Thursday, April 26, 2018

Duff Review: V/A "Recutting the Crap, Volume 2" and "The Future Was Unwritten" (RSD 2018 Release)

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Editor's note: Before delving into my review of "Recutting the Crap, Volume 2" and its companion piece "The Future Was Unwritten," a read through of The Duff Guide to Ska write up of last year's "Recutting the Crap, Volume 1" is in order, as it provides vital background and context for these releases...

Various Artists, Recutting the Crap, Volume 1 (Heavyweight vinyl LP, Crooked Beat Records, 2017): I first heard The Clash's Cut the Crap back in 1985 after devouring Big Audio Dynamite's This is Big Audio Dynamite (both were released within months of each other) and was profoundly disappointed to find that while Jones and company had taken the Sandinista and Combat Rock musical gumbo (punk, hip-hop, dance rock, reggae/dub) to the next evolutionary level, Strummer had made u-turn back toward 1977 punk (at manager Bernie Rhodes' urging), but had been t-boned by Rhodes' god-awful musical direction/production (replete with session musicians, synthesizers, programmed drums, and football terrace-like shouted choruses) and several profound life experiences Joe was dealing with at the time that distracted him from the task at hand (the deaths of both of his parents and the birth of his first child). History has not been kind to Cut the Crap (generally it's not considered canonical by fans and band members alike), but in many cases the acts on Recutting the Crap have revealed in their versions that there were some seriously decent-to-great songs buried under Rhodes' dreck--Strummer's tunes were solid at the core. The Scotch Bonnets' terrific, stripped-down reggae take on the anti-nuclear war cut "Are You Red...Y" alone is worth the cost of this LP. Other notable tracks (all from DC-area bands, where Crooked Beat Records--named after that Sandinista track--is based) include The Violets' ska-ified "Cool Under Heat," Dom Casual's ska-jazz-punkabilly "Sex Mad Roar," Basnji's "Dirty Punk" is loads more faithful to the Clash's '77 sound than the original (Too Much Joy's version of the cringe-y "We Are The Clash" is a valiant effort in this category, too), and Winterdrinks' "Play to Win" sounds like a deep cut from Sandinista. There are even a few covers of demos for Cut the Crap (which was originally titled Out of Control before Rhodes unilaterally renamed it)--I particularly liked Sussed Out with Sol Roots' raucous cover of "Backwoods Drive." A second volume of Recutting the Crap is slated for 2018, which presumably will include the last good and legit Clash single, "This Is England."

Various Artists, Recutting the Crap, Volume 2 and The Future Was Unwritten (2 x heavyweight, color vinyl LPs, Crooked Beat Records, 2018): Volume 2 continues to mine/reclaim the post-Mick Jones/Topper Headon Clash legacy (namely, the Out of Control demo and Cut the Crap album), while The Future Was Unwritten explores the "would have been Clash songs" had things worked out differently--the Strummer/Jones collaborations on Big Audio Dynamite's No. 10, Upping Street, as well as several Strummer cuts written for several film soundtracks in the late 1980s.

The original intent of The Clash Mark II (Strummer, Paul Simonon, Nick Sheppard, Vince White, and Pete Howard) was to revert to a back-to-basics '77 punk sound (unfortunately shedding much of the reggae influence in the process)--as evident on their 1983 Out of Control demo and 1984 tour--and had Clash manager Bernie Rhodes not perverted it all (and instead paired the band with the right producer in the studio, instead of doing an atrocious job himself), the final Clash album might have been pretty damn good.

