They did it all...
Without The Clash, NME would be a much drabber place. No Clash = no Nirvana, no Manics, no REM, no U2, no Libertines, no Radio 4, no anyone. Like a punk Marquis Of Queensbury, The Clash set the rules by which all indie/alt bands since have played by. This was a band that fused self-righteous ire and left-leaning political idealism with Mick Jones’ love of Faces/Stones/Mott rock classicism, who collaborated with unhinged dub genius Lee Perry when most of their peers were learning their second chord, who weaved rocksteady, R&B and rockabilly into incendiary punk. Most of all they proved that anger and enthusiasm were just as important as – no, more important than – being able to play that tricky suspended fifth.
But do we need another double CD best of? Maybe, just for convenience’s sake: the last three albums (‘Sandinista!’, ‘Combat Rock’ and ‘Cut The Crap’) were decidedly patchy. If you want the exhaustive anthology, you’re best served by the triple CD ‘The Clash On Broadway’, but ‘The Essential Clash’ serves their legacy admirably.
Steering well clear of any surprises – but also any crucial omissions – ‘The Essential Clash’ traces their various career incarnations as Westway-dwelling squat-punks (‘London’s Burning’), wistful suburban poets (‘Lost In The Supermarket’), dubbed-out doleites (‘Guns Of Brixton’) and Yank-fixated rebel-rockers (‘I Fought The Law’). Yet what comes out is their sheer idealism. Even at their most vitriolic, there was a sense of hope to this band, mostly marshalled by the late Joe Strummer.
Ask anyone: Strummer knew that what bands had to say mattered and that they’re capable of changing the world. It was only when they sidelined their beliefs to spend ages attempting to break America that they stumbled. There’s a warning there somewhere, Coldplay.
Even now, listening to this compilation sixteen years after split, it’s still hard to work out what The Clash‘s greatest achievement was. Marrying street-level rock ‘n’ roll to politics without being crushingly worthy? Leading British punk away from its thugoid terrace-chant cul-de-sac? Continually resisting those offers to reform for one last American tour? Signing to a major label with integrity intact? Popularising elasticated post-disco NYC funk-punk? Never appearing on Top Of The Pops? Sporting paramilitary chic and not looking like complete goons? The Clash did it all.