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Companion piece in miniature to the exhaustive Sound System (Epic, 2013), The Clash's Hits Back would be merely another collection were it not for the novel twist applied to its anthologizing. The thirty-two remastered tracks on two cd's (or three vinyl lp's) are sequenced in the running order of a 1982 Clash concert, a replication of which, in the late Joe Strummer's handwriting, is reproduced inside the booklet within the triple- fold digi-pak.
As much as that concept works as homage to the guitarist/singer/songwriter/frontman, it is simply yet another gesture of romanticizing a band whose public profile, from its beginning, has been carefully crafted for its own politically-correct demographic. It's almost as if the Clash foresaw the day their history would come under inspection and tailored their image for most potent, yet most transparent, public consumption across the broadest possible demographic span.
The harsher reality is that the music of the Clash doesn't really wear all that well over time, except in the superficial reality of hindsight and/or abject nostalgia for their era. "The only band that mattered," as their label trumpeted at the time of London Calling (Epic, 1979) (the title song of which, with "Working for the Clampdown," bookend the first disc here), sounds more dated than contemporaries like the Ramones, the Jam and Talking Heads, all of whom capture the individualistic punk and New Wave sensibilities of their time with genuinely relevant resonance today.
Upon release of Give 'Em Enough Rope (Epic 1978) , it seemed mystifying for the Clash's second album, from which comes "Safe European Home" and "Tommy Gun," to be produced by Sandy Pearlman, one of the mastermind behind behind Blue Oyster Cult, one of rock's most contrived acts ever (though a fairly ingenious one). Yet in retrospect, the sculpting of the Clash's collective persona became fine-tuned at that point and even more focused with the release of the reggae-influenced Sandinista! and the (fabricated?) label feud surrounding the release of the original three-record set (grasp the irony here).
Recounted in the timeline of the essay, carefully juxtaposed with a kinetic array of photos, a club residency in New York city furthered the Clash's outlaw/populist image which subsequently petrified upon release of Combat Rock (Epic, 1982): the story of "Rock the Casbah," as linked to war in Iraq, appears as nothing so much as oversimplification of topical issues, like many of the themes of Clash songs, into emotional hot buttons. A political band to be sure.
Along with their first bonafide hit outside England, "Train in Vain," less widely known tunes appear here, including singles-only cuts like "I Fought the Law" and "Radio Clash," the sum of which comprises a curio as striking the color scheme of the package's graphics. The short shrift given the fractious nature of the Clash's later history (mirrored in the lack of musician detail in the credits), is indicative of the selective filtering which further camouflages the contents of Hits Back.
Track Listing: CD 1: London Calling; Safe European Home; Know Your Rights; (White
Hammersmith Palais; Janie Jones; The Guns of Brixton; Train in Vain;
Wrong ‘Em Boyo; The Magnificent Seven; Police on my Back; Rock the
Opportunities; Police & Thieves; Somebody Got Murdered; Brand New
for the Clampdown. CD 2:Ghetto Defendant; Armagideon Time; Stay Free;
I Fought the
Law; Straight To Hell; Should I Stay or Should I Go?; Garageland;
White Riot; Complete
Control; Clash City Rockers; Tommy Gun; English Civil War; The Call
Up; Hitsville UK;
This Is Radio Clash.
Personnel: Joe Strummer: vocals, guitar; Mick Jones: vocals; guitar; Paul Simenon:
Topper Headon: drums; Terry Chimes: drums.