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Back Stories | My Album Reviews From Nov. 12, 1999

Rewinding some vintage discs from The Clash, Joe Strummer, RATM & others.

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Two decades ago, new albums from Joe Strummer and The Clash, Rage Against the Machine, Incubus, CSNY, Master P and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):


The Clash
From Here To
Eternity: Live

Joe Strummer
Rock Art &
The X-Ray Style

Never mind what the Chinese calendar says: 1999 is indisputably The Year Of The Clash. It’s been a dozen or so years since their last album, but you wouldn’t know it from their near-ubiquitous presence of late. Two of their tunes surfaced in the score to Martin Scorsese’s film Bringing Out The Dead. Today’s alt-rockers paid tribute to them on the CD Burning London. All their albums were remastered and reissued. A deluxe box is due for Christmas. A new doc is on the way. And best of all, there’s new music — a glorious album of classic live tracks and the return of frontman Joe Strummer.

The beloved singer-guitarist, whose last album was 1989’s Earthquake Weather, poked his head up last year with a track on the South Park: Chef Aid album. Apparently, the old groundhog didn’t see his shadow, so he’s fully emerged with the album Rock Art & The X-Ray Style — an eclectic outing that kicks off with a burst of static as if to say: Radio Clash is back on the air.
Don’t bother calling in to request Train In Vain, though. Instead of taking his cue from their early days of punk glory, Strummer has picked up where his old band’s moody masterworks Sandinista! and Combat Rock left off. Sticking to his blend of socialist standards and Beat-poet romanticism, ole Joe sputters, howls and rasps away as his Mescaleros (featuring ex-members of Elastica, Black Grape and Happy Mondays) spin an eclectic mix of styles — Trenchtown skank, African soul, Latino guac-rock, crazy Casbah jive, Jamacian dub, U.K. trip-hop, American R&B and more — into a patchwork quilt of hypnotic dance-trances and global-village funk. It’s light-years from Safe European Home or London Calling, but it’ll do just fine.

Of course, for those (Mick) Jonesing for a shot of the vintage goods, there’s From Here To Eternity, a must-have guaranteed to put a grin on the mug of any fan. Stummer and co. were always an awesome live act — and I’ve got the T-shirt, ticket stub, poster and bootlegs to prove it — but they never dropped a live disc. Even this isn’t completely live; three of the tracks were taken from the soundtrack to their Rude Boy film and augmented with studio overdubs to repair the dodgy original recording. But no matter; a few sweetened guitars can’t dilute the potency of these 17 tracks, taped at various gigs during the band’s heyday from ’78 to ’82. It’s an awesome set list, with the tunes presented in roughly chronological order, from first album firecrackers like Complete Control and Clash City Rockers to hits like London Calling and Guns Of Brixton and even gritty late-model offerings like Know Your Rights and Straight To Hell.

Thankfully, the performances justify their rep as “the only band that matters.” From Here To Eternity catches them at the top of their game, unleashing a power and conviction few acts have equalled before or since. Jones’ guitar rings like a siren, drummer Topper Headon and bassist Paul Simonon play as if they’re chained together on the run from the law — and then there’s Strummer, hacking at his guitar like he’s chopping wood, bellowing and jabbering like an exorcism candidate and never pandering to the crowd (at one point he cajoles, “sing in tune, you bastards” when they join in on a chorus).
There are only two ways From Here To Eternity could be any better: 1) They could (and should) have made it a double album, and 2) It should be the precursor to a reunion. Then 2000 could be the start of The Next Year Of The Clash.


Rage Against
The Machine

The Battle Of
Los Angeles

They’ve always known how to rock the house, but now Rage Against The Machine have truly learned how to shake their booty. The band that helped design the rap-metal template for lesser lights like Limp Bizkit get a serious groove on for this worthwhile third album, infusing their trademark hybrid of hip-hop and heavy rock with backbeats funky enough to make Flea jump. Not that they’re in any danger of being mistaken for the Red Hot Chili Peppers; not as long as Tom Morello’s guitar still grinds and divebombs and singer Zack de la Rocha still screams and spits left-wing raps like the love child of Ad-Rock and Sam Kinison. With The Battle Of Los Angeles, however, it does seem RATM have succumbed to Funkadelic’s motto — free your mind and your ass will follow.


