Graded on a Curve:
The Clash,
Combat Rock

I just listened to The Clash’s Combat Rock, and my ears have gone MIA! I don’t know whether they crawled into a foxhole to get away from the damn thing only to have the abominable “Rock the Casbah” drop dead smack on ‘em, or flat-out took to their heels screaming “Fuck it! I didn’t sign up for this shit!”

But one thing I do know–when the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau ass-kissingly cited this sonic shitpile as proof positive that The Clash were evolving, he failed to say what they were evolving into–Allen Fucking Ginsberg is my guess.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that my ears are born cowards who have been known to flee at the first sign of a firefight, but then again they’ve stood up to some really savage combat over the years; they bravely endured more than their fair share of ELP albums, after all, and walked away from the Battle of Captain and Tennille with Distinguished Service Crosses.

But Combat Rock? Sheeeit, man, who could blame ‘em for dropping their earbuds and deserting like Private Eddie Slovak? The poor bastards were expecting a punk album! They weren’t expecting to get spattered with horseshit! They walked into the worst ambush since the Battle of Little Big Horn and I don’t blame ‘em for beating a hasty retreat. I ran too, and I’m their fucking commanding officer!

Allow me to just say here that I respect The Clash for occupying the moral high ground during the abysmal Reagan/Thatcher years, and commend them for addressing the plethora of ills that kept all right-minded people on the brink of ethical apoplexy during that benighted time. But when it comes to probing analyses of the pressing issues of the day I’ll take the Minutemen any day, because they never failed to make me jump up and down while they were deploring the sad state of El Salvador.

I don’t jump up and down to Combat Rock for the simple reason that Combat Rock doesn’t rock. Call me old-fashioned, but my idea of a good rock ’n’ roll album is an album with good rock ’n’ roll songs on it, and in that quaint respect 1982’s Combat Rock’s a case of All’s Quiet on the Western Front.

Seriously, what do have here? The only punk rockers are a pair of big dumb radio hits (you know the ones I’m talking about) I was sick and tired of the very first time I laid ears on ‘em. I can’t even stand hearing “Rock the Casbah” coming out of OTHER PEOPLES’ cars, I roll down my window and scream, “Shut that fucking shit up!” And despite its big and catchy hook, it is my considered opinion as a rock ’n’ roll diagnostician that “Should I Stay or Should I Go” belongs in an institution for singles with special needs.

Otherwise you get a lotta reggae/dub and lotsa talking instead of singing and one pathetically underwhelming funk tune called “Overwhelmed by Funk” and the more I listen to Combat Rock the more I realize it ain’t a punk rock record at all–it’s a record for hippies to sit around smoking pot to! Most of its songs are so much gelatinous ooze and provide the perfect accompaniment for sinking beatifically into a bong hit bean bag stupor. Combat Rock my ass–they should have called it Bore War.

“Know Your Rights” and “Atom Tan” have a wee bit of get up and go, but Lord knows I got no more use for ‘em than I do “Death is a Star” (finger-snapping beatnik poesy meets cabaret song), “Ghetto Defendant” (leisurely spoken word dubbity-dub), and “Inoculated City” (swingin’ old school Clash group sing along) etc.

The only numbers I would ever consider listening to again are “Sean Flynn” (admittedly luvverly tone poem about Errol Flynn’s photojournalist son, who disappeared forever into Vietnam War-era Laos) and “Straight to Hell” (reverberating reggae thang with insightful lyrics about mine strikes, Amerasian kids abandoned in Vietnam by their G.I. daddies, and so on). Provided, of course, my ears ever find their way back to me.

Look, I know I should be commending The Clash for their creative daring and for following their muse and all of that shit, but I’m in a bad mood because my listening holes are out there somewhere either dead or trembling shell-shocked in a water-filled trench and it’s my fault, for feeding ‘em full of lies about how the Clash was THE GREATEST PUNK ROCK BAND IN THE WORLD and by so doing leading ‘em smack into a fucking massacre. Do you have any idea how shitty that makes me feel? They never stood a chance! I might as well have sent ‘em across No Man’s Land to listen to a Sting record!

I never trusted The Clash, you should never trust a band that puts out a fucking TRIPLE ALBUM for Christ’s sake, but even I didn’t expect a Gallipoli-scale debacle of this magnitude. If this is your cup of tomfuckery I can hardly fault you–you likes what you likes what you likes–and I’ll be the first to admit it’s got some interesting verbiage on it. One day I may even sit down and read the lyrics sheet. Shit, if my ears don’t return, I just may have to.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C-

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