The Music Box's #5 boxed set of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2006, Volume 13, #12
Written by John Metzger
There’s little doubt that The Singles, the latest overview of The Clash’s canon, falters slightly as a retrospective — particularly in comparison with the tightly focused two-disc outing The Essential Clash that was issued just a few years ago. In terms of product packaging, however, it indisputably is a triumph. Stuffed inside the mammoth box set are digital replicas of all 19 of the band’s U.K. singles. Each not only is housed in its own sleeve, but the CDs also cull together the various B-sides that were associated globally with the ensemble’s 7" and 12" releases. Also included with the collection is a reproduction of Capital Radio, a promotional EP containing a lo-fi interview that was given away in 1977 by the British music magazine NME. Across the entirety of The Singles, the artwork and the labels are historically accurate, and the discs themselves have been made to look just like the vinyl counterparts that they are meant to replace. Adding to the mystique is a series of passionately penned essays by the likes of Pete Townshend, the Edge, Damon Albarn, and Shane McGowan, which sufficiently build up the legacy of The Clash and its music.
Of course, going to such extremes would be ridiculous for an outfit of lesser import, but The Clash remains one of the most vital rock bands to emerge — not just in the ’70s but of all-time. Even in the midst of a box set that contains more B-sides than prime cuts, this is readily apparent. In tracing The Clash’s progress from the rampaging mayhem of White Riot and 1977 to the mainstream successes of Rock the Casbah and Should I Stay or Should I Go, The Singles finds the group strolling down a few wildly divergent paths without ever losing sight of its flirtations with a pop-oriented song structure. Leaving virtually no stone unturned, The Clash updated classic rock for the punk generation by combining The Who with glam-era David Bowie on Jail Guitar Doors and by applying a new wave spin to The Call Up’s Doors-ian motif. Elsewhere, the ensemble professed its love of reggae by introducing Willie Williams’ Armagideon Time and Toots Hibbert’s Pressure Drop to a wider audience as well as by incorporating the style into its own work, beginning with (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais and continuing in full-force on the material from London Calling. In fact, Rudie Can’t Fail effectively fused Sonny Curtis’ I Fought the Law, which The Clash also covered, with the collective’s horn-splattered, Jamaica-imbued leanings. Finally, The Clash lovingly paid homage to Motown on Hitsville U.K., turned to an acoustic framework without losing its fire on Groovy Times, and offered numerous dance mixes of The Magnificent Seven and This Is Radio Clash. Granted, not all of the B-sides are unmitigated triumphs, but taken in full, The Singles is a rare instance of a retrospective that contains style and substance, which is fitting since The Clash had an abundance of both.
Of Further Interest...
The Singles is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box