Los Fabulosos Cadillacs
La Marcha Del Golazo Solitario

Boy bands. Bubblegum. Nü-metal. North American music seems more predictable by the minute. Thank the gods for bands like South America’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. The only thing you can predict about this eclectic, Grammy-winning Argentine act is that you can‘t predict what they’re going to do next. Over 11 albums (only a handful available north of the Equator), this zesty nine-man act has run the gamut from funk to flamenco, ska to Clash covers — not unlike Fishbone with a Spanish-English dictionary. On their dozenth disc, they move in a jazzier, soulful direction, restraining their rockier impulses in favour of Curtis Mayfield grooves, Thelonious Monk progressions, tropicalia lounge licks and even an elegant waltz. It’s not as rebellious and engaging as last year’s Fabuloso Calavera, but next to the likes of Ricky Martin, this is la musica loca.


Molotov
Apocalypshit

Since Molotov exploded on the scene with their 1997 debut ¿Donde Jugarán Las Niñas?, the charts and airwaves have become bloated with bombastic rap-rockers. But none of them could hold a Roman candle to this Mexican foursome’s Grammy-winning album. And few of their albums approach the sheer firepower of this incendiary followup. Once again, Molotov take the standard rap-metal blueprint — popping bass, shredding guitar and jiving drums — then stuff it into the back seat of a macho low-rider, add plenty of cerveza and take a cruise through East L.A., rolling their R’s, cursing in Spanglish and cha-cha-cha-ing all the way from the barrio to the bank. The name says it all: Molotov is the bomb.


Rob Zombie
American Made
Music To Strip To

My Life With
The Thrill Kill Kult

Dirty Little Secrets: Music To Strip By

The titles are similar and they’re both remix albums. But that’s all there is in common between these discs from shlock rocker Rob Zombie and Chicago sleaze merchants Thrill Kill Kult. As for the former, well, who better to subject his music to the Frankenstein surgery of remixing? Here, NIN’s Charlie Clouser, Praga Khan, God Lives Underwater, Rammstein, Limp Bizkit’s DJ Lethal and others play doctor with the tracks from Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe, cutting and pasting his horror-flick scarefests into monster-mash mixes for all the ghouls and boils. Few breathe any new life into the beasts, but hey, whaddaya expect from a Zombie? Meanwhile, dance industrialists Thrill Kill Kult, as always, have created the perfect soundtrack for B-movies of another sort — the ’60s trash-o-rama flicks of Hershell Gordon Louis and Russ Meyer. With titles like Hard, Fast & Beautiful, Sexplosion! and Hungry Venus, they’re halfway there. The tittillating decadence, fetishistic sensuality and kitten-with-a-whip vocals on these 18 tracks take it the rest of the way. They could even make a Zombie rise.


Daddylonglegs
Horse

Electronica doesn’t always take itself as seriously as rock, thankfully. Think Fatboy Slim and his kaleidoscopic Rockafeller Skank. The Chemical Brothers and their funky Block Rockin’ Beats. Or the always-original Howie B. Perhaps best known for producing U2 and Bjork, he’s come out from behind the board to issue several acclaimed albums of fresh, envelope-pushing fare. The latest is Horse, a collaboration between Howie and musical partner Jeremy Shaw. As usual, Howie is out for a good time with these electronic groove-fests. Which, in this case, means a horsey theme, with songs titles like Pony Express and Giddy Up, along with the odd spaghetti western musical motif among the funk and hip-hop. This Horse is a winner.


Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Looking Forward

Everybody loves a legend. And CSNY has often been more a legend than a band. Similarly, this album — only the third they’ve squeezed out amid 30 years of bickering, breaking up and reforming in various permutations — is more attractive in theory than reality. Sure, they still harmonize like a choir of hippie angels. But let’s face it: With the exception of Neil Young, none has really written a classic song in eons. That is made painfully clear in this endless parade of trite sentiment, high-school verse and rehashed licks — especially Stephen StillsSeen Enough, a third-rate rewrite of Subterranean Homesick Blues. Even Neil isn’t at his most original here, turning in a number that’s basically Heart Of Gold with new lyrics. Presumably he’s saving his A material for himself. Good thinking.


