Various - Burning London: The Clash Tribute (Cover Artwork)


Burning London: The Clash Tribute (1999)


While browsing the clearance shelf at Half-Price Books (one of my favorite places in Chicago), I stumbled upon this CD. I was originally drawn to it because it was a Clash tribute album. The second factor was the rather impressive track listing. What sealed the deal was seeing Ice Cube and Mack 10 doing "Should I Stay or Should I Go."

I won't go on about how the Clash are one of the most influential and important bands of the last 30 years because everyone on this site is well aware of that. I am usually pretty hesitant about tribute albums because they are more often than not a disgrace to the original songs. This album is different. The Clash's influence transcends so many bands of so many genres and it is made evident by the track listing. While most of the bands are those you would expect the Clash to directly influence, there are a few surprises that come off better than one would expect. One of my favorite things about the album is that the song selection isn't what you would expect on an album like this. Many of their more unsung gems make an appearance and are done rather well.

However, No Doubt's "Hateful" is a rather mediocre opening song. What makes the original so great is the intensity that Strummer puts forth in his singing. What I do appreciate is that No Doubt puts their own little spin on the track that makes it their own. Unfortunately, I am not a big fan of their sound and it doesn't seem to fit all that perfectly with the energy of the original.

The Urge's "This Is Radio Clash" is one of my favorite covers on the album. I had never heard anything from the Urge, but this track demonstrates a band with the vigor of MU330. They were able to take one of the Clash's more successful horn/ska ensembles and amplify it.

Ice Cube and Mack 10's "Should I Stay or Should I Go"...*sigh*. What was originally the most anticipated track on the album for me turned out to be a huge disappointment. It was off to a good start when the opening guitar riff played and a hip-hop beat played over it. Unfortunately, as soon as the verse started, any hopes I had went out the window. What I wanted was a fresh take of an overplayed Clash song. What I got ended up being a completely irrelevant song that just sampled the guitar and borrowed the chorus. I'd like to believe that Cube was influenced by the song and this was his reinvention, but without his liner notes, it's hard to say.

I had heard Rancid's "Cheat" before on an old B-Sides collection, but it was nice to have it here. This song seemed fitting for Rancid -- a punk band picking a punk song. What made this track special was Matt Freeman's bass being more prevalent than the original and everyone knows what a great musician he is.

I was really surprised to see Third Eye Blind on the comp. I was even more surprised at how much I enjoyed their take on "Train in Vain." They did an all right job of making the song their own. However, Stephen Jenkins manages to sound surprisingly a lot like Joe Strummer and music is very similar to the original, so it doesn't stick out as anything special.

Indigo Girls' "Clampdown" is another surprise here, mostly because this is one of my favorite Clash songs and I had no idea what this band would do to it. However, after listening to their acoustic performance of the song, I was pleased. They manage to keep the original passion of the song intact without a drum and bass backup. The softness of their vocals actually work out very well. This is one of my favorite tracks just based on how different yet how successful this version is.

The first time I saw the Bosstones, they played "Rudie Can't Fail." It was an unexpected treat and I was very impressed with it. I do feel that seeing them play it live served to better convey what this song means to this band. That's not to say this is a bad recording, it just fails to live up to seeing it live.

"White Man In Hammersmith Palais" is another personal favorite song done by another unexpected band. 311 does a good job of remaining true, but I think they almost did it too well. The only thing that really separates the two versions would be the vocals and even then, there is very little that says "311."

After reading the liner notes, I discovered the Afghan Whigs was Topper Headon's band. However, that doesn't really make the song much better. It opens with the drum part for "Train in Vain" and I thought there was going to be a second rendering of said song. Really, I can't say much more than it was just a really boring version of "Lost in the Supermarket." The end was weird too as it faded out as a combination of "Train in Vain" and this song.

Before I heard Cracker's "White Riot," just looking at the band name and the song they picked made me smile. I didn't expect a bluegrass version of this song, but that's what I got. I also didn't expect it to be so good either. This is my favorite cover from the album. They take one of the Clash's more punk songs and completely turn it around. Not just its uniqueness makes me love it, but the musicianship is so well-done that I just can't help it.

I don't know what mainstream alt band I was thinking Silverchair was, but boy was I wrong. They made me not hate snotty, Casualities-esque punk if only for the sake that it was in the form of a Clash song (here, "London's Burning"). The raw energy of their performance helps signify quite perfectly this song and what it represented of the Clash at this time. It's fresh throughout and certainly never boring.

My love of "Straight to Hell" makes it possible to overcome my distaste for Moby. Despite the beautiful vocal styling of Heather Nova, I feel that this song falls very short. The replacement of guitar/drum/bass with a strange synth part takes so much away from the song. What makes "Straight to Hell" so memorable is the riff of both the guitar and the bass. Lyrically, so many lines are shortened or changed that it becomes frustrating. Strummer's intentional stuttering of certain lines helped to reinforce the song. To its defense, the cover closes nicely, but it is not nearly enough to make it worth listening through the whole thing to get to it.

As a long-time fan of the Clash and the greatness they spread, I was pleased to see such a wide ensemble of musicians come together to celebrate said greatness. While I don't totally dig some of the band's styling of some songs, I'm able to appreciate the demonstrated range of influence the Clash had on music. Some of the bands seem to imitate rather than pay tribute to the Clash while others take what this band was to heart and show it here. I recommend picking this up if you're a fan of the Clash and want to hear one of the more pleasant tribute albums they've been given.