Cut the Crap
|Cut the Crap|
|Studio album by|
|Released||4 November 1985|
|Studio||Weryton Studios, Unterföhring, Germany|
|Producer||Jose Unidos (aka Bernie Rhodes)|
|The Clash chronology|
|Singles from Cut the Crap|
Cut the Crap is the sixth and final studio album by the English punk band The Clash. It was recorded early in 1985 at Weryton Studios, Munich and released on 4 November 1985 by Epic Records. The album followed the firing of the band's co-founder, lead guitarist and principal songwriter Mick Jones, and drummer Topper Headon, by lead vocalist Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon. Strummer and the band's recently reinstated manager Bernie Rhodes recruited then-unknown guitarists Vince White and Nick Sheppard, along with drummer Pete Howard, as stand-ins for Jones and Headon. Simonon does not appear on the album, and Howard was replaced by an electronic drum machine.
The songs were mostly written by Strummer with post-production assistance from Rhodes, who oversaw arrangement, track sequencing and the final mix. The often-derided album title, taken from a line in the 1982 post-apocalyptic film Mad Max 2, was chosen by Rhodes. On release, the album was maligned by the UK music press as an incohesive, "catastrophic" betrayal of the punk ethos. Contemporary reviews described the album as "one of the most disastrous ever released by a major artist and a complete failure artistically and commercially". Rhodes's production choices were especially derided; one writer described the sound as brash, as if "designed to sound hip and modern—'80s style!". The band split up soon after its release.
Although tracks from the album are usually excluded from retrospective box-sets and compilations, later critics tend to see the album in a more favourable light. Strummer's songwriting and vocal performance are often praised, as are the tracks "This Is England", "Dirty Punk" and "North and South".
The Clash reconvened for rehearsals in London during June 1983 after their appearance at the US Festival. But interpersonal tensions, evident throughout the previous year, reemerged with a few days. These in part stemmed from guitarist Mick Jones's use of a recently acquired synthesizer, as well as from his frequent absence from rehearsals. By this point, relations had broken down between Jones and vocalist Joe Strummer. Jones refused to sign the new contract negotiated by manager Bernie Rhodes; one Clash associate remembered that Rhodes was angered by Jones's position and asked Strummer if he wanted to remain in a band with the guitarist. The rehearsals were eventually abandoned.
Jones said that, by this point, their "relationship was ... bad. We weren't really communicating. The group was dissipating". Not long into rehearsals, in late August or early September, Strummer fired Jones. A week before the official announcement of the dismissal, Strummer, Simonon and Rhodes met Howard in a pub, where Strummer said he'd sacked Mick Jones, whom he described as "a fucking cunt". The band placed anonymous advertisements for replacements in Melody Maker, eventually hiring Nick Sheppard and Greg White. The latter took the pseudonym Vince after Simonon said he would prefer to quit than play in a band with someone named Greg, saying: "Name me one cool guy called Greg."
Strummer intended the reformed Clash line-up as encapsulating back-to-basics punk rock. When practising new Clash songs, they avoiding the reggae-influenced music of their previous two albums, Sandinista! (1980) and Combat Rock (1982). Strummer came to refer to the line-up as the The Clash, Round Two, a phrase adopted by the press as "The Clash Mark II". They were booked into a short tour of the American west coast, debuting new songs, which prompted Jones boast to the concert promoter Bill Graham that he was planning his own tour of the country with former Clash drummer Topper Headon as "The Real Clash". Jones's lawyer had earnings frozen from the US Festival as well as sales of Combat Rock; in response, Strummer wrote the song "We Are The Clash". The songs "We Are The Clash", "Three Card Trick", "Sex Mad Roar" and "This Is England" were debuted during January 1984 live appearances.
Recording and production
The recently fired Mick Jones had written virtually all of the band's music. Reflecting in the period immediately after Jones' departure, Clash associate and sometime manager Kosmo Vinyl admitted that the remaining members assumed, wrongly in his view, that anyone could write a punk song. Unknown to the band, Rhodes had conceived his own solution to the problem: he would write the music. The album was recorded between January and February 1985, on a 24 track mixing desk in Weryton Studios, Unterföhring, outside Munich, Germany. Epic records choose the studio on the basis of cost, given that the band's finances were dependent on the outcome of a number of ongoing legal cases.
