A YEAR IN MUSIC: THE CLASH – Combat Rock (1982)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1982
Review by: James Hodgkiss

Combat Rock, the last album by the Clash*, is an interesting album, taking the experiment that was Sandinista! and refining it, making it more coherent and blending it with their established sound to create something that really defies any attempt at categorisation other than “a work of genius”. I’ve not tried to properly review anything before, and doing it in the middle of the night like this probably won’t help, but whatever – the following is written, track by track, as I’m listening.

“Know Your Rights” as an opener sets the tone for the whole album, really: angry shouting and guitars in the name of social justice as you’d expect from the Clash, but a ska beat with the piano behind it and vocals that follow their own idea of what the song sounds like, utterly fantastic and at the same time unusual.

“Car Jamming” is even more unusual, I have no idea how to make any kind of examination of it other than that it’s great. I’m trying to think of more to say because it needs more than one sentence, but honestly I can’t describe it, it’s a Combat Rock song and immediately recognisable as such. Echoes of Joe’s later stuff, certainly, but unmistakably a Clash song nonetheless.

“Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” is the most normal song on the album, and again it’s just fantastic. Easily the most accessible, the bass tone is a tad strange, that’s not at all a bad thing, just a reminder that it’s still Combat Rock. Come on, who doesn’t love it?

“Rock The Casbah” now, following genius with genius. All the music written by Topper Headon, and the piano at the start played by him too (and the bass, or so I read somewhere), as if his drumming wasn’t enough to make us remember how great a musician he is. This is the Combat Rock sound at its most accessible, definitely not the regular Clash sound but just as glorious, as I’m sure anyone could hear, not just people who already like them.

“Red Angel Dragnet” – Paul and Topper providing a weird, massively cool beat with occasional stabs of guitar while Joe…fuck knows, I have no idea what he’s talking about, but it’s got the ineffable essence of the Clash that makes it great anyway.

“Straight To Hell” is an incredibly powerful song, it might take you a while to realise it but when you do it’ll hit you like a punch in the stomach. Just listen to the frustration, anger and pain in Joe’s voice, and I don’t know how to describe the music accompanying it in a way that’s not repeating what I’ve said about other songs already and that’s not good enough because it is different, there’s a different feeling to it and it compliments the vocals perfectly, like I said I don’t know how to describe it but just fucking listen to it, really listen to it, and you’ll see what I mean.

“Overpowered By Funk”… despite what the title claims this is actually the exact amount of funk to be cool as fuck rather than overpowering, though that is helped a lot by it being The Clash playing it because let’s be honest, it’s hard for them not to sound cool as fuck. I still have shit all idea what Joe’s talking about but it doesn’t matter because it’s him saying it.

“Atom Tan”. This just sounds great, again it’s unmistakably a Combat Rock song, I can only get vague scraps of meaning from it but as with Joe’s later stuff, I know there’s a meaning there even if I can’t work it out.

“Sean Flynn” is definitely reminiscent of Joe’s later stuff (can you be reminiscent of the future?) in feeling, though perhaps not as much in instrumentation. It’s Joe making a point in the obscure way he does, you might not get it as a song if you don’t really try, but if you do you’ll find it’s bloody good. It knows what it’s doing and where it’s going, even if you don’t.

“Ghetto Defendant” now, a weird song that again you probably won’t get unless you try, and again I don’t really know what it means but I know it has a meaning, Joe is trying to tell us something important in a way he understands but nobody else ever could.

“Inoculated City” is far more easily understood, and not as weird either (by Combat Rock standards), it’s an underrated song. Not sure what else to say, everything I could write about it could be gained just as easily by listening to it.

“Death Is A Star”… part song, part spoken word, none of it understandable, but still with that gripping Clash sound. Again I’m not sure what else to say, but that’s because it defies description really, it’s unlike anything else and no other band could do it.

All in all it’s a truly sublime album, unlike anything else, a fitting note for the band to end on and what I’ve said obviously hasn’t done it justice because no words ever could. It’s the Clash, how could they?

*Yes, absolutely definitely the last album. There most certainly wasn’t an album under their name released called Cut The Crap, that did not ever happen.
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Author: tomymostalas

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