The Clash [UK Edition] by The Clash

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7. Aug. 2010, 9:26

The Clash by The Clash.

Track 1, "Janie Jones":

A cynical song about the false promise of rock 'n' roll rebellion is a funny opener (UK edition) for the group probably most associated with rock as righteous rebellion. We go from the love of rock (first verse/chorus) and the fantasy of a better tomorrow (second verse) to the daily drudgery that foils those dreams (last two verses). And the kicker: "He's gonna tell his boss exactly how he feels"--yeah, he's gonna, but he hasn't and we suspect he'll never do much more than sit and stew in his cubicle. Not even the just-shy-of-explosive music believes: the drums are a little thin--more clattering than pounding--and the guitar saws away too low in the mix--loud enough to announce its presence, not loud enough to inspire. Invert the structure, go from boring working life to rock fantasy, and it might be uplifting--a song about needing, loving, and then living the dream. But what they actually do, going from dreams to day-to-day crap, denies the dream rather than advancing it.

Track 2, "Remote Control":

The contrast in vocal styles is key here: it's Jones's aching, drawn-out syllables vs. Strummer's bark. In other words, it's pop vs. punk. Jones's pop-inflected vocals express dissatisfaction and hopeless; Strummer's punkish yammering amplifies those feelings and goads us into action. Throw in a slower tempo, a relatively restrained guitar solo, and additional space between the instruments, and you have a song with a poppier touch and less muddy, sped-up punk blur. Which is all a little surprising, since this is as close as the album comes to a pissed-off political protest song. It sounds more resigned than angry, as though the band can't quite muster enough rage to adequately respond to their survey of the political scene facing the young and repressed and powerless. Oh, there's an undeniable martial stomp to the rhythm section (you can see the punks marching the streets packed with corporate drones, bankers, and pols), but the song never develops into nervy, angry defiance.

Track 3, "I'm So Bored with the U.S.A.":

Far be it from me to deny America's peccadilloes--sociopathic foreign policy; mind-rotting violent entertainment; waist-expanding, planet-destroying consumer doodads--but I wouldn't say we're boring. Yeah, yeah, I get that they're just taking the piss out of the star-spangled hegemon--even if there are moments where Strummer's ferocious growling, Jones's stabbing guitar licks, and the never-say-die rhythm section make me wonder if they just might mean it. But nah, they're only thumbing their noses at the Big Bad US of A. After all, they'd soon be worshiping at the altar of American roots rock, so we know their animus toward the Americas wasn't especially deep or abiding. Plus, their viewpoint hadn't yet been carefully calibrated. While their instincts were all right--they were angry at the right people for the right reasons--they were deficient in right-thinking. Which is as it must be: two-minute pop songs allow for righteous indignation, but not its ideological justification.

Track 4, "White Riot":

Punk, the story goes, revived straight-ahead, guitar-heavy rock--and yet, in many Clash standards, the rhythm section seems key and guitar is relegated to a secondary role, adding texture, reinforcing the beat, etc. That's not the case here--not by a long shot. Muddy, wild guitar playing is splattered all over this song, and Jones refuses to stop soloing and simply lay down the melody. Which leads to a duel between Strummer's voice and Jones's guitar: both are frantic, scratchy, and excessive, and both demand the spotlight. But Jones's playing is just too much, and Strummer yields again and again, holding up his singing, and the song as a whole, and allowing another frenzied shot of guitar noise to voice the yearning for a riot--for storming the street, feeling the of the crowd throb around you, and releasing pent-up energy driven by the allure of destruction. It's time to throw aside the caution of the caucasian, the guitar tells us. It's time. Honkies of the world, unite!

Track 4, "White Riot [Single Version]":

A respectable version, I suppose--though I think it's probably a bit twee, what with its sound effects, clearer guitar tone, and a drum sound like handclaps/boots running across the pavement. The sloppier, wilder album version seems more apposite: after all, the appeal of rioting--at least to the relatively privileged white majority to whom this song is addressed--is largely in the chaos and disorder. If you're going to convince the haves (as opposed to the have-nots) to riot, you've got to present throwing off social strictures and tearing stuff down as an aesthetically appealing act; for it's certainly not in the their financial or political self-interest. (There's a reason blowing shit up typically appeals to the downtrodden and disenfranchised: they have little to lose.) And who wants to a gilded, sanitized riot, or a gilded, sanitized song about rioting? Certainly not this white dweeb who wants to vicariously experience the joy of rioting through song.