Rhodes hired engineer Micheal Fayneas as he was both affordable and had prior experience with programmed drum machines. He employeed engineers Ulrich A. Rudolf, Simon Sullivan and Kevin Whyte, each of whom is, oddly, credited on the sleeve. Rhodes, who took the pseudonym "Jose Unidos", had no previous experience in record production. He nonetheless sought novel and radical ideas, such as replacing live musicians with synthetic sounds and layering audio from TV programmes over tracks. Although Jones's use of synthesizers and samplers was one of the main reasons behind his dismissal, Jones used those instruments to critical and public acclaim with his next band Big Audio Dynamite.
Simonon does not appear on any of the final recordings; basslines were performed by former Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy, who was also excluded from the sleeve credits. New recruit Pete Howard is similarly absent from the album, although writer Chris Knowles described him as a "an astonishingly powerful and prodigious" drummer, and that replacing him with a drum machine was "like replacing a Maserati with a Matchbox". Strummer later regretted the decision, saying he would never use a drum machine again.
Against Strummer's wishes, Rhodes took the master tapes from the studio, and took control of the final mixes, adding synthesizers, samplers and football-style chants to the recordings. Due to a restrictive and unfavorable recording contract, Strummer was unable to stop Rhodes, with whom he by then fallen out. Upset at the prospect of the manager's taking creative control, Strummer asked Jones to rejoin the band, but was rebuffed. While he was pleased with the demo versions of the songs, he was disappointed by the final production. In 1986, he recalled how "some of the tunes were fair but really I hated it...I didn't hear Cut The Crap until it was in the shops. I fell out with Bernie before the final mix. I hadn't heard my tunes since the demo stage". Disillusioned, he disowned the album and moved to Spain, in part to avoid promotional obligations.
Music and lyrics
Jucha dismisses Cut the Crap as produced a manager whose musical ambitions were compromised by a lack of talent,and a common view is that many of the studio production choices distract from otherwise strong material. Stummer's lead vocals are placed low in the mix, sometimes buried underneath the electronic drums and synthetic keyboards and effects. The sound is often described as muddy and cluttered due it a perceived overuse of multi-layered backing vocals and guitar tracks. Many of the guitar overdubs are considered unnecessarily, given that both Sheppard and White were both using Gibson Les Pauls, and thus both were tonally similar, and that in places there was not significant variation in the lines they were playing. This may have in part been due to Rhodes inexperience as a producer, who working with a 24-track mixing desk, felt he had to fill each channel. Reflecting this, Jucha sums up the album as produced by a manager whose musical ambitions were over stretched by his lack of experience and talent.
The decision to use overlayed vocals in the choruses, to give a football "chanted" feel, was harshly viewed by critics, both because the effect seemed like low-brow rabble-rousing, and the result compared unfavorably with Jones's earlier backing vocals. The treatment of the drum sounds is the most criticised aspect of the album's sound; often due to the fact that their sound was largely untreated with sound effects. Knowles suggest that adding reverb would have helped create a more organic "roomy" sound, so the wouldn't appear, in his opinion, "so canned and phony".
Against this, the playing is tight and cohesive; each of the new recruits were skilled musicians and had just come off a tour where they had been instructed not to vary the song structures or guitar leads between performances, and so were very familiar with the material.
"The Dictator" has been described as "the poorest possible choice for the opening track", although it was one of the earliest songs the new line-up played during their European tour. In 2017, Vulture ranked it at number 136 in its "All 139 the Clash Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best" survey, two rankings above "We Are the Clash". The album version omits the live version's bridge, changed the drum pattern, and replaced most of the guitar parts with atonal synth lines. Writer Martin Popoff described the lyrics' depiction of a Central American fascist authoritarian as "surprisingly flat and dead".
The guitar-based "Dirty Punk" is built from a basic three-chord structure reminiscent of the band's debut album. It was generally well received, although the synthetic drum sound is at odds with its back-to-basics sound. It was written just after the 1984 tour, when Strummer was attending to his terminally ill mother, so it is assumed that most of the lyrics were composed by Rhodes. They are written from the point of view a young punk who feels overshadowed by an older brother, but the story is told in such simple terms that it has been described as having "Neanderthal lyrics that read as if a parody of a punk rock song". The relative simplicity of the lyrics were criticised by Vulture, who describing them as akin to "Mick Jagger's '80s output, bland cliché for bland cliché."
The lyrics for "We Are the Clash" are usually seen as a response to Jones's lawsuit. The album version differs substantially from earlier known live recordings. The tempo has been slowed down, the bridge changed to an intro, and the call-and-response chorus removed. The song has received mixed reviews. It was criticised for its confused politics and thin sound, the guitar solo and back-in-the-mix vocal chants in particular lacking low-end frequencies. The writer and Clash biographer Chris Knowles disliked the production sound, but admired the songwriting. He considered the final recorded version a lost opportunity, noting that he had "heard some killer live versions of it". Rolling Stone took issue with the song's title, noting that given that the album does not include either Jones or Headon, the tile is "an outright lie". Similarly, writer Tony Fletcher responded to the chant of "We Are the Clash", with the words "No your not ... you're a pale imitation of Sham 69 at the disco".
