Combat Rock

The Clash

Epic, 1982

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove


Combat Rock isn’t The Clash selling out as many felt in the early 1980’s. The booing the band endured on tour during the album’s success was savage. Yes, Combat Rock was their most commercially successful record (and certainly normal compared to their previous release, Sandinista!). But Jesus, London Calling is poppy and far more listenable, and what fool would complain about that?

Still, you can sense the band was running out of ideas with Combat Rock. They were falling apart, too. According to the band’s official Web site, drummer Topper Headon was fired for cocaine and heroin abuse shortly after the album’s release, and guitarist/vocalist Mick Jones met the same fate in 1983 because of differences with guitarist/lead vocalist Joe Strummer, bassist Joe Simonon, and manager Bernard Rhodes.

The opener “Know Your Rights” is impressive. I dismissed it as neutered after the first few listens, but I was wrong. There’s some nifty rockabilly licks amid the harsh chord strumming, and the vocal is suitably despicable. Strummer becomes an evil public service announcer, refuting citizen rights soon after he defines them. “Car Jamming” is another good track with a solid African beat and biting lyrics (along with a funny Lauren Bacall reference).

Then the two big hits. “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” is the song that made me not want to explore The Clash years ago. By no means is it one of the worst tracks (it’s great compared to others), but the guitar riff is comfortable and sickening. Jones is the lead vocal this time, with Strummer doing the goofy Spanish in the background. But my commercial poison is “Rock The Casbah.” It’s a fun surge of stupid energy, so I was unsurprised to learn that Headon had contributed much to its composition. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In contrast, “Red Angel Dragnet” is stupid and no fun. It does tell you that Strummer had an obsession with Travis Bickle from the Martin Scorsese film, Taxi Driver. The disc recovers with “Straight To Hell,” and even though I found the track much more hypnotic and ominous weeks ago, it builds on the image of The Only Band That Matters.

Starting with “Overpowered By Funk,” a very ‘80s song more fitting for a pop singer, Combat Rock makes an awkward plunge. I dread the trip every time. “Atom Tan” is a failure. The guitar riff is lazy and weak and forgettable, and the vocals are sleepy, with the exception of an obnoxious “Oh” in unison after every verse. “Sean Flynn” should have been a moving story about the Vietnam photojournalist, but the music goes absolutely nowhere and the lyrics are a pathetic tribute: “You know he just heard the drums of war / When the past was a closing door.”

I like Beat writers as much as anyone, but Allen Ginsberg’s performance on the overlong and monotonous “Ghetto Defendant” is utterly laughable. “Inoculated City” is another sad disaster, with one particularly telling line: “We are tired of the tune.” They really do sound tired, and I would like to give you a better idea of how disgraceful this song is, but there’s not much you can say about hardly anything happening.

By the last track, “Death Is A Star,” you might have lost total interest in the album, and the band doesn’t even try to close it respectably.  More embarrassing spoken poetry, no energy to speak of, petering out, no inspiration or guilt, a demented joke, listener unimportant. That is the perfect free association description of “Death Is A Star,” an idiotic time I will never forget because I bothered to pay attention to it.

Weeks ago I would have been even harder on Combat Rock, but most of the first half grew on me. Another problem is I have listened to London Calling too much. It’s like studying Spielberg’s Schindler’s List then viewing The Lost World. I can only recommend this album for five songs, and that’s it.

Rating: C

User Rating: B



© 2008 Jedediah Pressgrove and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic, and is used for informational purposes only.