The Clash: Give 'Em Enough Rope (1978)

When I first got into the Clash (back around 1980, when London Calling hit the States), Give 'Em Enough Rope had a lukewarm rap. It had the misfortune of falling between one of the 3-4 truly seminal punk era debuts and the Greatest Album of All Time. The consensus at the time seemed to be that it was a little short of solid material, and that the production -- from Blue Öyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman -- seemed designed to make it feel more like a hard rock/metal album than a punk record.

All these years later, the basic rap isn't entirely unfounded; but it's still a pretty great record. Because, c'mon, it's the Clash. 

The album is rendered essential largely by virtue of two of the band's greatest songs. "Safe European Home" is one of the band's most riveting rave-ups, a whiplash-paced hangover from a disillusioning visit to Jamaican fantasy-land ("I went to the place, where every white face, is an invitation to robbery"); while "Stay Free" is a poignant pop tune about Mick Jones's (real or imagined) youth, a celebration of an old pal who ended up on the wrong side of the law, and if you're not choked up by Mick's promise that when he gets out "we're gonna hit the town, we'll burn it fuckin' down, to a cinder," there is something seriously wrong with you. Other stand-outs include the chipper "Julie's Been Working for the Drug Squad," with its Chuck Berry 12-bar blues and barrelhouse piano; and closing track "All The Young Punks," a band autobiography which finds the Clash already feeling cynical about punk rock (prefacing London Calling's outstanding "Death or Glory").

The production is, as noted, not ideal, certainly a far cry from the crystal-clear production of London Calling, which stands alongside Big Star's #1 Record for its pin-drop clarity. But some muddiness aside, there are some nice flourishes--the pounding tom-toms as the music fades away at the close of "European" before crashing back in for a brief coda; the unexpected flash of acoustic guitars in the "Stay Free" fade-out. And the remastered CD sounds perfectly respectable.

And, ok, the song selection could be better; much of the band's best material recorded between the first and third LPs ended up on singles (or on the US re-release of the debut), and had a couple of the less memorable tracks ("Last Gang in Town," "Cheapskates") been dropped in favor of contemporaneous outtakes like "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" or "The Prisoner," this would certainly be held in as high esteem as the rest of their catalog. But as it stands, it's still an outstanding record, far better than I'd been led to believe back when I was discovering the band.

Here's a live take on "Safe European Home":

...and a live "Stay Free":
Here's an audio rip of "All The Young Punks":


Comments

  1. Right. And don't forget Tommy Gun. For any other band this would be a career climax. For the Clash, 3rd or 4th best.

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