“The Clash Hits Back” by The Clash

“This is it for me,” former Clash guitarist Mick Jones told Rolling Stone when asked about September’s trilogy of new Clash compilations. “And I say that with an exclamation mark.”

While ardent Clash fans will certainly feel the sting of Jones’s remarks—that these three releases mark the likely end of any future Clash-endorsed material—they have to give Jones some well-deserved credit. As far as send-offs go, Jones is leaving Clash loyalists, both present and future, far from hungry. Between the brand-new deluxe box set Sound System, which features re-mastered versions of all The Clash’s albums (except, not surprisingly, Cut the Crap), three discs of non-album rarities, and a previously unseen DVD, and five album studio set, a re-mastered compilation of the same five albums without all the bonus goodies, Clash diehards should be satisfied for the next hundred years or so.

And for fans of The Clash who don’t have the desire or funds to pick up an elaborate box set there is The Clash Hits Back: a new greatest hits collection which encapsulates The Clash’s legendary decade-long career into two fully-stocked discs.

Although devoted Clash listeners will surely remark that there is little which separates The Clash Hits Back from the variety of other Clash greatest hits albums released over the past twenty years, they still have to appreciate The Clash Hits Back as a parting love letter of sorts. Unlike previous greatest hits album, Jones took the effort and care as a producer to prevent The Clash Hits Back from becoming just any generic “Best Of” album.

The 33 recordings featured on The Clash Hits Back are specially arranged to reflect the set list The Clash performed at Brixton Fair Deal on July 10, 1982 – roughly a year before the disintegration of the band’s most famous and most successful line-up. Granted, less-knowledgeable listeners cannot turn to The Clash Hits Back for an exact chronology, but historical accuracy is a small price to pay to experience The Clash’s music in an order which Joe Strummer himself selected to optimize the live energy during performance.

There is something to be said about experiencing The Clash’s songs in a non-linear manner. Combat Rock’s “Know Your Rights” sounds even more gnarly and dusty slipped in between the upbeat, reggae-tinged “Safe European Home” and “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” while “Straight to Hell” feels even darker and more primal after the rambunctious pop-punk of The Clash’s “I Fought the Law.” The new pairings and ordering of songs on The Clash Hits Back surely offers even the most stanch Clash lover a new point of view and appreciation for individual tracks.

Aside from offering a unique perspective on the tracks, the set list-like structuring of The Clash Hits Back also offers the casual listener a chance to become familiar with some lesser-known songs as well as the chart-topping hits. Like any Clash compilation, The Clash Hits Back includes popular favorites like “London Calling,” “Train in Vain,” “Rock the Casbah,” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” as well as next level classics like “Career Opportunities,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “Complete Control.” Different from some lesser collections, however, The Clash Hits Back also features largely forgotten deeper cuts, like Sandinista!’s “Hitsville U.K.” and Combat Rock’s “Ghetto Defendant.”

Regardless of the number of previously unreleased or re-mastered tracks we fans are given, we may never be able to fully relive or recapture the rebellious and passionate spirit created by Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon in the late seventies. The new Clash compilations, including The Clash Hits Back, make that near impossible goal seem somewhat obtainable. Although Joe Strummer and The Clash are no longer with us, his soul and the group’s live on within the fabric of their musical catalog. For it was not only the fantastic sounding music, but the message, power, and heart behind the music, that made The Clash “The Only Band That Matters” and potentially the only band that will ever matter.

By Christopher Gillespie

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