Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Random Release: The Grit to My Goosestep

It’s random release time again and I’m hungry. Which has nothing to do with anything.

Eventually this was bound to happen, namely that in the course of my random release project, I’d choose an album that is so universally known and lauded, it’s pointless to say anything more and anything left is either conjecture or pure fantasy. A LOT has been said about this album, and I know my 2 cents isn’t going to matter a bit, might even do some damage, but so it goes with the randomness of the random release post. Also for that reason, I’ll be half phoning this one in…so just a warning. (And no, I don’t feel compelled to change up like I did last time…I do have a few things to say here.)
The hype surrounding the Clash is, in a word, ridiculous. I understand a lot of what they did (to a certain degree), like being a voice for the people and blurring the lines between “black and white” music and maintaining a certain “ethic” that made their output notable and their attitude admirable and their legend unfathomable. They even went so far as to ensure that CBS priced their triple wang-doodle album Sandinista! at normal album prices (‘cos even they knew that there was only one album’s worth of solid material on that quagmire). And I used to think ol’ JS was a pretty cool guy ‘cos I essentially believed what I read and heard from older musicians I admired (or at least had no reason to disbelieve) that had been there. And then I saw The Future is Unwritten -- and basically Joe Strummer was a douche.

However, he could write a pretty good tune. And this is evidenced in the Clash’s debut album, the UK version of which I’m more fond/familiar. If I had to name one Clash album worth owning and giving a repeat listen (rather several), it would be this one. (If I had to name two I’d throw in Super Black Market ‘cos you get the tracks from the US version that aren’t on here, a scattering of singles and b-sides and a couple of fun remixes. If I had to name three I’d roll my eyes and say “Oh, ok, London Calling….”)
Il Douche
If you like the Clash, the idea of the Clash or even the sound of things clashing together, you should enjoy, possibly even love this album. I know I do. And thankfully politics has nothing to do with it, because with a very few exceptions I can’t stand politically bent music. And yes, the Clash is known for their politics, but really, I don’t “feel” it much here. This album is visceral and dirty without being raucous or obscene, so while it may frustrate a few parents with its clamor, it’s not really going to raise any political hackles or cause any undo stress, ‘cos a lot of the issues are 30 years old, an ocean away and many of them are honorable despite the loud approach. Really, a good bit of it is just social commentary, from the lack of a future for England’s (and the world’s) disaffected youth (Career Opportunities) to being fed up with caring and trying to keep up with whatever is going on in America (Bored with the USA) to the age old anti-violence/war rant (Hate & War).

But really what makes this album so appealing is that it’s fun. Right out of the gate you’ve got the drum bounce of Janie Jones (a Freudian slip had me typing “Jenny” Jones initially…), a catchy number about I don’t care what and from there the album just chugs along in a like fashion, most songs too short or fast to ever be boring, or even noticed, but with enough hooks (that Mick Jones could turn a hook, yo) to find that you’re singing along at least with every chorus, ‘cos who really understands what Joe is singing during the verses half the time anyway. The album’s anger and discontent is obvious, but more in a futile fist-shaking of “Oh, you guys…,” than in a club (or should I say truncheon) wielding, head bashing, by any means necessary call to arms. The boys just want to make people aware of things – “Hey! You’re not alone,” or “Hey! We know what’s going on,” or “Hey! There need to be some changes.” And to give them credit, they did what they could (I mean they’re no Bono, but who is). And again, while I can respect that, I don’t care. I just like the pop sensibilities, the grit to my goosestep, that shot of adrenaline that Strummer/Jones could provide whenever they felt like it…and they did so at least two or three times on every album that followed, but here on the debut daddy gets his fix for a solid half hour plus instead of having to slog through One More Time, One More Dub and Lightning Strikes before getting to the sweet riff goodness of Up in Heaven.

I think Joe and the boys were always pretty proud of everything they put out (with the exception of Cut the Crap maybe, but I’m not 100% on that), but they did put their views it seems even before their music. Ironically my favorite song on the album, Remote Control, is the one the band essentially disowned due to a dispute with CBS of it being released as a single over their choice of Janie Jones. I’m sure that song was blistering live, especially once they could afford some decent equipment and could play a decent sounding stage (and I don’t mean Shea Stadium). But you gotta hand it to them for putting their beliefs ahead of their own music.
The thing with the Clash is that I have to be in the mood to want to listen to them, and as the years pass those moods are fewer and further between. The exception, however, is this album, the best setting for which is the car: wide open road, windows down, totally alone and yelling “White riot!!!” at the top of your lungs -- ‘cos you can really lose yourself in the groove and rhythm of these songs. The trick is not getting bogged down in the “importance” of it all, ‘cos at the end of the day this is nothing more than rock n roll music, so take it at face value, sing along where you can and who cares what any of it really means.

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