"Cool Under Heat", is a reggae-ballad whose production choices have been especially criticised as cluttered and confused, with a number of writers noting how its strong lyrics and tune are buried underneath a jumble of extraneous instruments and studio effects. Especially he guitar sound is flat and restrained by overly compressed production. Popoff sees the recorded version as a lost opportunity, noting how, during an early 1985 busking tour, the band played superior arrangements, reminiscent of The Pogues.
"The boy stood in the burning slum", the opening line of "Movers and Shakers", is described by writer Sean Egan as "a piece of unconscious self-parody that is quite probably the worst line ever to appear on a Clash record". Fletcher called the line "excruciating" given that Strummer was then a successful rock star, but resigned himself by observing how "fortunately for [him] not enough people were listening to be truly offended."
The band's last single, "This Is England", opens side two and is widely regarded as the albums' stand-out track, with Strummer describing it as the "last great Clash song". Co-written by Strummer and Rhodes, the song retains some of the reggae influences of their earlier albums. Like "We Are the Clash", its chorus is sung in a football chant, but here it is higher in the mix. The guitars are given prominence in the mix, although the percussion is supplied by a drum track. Knowles recalls how the live version was more dynamic and contained several tempo changes and a melodic guitar solo. The lyrics convey societal alienation, lamenting the national mood in 1985, with the line "South Atlantic wind blows" referring to the Falklands War. Writing for Vulture in 2017, writer Bill Wyman (not to be confused with Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones), described the song as the only successful track the album, writing that "the sound collage and the gentle, troubled synth lines undergird the song unerringly, and for once the group-shouted chorus, though still overloud, conveys some wan meaning. This can’t have been a good time for Strummer, and you can hear it in his voice, as he sings the fuck out of this."
The production and arrangement of the ska based "Three Card Trick" is relatively uncluttered, although it does contain programmed hand-claps. According to writer Gary Jucha, if not for the drum machine, the track was strong enough to appear on any Clash album, and indicates that, by the mid-1980s, Strummer had developed a real skill for writing mid-tempo songs. The track was an early live favourite, when it was often played as a straightforward punk song.
"Play to Win" is a sound collage described by writer Martin Popoff as incoherent and basically "noise, bongos, and nonsensical fragmented conversations between Joe and Vince". While the drum sound is mixed too low and the shouted chorus has been described as resembling Adam and the Ants, its demo version is more favorably viewed.
The penultimate track "North and South", written and sung by Sheppard, features a simple guitar line and uncluttered production, and is often highlighted as one of the album's strongest tracks. The album closes with "Life Is Wild", which had not been played live. Featuring an Oi! sounding chorus, Popoff describes it as a "curious thumping party rocker that makes little sense", that begs the question why a songwriter as talented as Strummer would write such banalities.
Title and cover
The album's working title was Out of Control, until Rhodes changed it, without consulting the band, shortly before its release. He took the words Cut the Crap from a scene in the 1982 post-apocalyptic film Mad Max 2, when Mel Gibson's character, Max Rockatansky, insists on driving the oil tanker on which the settlers' survival depends, stating, "Come on, cut the crap. I'm the best chance you've got." According to Jucha, the sentiment reflected the band's view of themselves in the mid-1980s: "the back-to-basics Clash, Round two—like the initial band of UK punk rockers—were going to eradicate the meaningless New Romantic bands dominating the British pop world. They were 'the best chance [the world's] got'." Jucha went on to say that he nevertheless found the title "awful".
The album cover shows a punk wearing a mohawk, black leather jacket and sunglasses. The image is rendered so that the picture of the punk looks like a poster glued to a wall. A very similar image was used for the single release of "This is England".
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|The Village Voice||B+|
During their 1984/85 tour, the Clash became a highly accomplished and acclaimed live band who had already written a number of the songs that would appear on their final album. A few of the songs had been live favorites, and the UK press were optimistically waiting for its release. Heightening the anticipation, Strummer told journalist Richard Cook that "we are not going to make a record until we know we can make one that will last ten years". On its eventual release, most critics and fans were disappointed—in particular at its production values, but also at the omission of stand-out live tracks "In the Pouring, Pouring Rain" and "Ammunition" (sometimes titled "Jericho" in contemporary bootleg recordings).
