Sound — 8
After two albums of 'musical tourism', Combat Rock finally sees the Clash develop a sound that is truly theirs. While not exactly trying their hand at everything they see, certain songs show a degree of fine-crafting to their already musically adventurous sound. The band's love of reggae and dub is neatly summed up in the atmospheric Straight To Hell (perhaps the best Clash song ever)and Ghetto Defendant, and thier positition as white hip-hop innovators is shown in Overpowered By Funk. Importantly (perhaps damagingly so) two songs also displayed thier knack for hit songcrafting, both Rock The Casbah and Should I Stay Or Should I Go are as catchy as hell. However, certain musical elements clearly show the band falling apart. Songs like Car Jamming and Red Angel Dragnet sound laboured, unfocused and more like incomplete jams than songs. However, overall, the band are at thier musical peak; Mick Jones's guitar had by this stage become refined but restrained, Paul Simonon could actually play bass, Joe's vocals was capable of conveying more than snarling contempt- Straight To Hell's downbeat tone showed a tenderness to Strummer's punk snarl. Despite drug problems, Topper Headon was still more than capable in terms of druming skills.
Lyrics — 10
While London Calling had an element of concept; using the stories of others, especially those related to US rock mythology, Sandinista! was fairly inconsistant. Combat Rock however, returns to the concept based album. The lyrics, drawing on those affected by the Vietnam war, provide a criticism of America through it's foreign policies and harsh urban realities. For example Car Jamming tells the story of a dissafected Vietnam vet who returns home and fails to cope with a changing society ("Now he Knows the welfare kindness, 'n agent orange colour blindness"), while Red Angel Dragnet is influenced by 'Taxi Driver' a movie with a similar plot than the kyrics of Car Jamming. However it is still partly autobiographical. One may suspect that Ghetto Defendant's "It Is heroin pity, Not tear gas, nor baton charge, stops you from taking the city" can oly be directed at an ailing Topper Headon, who, by the albums release, would no longer be a member of the Clash due to drug related problems. Sean flynn and Straight To Hell show the Clash at the best at what they do- using other culure's music to compliment lyrics concerning social issues in those areas, in this case Asian-Dub to lyrics about Vietnamese children born to American Soldiers, or war time reprters going MIA. The lyrics of Combat Rock show the Clash at thier most focused they would ever be.
Overall Impression — 9
No album (except maybe Sandinista) deserves more cries of 'underrated. While obviously tired of each other and perhaps even thier own music, Combat Rock is the Clash at thier most consistently lyrically, and still increadible in musical terms, despite a number of tunes that seem forced. Think of it perhaps as the soundtrack of the late seveties/early eighties-Post Vietnam films that never was. Straight To Hell is the clear standout track, timeless is the only word to describle it. If anything, Combat Rock proves that break-up albums are far more interesting than those coming from stable bands (second Libertines album anyone). If this album was stolen, I would travel to the Vietnamese jungle to retreive it if need be, as long as my lawyer checks it out first.