Les Rythmes Digitales
Darkdancer

If you’ve ever wondered what became of all the crappy old instruments from the ’80s — all the plinky drum machines, cheesy Mini-Moogs and waxy string synthesizers — here’s the answer: Lacques Lu Cont of Les Rythmes Digitales bought ’em. Well, maybe not all of them. But he sure bought into their sound. Like the work of fellow Parisians Air, Cassius and Daft Punk, his second CD is a shamelessly groovy slave to ’70s disco and ’80s electropop, from the Human League-having-Sweet Dreams sonics and faux disco vibes to the guest vocals from characters like Nik Kershaw and Shannon (Let The Music Play). And you gotta love anybody who calls a song Jacques Your Body.


Incubus
Make Yourself

Names and titles just aren’t this band’s forte. Start with their own handle: Incubus makes you think of some blood-and-leather metal outfit. Or maybe a Satanic Marilyn Manson wannabe. In reality, the Cali quintet have primarily been a faceless resident of the land of 1,001 rap-metal bands. Granted, they’re a reasonably seasoned one — Make Yourself is their third release, and one that seems them trying to expand their limited horizons into new areas of melodicism and spaced-out production, with the help of folk-hoppy Sugar Ray grooves and guitar experiments. Which brings us back to that title: It really should be Remake Yourself, shouldn’t it?


Shawn Mullins
The First 10 Years

Like countless artists, it took Shawn Mullins 10 years to become an overnight sensation. Before he suddenly appeared on the pop culture radar with the Beckish Lullaby, this southern folk-popster spent a decade honing his craft on a series of self-produced CDs that he couldn’t get major labels to touch. Now that everybody’s finally listening, he’s compiled the best of those old tracks onto this disc, along with a few new tunes, primarily covers like George Harrison’s What Is Life and David Bowie’s Changes. But the older tracks are the real focus here, and they prove Lullaby was no accident. Rather, it was the result of his gradual evolution from earnest, stereotypical troubadour to wry, raspy singer-songwriter. Hopefully his next 10 years will be as productive.


Master P
Only God Can
Judge Me

Rapper. Actor. Director. Producer. Entertainment mogul. Pro basketball wannabe. Clearly, Percy (Master P) Miller is a busy man. Apparently, now he’s even too busy to devote much attention to his own albums. Unlike 1997’s smoking Ghetto D — which rejuvenated gangster rap and juiced Miller’s climb up the Fortune 500 list — Only God Can Judge Me starts off as a bland, unfocused affair. Like someone arriving fashionably late to their own party, P doesn’t even seem interested for the first 10 songs, barely even bothering to utter his monosyllabic trademark “Uhhhnn.” Eventually, he kicks into gear for a half-dozen tunes laced with old-school tales from the ’hood, but by then it’s too little too late. Clearly, P has his mind on his money and his money on his mind. You only wish he were as concerned with his music.


Heather Duby
Post To Wire

When Alanis Morissette first broke, it seemed every female vocalist that followed was an Angry Young Woman. When Sarah McLachlan became hot, we were inundated with ethereal grrrls. Thankfully, Seattle’s Heather Duby manages to stand out from both crowds on this debut. Her voice recalls the dreaminess of Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn, with a splash of Annie Lennox’s soul. And her Dave Stewart / Ben Watt is Steve Fisk of indie outfit Pigeonhed, who shows off Duby’s jewel-like vocals by anchoring them in trancy trip-hop and dubby drum ’n’ bass settings, then accenting the whole affair with smooth strings, pulsing synths and layers of hypnotic, synthesized velvet. In a better world, up-and-coming songstresses would be trying to sound like her.


The Roots
Come Alive

Some bands make great studio albums but can’t recreate them onstage. Others can never manage to capture their live act on tape. Philadelphia hip-hop virtuosos The Roots are one of the few bands who can have it all. In fact, after spinning this stunning concert recording, it’s hard to tell whether they’re better live or on Memorex. They’re not only one of the few hip-hop acts whose members play instruments; they also play them very well, impressively translating their studio cuts with spot-on musicianship and jazzy, in-the-pocket grooves — and without turntables, samplers and loops. Then again, they don’t need that stuff: They have Rahzel The Godfather Of Noyze, a human beatbox who recreates all those sounds (and many more) with just his throat. Here, he’s one of the secret weapons that help The Roots truly come alive.