[Review] The Clash: Combat Rock (1982)

The band’s most sophisticated studio album to date, which is the best and worst thing about it.

Kronomyth 5.0: The clash of the tightened up.

This is the story of the kids who got swallowed by the candy store and the technicolor trip they went out on. The Clash were on a collision course with their own ambitions from the beginning, and Combat Rock is the record of the final impact. Licorice, caramel, taffy, nuts and nougat, cotton candy everywhere. Some of it sticks (Know Your Rights, Rock the Casbah), some of it doesn’t (Inoculated City, Sean Flynn). When the curtain finally falls (Death Is A Star), there’s no applause, just open mouths.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. The Clash were supposed to be the standard-bearers of punk. Instead, they mutated like a virus, absorbing everything they touched: reggae, rock, music hall, dub, urban poetry. Combat Rock isn’t a punk record, it’s mutant rock. Brilliant sometimes (Ghetto Defendant, Car Jamming) but baffling too. Between the grooves reads the wreck of The Clash: Mick Jones sailing into deep and dangerous waters, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon looking for their lost isle of London, Topper Headon drowning in a drug addiction. It’s a wonderful train wreck, undeniably inspired, but by what?

Combat Rock doesn’t simply defy expectations, it death-defies them. Like Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door or Talking HeadsNaked, this is the work of the living dead. When it first came out, I was convinced Combat Rock was the best thing The Clash had ever released. But it all unravels in the end. Even the most experimental moments from London Calling won’t prepare you for “Ghetto Defendant” or “Sean Flynn.” (Of course, after Sandinista!, you were prepared for anything.)

Combat Rock is must-hear music because The Clash was a must-hear band, but you mustn’t hear it as an album by a revolutionary punk band. That battle was over and The Clash won it if you didn’t already know. They were on a different front this time, fighting against normalcy and complacency and atrophy. Combat Rock is a real victory in that sense, though not everyone will be ready for this most radical and final phase of the revolution.

Original elpee version

A1. Know Your Rights (3:40)
A2. Car Jamming (3:58)
A3. Should I Stay or Should I Go? (3:06)
A4. Rock the Casbah (3:42)
A5. Red Angel Dragnet (3:46)
A6. Straight to Hell (5:26)
B1. Overpowered by Funk (4:52)
B2. Atom Tan (2:27)
B3. Sean Flynn (4:30)
B4. Ghetto Defendant (4:43)
B5. Inoculated City (2:40)
B6. Death Is A Star (3:08)

All songs written by The Clash.

The Players

Topper Headon (drums, piano, bass guitar), Mick Jones (guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals, keyboards, sound effects), Paul Simonon (bass guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals on A5), Joe Strummer (lead vocals, guitar, backing vocals, harmonica, piano) with Gary Barnacle (saxophone on B3), Tymon Dogg (piano on B6), Joe Ely (backing vocals on A3), Ellen Foley (backing vocals on A2), Futura 2000 (vocals on B1), Allen Ginsberg (vocals on B4), Poly Mandell (Tommy Mandel) (keyboards on B1), Kosmo Vinyl (vocals on A5). Made by The Clash; mixed by Glyn Johns.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on May 14, 1982 in the UK (CBS, FMLN-2), the US and Canada (Epic, FE/FET 37689), Australia (Epic, ELPS-4287), Mexico (Epic, LNS-17416), the Netherlands (CBS, 85570) and Yugoslavia (Suzy, CBS-85570) with lyrics innersleeve and poster. Also released on picture disc elpee in 1982 in the US (Epic, AS99-1591). Reached #2 on the UK charts and #7 on the US charts (RIAA-certified 2x platinum record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and compact disc in the UK and the Netherlands (CBS, 37287) with lyrics innersleeve.
  2. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in the US (Epic, EK/ET-63896).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in the UK (Columbia, 495349).
  4. Re-released on remastered compact disc on November 17, 2004 in Japan (Sony, MHCP-529).
  5. Re-packaged with The Clash + London Calling on 3CD in Brazil (CBS, 2024392).
  6. Re-packaged with London Calling on 2-for-1 2CD in 2007 n the UK (Sony BMG, 88697151712).
  7. Re-released on red vinyl elpee in 2013 in the US (Epic, 19439968541).
  8. Re-packaged on clear vinyl elpee on May 25, 2022 in Japan (Sony, SIJP 1046) with lyrics innersleeve.

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