In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Hit and miss, but the hits are so good, they still make it pretty great overall.”
After the mammoth scope and ambition of the double album London Calling, and the beyond epic triple long player that was Sandinista!, I was happy to see that The Clash returned to something a little more trimmed back for their next release. Don’t get me wrong, I loved London Calling and Sandinista! I think they both lived up to their ambition in a way that’s nothing less than remarkable. But in the end, my favourite version of The Clash is the more straight forward, stripped back, to the pint version of The Clash. And I was hoping for a return to that approach with Combat Rock.
I hope that was immediately satisfied with Know Your Rights. Straight forward, stripped back, to the point, and best of all, pissed off. After a pair of Strummer tunes to start, Mick Jones explodes with possibly the poppiest hit the band ever recorded, Should I Stay or Should I Go. Usually, referring to a song as poppy while talking about a band like this would sound like a slight, but I love this song. It’s a punk rock classic, an 80s rock classic, and just an all ‘round classic in any category you want to put it in.
Up next, Joe Strummer shows that he wasn’t above a bit of the old pop either, with what could rival the previous song as the band’s poppiest hit, Rock the Casbah. It’s jaunty piano (played by drummer Topper Headon) is such a great contrast to Strummer’s strained, rough vocals. As are Jones’ slightly smoother vocals in the chorus. This is punk going pop, while keeping its credibility intact.
The by then standard issue dub and reggae beats of any record by The Clash make their first appearance on Combat Rock with the slightly corny, mostly spoken word, totally unnecessary Red Angel Dragnet. Even stealing Paul Schrader’s amazing dialogue from Taxi Driver can save this song. Those back beats are used to much greater effect in Straight to Hell. Or as kids today call it, “that song that sounds like Paper Planes by MIA”.
Overpowered By Funk is one of the most appropriately titled songs I’ve ever heard. Because The Clash really is overpowered by this genre that they far from mastered on this song. It’s like they forgot for a minute that were white, English guys, and that this kind of music is simply beyond them.
After a couple of wankfests in Sean Flynn and Ghetto Defendant, The Clash get back to impeccable song writing, filled with impassioned lyrics and brilliant snark, with Inoculated City. And I really wish this is where Combat Rock had ended, because Death is a Star is so tossed off, it makes Sean Flynn and Ghetto Defendant sound like Stairway to Heaven.
Combat Rock is definitely the most hit and miss of any Clash album to this point. But the hits are so good, they still make it pretty great. I could listen to songs like Know Your Rights, Should I Stay Or Should I Go, Rock the Casbah, and Straight to Hell for the rest of my life. Even if there was no such thing as a skip button, listening to the bullshit filler in Combat Rock would be worth it for the crackers.