The Clash Give Em Enough Rope

[Sony; 1978]

Styles: punk, rock
Others: Sex Pistols, The Pogues, The Damned, Patti Smith

A TMT colleague recently made the assertion that our weekly DeLorean section is almost completely comprised of reviews for 'classic' albums upon which we heap praise and high ratings. He/she (we hold anonymity in the highest regard) further said that not enough concentration has been spent on 'good' albums. Heeding his/her remarks as I did, The Clash's Give Em Enough Rope, was the first album to reach the forefront of my mind. Nestled in the valley between perhaps the greatest punk rock album of all time, their self titled debut, and the greatest rock album of all time, London Calling, Give Em Enough Rope has been utterly ignored by time. To make its case among the Clash's discography even more futile, it lacked the Billboard hits of 1982's Combat Rock, the length of 81's triple-player Sandanista, and head-turning disaster of 87's Cut the Crap. Therefore, since we're left with an album that's neither great, hit-laden, long, or horrible, we'd be apt to label it, 'good.'

And good it is. From the first rousing chords of opener, "Safe European Home," it's clear that the Clash had no intention of restraining the energy emitted on their debut. Two-thirds of the way through the opener, the song's punk stamina ceases and it devolves into a celebratory reggae-rock jam that finds Strummer doing his best Jamaican chat as Jones backs in his schoolboy falsetto. On the two following tracks, "English Civil War" punks up the traditional "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" while "Tommy Gun" fuses acute guitar melodies while barking about the egomania of terrorists. After this glorious beginning however, Give Em Enough Rope begins to pump a dry well. That's not to say that there aren't anymore high points: "Guns on the Roof" is a scrappy, power chord blitz that's egregiously similar to "Clash City Rockers" from a year earlier. Otherwise though, the flaws begin to mount. "Stay Free" is a tender Mick
Jones ballad that infuses profanity at all the wrong times in order to give the song any sort of angle. "Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad" paints an amusing portrait of undercover cops, but the Beatle-esque pop that supports it is thin. Pianos emerge into the mixes of several songs and while this doesn't work in most cases, you have to admire the courage of it all. This courage is really what's responsible for the mere mortality of this record. Where there are daring new lyrical directions there isn't the music to back it and, in some cases, vice versa (see "All the Young Punks").

Since the record was partially written in Jamaica by Jones and Strummer, we find the Clash focusing on ideas that begin to remove them from the UK punk scene. It's from this notion that we find the one true benefit to owning this record, as opposed to obtaining the key songs from the many encompassing Clash compilations that now exist: it allows us to observe a band in transition from an angry punk outfit to one of the most versatile rock bands on record. In 1978, punk was alive and spewing in Great Britain. Instead of forging on in that vein, the band opted to add new magnitude to their music. Clearly, Give Em Enough Rope only realizes this magnitude in part. Fans however would only have to wait another year for the complete fulfillment of the Clash's potential.

1. Safe European Home
2. English Civil War
3. Tommy Gun
4. Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad
5. Last Gang in Town
6. Guns on the Roof
7. Drug-Stabbing Time
8. Stay Free
9. Cheapskates
10. All the Young Punks (New Boots and Contracts)