My reviews of all of The Clash’s studio albums.
1977: The Clash (10/10)
Though this is not the first British punk LP – that honour goes to The Damned, far as I know – it is the most important of the initial punk albums. Self-serious in a way that The Damned were not, and political with a point, unlike The Pistols, this record is everything that British punk was and aspired to be. It’s this message that connected with people both within and without Britain.
The songs are extremely strong, with most of them among not only the best Clash songs but the best songs of the initial wave of punk,
And, on top of all of this, The Clash are actually a good rock band, despite the reputation of punk for having amateur musicians. Just listen to “Remote Control,” for example, which is just basically perfectly arranged.
One of the great records of the 1970s.
1978: Give’em Enough Rope (9/10)
When I was younger, this record marked a clear improvement for me on their debut. I’m not sure exactly what it was but I definitely felt like this was the more solid record. I have changed my mind.
I think they have absolutely improved as songwriters and they’re more ambitious (relatively speaking, for a 1977-78 punk band) than they were on they’re debut. They’re also a little less “punk” it feels to me. And the thing is, they really just transformed themselves the next year. In context, both the previous album and the next album feel far more important than this one.
But this record is still a pretty excellent set of songs for the punk music of the era – catchy enough but raw enough and full of anger and biting commentary – and I think it’s safe to say nobody else in the UK punk scene could compete with them in terms of the strength of their songs (though that depends how big a net you want to cast with the term “punk”).
1979: London Calling (10/10)
For much of my adult life I have referred to this record as the punk White Album. But that really isn’t true. Though it is the most diverse record punk had yet produced, it hardly compares to The White Album in terms of diversity. That’s a more appropriate comparison for Sandinista! than this record, both in terms of that record’s diversity and its warts.
Instead, what London Calling is, to belabour the Beatles comparison, is their Revolver – perhaps the Clash’s best ever set of songs spanning a heretofore unimagined musical range – unimagined not just for The Clash but for the entire genre of punk. There’s reggae, of course, but there’s so much more, including psychedelia of all things (hence the Beatles comparisons, I guess). It is not only the Clash’s best album but it is also the best album a (traditional) punk band put out in 1970s, and probably ever.
Albums from 1980 by The Clash:
Black Market Clash (???)
This was one of the first albums of theirs I ever heard and for at least a few months I actually thought it was their second album. At some point I realized I was wrong and then I appear to have deleted my digital copy. I have never reviewed it and haven’t heard it in 20 years. It’s a b-sides compilation, by the way.
If London Calling is the punk White Album then Sandinista! is the even more of a kitchen album that the Beatles were too smart (or too mad at each other) to make. Whereas London Calling is a tour de force of some of the best Strummer/Jones material, spanning more genres than any punk band had ever contemplated before, Sandinista! is far more material, far more inconsistent, with way more ambition. (Or, at the very least, way less of an ability to edit.)
This record is somehow is somehow almost 40 minutes longer than All Things Must Pass. It’s about 5 minutes shorter than Use Your Illusion (if you combine both records) but it’s over 20 minutes longer than Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. That is, it’s one of the longest records ever released by a major artist at their commercial peak. And there’s a lot of filler.
That filler includes children singing a song from The Clash and multiple dub versions of songs on earlier parts of the record. (One weird sequencing decision has the dub version of “One More Time” following it immediately, which is even more bizarre than just including them all on Side 6/F.)
But this was the first Clash record I ever owned on CD and it made me a fan of the band. At this point, I know every track and like more of them than I should. And there is some material on here that would probably make the cut on London Calling (or Combat Rock at least). My problem is that there isn’t enough of it, especially compared to those two ’90s behemoths I mentioned.
For anyone who is not a big Clash fan, is there any reason to wade through nearly 2 and a half hours of music to find the 10-15 good or great Clash songs on this record? I don’t think so.
So 6/10 seems pretty damn charitable.
1982: Combat Rock (7/10)
Combat Rock may be just as weird, flawed and imperfect as Sandinista! but it has two huge advantages over its predecessor.
The first is rather obvious: Combat Rock is slightly less than 1/3 the length of Sandinista!, which is just insane as it’s not like this record is particularly short. It’s a lot easier to listen to this uneven experimentation when it’s one LP long.
The other thing is that the best songs on Combat Rock are just better than the best songs on Sandinista!.
Both of those things add up to a lot. It’s as if the band had an editor this time (even if the reality is that they just didn’t have a lot of material).
As an aside: it’s so weird that Strummer felt like Jones and Headon were a problem musically when it feels like his contributions were just as mixed.
1985: Cut the Crap (3?/10)
Review lost to time. But I know I wrote one. I feel like I can remember one of the sentences.
There’s a reason this record is infamous.