Someone once said that the Clash were the only band that mattered. I don’t know who said that but that’s not really the point. The point is that someone did, in fact, say that and the Cops’ leader Mike Jaworski believed it. Boy, did he believe it.
The Cops play throwback, `77 style punk with a certain pop sensibility. They aren’t pop punk in that they aren’t disciples of the Green Day School of Clash Derivation but that doesn’t stop Get Good or Stay Bad, the Cops’ debut album, from being incredibly catchy, with a rhythm section that even in the whitest of white boys could find the groove in. Both the Cops and the Clash share the same penchant for punk-tinged reggae and songs like “Controller” could have been on a Police album (interesting coincidence, no?) if Sting got in more bar fights. Jaworski’s gruff voice is not unlike former Jawbreaker/current (though on hiatus) Jets to Brazil frontman Blake Schwarzenbach’s or even rightfully exalted Clash leader Joe Strummer. But Jaworski’s rough edges are empty when compared to Saint Joe’s because of the Cops’ comparative lack of substance. They desperately want to re-light the political torch that the Clash so vibrantly illuminated in their heyday but they aren’t fighting anything in particular making their battle, or lack of it, frivolous. “We all feel helpless without some cash for cause,” Jaworski sings on “Cash for Cause,” but what cause is that exactly?
Album-wise, Get Good or Stay Bad fits somewhere between the pure, unadulterated vitriol and energy of the Clash’s self-titled debut and their tour-de-force London Calling. This leaves us with the riff heavy, oft overlooked Give `Em Enough Rope, which actually ends up being the perfect comparison as many tracks on Get Good or Stay Bad, such as “Rising Sons,” would find happy homes on the Clash’s second album. Get Good or Stay Bad has the same guitar heroics as Give `Em Enough Rope and soars on its emphasis of infectious guitar lines. But while Give `Em Enough Rope failed on lack of consistency in the quality of material, Get Good or Stay Bad fails in its lack of variation. It’s not that each track sounds exactly the same, because they don’t. But they don’t sound wildly different either and the some-amazing-some-not-so-amazing songs approach of Give `Em Enough Rope beats the all-okay songs of Get Good or Stay Bad any day of the week. On “We are the Occupants,” Jaworski asks, “How are you going to make a difference?” The Cops should be asking themselves the same question.
The Cops end Get Good or Stay Bad with a cover of Wire’s “Lowdown,” which ends up being a metaphor for their style in the first place. The Cops’ version is essentially a carbon copy that loses that special, intangible something in translation. Maybe it’s the lack of Wire singer Colin Newman’s snotty Brit sneer or the fact that the Cops aren’t hungry art school punks in Margaret Thatcher England but there’s definitely something missing. The Cops’ take on Wire shows that, while their hearts may be in the right place, unfortunately, somebody else’s heart was their first.
The Clash – Give `Em Enough Rope
The Exploding Hearts – Guitar Romantic
The Agenda – Start the Panic