The Clash: Cut The Crap (1985)
Given the literary kicking this album has received both in contemporaneous reviews and reflective scribblings, I sought out another copy hoping to discover that, despite these waves of negativity, Cut The Crap was actually a lost classic. I had visions of it being in the manner of Dexys Midnight Runner’s Don’t Stand Me Down, also released in 1985, which has undergone something of a reappraisal including a generally-approved re-release.
And let’s be honest about this, because Cut The Crap was butchered on its release and any reappraisal rarely finds evidence to contradict those original viewpoints. Referring to it as the worst album The Clash ever did, as many reviews have done, is about the least offensive thing that has been written.
In revisiting the album I found that, while I certainly couldn’t reverse the critical onslaught, I found it far less grating than before and I even discovered hitherto undiscovered groundbreaking ideas and sounds that, if created in another climate, may have made for a decent piece of work. But, in overall terms, it still sounds turgid, over-produced, and the lyrics could’ve been written by schoolchildren asked to make what they think is a punk album.
It’s fate was sealed months before the recording process because The Clash had stopped becoming a working band and only Joe Strummer of the five players in the touring band appeared regularly in the studio. How it descended into such farce is a tale I will relate later but first let’s look at the offending item itself.
I bought the CD as the vinyl copy I have is in an attic many miles away and that copy will be in good condition, unless damp has struck, as it had about three listens in 20 plus years.
The opener, Dictator, has Spanish-language samples, though they are over-done, and some of the rhythm and feel of Combat Rock, but is spoiled by inane chanting masquerading as verses. A shame as it has a poignant message about a power-mad tyrant: “Yes, I am the dictator, I satisfy the U.S. team.”
There’s little positive you could strip from Dirty Punk and We Are The Clash is unco-ordinated with very clumsy instrumentation. Neither Cool Under Heat nor Movers and Shakers could have been even a discarded outtake in The Clash’s heyday, but Are You Red…y despite its apocalyptic tones, is one the few standout tracks, pilfering from very early New York hip-hop and is another track that could have had its roots in Combat Rock with its captivating beats.
Three Card Trick is among the better-written tracks – “Patriots of the wasteland torching two hundred years.” But is let down by poor production; Play to Win intersperses spoken words with an unfocused melody and the closer Life Is Wild blends a football commentary, some fine grooves and Strummer’s immense vocals is allowed some scope, something it isn’t in many other songs.
But before this track is what I regard as, with This Is England, the album’s best moment … North and South, which moves away from the mob-chant swamp that has preceded it, stealing all the melodies from the rest of the album and is a slow mover in the vein of Straight To Hell.
So, I’ve found some strong points but it’s an album I’m likely to file away, to be heard in about five years when I’ve become fed up with dancehall or punk-country.
It falters because the band had become nothing more than a rump by 1984-85. After Mick Jones left the Clash in 1983, Joe Strummer tried to keep the red flag flying recruiting three unknown musicians from ads in the music press. With drummer Topper Headon having also left, Strummer and Paul Simonon were the only remaining founder members. In came Nick Sheppard, Vince White and Pete Howard.
Instead of continuing on from Combat Rock, which while retaining the arena sound they had developed, flirted with rap, funk, and reggae, The Clash Mk II harked back to the band’s punk days of 1977 to mid-79, and for a while the portents were good despite some reservations from music writers, notably Melody Maker’s Lynden Barber who described the new Clash live show as reactionary.
In December 1984, Strummer and manager Bernie Rhodes set out for Berlin where they would start the recording for Cut the Crap.
The pair wrote all the songs – or at least they were all credited to the duo, Strummer later disputing his manager’s literary input – and none of the other band members made much of a contribution, even Simonon, as session players like the Blockheads’ Norman Watt-Roy had greater input. Rhodes under his nom de guerre, Jose Unidos, produced the entire album.
When it was finally released, several months after a fairly successful busking tour, the momentum had been lost, and in a mire of legal disputes over the band name, Strummer mourning both his parents and Rhodes’ excessive role in the making of the album, it bombed.
It reached No.16 in the UK and No.88 in the states, poor figures from a million-selling outfit. But the real kick in the balls was from the critics, who couldn’t contain their contempt, apart from an easily-pleased Jack Barron in Sounds.
Two months prior to its November 1985 release, the band initially appeared to be in some form, with the sole single from it, This Is England breaking into the charts. This is an exceptional single, part-punk ribaldry, and using much of the styles Strummer was attempting to incorporate into the new Clash sound.
However, it was the only single released, as none of the other tracks would have persuaded any daytime DJ to play it. Even John Peel would have struggled to give it a whirl.