Richard Riegel

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 563

After a few weeks of reverent listening, I still can't say for certain what [Give 'Em Enough Rope] is really "about", though I know that I like it a helluva lot, and I know that just as with the first set, I can never seem to listen to it often enough; new facets lunge out at me each time I give it another spin.

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Complicating the analytical procedure are a couple of thorny facts: there's no libretto enclosed, again this time (the Clash have always insisted that people not understand them too quickly); and some of the anger-chocked vocals … remain absolutely unintelligible to this Yank (what is that mysterious singsong chorus to "All the Young Punks"?). Mind you, I'm not complaining, nor am I forgetting that the Rolling Stones never went broke overestimating the aural acuity of their fans.

Apparently, the Clash have given me just enough lyrical rope to make me think (their stated aim in all their interviews), just enough to solve the concept of the album in my own time; or to hang myself up trying. I've got a long way to go with this album, but that's the kind of depth I've sought in my music and art all along….

Joe Strummer and Mick Jones capture the moods of the urban England of the 1970's better than just about anybody else tackling this present moment….

[Here] are some stabs at a preliminary textual analysis: "English Civil War" is "about" the political apocalypse imminent in the continuing decay of England's socioeconomic structure; the Clash are even now casting their lot with the antiwar side to come. "Safe European Home" is both an appreciation and a satire of the Clash's U.K. vantage point, where revolution appears both more urgent and less frightening than it could be in the ol' rocked 'n' rolled U.S.A.

"Drug-Stabbing Time" and "Julie's on the Drug Squad" are similarly black-humored accounts of (justifiable) paranoia among the denizens of the London drug scene…. "Stay Free" is popper in sound than you ever dreamed the Clash could be, and celebrates the intellectual independence this band has forged for themselves since they kissed formal education good-bye.

"Last Gang in Town" and "All The Young Punks" (the latter tune erroneously, prophetically listed as "That's No Way To Spend Your Youth" on the jacket) alternately regret and applaud the inevitable passing of punk, due any day now. "Tommy Gun" is a self-explanatory, per Nicky Headon's rata-tat-tat drumming. "Cheapskate" is odd, but could very well concern a modern miser(?) derived from English literary archetypes popularized by everyone from [Charles] Dickens to [John] Entwhistle.

"Guns on the Roof" lines up the Clash squarely against totalitarianism, a stance you might well expect from such an apolitical band of politicians. "Guns on the Roof" also happens to contain my favorite Clash couplets of the season: "I'd like to be in the U.S.S.R. / Making sure that these things come / I'd like to be in the U.S.A. / Pretending that the war's all done!

Almost exactly. The war (take your pick) is far from all done, and the crafty social engineers in the Clash are playing their best to bring the future home to all of us, before we get lost in the past for good.

Richard Riegel, "Future Shock Now (If You Want It)," in Creem, Vol. 10, No. 10, March, 1979, p. 52.

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