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Big Audio Dynamite
This Is Big Audio Dynamite Julian Marszalek , April 29th, 2010 12:43

Such was the length of the shadow caused by the legacy of The Clash that it served to put what some of what happened next into an unjustified historical shade. Cut The Crap, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon's last venture under The Clash's name, was a tired and limping beast and one subjected to the kind of behind-the-scenes coup that would've made perfect lyrical fodder for the much-maligned triple-album sprawl that was Sandinista! Quite rightly, it's been tossed into the dustbin of history yet its airbrushing from many a Clash hagiography would've made even Uncle Joe Stalin blush. For sure, it was a justified response to a sorry collection but the crime was the undervaluing of what guitarist Mick Jones got up to next.

Though painted over the years as something of a prima donna – Strummer once even compared his erstwhile song-writing partner to Elizabeth Taylor in a foul mood – Mick Jones was the musical brains behind The Clash. It was Jones who arranged their daring cover of Junior Murvin's 'Police & Thieves'; Jones who wrote the music for 'White Man In Hammersmith Palais' and Jones who led the band into the previously uncharted waters of hip-hop and other urban influences. Stung by the band's decision to edit down what would've been another double album to a single collection – Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg became the storming return-to-form that was Combat Rock – Jones was fired from The Clash shortly after Topper Headon's unceremonious dismissal for supposedly drifting “apart from the original idea of The Clash." And while Strummer and Simonon allowed themselves to be manipulated by manager Bernie Rhodes, Mick Jones went off to make one if the boldest albums of the 1980s.

Indeed, listening to this newly remastered version of Big Audio Dynamite's 1985 debut, it becomes abundantly clear that it Jones who kept the vision of The Clash intact. 25 years ago, hip-hop was viewed as something of a passing fad, a flash-in-the-pan that wound up the Musicians' Union and muso purists in much the same way that New York Dolls bugged the fuck out of Whisperin' Bob Harris a decade-and-a-half earlier. But it was Jones who saw which way the wind was blowing. Augmented by former Basement 5 bassist Leo Williams, drummer Greg Roberts, keyboardist Dan Donovan and, controversially for the time, film maker and one-time Roxy DJ Don Letts on 'FX' and backing vocals, Jones assembled a band that brought his vision of what The Clash should have been vividly to life.

Sampling culture was relatively new and something that was completely alien to the vast majority of the rock bands that strode the earth in the mid-1980s yet this wasn't the first time Jones was to dip into the contemporary musical landscape that lay beyond the horizons of rock'n'roll. Fusing reggae and hip-hop with Duane Eddy's signature twang, Big Audio Dynamite's debut was a startling and exciting counterpoint to much of the mediocrity that clogged up the music scene at the time.

The first thing to emerge from This Is Big Audio Dynamite's grooves are the sampled tones of Clint Eastwood's turn as The Man With No Name on 'Medicine Show'. A mighty shuffle, it's the sound of the West – the Wild West, the West Indies and, of course, West London. Cinematic in scope and execution, it's a hell of an opening gambit as it dares to take on Margaret Thatcher's philosophy of unregulated consumerism with just guitars, a beatbox and a healthy dollop of attitude. The seeds of many of today's woes are contained in this debut – check the onslaught of corporatism found on 'Sony' and the growing threat of AIDS at the heart of 'Stone Thames'.

Crucially, this was music that you could dance to and it was on 'E=MC2' that Big Audio Dynamite's ideas coalesced into a thing of perfection. A tribute to the films of Nic Roeg, Lett's big screen sensibility and choice samples ride side-saddle with Jones' innate rock'n'roll sensibility and the killer rhythms of Williams and Roberts, all topped off with Donovan's sweeping keyboards.

There's a feeling of a glorious last stand that's prevalent throughout the album. It's there in the lyrics, the widescreen rock'n'roll grandeur, the boots'n'jeans posturing and the feeling that worst things were to come. It can be argued that 1985 was the year that any alternative to the established status quo lost the cultural and political war started in the 1960s. The miners returned to work broken to see the closure of their livelihoods and communities, Live Aid ensured that pop and rock was finally neutered and co-opted into the entertainment industry with the full approval of the relics who'd kicked off the notion of rock'n'roll as rebellion in the first place and the financial chaos that was to come with deregulation or, as Big Audio Dynamite had it during 'The Bottom Line', “… a dance to the tune of economic decline."

The second disc of 12" remixes is let down by the omission of the full-length versions of 'The Bottom Line' and 'BAD' – and the evidence that the art of remixing was still in its infancy – but the essential first disc is the one that should re-establish the reputation of this lost classic. Sure, The Clash walked away with the status of flawed legends but it's with Big Audio Dynamite that Mick Jones showed what was happening and what could have been. He must have been doing something right, for within 12 months, Joe Strummer would be sharing songwriting and production credits on Big Audio Dynamite's second album, the mighty No. 10 Upping Street.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here; let's start at the beginning with the fusion that said that anything was possible, with the music that didn't even consider the past because there was so much going on in the present before arriving at the conclusion that yes, this really was big audio dynamite from the band that did what it said on the tin.

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