Combat rock is the Clash’s most contradictory release. Less than 5 years into their recording career, the group had seen the world and stood at its very peak. With precious little to prove to anyone but themselves, the English quartet set about experimenting looser then they had ever done before. The result is 1982’s Combat rock, part rock n’ roll howler, part new wave/hip hop/electronica hybrid. It would mark the last time the four great men of punk would be the members of the same band.
The Clash making Combat rock
By 1982 the Clash were in a unique situation. Not only had the group survived (although they wouldn’t for much longer) the initial punk rock boom of 77, which they’d played a big part in. They had achieved international success with an almost overall consensus that the Clash had maintained artistic integrity throughout. Combat rock was meant to cut the difference between experimental music, as can be found on Sandinista, and straight-ahead rockers as can be found on Give ’em enough rope.
By most accounts, recording sessions were fruitful, albeit tense. It is reported that relationships within the band had begun souring. Topper Headon and Mick Jones would soon be forced to leave the group. The Clash would soldier on for one more, largely, misguided album.
However, Combat rock, still finds the Clash at their most creative, repaying the many who remained faithful about the potential of punk rock.
Know your rights
Combat rock gets off to a typical start which in itself is misleading.
Know your rights is a rocker and world-weary protest song. While it echoes 1977, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon’s new -wave drum & bass could be a hint to come for those wondering what else to expect from this album.
One of the strongest numbers on the record, Car Jamming continues Joe Strummer’s lyrical obsessions with the contrast between high-rises and slums, the rich nations and the third world. Layered guitar effects, and labored backing vocals courtesy of Mick Jones show this to be a much more loose version of the Clash than the three-chord punk-rockers that had composed their debut in 1977.
Should I stay or should I go
Should I stay or should I go is one of the Clash’s most famous songs and an inescapable fixture of 1980’s rock playlists. Built around an established rock n’ roll riff, the song helped stake the band’s claims as earnest U.S. arena rockers, a status they had earned by 1982, a year in which they would go on to tour the States alongside the Who.
Rock the Casbah
The other big single off the album, Rock the Casbah is a rocker, albeit one in a form atypical to the meat and potatoes sound of early punk rock. The song was developed by drummer Topper Headon around a piano and drum groove. The result was so groovy in fact that in brought the Clash on to the dance charts.
Red Angel Dragnet
By song 5 on the album, the Clash ditch any pretense at making a rock record. Written by Paul Simonon, Red Angel Dragnet is an ode to the big city lowlives, built around a dub inspired bassline and early hip hop flavored beat. Most heartwarming, the rest of the band clearly contribute openly to the number, making this a group endeavor, not merely a solo experiment.
Straight to hell
The Clash may never have been as poignant as they ended up on Straight to hell. Built around a Bossanova swing, featuring elongated guitar lines and telling the story of abandoned babies fathered by U.S. military personnel, this is the Clash proving that in 1982 they were still one of the only bands that mattered or even gave a damn.
Overpowered by funk
A funk meets hip hop number, Overpowered by funkshows the band sponging up the sonic influences of the Western cities they were visiting at a frantic pace while busy becoming one of the world’s biggest bands.
A sonic experiment split between Jones and Strummer, Atom Tan is another ode to disillusionment with spoils and riches of the modern world. Musically, the band continues to delve deep into their newer sources of inspiration, clearly aided by the strength of a well-rehearsed and tight group of musicians.
Sean Flynn, the son of actor Errol Flynn, was a photojournalist who disappeared while on a mission to cover the Vietnam conflict. With sounds that channel East Asia via synths, sound effects, and start-stop dynamics, the Clash shows that they had become more than component to the soundtrack to a big-scale adventure movie. After all, it’s worth remembering that Francis Ford Copolla’s Apocalypse Now had served as inspiration for Combat Rock.
Poet Allen Ginsberg freestyles over the Clash whose command of electronica and hip hop rhythms had become masterful by this point.
Inoculated city is the sort of number nobody other than Mick Jones could have written better. Relating the news of military conflicts and over-commercialism, it sees the Clash in a restrained mood. Their own war had been one and there was no point in playing faster or louder than everyone else.
Death is a star
Death is a star is the most capricious song on the entire album, much like Jimmy Jazz was for London Calling. In pulling this off, the Clash demonstrates they now inhabited their own world and that they had reached a place of maturity when any idea, even a Spanish-jazz with hipster recited lyrics, could be executed expertly by the Clash.