The Clash - Give 'Em Enough Rope (Cover Artwork)

The Clash

Give 'Em Enough Rope (1978)


The sophomore slump. A term lamenting struggles of a promising athletic prospect whose rookie luster has dulled a bit once he’s been in the game for a moment. But to apply this to The Clash? “Heresy,” we’d shout! Heresy, indeed. But this is what we were served (sort of) with the oft-overlooked Give ‘Em Enough Rope. Let us not lose perspective though. When we’re talking a sophomore slump exemplified by a record that would be any other band’s greatest effort, we’re talking relatively. And that’s what I mean here. Give ‘Em Enough Rope was absolutely a sophomore slump for The Clash. Just as Derek Jeter dropped from his rookie batting average of .314 to .291 in his sophomore season, The Clash lost a step on their second full-length. But most any ball player would kill for a .291 average in his second season, much like any band would’ve killed to pen Give ‘Em Enough Rope as their second album.

The record was, historically, a pressure-cooker situation for The Clash. The underground success of their first full length had incited record execs to push Strummer & Co. to create a record that was at once representative of their gritty socio-political punk sound and melodically palatable to the masses, particularly the American masses. Now by nearly every standard, that is just what The Clash did on Give ‘Em Enough Rope. I mean, “Tommy Gun” was a legitimate single and absolutely held true to the sound and ethos of the self-titled record. The song captured their political gravitas, addressing terrorism head on, and crunched in much the same aggressive way as their earlier material. Then there’s “Julie’s in the Drug Squad,” a patented example of The Clash’s developing pop sensibilities. They managed to draw in a much wider rock sound, using a great piano lead balanced against Paul Simonon’s reggae-infused bass lines. And the lyrical content! How can you not love a song that recalls one of the biggest LSD busts ever?

But as the second half of Give ‘Em Enough Rope draws on, it’s hard not to reflect on a serious lack of energy there. “Guns on the Roof” was ultimately a lesser version of “Clash City Rockers.” As a song, it seemed uninspired and formulaic. Comparable lackluster issues presented themselves in “Stay Free.” A similarly unimaginative song that meandered from the kinetic pulse of the record’s first five tracks. In retrospect, if it weren’t for “Drug Stabbing Time” the entire second half of Give ‘Em Enough Rope would’ve be stuck on prescriptive mid-tempo shortcomings.

Now we could argue that Sandy Pearlman’s heavy-handed production on the record was cause for the inconsistencies. Rumors abound that he was less than impressed with Strummer anyway. But then what are we to make of the introduction of Topper Headon on Give ‘Em Enough Rope? It was his drumming that played no small part in their musical evolution, that’s for sure.

So maybe what Give ‘Em Enough Rope was, and remains to this day, was a growing experience for The Only Band that Ever Mattered. We know what The Clash went on to offer to music, right? And so if Give ‘Em Enough Rope was The Clash’s sophomore slump, it was easily one of the most diminutive steps back in music history. So what if they struck out on a few songs that most any other band could only wish to have written? I mean, just go listen for yourself. The second “Safe European Home” kicks in, the undeniable brilliance of The Clash kicks right back in as well.