1001 albums you must die before you hear: The Clash crap out


1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#70: The Clash – Cut The Crap (1985)

MATT KELLY attends the bloody crash scene at the messy end of a great band’s superfine career. It’s a crime.

Never mind The Sex Pistols, here’s some bollocks.

Every now and then a non-music nerd enquires as to what the fuss about “mixing” and “production” is. Surely music just sounds how it was recorded? What’s all this talk of “engineering” and “mastering”? I don’t blame them because if you stick to mainstream music media, it’s rare to hear something which hasn’t been produced competently, so there’s little widespread recognition of what happens when it isn’t done correctly. Anodyne as most pop is, it’s supposed to sound exactly like it does.


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Enter The Clash’s final album Cut The Crap, which serves as a swift, accessible primer in what production does because the record is crammed with things that even a novice will realise do not sound right.

It’s no wonder. CTC was made by a band in complete disarray. The huge commercial success of the previous album Combat Rock had caused dissonance with the group’s punk roots and amidst drug use and deteriorating social relationships, classic members Mick Jones and Topper Headon were gone, respectively replaced by an unknown named Nick Sheppard and er, a drum machine.

That’s right! The Clash have a drum machine now! I hope you like distressing decisions like this because the album is packed with them.

Opening track ‘Dictator’ is Grade A jaws-on-the-floor material. An absolute fucking mess which is at once unfinished and overdone, ‘Dictator’ is a ghastly witch’s brew of synthetic percussion, a baffling call to include constant radio chatter, a fucking marimba pissing about randomly and backing vocals that seem desynced from Strummer’s lead which struggles to be heard over all this shit. Best of all are the corny keyboard orchestra hits which just keep going off all over the track with no rhyme or reason and they are funny every time.

There’s something brave being attempted here as producer Bernard Rhodes tries to combine The Clash’s rough streetwise rock with ambitiously orchestrated synthpop. But holy shit is he not up to the job!  And when Strummer tired of the sessions and left Rhodes to do whatever the fuck he wanted, there was no adult in the room to prevent the destruction of the record.

‘We Are The Clash’ sounds like it might have been a fun tune if it had been put together properly but with those wonky, corny backing vocals wandering all over the chorus it’s hard to take seriously. And that’s one of the better tracks – woe unto those who happen across the Dead Or Alive impression that is ‘Are You Ready’.

Lamentable decisions abound. What the fuck is that trippy psychedelic synth doing at 2:24 on ‘Cool Under Heat’? Why is ‘Play To Win’ broken up by head-scratching passages of arcade noise and indiscernible chatter? Why does ‘This Is England’ have a weird chipmunk sample on it and why did they use this tuneless-even-for-punk vocal take from Strummer?

Every now and then there’s a glimpse of something good beneath the sludge. ‘Dirty Punk’ is an acceptable rocker, but as you sit through the High NRGish ‘Fingerpopping’ and its awful awful chorus, you will come to realise the few nuggets of quality aren’t worth digging out.

You can find worse-sounding albums but rarely from a name as big and respected as The Clash. A career-ending disaster, The Clash broke up in shame soon after CTC was released, but the wreckage continues to attract musical rubberneckers to this day.

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Matthew Kelly is the most important person in the music industry – the type of obsessive nerd without whom it would have no reason to produce box sets and nine-hour long documentaries.

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