Top 102 Albums. Minus 7.
The Clash - The Clash
Just what they're told to
To go to jail!"
Things have been a little quiet here among the smoke and darkness at Vapour Trails so I felt it was time to set the speakers shaking again and what better than a bit of 100% proof punk rock 'n' roll to shift the cobwebs.
I did think for a while that Sandinista would be #myclashchoice but every time I listen to this it inspires a wave of optimism - a rare enough event around here to warrant making a splash about it. But Sandinista is a cruelly undervalued album which sounds like it was tuned in to the future and there are always surprises in the wayward generosity of it's thirty-six tracks.
Back to the album in question here. As an all round non-believer I am usually batting for the skeptics but here I am happy to punch the air in youthful credulity. All it really takes is rough voiced fervour and a choppy tsunami of highly strung guitar riffs. And a THEM and an US, but not the U.S. That's boring.
"Then you said you'd given it up
Gone an' kicked it in the head
You said you ain't had none for weeks
But baby I seen your arms
Baby I seen your arms"
But escape into excitement can be just as boring, and junk, cars, sex and even rock 'n' roll can be dead ends. Experiment quickly becomes habit and then the dead hand of boredom can leave its tracks. But even boredom can burn, and there is a smile and a snarl in the way The Clash try to keep up with, and keep in with, the crowd they are also leading. They don't seem sure if they want to get wrecked for the weekend ("Monday is comin' like a jail on wheels") or have a revolution. Or maybe both? What they do know is that lots of people are living lives they don't want. But they're too scared to say.Working stiffs, bored teenagers, rioters and judges, businessmen and guttersnipes; all manner of people appear in these songs often in opposition with each other. The tension generates a sense of movement and excitement. It's like listening in on an argument on a bus at night, with everyone joining in with opinions, asides, advice and the odd drunken roar from the back. "Johnny, Johnny". Ah, it's a prophylactic joke. Stops you acting your age. Cue adolescent sniggering.
"Let them know / Let them know"
"Let them know / Let them know"
The Clash's efforts to mesh punk and reggae produced a great, raw version of Junior Murvin's Police and Thieves. It seemed to capture the times. It still does. The enemies were the thugs, in or out of uniform. What would we do, who would we be if we weren't paralysed by fear. Barriers were falling, even if barricades were being erected - "I want a riot." Anything for some excitement. Anything to throw off the weight of a played out tradition and re-invent Britain. Or at least start a punk rock band and ride the wave of excitement until it crashes on the shore.
Without being escapist the album is as much fun as can be inscribed in a twelve inch vinyl disc.
Pull on those skinny jeans, lace up those Doctor Martens, spray paint a t-shirt and pogo until you fall through the floor.
Exercises: "Do you think I'm a raving idiot / Just got off the boat?"
Discuss the use of racist, colonial, anti-immigrant phrases in the work of the politically radical punk rock band The Clash.