The Clash - Cut the Crap (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Clash

Cut the Crap (1985)


Almost every biography or documentary ever made about The Clash ignores Cut the Crap. There are many reasons for this, including that Clash fans generally hate the album, and the fact that it’s nearly impossible to get anyone involved with the album to talk about it. The core members of The Clash had been Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon. While Headon joined the band after their first album and was ejected from the band before the completion of Combat Rock due to his heroin addiction, and thus it could be said that lineups without Headon are still genuine versions of The Clash. However, the lineup for Cut the Crap also didn’t include Mick Jones, who was truly the founding member. The Clash really started out as a collaboration between Jones and Simonon, with Strummer being recruited (or, depending on how you look at it, stolen) from pub rock band The 101’ers.[1] To have a Clash without Mick Jones is something that most fans wouldn’t accept, which is one of the main reasons that Cut the Crap is so hated and largely forgotten. But the main reason that so many accounts of The Clash leave out Cut the Crap is, in my opinion, is that most of them leave out one of the main characters of The Clash’s story, and the one who is most essential to understanding what Cut the Crap actually is: their manager, Bernie Rhodes.

In the story of The Clash, it’s difficult to decide if Bernie Rhodes is the hero or the villain, as he is pretty much both. He’s both the reason the band existed in the first place, and the reason they fell apart. Bernie Rhodes had been working as an assistant to Malcolm McLaren, and when McLaren left for the United States to manage a New York Dolls tour, Rhodes was left in charge of The Sex Pistols, and recruited Johnny Rotten into the band, thus changing punk history forever. When McLaren wasn’t willing to give Rhodes much credit for his work with the Pistols, Rhodes vowed revenge by putting together a band that would outdo the Sex Pistols at their own game. That band was called The Clash.[2] Rhodes would have a tumultuous relationship with the band over the years, as his overbearing and brash personality tended to cause conflicts in the band. The massive shift in musical tone on London Calling was largely because that was their first album after firing Rhodes. [3] But then when Sandinista! took that creative freedom a little too far, Rhodes was brought back in to reign in the band a little more.[4] But Rhodes’s return to managing the band exacerbated the growing animosity between Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, who already hated each other so much that Paul Simonon was forced to stand between them on stage to keep them from fighting.[5]

Rhodes had a distinctly different influence over Cut the Crap than he did over the other Clash albums. On previous albums, Rhodes had pretty much just given a yay or nay vote on finished songs. On Cut the Crap, Rhodes has equal songwriting credits with Joe Strummer, marking his first foray into songwriting. There is a rumor, supported by some quotes from Strummer, that suggest that Rhodes was trying to force Mick Jones out of the band to take his place and finally become a rock star himself. Additionally, Malcolm McLaren had started to produce his own music, with Rhodes wanting to ride on his heels. [6] What resulted was an album thought up entirely by a man who could be considered a business genius, but certainly not an artist.

While it’s generally understood that Cut the Crap would be more aptly titled if the first word of the title had been omitted, it’s not fair to say that the entire album is a waste. Is it the Clash’s worst album? Absolutely (if this line-up can even really be considered the Clash). But is it unlistenable? Not at all. While Mick Jones and Topper Headon had been replaced by three unknowns (why they needed three new musicians to replace the two who left I’ll never know), Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon were still there, and when two musical greats like Strummer and Simonon make their worst album, its bound to still have some bright moments to it.

A lot of the songs on the album sound like great songs that had been ruined. Take the album opener, “Dictator,” for example “Dictator” could have been a powerful political commentary, but the inexplicably stupid addition of random voices throughout the song creates an annoyingly cluttered atmosphere that sounds like you’re listening to a radio station that’s playing a great song but has a weak signal and is losing the fight for reception with a talk radio station from the next state over. Under the true Clash lineup, “Dictator” could have been made into something extraordinary.

A few songs are often mentioned on this album as diamonds in the rough, most notably “We Are the Clash” and “This is England.” “We Are the Clash” redefines the band’s name as a catch-all moniker for society’s outcasts, and becomes a rallying cry for weirdos the world over. While that’s an enjoyable song concept, the song is haunted by the irony of being a song called “We Are the Clash” at a time when there was argument over whether or not this lineup can really be considered The Clash. “This is England” is by far the album’s greatest masterpiece, and can easily stand next to anything from the band’s glory days. Paul Simonon pumps out one of his trademark dub basslines as Strummer sings some of the saddest and most beautiful lyrics he’s ever put out.

The album’s biggest flaw is the use of drum machines throughout the entire album, actually giving the band’s new drummer, Pete Howard, very little to do on the album.[7] The drum machine beats rarely change pace, and make many of the songs blend together into what feels like a poor attempt to capitalize on the success of “Rock the Casbah,” the band’s biggest hit and their first experiments with new wave music. But “Rock the Casbah” was almost single-handedly composed by Topper Headon, a musical genius,[8] where Cut the Crap’s electronic style sounds more like one of the preprogrammed musical backbeats from a 1980’s Casio keyboard. The album’s lowest moments come in “Play to Win” and “Fingerpoppin.” “Play to Win” is a completely bizarre assemblage of random inaudible speech and sound effects punctuated with a brief chorus. The finished product barely qualifies as music, let alone a good Clash song, and, when listened to in the age of digital music, the song almost seems to be daring the listener to skip to the next track. Unfortunately, the next track is “Fingerpoppin,” a sad attempt to recreate songs like “The Twist” that originated their own dance crazes. It’s hard to imagine what kind of dance the Finger Pop would have been had anyone actually tried to do it, but it’s even harder to imagine that it wouldn’t look absolutely ridiculous.

At the time that Cut the Crap was recorded, Joe Strummer’s father had recently died, his mother had been diagnosed with cancer, and his wife had just had a baby, which might have been why he was more susceptible to Rhodes’s break-you-down-to-build-you-back-up approach.[9] By the time the album was being mixed, though, he realized the huge mistake he had made, and he didn’t stay in the band too much longer. After Strummer’s departure, Bernie Rhodes and Paul Simonon briefly entertained the idea of replacing him, too, turning the Clash into the Menudo of punk rock, but when the other three members quit, Rhodes and Simonon had to admit that the dream was over.[10] Cut the Crap, and the entire era around its creation, was a rather pathetic ending for one of the greatest bands of all time. The band had turned into the Black Knight from Monty Python, insisting it could continue to put up a fight after losing all of its limbs. Still, the album gives us a few, fleeting glimpses of the brilliance of what the band had been, as they coughed out their last breaths of life.

[1] Gilbert, Pat. Passion Is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash. London: Aurum, 2009. Print. 87-88

[2] Gilbert 62

[3] Gilbert 212-213, 232-243

[4] Gilbert 286-287

[5] Gilbert 265

[6] Gilbert 351-352

[7] Gilbert 351

[8] Gilbert 305-306

[9] Gilbert 353

[10] Gilbert 356