The Clash, ‘Sound System’ – Album Review
The Clash‘s official studio output makes up more than half of the 12-disc box set ‘Sound System,’ which could be the most definitive document on the legendary punk band. Their five great albums are here; ‘Cut the Crap,’ the 1985 LP they made without guitarist Mick Jones, is not. You really don’t need anything else.
‘Sound System’ — in addition to including remastered versions of those core albums in their original configurations (‘London Calling’ is a double CD, ‘Sandinista!’ is back to three) — gathers a bunch of live cuts, demos, a DVD, non-album singles, B-sides and rarities from the vaults. It’s the most complete audio history of the band ever compiled (and this is a band that has been compiled to death over the past quarter century).
The dozen or so previously unreleased tracks used as bait for fans who might be wary of plopping down more than $100 for music they mostly already own range from so-so live cuts and sketchy demos to remixes found on 12-inch singles the Clash released in the early ’80s. The outtakes — like the groove-heavy ‘The Beautiful People Are Ugly Too’ — are better, but not essential.
But that original run of albums — from 1977’s self-titled blast (in its U.K. version) to 1982’s ‘Combat Rock,’ the last album to feature the band’s creative center of Jones and Joe Strummer — is essential, as are a handful of the various B-sides and leftovers that have surfaced over the years.
They’re the reason ‘Sound System’ feels so substantial. With albums like ‘The Clash,’ ‘London Calling’ and ‘Sandinista!’ as anchors, everything around them — the 1976 demo for ‘Career Opportunities’ from their second recording session, Bob Clearmountain’s extended remix of ‘Rock the Casbah’ — gain magnitude. You may not go back to the three CDs of extras all that much, even though some of the band’s great early non-LP singles are here, but you’ll be glad they’re available. And you’ll be thankful that a band like the Clash once existed.