Graded on a Curve:
The Clash, (S/T)

Why is it that I love The Sex Pistols but am completely indifferent to The Clash? Because I prefer cartoon nihilism to phony protest, that’s why. It’s much funnier. And then there’s The Clash’s wholehearted embrace, come 1979’s London Calling, of a mélange of musical styles by no means limited to reggae, ska, rockabilly, and (gak!) lounge jazz. Seems the entire world rejoiced at The Clash’s eclecticism. Well, the world will have to get along without me.

But that doesn’t explain my take or leave it attitude to their eponymous 1977 debut. It’s not just a straight-up punk album, more or less—it’s THEE GREATEST PUNK LP EVER so far as plenty of people are concerned. Why, The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau went so far as to declare the U.K. version of The Clash “the greatest rock and roll album ever manufactured anywhere.” I shit you not! So the problem must be in my head, not in the grooves! I’m obviously a mental defective!

But I’ll damned if this alcoholic wet brain will go down without a fight. I can think of a few reasons why The Clash leaves me cold. First, they don’t make me laugh. This is important. The Sex Pistols cracked me up with their “nod’s as good as a wink to a blind horse” brand of ersatz anarchy, and every other punk band I’ve ever loved since has tickled my funny bone in one way or another. The Clash don’t make me laugh. They come close on the admittedly great “White Riot” (why shouldn’t we white folks have a riot of our own? Everybody else is doing it!) and on “London Burning,” which comes at you like a declaration of martial law only to let you know that what London’s really burning with is boredom. I love the band’s love for traffic lights. Too many rock’n’rollers run traffic lights instead of simply admiring them.

Second, their music isn’t mean enough for my tastes. Too many of the songs on The Clash have an almost languid feel, and the vocals are lacking, for the most part, in snarl and vitriol. “White Riot” is the most obvious exception; its vicious guitars and group vocals are everything and then some. The lyrics of “Cheat” have bite and the guitars are supersonic, but too many of the Clash’s other songs falter in the bile department. The great guitars of “I’m So Bored With the U.S.” drop out at the most inopportune moments; the admittedly catchy “Janie Jones” sounds almost as limpid as New Wave; and “Hate and War” is about as punk as my long dead granny. I mean, where’s the hate? And while I like the sentiments of “Police & Thieves,” I’m anything but enthused by its lazy reggae gait, which is a dire harbinger of the Clash’s musical future.

Meanwhile, one can only wonder what a band like Minor Threat would have done with a song title like “Deny.” Because the Clash’s take verges on punk easy listening. “Remote Control” is nice, but who wants to hear a nice punk song? “Career Opportunities” has some propulsion but sounds a bit too “pop” for my tastes, while “Garageland” is at least ahead of its time or well behind them, doesn’t matter. As for “What’s My Name,” I like it but I certainly don’t love it, and that goes for far too many of the songs on this album including the “rumble in the bog” that is “Protex Blue,” which like it or not is the greatest testimonial to condoms ever written.

Everybody loves mashed potatoes but I hate mashed potatoes and so it goes with The Clash. They leave me cold and lumpy. I disliked them the first time I heard London Calling, and 1980’s bombastic Sandinista just fueled my aversion. They kinda remind me of The Ramones sans the humor and non-stop rocket-fueled thrust, and those are the two things I like best about The Ramones. But that’s just me. What do I know? I’m a mental defective.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B-

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  • Narbo Wabo

    The view of your lower intestines must be very nice but there’s a whole world out here buddy. Why don’t you come out for a breather?

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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