Saturday, December 18, 2010

Give 'em Enough Rope (1978)

As it happens, based purely on a reputation rising fast and a rush of slavering good reviews, this first Clash album available in the US is also the first I acquired, back when it was brand-new late in 1978. But as an adherent of new wave, who adored the Buzzcocks and appreciated "Anarchy in the UK" for its tunefulness and hooks, I was vastly disappointed. And I will say still that I think it's probably the least of all the Clash albums (Combat Rock has been routinely underrated, but we'll get to that). Yet for all that it's still pretty damn good—sounds better to me, in fact, than it ever has. The carp I had with it—along with not a few other folks, as it seemed to fall fairly quickly in estimation from that first round of approval, which I think in retrospect was more like rerouted love for the debut, still unavailable stateside at the time—the carp I had with it is Sandy Pearlman's production, which tends to push the more metal elements to the fore even as it crushes the sound into a thick sludge of assault. Now, well—is that bug or feature? You decide. My favorite song was "Tommy Gun," followed by "Stay Free"; both have a lot of churning emotion that drives them, though the former accomplishes it with an admirable cock-rock guitar figure. They're still probably my favorites, but for whatever reason—maybe hearing it with post-grunge ears?—the rest of it sounds at least proficient, and often much more, outright great. "Safe European Home" and "English Civil War" have points to make, which I didn't want to pay much attention to at the time. Ditto "Last Gang in Town" and "Guns on the Roof." "Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad" is a flat-out charming goof. And that's how it goes. When it's not earnestly indulging sheets of anger behind a wall of bombast it's making with the good old yobby times, salted through with rank but affecting sentiment. On closer examination, issues of the day are soberly addressed: "Tommy Gun" about the Middle East aircraft hijackings of the time, for example, or "Julie's Been Working" about Operation Julie, a big-time LSD bust in England and Wales in 1977. Even a breakdown of the titles indicates something of what they're up to here: "gun" appears in two titles, "drug" in two titles, and also "war," "gang," and "stabbing." So while the good times are celebrated with no stinting on the exuberance, there's also something deadly serious underneath it all, not dealt with frivolously.

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