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JOE STRUMMER HAS TRULY been caught with his pants down. Cut the Crap, the latest release from what was once hailed as "the only band that matters," first brings to mind the feeling of disgust encountered as you arise from a long session on the toilet to discover that there remains no toilet paper on the roll and no extra rolls in the bathroom, and consider how you are going to waddle to the superintendent's office without causing a complete disaster.
The Clash, another fine product of the circa-1977 England that instigated the punk movement, started out producing harsh, angry music that was novel, political, and interesting in its time. Of late, however, they have shied away from their origins, using instruments that were once beyond their financial grasp, and possibly profiteering from singing spiritless satire. The gospel according to Strummer is printed on the record sleeve:
CLASH COMMUNIQUE OCTOBER '85
Wise MEN and Street kids together make a GREAT TEAM...but can the old system be BEAT??? no...not without YOUR participation...RADICAL social change begins on the STREET!! so if your looking for some ACTION, CUT THE CRAP and Get OUT There.
Instead of being satisfied with commenting on society, Joe Strummer apparently has decided to advocate action for social change. If he is talking about the band's musical style, he may be right--a retreat to the street sounds of old may be just what they need. Maybe he just feels guilty that he has achieved commercial success beyond the financial and social status of the punk culture in which he got his start. Unfortunately, he has been unable to achieve as much success musically as he has financially.
The record itself is permeated with gross misuse and abuse of synthesizers. The fervent pounding of ex-drummer Topper Headon has been replaced on many tracks by ineptly programmed drum machines. The rhythm tracks as a whole are little more than another inept rehash of mainstream British synth-pop. Even Strummer's sharp-edged guitar which figured so prominently on the band's early works, has lost its character, now grinding like a Husker Du album played into a feather pillow. It is generally accepted that Strummer has no vocal talent, and this record provides precious little evidence to the contrary. Fortunately, on many tracks his voice is lost in the dirty guitar/synthesizer mess.
The breakup of the "old" Clash was deemed imminent following the success of the 1982 release Combat Rock, containing the radio/video hit "Rock the Casbah." The band's ensuing tour was riddled with disputes between Strummer and former band member Mick Jones. Aside from commercial problems, the two were faced with differing musical styles. Strummer favored the loud, fast guitar sound that was most evident on earlier Clash releases, while Jones wished to pursue the synth/dub style evident on Sandinista! and Combat Rock. Jones's new band, Big Audio Dynamite, has gone on to do what they intended. Strummer, however, seems lost on the way.
Side one starts out with typical Clash politics. Complete with barking dogs, horns, and radio noise, the dub-disaster "Dictator" mocks United States support of murderous fascists "Howling from your radio/From my armourplated Cadillac/You'll hear what I say goes." "Dirty Punk" returns the band to days of old, profoundly empathizing with desires of the Punk culture in the streets: "Gonna get a great big car Gonna have some fun." "We Are the Clash," the third track, resorts to some of the most disgusting synthesizer misanthropy on the album. It attempts to assert that this, and not Jones's band, is the "real" Clash: "We ain't gonna be treated like trash...We are the Clash!" Oscar the Grouch couldn't have said it better.
Things don't get any better on the last three tracks on side one. "Are You Red...Y" completely drowns out Strummer's vocal in New Order-ripoff rhythm tracks. "Cool Under Heat" opens with a Husker Du guitar lead, and combines inappropriate acoustic guitar with more electronic abuse. "Movers and Shakers" wraps up the side with an interminably long lesson about how to succeed by "working coins from the cold concrete" (just like Strummer is doing), complete with synthesized Mariachi horns.
Side two is as banal, both lyrically and musically, as side one. More grating guitars, more monotonous synth-pop, and more droning dub. "This is England" tries to incite some national spirit; "Three Card Trick" advocates teen rebellion: "You won't fall for that just like your mummy and your daddy did." "Play to Win," "Fingerpoppin," "North and South," and "Life is Wild" offer more of the same pathetic drivel that permeates the entire disk.
JUDGING FROM THE CONTENT of this record, it may be time that Strummer and the boys follow they own advice. "The only band that matters" has managed to become almost totally irrelevant. The boys have completely ceased to do what they once did so well, possible because of Mick Jones's absence, and possibly because of Joe Strummer's stepped-up presence. With this record, the band has sunk even deeper into the muck out of which Combat Rock crawled--and The Clash will be inextricably stuck in the muck unless they manage to cut the crap.
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