MP3: The Clash - Combat Rock revisited
Other than it's disastrous followup Cut The Crap, Combat Rock is probably the most maligned album in The Clash catalogue. Perhaps it's down to the fact that it contains two of their most overplayed hits, in Should I Stay Or Should I Go and Rock The Casbah, both of which despite being fun and mega-catchy aren't as serious or thrilling as their earlier singles, or maybe it's because it came after 1981's triple album Sandinista!, which though thought of by many as bloated and inconsistent, is still well thought of for it's ambition, and is so loved by some that a track-for-track tribute is currently being compiled over at The Sandinista Project. In comparison Combat Rock is slightly confusing. First of all there isn't a lot of rock, at all, and what there is is as I said slightly lightweight. The rest of the record is basically Sandinista part 2, more experiments in various genres that I think due to their non-rock nature again add to the album's bad reputation amongst some rockist Clash fans.
It starts of with one of the greatest album openers of all time, Know Your Rights, which along with the two singles is probably the most traditional rock song on the record. The insistent, unchanging guitars in the verse with the little outbursts of feedback are fantastic, as are Strummer's lyrics and the lovely arpeggiated solo. Pearl Jam have did a rather good cover of this track a few tours back, and it worked rather well. Next up is Car Jamming, a reggae-ish track just as good as some of the stuff on Sandinista, and some rather odd Mick Jones vocal additions that sound a bit like Mark E. Smith. After that comes Should I Stay and Casbah, which need no commentary from me, other than to say that the production of Casbah is absolutely stunning and it's pretty obvious why it was a hit. The guitar sound in the chorus is aceness itself. One thing I do have to say is that on my CD copy of Combat there's a mobile phone ringtone at about 1:55, and i've no idea whether it's meant to be there or whether when it was remastered the engineers made a rather huge mistake. Surely that ringtone (the Trigger Happy TV one) wasn't in circulation back in 1982? If so, it's the only blight on a great pop song. Red Angel Dragnet is absolutely bizarre. It's basically Joe doing an insane rasta accent, but he ends sounding a bit like the retarded guy from Police Academy. Then someone else pops up and does an awful Travis Bickle impression. Odd. Next is one of the albums highlights, Straight To Hell. Basically a song about children who are the results of horizontal collaboration, it's really quite affecting, but the melody is slightly let down by the arrangement. The drums, and actually some of the guitar, don't fit that well for me, but still it's lovely, and it's got some of the bands best late period lyrics. Next up is the wonderful Overpowered By Funk, which doesn't have as good a bassline as The Magnificent Seven, but is still very very nice. It would really be great source material for remixers, so many good sounds going on. It's also notable for containing a rap from NYC graffiti artist Futura 2000, and a very nice 50s rock n roll sounding solo, which just show how good the band were at sampling and mixing the new with the old. Atom Tan is an okay tune, pretty catchy but nothing special. Sean Flynn is very mellow, and sounds something like the first few Peter Gabriel albums, mixing African rhythms with some horns and panpipes. Very odd, but still good. Maybe it's that woody 80s bass sound that puts off the punk fans though... Following this comes Ghetto Defendant, notable for including a performance from Allen Ginsberg. It's not one of his best pieces but it's got some nice lines, and his contribution works very well with what the band are doing. I have to say the next song, Inoculated City, is one of my least favourites. Doesn't really do much, and almost sounds like one of the lesser tracks from Springsteen's The River. Last up is Death Is A Star, which is another strange one. Starting with a Mick monologue, it's a kind of nice jazzy spoken word piano thing, sounds very off the cuff but again it's quite nice. I'm not trying to say that this is one of the band's better albums, but it's certainly not the commercial mess that people make it out to be, in fact it's far more experimental than the band's first two albums, and doesn't deserve to be written off just because of the poppy nature of the singles.
If you're still not convinced by the songs i've put up here, try checking out the stunning live versions of Know Your Rights, Should I Stay and in particular Straight To Hell from the tremendous live album From Here To Eternity, all of which perhaps prove my point about the quality of the songs regardless of the arrangements or production of the album versions, and you also get the benefit of hearing one of the best and most thrilling live albums i've ever heard. Click here to buy Combat Rock. Enjoy.