November 1985 a college co-ed me still was ankle deep in the punk movement. Things were uglier than ever. Gone was the cool and what was left were the posers and the old timers. Old timers drug and booze infused psychological messes. The punk movement, for some, was more than music. It was a test of boundaries and an outlet for mental illness and when the silly screams of anarchy evolve into shooting in squats, well. It was time to go.
In November of ’85 the weakened and downtrodden Clash said goodbye as well. They were a shell of their former greatness, no Mick, No Topper..Joe and Paul hanging on like the old timers. Not wanting to let it go, but too afraid not too. When you’ve lived a certain way for a long enough time, well any other lifestyle is intimidating.
That was exactly how I felt. I couldn’t stay in the mess of the scene but how do you go back to the farm once you’ve seen Paris? You suck it up and you go and you take the hits and you shrug them off and you move on.
The album “Cut The Crap” was a huge smack to the Clash discography and everyone panned it. The critics of the time slammed it so hard that it was almost embarrassing. CBS had prepaid the band for the album, and urban legend has Strummer huffing off to Spain ‘to sob’ while Bernie Rhodes delivered it to the label. Yeah, I’m thinking Joe just dashed to compose himself as per norm.
The masses may have hated it but I loved it. It was a last whimpered hurrah. It was how I felt, exactly. Out of sorts, confused and scared but evolving. Listening to it today, I adore it..there’s Joe! Going global in 1985 before anyone knew what the hell that was. Joe was tapping in to his love of Global radio and offering the world a taste, but like day after sluts we were too busy slithering back in to alleys in the light of day to notice. Well played Joe, always one step ahead of everyone. Yet this time it took me 30 years to realize this is where he started it.
The Dictator, Pete Howard and Bernie Rhodes (on the drum machine no less) open up this radio static tune. Get some headphones and crank it. Freakin news reports in numerous languages are layered in the background. A bit of a silly 80’s production number, but in a nostalgia sense it’s pretty cute. And Joes voice is so clear and animated. Its innocent politics after the heavy duty Sandinista, it’s almost like a World News for Dummies. Makes ya feel cool don’t it?
Dirty Punk, ok this song is also sort of lame if you think too hard but in the day there were clearly defined ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ punks. I teetered. My friends were dirty as hell, but me, I kept it neat as best I could. ‘Gonna get a big big big big big car’, I actually had a huge Plymouth with white leather interior. Dark blue with an upside down cross painted in to the front glass and a clash star on the back. Yep, that was me. The stereo cost more than the car but I can clearly remember singing this song and flooring that sucker. So to me, it makes sense. By the way I drove that car off a cliff. The gas tank remained at the top of the ledge and I landed with a cigarette between my lips. I should have blow up at that moment but I didn’t, not sure why. Wasn’t my time. My friend came running to pull me out of the car, my response? ‘Screw that I’ll throw it in reverse’, now that’s a dirty punk. Not a scratch on me but the car was totaled.
We Are The Clash, well then. They weren’t really. They were a couple guys who used to be in the Clash but that’s ok “We aren’t going to be treated to like trash”, I don’t think anyone was treating them as such, but it rhymed well! I adored singing this and the bongo break is fun. Stop trying to analyze all the tunes in some academic way and you can appreciate this as just good music. Again, Joes sounding light- he didn’t give a crap..plain and simple.
Cool Under Heat, ya may want to skip this. I mean I get what he’s saying, sorta ‘everything will be fine- just relax’ but its a lyrical mess. BUT there is some fun bongo work. See glass half full kids, glass half full.
Movers and Shakers, this is the ode to the working man. Something Joe never was but was fascinated with. “he’ll accept what he is thrown’ ‘working coin from the cold concrete’. Being a son of privilege, Joe self imposed poverty. Not Mother Theresa style but that silly rock and roll grime with a pedigree. It worked but its songs like this that show how detached Joe was from the ‘working man’ “When a friend was anybody with food to eat it was a lousy life with a leaky roof’ ‘make a drum from a garbage can’. The music saves this one, great guitar under odd nonsense.
This Is England, a great sing along song ‘I got my motorcycle jacket but I’m walking all the time’. A song of despair in the motherland. Spoken like a disenchanted son. Let’s face it England is a rough place, but it has a cool mystique. Girls to this day will favor a Brit accent to any other, the music always seems cooler and the streets more rock and roll. America may be the birthplace of rock but it packed up and moved to the UK and never really came back. Brits are better, I know this cuz I am one. This song as cheesy as it comes across was voted one of the 1001 best rock tunes of all time for Q magazine. Who cares, Joe does that cute falsetto so it’s a win, the drum machine is idiotic, a real drum would have held more power but Rhodes needed a job.
Three Card Trick, is the most lyrically sound track on the album. “you wont fall for that, law and order is a baton in the rib’, show us the Clash of days past with a poppy beat. Gone were the angry sounds, this was a politico dance tune. I don’t get how the title fits but the melody is a direct rip off of ‘Revolution Rock’…wait or is it….yeah this is stolen.
Play To Win, a winner if only to hear Joe speak. A song that if you read the lyrics mean nothing. Other than a longing for the past. This is a farce, no way in hell would Joe opt backward. “We British Will Rule The Streets!”, uh huh, yup. I love this for the intimacy of spoken word. Even today it warms the heart to hear Joe speak. I have no sense of objectivity when it comes to Strummer so you’ll just have to deal with it.
Fingerpoppin’- this could well be the dumbest song I have ever heard. Let’s pretend it’s not here.
North and South, ‘there’s gonna be a killin’ of a woman and a man’ this is a sappy civil war tune. Almost a drunken pub song. I can’t help but think this song is almost like the spewing remains of Joes brain. After such heavy duty political preaching maybe this was his “burn out”. “We ain't diggin' no graves We're diggin' a foundation for a future to be made”, so ridiculously cliche'.
Life Is Wild, ‘life is wild life is free’ goofy lyrics that came too late. Life wasn’t wild or free in 1985. It was a hot mess and the music showed it. This album was a good indication of just tossing in the towel. But the music and the beat were so intoxicating that I always found this to be a favorite. I like the rally cry as weak as its recorded here. There is a glimmer of angst but its tired, so tired. We were all really tired in ’85. Maybe this should have been called “Life Was Wild”
I would chop off my arm for another ‘bad’ Clash album. I'd sever an artery for just one more Strummer tune. Damn, nothing hits me harder.