Nobody's scoffing now at the importance of the Clash

CD REVIEWS

January 27, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

The Clash

The Clash (UK version) (Epic 63882)

The Clash (US version) (Epic 63883)

Give 'Em Enough Rope (Epic 63884)

London Calling (Epic 63885)

Sandinista! (Epic 63888)

Combat Rock (Epic 63896)

The Singles (Epic 63886)

"The only band that matters."

That was how Epic Records advertised the Clash back in 1979, and at the time, the phrase struck many American music fans as a colossal load of hype. Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Supertramp, the Doobie Brothers -- those were bands that mattered, if the charts were any indication. Why should anybody care about some two-bit punk band from Britain?

But the Clash did matter, and not just to the punk rock fans who turned the band's British debut album into the best-selling import of the '70s. During its 10-year existence, from 1976 to 1985, the Clash did more to define and popularize punk rock than any band on the scene. Even now, the band's influence echoes through acts as wide-ranging as Rage Against the Machine, Rancid and 311.

No surprise, then, that the Clash catalog would be given the same reissue treatment that Sony Music has lavished on the likes of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Earth, Wind & Fire and the Byrds. At the band's insistence, the Clash reissues don't include the sort of bonus tracks found on many of the other Sony remasters, but even so, there are still some surprises in the new packaging.

"The Clash," for example, is now available in both the U.S. and the original U.K. versions. What's the difference? When "The Clash" was finally released in the United States, the label bosses at Epic wanted some way to encourage those who already owned the import to "buy American."

So the U.S. edition included several English singles not on the original -- dropping four songs to make room. But even though the additions included such classics as "Clash City Rockers," "I Fought the Law" and "White Man in Hammersmith Palais," the original album's content and sequencing gave a much more vivid portrait of the 1977 U.K. punk scene.

Besides, buying the U.S. version of the first album for the extra songs makes no sense when you can get all of the singles on "The Singles," an 18-song English compilation that traces the band's history from the early rage of "White Riot" to the latter-day pop of "Should I Stay or Should I Go."

The astonishing range of the Clash's sound is what comes through most clearly on the albums "London Calling," "Sandinista!" and "Combat Rock." Unlike latter-day punks, the Clash believed that punk rock was defined by attitude, not by musical style, and as such had no compunction about drawing on anything from ska to jazz, and from disco to rap. Even when the band seemed overwhelmed by its own ambition, as on the bloated "Sandinista!" its successes still outnumbered the failures.

Of course, that is hardly news to those who bought these albums when they were new. What these reissues provide, apart from crisp, realistic sound -- a definite boon to "Give 'Em Enough Rope," which no longer sounds like a bad metal album -- is a reminder of just how great an achievement that was.

The Clash (U.K. Version): ****

The Clash (U.S. Version): ***1/2

Give 'Em Enough Rope: **1/2

London Calling: ****

Sandinista!: ***

Combat Rock: ***

The Singles: ****

Pop/rock

Goldie

INCredible: The Sound of Drum 'n' Bass Mixed by Goldie (Ovum/Ruffhouse/Columbia 63924)

By definition, remix albums filter the sound of the original singles through the sensibility and aesthetic of a single DJ. But remix albums are seldom as monomaniacal as "INCredible: The Sound of Drum 'n' Bass Mixed by Goldie." Even though the double-disc collection includes such drum 'n' bass classics as Alex Reece's "Pulp Friction," Grooverider's "Rainbows of Colour," "The Calling" by Roni Size and DJ Die, and Goldie's own "Terminator," this is hardly a historical retrospective. Instead, it finds Goldie subtly reinventing the past, emphasizing the hard beats and stripped-down textures his work has always favored, while nonetheless maintaining a sense of the original recording's intent. A fascinating testament to his artistic vision.

***

Classical

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg with Sergio and Odair Assad

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg/Sergio and Odair Assad (Nonesuch 79505)

Although "crossover" albums are often seen as a means for classical musicians to accommodate pop tastes, the best of the genre manage to open up new areas for classical repertoire. That was certainly the case with Yo-Yo Ma's 1998 recording of Argentine tangos, and it seems equally true of "Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg/Sergio and Odair Assad." Working with both original and traditional material, the album finds common ground in material ranging from Russian folk music to Django Reinhardt's gypsy jazz. But its greatest pleasure stems from the way these arrangements balance the virtuosic sweetness of Salerno-Sonnenberg's violin against the warmth and rhythmic precision of the Assads' guitars in performances that are as lively and engaging as good conversation.

***1/2

Local music

Laktic Acid

Fishfood Heaven (No Fad)

Sexual politics has been a subtext in rock and roll from the very beginning, but seldom have the issues been raised as entertainingly as on Laktic Acid's "Fishfood Heaven." Although the Baltimore-based quartet's music is clearly a cut above the usual post-punk cliches, offering a broad harmonic palette and slinky, jazz-schooled rhythm work, it's the writing that sets the band apart. Singer/lyricist Jamie Sarro gives a smart, slightly disquieting twist to the games men and women play, framing her perspective in lines like "Adam ate the snake/Eve the apple" (from "Involuntary Silence"). Add in the album's dense, detailed production, and Laktic Acid comes across as a band to watch. (For information, call 888-663-6695, or go to www.lakticacid.com)

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