Released to chime with the inauguration of The Clash into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame in the USA, The Essential Clash is not a quick cash-in designed to milk the inevitable sentiment caused by the death of Joe Strummer. Cynics, though, might point out that it’s not the first such collection?ever since the Story Of… volumes, Clash compilations have been readily available. Still, in dedicating this two-CD, 41-strong bunch of essential songs to the memory of their erstwhile leader, Messrs Simonon, Headon and Jones will tap into more than American nostalgia.
Strummer’s own visions for the group, honed in his own prototype punk-era 101’ers and cured in the fertile breeding ground of the so-called pub rock movement, predated The Sex Pistols and ensured that The Clash were far more than the spit-and-polish DIY outfit Mick and Paul had in mind. The far-sighted clarion calls of “White Riot”, “1977”, “London’s Burning” and “Career Opportunities” were wrapped in socialist principles and hit the rhythmic vein of the era while continuing to sound inspirational, and even acidly amusing in the case of “Julie’s Been Working For The Drug Squad”.
The more measured punk metal of the badly received Give ‘Em Enough Rope suggested that Strummer’s rages and moods were about to be cauterised, whereas The Clash were always likely to experiment with levels of sophistication, largely due to their love for, and knowledge of, reggae styles (“Hate And War”, and their canny version of Junior Murvin’s “Police & Thieves”), Stateside garage grooves (“I Fought The Law”) and a far more worldly view which took them from Broadway to Casbah without losing sight of Britain’s strange mix of supermarket torpor and multicultural high energy.
Funkier than their compadres, The Clash bore the brunt of the punk backlash but will have some sort of last laugh here. The Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame may be a hoary concept but they deserve to be there, scowling in the doorway before blowing the place up.