Sometimes bands should just quit while they’re ahead. Weezer probably should’ve quit after The Green Album, Green Day should’ve stopped after American Idiot, and Snoop Dogg probably should’ve just recorded Doggystyle then hung up his afro pick for good, save the odd Dre collab or two. And The Clash, well, The Clash absolutely, definitely, without a doubt should’ve quit before they got to Cut The Crap.
Some Clash documentaries would actually have you believe that this was the case. In 1982, following the recording of Combat Rock, drummer Topper Headon was given the boot due to a growing heroin dependency. The loss of a long time member placed further strain on the growing division between core members Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, eventually resulting in Jones’ dismissal in late 1983. And that’s where it should’ve ended. Combat Rock was by no means the band’s finest work – a title fairly decisively reserved for 1979’s London Calling – but it did contain two of the band’s best known singles: “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” (written and sung by Jones) and “Rock the Casbah” (written by Headon). A fitting swansong, then, for a band inarguably past their prime, but still capable of great singles and live performances.
Sadly and regrettably, the band decided to forge on, with Cut The Crap emerging as a result. Without the two key members responsible for the two previous hits, for some reason it was decided that the band’s manager, Bernard Rhodes – a man with no previous musical talent or experience – would aid Joe Strummer in songwriting duties. The result is a bit of a mess.
The whole album comes across as a horrible mish-mash of styles. Sort of eighties bongo-driven disco-pop with fuzzy guitars and football chant choruses hastily strewn over the top. The single “This Is England” is one of the album’s worst, yet perhaps one of its most representative moments:
Those shitty eighties handclaps are something of a constant throughout the album too. Opener “Dictator” gets it about as right as anything on the album does but chucks in an unnecessary horn section for good measure, just to make sure it’s still as unlikeable as possible. “Dirty Punk” sounds like what “Safe European Home” would if you stripped it of it’s urgency and passed it through the Pet Shop Boys’ mixing desk while spilling warm British ale on the controls. “We Are The Clash” is about as misleading a song title as you’ll find on any album, while the awfully-titled “Fingerpoppin” actually features the great Paul Simonon resorting to slap bass, arguably the worst sound anyone can make with four strings and an amplifier. When was the last time you listened to The Clash’s debut and thought “this would be vastly improved by some disco breaks and hilariously white-sounding funk bass”?
In hindsight, perhaps the album’s reputation as one of the worst of all time is somewhat overstated. There’s plenty on here that wouldn’t have been too out of place on Combat Rock, which, despite the great singles, wasn’t a particularly good album either. Perhaps it was the presence of strong singles on earlier albums – hell, even Sandanista (a possible future “Worst Album of All Time”) had “The Magnificent Seven” on it – that allowed people to overlook their shortcomings, Cut the Crap being the first to contain no standout tracks. Maybe if it had been marketed as a Joe Strummer solo album it might have fared better – not brilliant, but not too bad a start either. Hell, everyone put out shite in the eighties, right? When was the last time you wrote something as good as “Complete Control”?
See where The Clash’s “Cut the Crap” ranks in our Worst Albums Of All Time Chart.