It wasn’t the first time The Clash had found themselves at a cross roads, but it would be almost the last: following the confused reaction to the un-edited Sandanista! punk rock’s iconoclasts supreme found themselves re-evaluating what they stood for, what it meant and how to reshape their music for a new decade.
The creative tug-of-war would eventually pull them apart, but not before the prosaic, more focused but still experimental Combat Rock, a polemically charged study of amongst other things, colonialism and the dislocation which follows after it’s collapse. That they were now the obvious finished article as a rock and roll band allowed them all the license required to satirise the decline of Western Society; as they went, the rockabilly of Should I Stay Or Should I Go and Rock The Casbah’s boogie-woogie made them exponentially bigger in America, almost against their will.
Straight to Hell inverted those ancient forms and re-imagined the band in the jungles of South East Asia, playing to an audience of silent children whose fathers were the walking dead, one way or the other. Underscored by Topper Headon’s chattering bossa percussion and a paranoia drenched guitar riff, Joe Strummer’s ego-free voice had never sounded more alone, as he wandered whether the sons and daughters of R&R and shrapnel would ever be welcomed in the land of the free, or whether they would even want to be. Bitter and exsanguinated, it was a song that recognised that battles, like wars, were never won.