Big Audio Dynamite
This Is Big Audio Dynamite
[25th Anniversary Legacy Edition]
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2010, Volume 17, #7
Written by John Metzger
Mon July 19, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
The Clash’s London Calling was an instantaneous classic, and it remains one of the finest rock ’n‘ roll albums ever to be made. Lost in the praise and adulation of the endeavor, however, is the fact that it also signaled the beginning of the end for The Clash. As the outfit continued to experiment with its core sound — often quite successfully, via the sprawling, three-LP set Sandinista!, the wildly successful Combat Rock, and a host of B-sides — it also began to fall apart. Conflicts between Joe Strummer and Mick Jones over the focus of The Clash arose with increasing frequency. In fact, Jones originally was intending to produce Combat Rock, but Strummer swept him aside in favor of the more conservative approach of Glyn Johns. Not surprisingly, after the effort’s release, Jones was fired.
Like the principal members of many outfits that are mired in conflict, Jones and Strummer did their best work together because the tension between them not only spurred their creativity but also kept their misguided ideas at bay. Although Strummer quickly recovered and put together a string of solid solo endeavors, his first project after the departure of Jones was an unmitigated disaster. Cut the Crap, the oft-forgotten final album from The Clash, was supposed to be a back-to-basics affair that reinserted the ensemble at the top of the punk-rock heap. Instead, the outing was so lackluster that it sounded like an unconvincing attempt to reclaim the feverish glory of the band’s past.
Meanwhile, Jones was continuing to look forward. Working with producer Don Letts, a videographer who had filmed The Clash on countless occasions over the years, he assembled Big Audio Dynamite. The ensemble was designed specifically to take advantage of the burgeoning dance-club scenes in London and New York. Informed by his obsession with dub, hip-hop, and rap, Jones had been pushing The Clash in this direction for some time. Issued in a myriad of forms, This Is Radio Clash and The Magnificent Seven prominently propelled the band far beyond its punk-imbued roots. With Big Audio Dynamite, however, Jones carried his ideas to the next level.
At first glance, This Is Big Audio Dynamite is driven solely by movement. Every sound plays a role in the sonic dance. Even Jones’ guitar is largely relegated to clattering around in the background of the songs. At times, though, the mixture of beats, rhythms, and rhymes that Jones and Letts sculpted sometimes struggles to coalesce around the skeletal melodies and lyrics that they had concocted for the affair. This Is Big Audio Dynamite was an extension of the seeds that Jones had planted within The Clash’s early endeavors, the ones that had sprouted amidst Sandinista!’s funky grooves. With time, this becomes increasingly apparent: The spoken-word samples that Letts had drawn from spaghetti westerns fold around and eventually into the vocals, bolstering the political messages that lurk inside the material as well as the narrative arc of the set.
Occasionally chaotic, the music on This Is Big Audio Dynamite twirls and swirls through a dizzying array of styles. Rap and hip-hop are blended with Third World concepts, lined with samples, and smashed into dance beats. Although the end result bears little resemblance to punk rock, its intensity is the same. The 12 remixes that fill the latter half of the newly expanded, two-disc version of This Is Big Audio Dynamite further illuminate Jones and Letts’ collective vision for the affair.
There’s no doubt that This Is Big Audio Dynamite proved to be a highly influential endeavor. After all, everyone from the Beastie Boys to Massive Attack has taken tips from Jones’ path to artistic freedom. Nevertheless, a quarter of a century after its release, This Is Big Audio Dynamite increasingly sounds as if it is stuck in time. Too often, its quirky blend of grooves and synthesizers tie it to an era that also spawned the likes of Big Country, General Public, and The Thompson Twins. Perhaps if Strummer had been present to provide help in shaping the set, the final product might have added significantly to The Clash’s legacy. Allowed to roam on his own, however, Jones was only able to turn This Is Big Audio Dynamite into a promising beginning that also contained its share of distractions. ˝
Of Further Interest...
This Is Big Audio Dynamite: Legacy Edition is
available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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