Sunday, June 06, 2010

Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want The Truth, Part 2



On at least two occassions in my life, I have heard this song referenced as one of the worst things The Clash ever recorded. But it's one of my favorite Clash songs. Can't you just picture a Fleischer cartoon of anthropomorphic cars, their tires transformed into rubbery legs on which they rhumba down the street in time to that beat?

Combat Rock has kind of a middlin' reputation among Clash fans, despite containing their two biggest hits. A lot of the songs sound, at first listen, like throwaway filler tracks. But listening to it from 2010, it sounds like an album ahead of it's time, and in need of a reevaluation.

Combat Rock is the expression of Joe Strummer's vision of global urban music and a unified ghetto culture. Like Jim Kelly says, ghettoes are the same all over the world: poverty, crime, police brutality, daily strife, and always, a creative escape through music. Disco and hip hop spun at block parties in the Bronx housing projects, punk rock blasting out of London squat houses, dub sound systems shaking the Kingston slums, defiant Afrobeat jams in dirt floor huts in Lagos--in Strummer's ears, these are all one thing, and you can hear that combination on every Clash album going back at least to London Calling. One great example is the opening line of "Straight to Hell." The music is reggae, but the song is sung by a British street busker: "If you can play a fiddle, how's about an English jig and riddle?" No surprise that M.I.A. sampled the song for "Paper Planes"--she's basically just reiterating Strummer's musical concepts. Alan Ginsberg seems to intuit this vision on the poem he contributes to "Ghetto Defendent." Ginsberg connects slamdancing with The Worm, and sees both as means by which to "Enlighten the populace."

Songs like "Ghetto Defendent," "Red Angel Dragnet" and "Know Your Rights" seem at first like non-songs to fill up space, but listen to them as parts of a whole, with their texture being more important than their hooks. This is one of the most successful concept albums I've ever heard (although, I should say, I'm generally somewhere between uninterested and annoyed at the idea of concept albums, so maybe I'm not the best person to judge such things).

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