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The Singles – The Clash

Legacy/Sony BMG 687628
Like any other musical artist, The Clash has seen its legacy of hits and classic cuts repackaged in various forms. A three-CD box set, a two-disc Essential collection and a single-disc The Singles compilation have already hit store shelves. Now comes the recently released The Singles box set (yes, same title as the earlier set) that features 19 discs mimicking the 45 rpm output, including artwork, by the much-heralded punk act The Clash. Put out in a vinyl version for those who really want to get a sense of the bands brief but musically fertile era — six albums — or on compact disc with additional b-sides, rarities and unreleased material, it a much-needed item for completists and another notch in repackaging a band whose demise took place years ago.
You’d be right to be cynical about its release, but, as usual, with the Clash, once dubbed "the only group that matters," there’s enough worthwhile delights in store that should satisfy completists and teach those who are just discovering the band a needed (and astounding) history lesson.
As per custom, I described The Clash in the first paragraph as a "punk act." Its origins come from the same bored British scene that brought about the Sex Pistols and other acts in the mid-70s. But the quartet’s recorded output revealed that it was so much more than rage and confrontation. Its no surprise that The Clash has remained one of the few punk bands to be a part of history yet remain timeless and influential. The members ingested music and atmosphere — the fiery three-chord charge of early material quickly gave way to reggae, blues, r&b and hip-hop influences on later work. The early work combined the anger and boredom found among the youth in the bands English homeland, and those feelings settled into universal themes for listeners in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Nuance can be found on their very first single, White Riot, which doesnt so much call for a riot as it does a riot of my own, as in a change of oneself. Like a number of the early singles, the material refines the passion of the punk movement into short exploding bursts of rough guitar riffs refined by small twists of harmony and instrumentation in the arrangements. Also contained here is snippets of an interview with the band that takes place during several rail stops. Immediately, messengers Strummer, Jones, Simonon and Headon find their creative manifesto by mixing the ingenuity of classic rock from earlier in the decade with the sounds of the street. (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais reflects this combination of punks taking on reggae. More forays into reggae and dub can be heard on Armagideon Time, Justice Tonight, and Bankrobber. All work by sheer spirit and intent to be nothing more than a few white guys in England doing their best to incorporate the styles that they enjoy. Showing their ability to slide into their version of one genre to another and mix it up in the process theres the supercharged I Fought the Law on the Cost of Living EP, which is followed by the blissful and ironic Groovy Times.

Following the classic work from the London Calling era, the groups hip-hop, and one could consider it pre-electronica based songs make for a seamless transition from one number to the next. The musical experiments arent always a complete success the concentration on groove during The Magnificent Dance (Edit) but the hand drum throughout it does not, just as Radio One is at most interesting with its attempt to sound like an old scratchy reggae single cut in Jamaica. The consistency of the bands final singles, starting with the Phil Spector-ish Hitsville UK and going through Should I Stay or Should I Go, sounds like no one else, though also seems as if it was part of a multitude of genres. It makes for an astounding run. Of course, that comes to an abrupt halt on This Is England, a non-Jones 45 that the remaining members (Strummer and Jones) later disowned. Still, more than four hours of music here makes up for that mistake.

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