All of the DC bands on Recutting the Crap, Volume 2 further strengthen this series' case that Strummer could still deliver the goods. Highlights inspired by the Out of Control demo include Indio Bravo's four-on-the-floor, straight-up rock take on "In the Pouring Rain" (a great live version of the original from 1984 can be found on the Julien Temple documentary The Future is Unwritten soundtrack); Space Giants' fantastically rollicking "Rock n Roll City"; Tall Ship's brash, punker-than-the-original "Glue Zombie"; and The Delarcos' nice rockabilly-ish take on "Jericho" (also known as "Ammunition"). Other notable Clash II-era cuts versioned here are Geisha Hit Squad's excellent XTC-sounding "Shouting Street" (eventually released on Strummer's disappointingly meh Earthquake Weather); Ignore Alien Orders' awesome sound collage using Strummer's pre-Clash nickname "Woody," as in Guthrie, for its title (with snippets of The Clash II playing "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" and "White Riot" while busking, a bit of "Street Parade" from Sandinista, Strummer from his show on the BBC World Service, and more); Daly Combat (one of Crooked Beat owner Bill Daly's two bands here) does a bang-up job on this superb reggae instrumental cut "Astroturf" (from a Jones/Headon demo, naturally); and Basenji's faithfully ace, but somewhat muted (appropriate, given the economic inequality of our times) "Bottom Line" (which Mick Jones had been working on as a Clash tune when he was fired from the band). Silveradio transforms the Cut the Crap opener "Dictator" into a much better ska-rockabilly track and, in what may be the best cover on the album, Insurgence DC (the other Bill Daly band) unleashes a phenomenally powerful and majestic "This Is England," a truly great Clash song made even better here--whose lyrics still pack a wallop:

"I hear a gang fight on a human factory farm
Are they howling out, or doing somebody harm?
On a catwalk jungle, somebody grabbed my arm
A voice spoke so cold, it matched the weapon in her palm

This is England
This knife of Sheffield steel
This is England
This is how we feel

Time on his hands, the freezing mohawk strolls
He won't go for the carrots
Been beaten by the pole
Some sunny day confronted by his soul
His eye will see how fast you can grow old

This is England
That I'm supposed to die for

This is England
Never gonna cry no more

Black shadow of the Vincent
Falls on a Triumph line
I got my motorcycle jacket
But I'm walking all the time

South Atlantic wind blows
Ice from a dying creed
I see no glory
And when will we get free?

This is England
We can chain you to the rail
This is England
We can kill you in a jail

Hey, British boots go kick Bengali in the head
Police sit watching
The newspapers being read
All deaf to protests
And after the attacker fled
Out came the batons and
The biggest one then said...

This is England
The land of illegal dances
This is England
Land of one thousand stances
This is England
This knife of Sheffield steel
This is England
This is how we feel"

Strummer's and Jones' post-Clash songs from the late '80s are (unsurprisingly) looser and freer, as they no longer felt confined/burdened by the mantle and mass of conflicting ideals and expectations that defined The Clash (and, obviously, gave them the space to collaborate again, whenever the mood or Muse struck)--but a lot of them could have been combined to make a great Clash album, had Strummer, Jones, Simonon, and Headon reunited (as The Future Was Unwritten posits). Too Much Joy serve up a stellar hard-edged and ballsy "Trash City" (from the soundtrack to "Permanent Record"; this band, Joe Strummer and The Latino Rockabilly War, featured Joey Altruda and Willie MacNeil from Jump with Joey!); it's hard to imagine that this was a Strummer/Jones outtake from BAD's No. 10, Upping Street, but "Dog in a Satellite" (apparently inspired by The Mighty Sparrow's "Russian Satellite") as interpreted by Don Zientara becomes a lovely, heartfelt rock ballad (really!); and "Euroshima," an eerie, nuclear dread 1983 Mick Jones song for Top Risk Action Company (T.R.A.C.), his pre-BAD band with Topper Headon and Leo Williams from Basement 5, sounds kind of gothy (like latter-day Damned) in Sunshine Feels' cool version. Daly Combat's "Love Kills" (Strummer's title track for the Alex Cox film "Sid and Nancy"; Jones played guitar on the original recording) packs even more crunch than the source; Winterdrinks turn "Dum Dum Dub" ("Dum Dum Club," also from "Sid and Nancy") into intriguingly good, X-sounding reggae-punk; and El Quatro successfully rework the Strummer/Jones BAD track "Sightsee MC" into an amazing cover The Plugz or Circle Jerks might have done (and it's got a great Western reggae break in there, too).

Both volumes of Crooked Beat Records' Recutting the Crap strive hard and largely succeed in redeeming Strummer's Clash II legacy (and all of those lost years in the wilderness before finding his mojo again with the Mescaleros). Fans of The Only Band That Matters will find a lot to like here and can rest easy in knowing that these bands have done Joe proud.

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