Album Review : Less Slash From The New Clash

November 17, 1985|RICHARD CROMELIN

"CUT THE CRAP." The Clash. Epic.

"THIS IS BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE." Big Audio Dynamite. Columbia.

Say it ain't so-so, Joe.

That's the plea of apprehensive Clashaholics as Joe Strummer kicks the sleeping giant back into action following the upheavals that came on the heels of 1982's "Combat Rock"--mainly the dumping of guitarist Mick Jones (whose new group Big Audio Dynamite has just released its debut LP) and the subsequent reassembling of the Clash.

In the interim, the firebrand militance that's been associated with the Clash from the early days of punk has gone out of fashion, succeeded by what might be called Kragenism, after the enterprising mogul behind "We Are the World." Nowadays, those with an urge to protest are asked to hold hands instead of shaking fists. Rather than taking to the streets, play it cool and wait for the press conference.

But Strummer hasn't changed his tune. "RADICAL social change begins on the street!!," proclaims the inner sleeve of the new LP, defying both the prevailing mood and the rules of capitalization. "so if your (sic) looking for some ACTION . . . CUT THE CRAP and Get OUT There." And in the opening morass of "Dictator," blasting horns, scratchy radio transmissions and the main song pull in different directions as Strummer reprises familiar sentiments about U.S.-supported despots in Latin America.

But until the climate becomes more confrontational, Strummer and company are operating in something of a vacuum. Maybe that's why the hard, fast ones on "Cut the Crap" don't whip, jolt and slash like prime Clash, and the booming group choruses, which in more turbulent times might evoke the air of a mass rally, fall a little flat.

Another reason is that the two guitarists (Nick Sheppard and Vince White) and one co-songwriter (group manager Bernard Rhodes) who've replaced Jones don't seem quite in synch with Strummer's impulsive, tempestuous approach. The sound is often anemic, and uptempo songs like "Dirty Punk," "Are You Red?" and "Life Is Wild" are probably the blandest tracks ever to appear on a Clash record.

Other rockers--"We Are the Clash," "Cool Under Heat," "Movers and Shakers" and the funky "Fingerpoppin' "--work better, and the snappy reggae of "Three Card Trick" fits Strummer like a glove. Even in unremarkable settings, his urgent, ragged voice is still riveting.

But it's the two ballads--more like hymns, really--that make "Cut the Crap" more than passable.

In the slow, measured "This Is England," ringing electric guitar emerges from moaning strings to extend the urgency of Strummer's pained, poignant state-of-the-nation message. "North and South" is similarly bittersweet--and surprisingly hopeful: "And so we say we ain't a-diggin' no grave / We're diggin' a foundation for a future to be made." Words that might apply to the Clash as well.

Jones apparently took the hooks with him, and if Big Audio Dynamite doesn't have the ambition and crusading spirit of Jones' alma mater, it's still come up with a moderately engaging debut album.

Rock, pop and Third World elements combine in a bright, rhythmic sound as B.A.D. offers wry assesments of Japanese technology, the end of the sexual revolution and the films of Nicolas Roeg. There's also a spaghetti-Western turn, a heavy-metal/angel dust murder and a new dance for troubled times. Definitely off the left-field wall.

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