If you go visit The Clash’s official website, you’ll discover a homepage littered with images of 45 and LP releases – discs issued both during their career and post mortem. If you click on the ‘albums’ tab at the top of the page you’ll be taken to another page that lists and reviews all of their LP releases.
Well, not exactly all of them. For there’s no mention whatsoever of Cut the Crap, the final album issued under the band’s name, which was released in 1985 – just a few months before the band folded. Cut the Crap has been expunged from the band’s history. And that’s not surprising, because it is unmitigated drivel.
The Clash have always managed to bury elements of their history: did you know, for example, that John Graham Mellor (aka the late Joe Strummer) - feted as a working class hero and all-round punk icon – was the son of a British diplomat? Did you know that although the Mellors were of Jewish descent Joe’s brother joined the British Nazi party the National Front? Of course you didn’t. It’s not really important: what family doesn’t have skeletons in their closets? But it is indicative of the band’s (and their management’s) wishes to distance themselves from less savoury truths.
By the Time Cut The Crap came out The Clash was reduced to just two original members - Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon. Mick Jones (who wrote most of the band’s music) had been fired by Strummer and manager Bernie Rhodes, and drummer Topper Headon had been ousted from the band at the start of their 1983 tour because of his heroin addiction. Jones’ involvement in the band had been instrumental in their rise, but Strummer and Rhodes were determined to push on without him. The Clash had already replaced Headon with Pete Howard (who would later become a member of Eat) and would add two new guitarists to the line up to replace Jones; Nick Sheppard (of the Cortinas) and Greg ‘Vince’ White. This new five piece headed into the studio for what would be the Clash’s final outing.
Cut the Crap is diabolical. The songs are sluggish and vacant, and Strummer’s attempts at agit-prop politics are an embarrassment. Slathered with synths, football chants, hired-hand musicians and just about everything Rhodes (who ‘produced’ the album under a pseudonym) could lay his hands on including the kitchen sink, it’s a real stinker. Opening track Dictator is frenetic and dizzying, with horns, synth sounds and a barrage of effects. Used in more skilful hands these additions could have worked: here it’s just an abortion. Rhodes is no Trevor Horn, that’s for sure.
We Are the Clash should have been a call to arms for a newly-invigorated band, but it ends up as a thin, punk-by-numbers mess. Even Sham 69 would have done a better job of this garbage. Apparently the song was written after Jones and Headon threatened to go on tour together as the Real Clash. The less said about Fingerpoppin’, the third track I offer you today, the better. First single This Is England is probably the only redeeming feature (it's the one track that Strummer himself rated): Joe's voice is pretty good, but the kiddie overdubs and 80's synthesiser stabs don't help.
Strummer was a mess. He lost both of his parents in 1984 and was heading into depression. The sessions should have been abandoned: it seems that several tracks on Cut The Crap were unfinished, with Rhodes adding his mark to them in an effort to get the record out. Most of the blame for Cut The Crap has been laid at Rhodes’ door. He gets co-writer credit on every track on the album and even came up with the title for the collection, rejecting the band’s preferred Out of Control without even consulting them.
Mick Jones picked himself up, formed Big Audio Dynamite and enjoyed immediate chart success. Although he and Strummer managed to rekindle their friendship there was no saving The Clash. Strummer decided to break up the band, but Rhodes refused to Let it Be, holding auditions for a new singer and trying to convince the remaining members to keep going. Luckily the rest of the band decide not to be involved and the auditions were abandoned. In hindsight, this album should have been abandoned too. But if it had been, I could not present a handful of tracks from it for you today.