Track 5, "Hate & War":

I realize it's mostly Jones's slicker singing voice, but this, like any song on which he sings lead, sounds like perverted love song. Whenever he calls it out "hate and war," it's as if he's crying out the name of his beloved. Yes, she tortures him. Yes, he can't stop thinking of her. Yes, she's got him up at night. Yes, she's sapping his will to live. But no, he can't live without her. And he wouldn't want to. She's bad for him, but he's not giving up on her. He simply doesn't feel alive without racial animus, violence in the streets, and widespread social dysfunction. The riots, the kids out fighting one another, the poisoned political atmosphere, etc.--it's a heady and intoxicating mixture. Combustible and anxiety-inducing, but also thrilling, always promising something novel, something exhilarating, something unforgettable. A perpetual state of hate and war is a gas. He's living it, and loving it.

Track 8, "London's Burning":

The unnatural illumination of London at night--is it what we're hoping for? Is it a conflagration destroying all that needs destroying? Nope, it's a million boob tubes bathing London in blue light and hypnotizing its denizens. So we're still out in the streets, still dreaming of revolution, and still thwarted by the obliviousness and apathy of the citizenry. But there's an upside. The city is ours. With the respectable people ensconced in their homes, the battle has already been won: the city is now a playground for the punks, rebels, outcasts, and thieves. And the brutal, martial rhythm section is driving us into the streets with them, keeping our cadence as we explore the cityscape in the wee hours. Peals of guitar squeeze through the beats now and them, expressing the rage underlying our restless exploration--but they can't overwhelm the beat, which keeps us moving, moving, moving. The disaffected and powerless have run of the world for the night, and we're making the most of it.

Track 9, "Career Opportunities":

The Clash know the only thing worse than experiencing unemployment is experiencing employment. So they're bitching about the options available to undereducated young men with limited skills and unlimited chips on their shoulders, and they're delighting in seeing the working world for the stultifying nightmare it is. A job is a means of control: it's meant keep you out of trouble, keep you in line, keep you stifled and unimaginative. And unless you're planning to rot in the gutter, you've gotta have one. So just sing along and make the best of it. And yes, they really do want you to sing along. Which is why this is something close to a novelty number--a song with a punning chorus and jokey lists of dead-end jobs in the verses, a song defined by a simple, insistent beat that's easy to sing along to. Who doesn't want to sing about how work sucks? And what could be easier to sing along to than that thump-thump-thumping beat? Sing, wage slave. Sing for your new masters. Sing!

Track 12, "Police & Thieves":

We're nearing to the end, and it's time for the unusually long, (potentially) momentum-killing track. An epic song needs a grandiose theme, so it's time to get Biblical: nothing short of armageddon will do. The police and thieves--two sides of the same coin, and neither more legitimate than the other--spill out in to the streets and get their war on, while a drawn-out rockified reggae cover plays as musical accompaniment. The soundtrack of armageddon, then, is the track least reminiscent of the chaos and violence of a warzone. There's a lesson here, I think: punk isn't up to the task of depicting the end times. Punk's simplicity, one of its signal virtues, limits its possible scope. It burrows in and destroys, it strips things down and obliterates; it can't achieve the epic sweep needed to assay grandiose topics. Maybe the distilled energy of punk can prompt revolution fervor, but it doesn't provide a canvas adequate to portray the revolution in all its breadth and complexity.

Track 13, "Garageland":

As a final track, it's more a new beginning than a culmination, I'd say. Here, for the first time, the Clash take on the mantle of rock 'n' roll rebels with a cause. Observing from a punk's eye view, we've been led through thirteen (UK edition) ferocious, bitterly cynical songs, each a lacerating portrayal of the awfulness of contemporary society. And where has it gotten us? Nowhere, it seems. Hell, now the punk sneer itself is for sale to whoever offers up the newest, trendiest boots and suits. And the Clash are ready to let them have it. Let them have punk as fad, as style, as trend. What they can't have is the indignation that nurtured and sustained the trend, an indignation the Clash are ready to divert into rock 'n' roll rebellion--a rebellion against the right things, rather than a punkish rebellion against all comers. So they're withdrawing to the garage to marshal an army to war against the poseurs and the powerful. We eagerly anticipate receiving our marching orders.

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