The album sold poorly compared to earlier Clash releases, reaching just no. 16 in the UK charts, and no. 88 in the US, and lead single "This Is England" received further negative reviews on its release. At the time, critics viewed the album in a generally negative light. The absence of Jones and Headon led many to regard Cut the Crap as a Joe Strummer solo album, especially as Simonon was only involved in the pre-production sessions and does not appear on the final recordings. The album's shortcomings were often attributed to Strummer's evident disillusionment with the group, and the fact that he was grieving over the deaths of his parents. In defence, Strummer said that "CBS had paid an advance for it so they had to put it out". Critic Dave Marsh later nominated the track as one of the top 1001 rock singles of all time.
More recent critics tend to see the album more favourably, especially Strummer's songwriting and vocal performance. Jon Savage praised it in his important and influential 1991 book on the history of punk "England's Dreaming".In a review for The Village Voice, the critic and writer Robert Christgau said that in spite of the synthesized horns on "Dictator", most of the songs eventually "take effect, some persistent, exuberant, melancholic, and even-keeled, particularly 'We Are the Clash'". However its reputation as a failure, or at least as a lost opportunity, continues. In 2016 Rolling Stone's David Fricke wrote that "too much of Cut the Crap is Strummer's angst running on automatic, superficially ferocious but ultimately stiff and unconvincing". Richard Cromelin felt the album's uptempo songs are less effective than previous Clash records, but concluded that Strummer's singing was compelling and "This Is England" and "North and South" made the album "more than passable". Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes "This Is England" as "surprisingly nervy" on a record that is, in his view, otherwise "formulaic, tired punk rock that doesn't have the aggression or purpose of early Clash records".
In the UK, the album had a lasting damaging effect on the band's reputation, which did not fully recover until Strummer's work with the Pogues on the Straight to Hell soundtrack in 1987. At the time of release, Strummer was depressed by both the album's sound and reputation. Asked in 1986 as to how the reviews affected him, he replied: "Sure I read [them] but I didn't need them to tell me. It was like when you're younger and you're trying to make a date with a girl but she won't have any of it. You keep going back, trying to fool yourself that this time will be better." He said that he was particularly upset that people had thought that he was the producer "Jose Unidos" was him rather than Rhodes, admitting "It wouldn't have been so bad if Bernie had just got the blame but that was unbearable." Although the album was held up by some contemporary reviewers as why Punk rock had failed, reflecting in 1988, Strummer said: "To someone who says to me 'You were the spokesman for your generation and you fucked it up', I say yeah, but we tried — whether we succeeded or failed is immaterial, we tried."
Strummer dissolve the band that October, giving each of the remaining members a thousand pounds each. Howard stold him, somewhat bitterly, that in following Bernie's lead, "this is where it got you", to which he replied, "Yeah, I know." He later admitted that the project had in part been to prove that Jones hadn't been the sole songwriter in the Clash. White agrees, stating that its failure was down to a mix of Rhodes' scheming, Strummer's hubris, and an overall atmosphere of "negativity and discontent". He disowned the album, and "Three Card Trick" was the only album track the band played live after it's release.
Cut the Crap was remastered and re-released in Europe in the mid-2000s, with the bonus track "Do It Now". The reissue was unannounced and not promoted. It came after the rest of the band's catalogue had been reissued between December 1999 and January 2000 in the US. The album was not mentioned in the Clash documentary The Clash: Westway to the World (2000) and was acknowledged only briefly in the official 2008 book The Clash, not receiving an overview as the first five albums did. Similarly, the album has been omitted from Clash box sets re-issues.
- Side one
- "Dictator" – 3:00
- "Dirty Punk" – 3:11
- "We Are the Clash" – 3:02
- "Are You Red..Y" – 3:01
- "Cool Under Heat" – 3:21
- "Movers and Shakers" – 3:01
- Side two
- "This Is England" – 3:49
- "Three Card Trick" – 3:09
- "Play to Win" – 3:06
- "Fingerpoppin'" – 3:25
- "North and South" – 3:32
- "Life Is Wild" – 2:39
- Joe Strummer – lead vocals, guitars
- Nick Sheppard – guitar, lead vocals on "North and South"
- Vince White – additional guitars on "Do It Now"
- Bernie Rhodes – drum machine programming
- Norman Watt-Roy – bass guitar
- Michael Fayne – drum machines, vocals on "Play to Win"
- Hermann Weindorf – keyboards, synthesizers
|1985||Swedish Albums Chart||30|
|UK Albums Chart||16|
|US Billboard 200||88|
- Popoff (2018), p. 211
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