Hits Back

The Clash

Epic / Legacy, 2013


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


More than any other punk band, the Clash proved that righteous anger and musical aptitude need not be mutually exclusive. The blend of musical styles – punk rock infused with reggae, rockabilly and, later, pop – mixed with fiery anger and controversial yet thought-provoking political stances remains unique and influential with each passing year.

The 12-disc Sound System box set was released in September 2013, capturing a wealth of rarities and live tracks while remastering the band's five official CDs. Released on the same day is the far more manageable Hits Back, a two-disc collection packed with most of the band's major songs along with non-album singles and fan favorites.

In a unique twist, the collection is sequenced according to the band's live setlist from a 1982 show in Brixton. Guitarist Joe Strummer would tweak the list for each show and tape it to the back of his Telecaster (a formula later adopted by Pearl Jam), and save for one minor change, the first disc and a half follows that list exactly with the studio counterparts. The final eight songs on disc two round up some early songs from the debut (probably dropped from the 1982 setlist in favor of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Combat Rock tunes) and a few Sandinista! tracks that try valiantly to redeem that three-album debacle.

This approach gives the collection momentum, starting with the martial drama of “London Calling” and ending with the early tune “Garageland.” The concert-like approach is quite successful, blending early, punkier tunes like “Janie Jones” with pop hits like “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and reggae-inspired songs like “Bankrobber,” showcasing all sides of the band in the process.

Granted, there is a lot of overlap with the two-disc Essential best of from 2003, but that collection was both chronological and made sure to hit all of the band’s best known songs. Some well-known pieces are missing here (“I’m So Bored With The U.S.A.,” for example) in favor of album cuts from London Calling and Sandinista! like the head-scratching pop tune “Hitsville UK” and “Wrong ‘Em Boyo.”

Still, this collection flows nicely, hitting the utterly fantastic “London Calling,” the unsettling “Guns Of Brixton,” the accessible punk pop of “Train In Vain” and “Rock The Casbah,” the call-to-arms “Know Your Rights,” the adventurous “Police & Thieves” and the superb non-album single “Radio Clash,” which refuses to be categorized while instantly getting stuck in the listener’s head.

So, for those searching for a Clash compilation that hits the commercial high points, Essential remains the best option. For those wanting to see a thorough overview of everything the band could do, Hits Back is a great place to start and another successful compilation of a truly original and still relevant band.

Rating: A-

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