For being “the only band that mattered,” The Clash has, in a strange paradox, been one of the more underrated bands associated with punk’s original wave. It seems that any album of theirs that isn’t their raw-and-rambunctious self-titled effort or the flawless double masterpiece London Calling is doomed to defend itself against mere oversight or worse, scornful disdain. In the ’80s, The Clash were bigger commercially than ever, but it was critics who, perhaps not surprisingly due to the punk ethos of “selling out,” turned the other cheek.
This decade would see two fairly controversial releases from the band: the messy near-brilliance of the 1980 triple-album Sandinista! and the overground Top 40 successes that came in the wake of 1982’s Combat Rock. The latter, a short and rather succinct effort in comparison to Sandinista!‘s self-censorship-be-damned complex, is a surprisingly consistent and oft-bewildering statement-of-brevity, a far cry from the “sell out” so many punker-than-thou breast beaters proclaimed at the time. And for all the supposed controversy that came with a classic punk band hitting mass airwaves, both hit singles (“Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?” and “Rock The Casbah”) are brilliant pop songs, not only two of the strongest in the Clash’s catalog, but two of the ’80s’ most endearing hits.
Elsewhere, we have the quasi-spoken word jams of “Red Angel Dragnet” and “Ghetto Defendant,” two the record’s most compelling, frustrating, and testing experiments. It’s “Straight To Hell” though that automatically takes Combat Rock to instant-classic status; a diatribe against soldiers in Vietnam that didn’t own up to children they fathered, the building percussion and Joe Strummer’s strained and mournful performance are incredibly moving in a way few musicians could ever hope to muster. And plus, any record that begins with a shout of “This is a public service announcement! With guitars!” deserves a place in your collection.