In 1982, The Clash has the biggest success of their career with the album Combat Rock featuring the songs “Rock The Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” Of course, that’s when things began to go wrong. It’s one of the oldest story in rock: a band whose members are split in two directions between being “safe” and “commercial” or being “artistic” and “daring.” The two sides of that argument for The Clash were being represented in the early 1980s by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. Strummer liked the direction of the band while Jones wanted to go in a more experimental direction hearkening back to their previous 3-LP album Sandinista! from 1980. And while this is perhaps an oversimplification of their positions and of other problems, the fact is that Jones was fired from the band in 1983. The Clash would only record one more album, 1985’s Cut the Crap (a fitting title for the disappointing album). That same year, the debut album from Mick Jones’ new band, Big Audio Dynamite, hit the shelves. This Is Big Audio Dynamite has recently been reissued by Intervention Records, the label behind past stellar releases from Stealers Wheel and Everclear.
Some regard This Is Big Audio Dynamite as a look toward what direction the Clash might have taken had Jones remained with the band, but that is not entirely accurate. While some strains might have remained, this is wholly a product of Jones in collaboration with his new band: bassist Leo Williams, drummer Greg Roberts, keyboardist Dan Donovan and Don Letts. Jones had collaborated with Letts before when he directed music videos for The Clash. For this new project, Letts would contribute vocals and sound effects and samples. He would also co-write all eight songs on the album, with the exception of “The Bottom Line.”
First things first, when you listen to This Is Big Audio Dynamite, you cannot mistake the era in which it was created. The electronic sound and vocal effects of the album just epitomize the 1980s. But there is more going on here as the record also looks toward the future with its use of sampling and hip-hop. While the sampling is mostly spoken lines from movies, most prominent in “Medicine Show,” it does hint at a practice that is ubiquitous in today’s music. The rap/hip-hop influences, especially on the closing track, “Bad,” seem prescient for a time when the genre was just beginning to meld with rock and pop. The album is also not punk, either. The instrumentation and sampling are far too complex for the usual rawness and quick hitting of the punk movement. Some of the attitude strains from Jones’ rebellious earlier days shine though however, like in the anti-corporate “Sony” or allusions to AIDS in “Stone Thames.”
As This Is Big Audio Dynamite has been reissued before, including a 2-disc Legacy Edition from Sony’s Legacy Recordings in 2010, the focus on this new reissue is on the sound quality and packaging. The album has been remastered by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound from a 1/4″ 15-ips “cutting copy” from 1985. This is the same tape from which the Legacy Edition was sourced, and Intervention truthfully discloses in the mastering information on their website that this is not the “master” tape, as it is a copy. However, it is the only remaining or best available analog tape, and one listen to this quiet, clean, and pristine vinyl reissue will make it clear that it sounds wonderful. Smith has brought out the details in Jones’ textured, multi-layered production, and it’s hard to believe that this subtle, effective remaster isn’t how Jones and co. would have most wanted this music to be heard. Matching the impeccable sonics, the physical presentation is up to Intervention’s usual high standard. The 180-gram vinyl disc, with period Columbia Records labels, is housed in a handsome, heavy stock, single-pocket gatefold printed by Stoughton and featuring the lyrics within.
Big Audio Dynamite would go on to have its own line-up issues over the years. The band became known as Big Audio Dynamite II and then just Big Audio. Mick Jones was the only constant through all iterations of the band. They had their biggest success in 1991 with the song “Rush.” And while it is debatable as to whether the group lived up to being a replacement for The Clash, there is no denying the strength of their debut album. Intervention’s new LP reissue – geared at audiophiles but perfect for all fans of this underrated eighties classic – gives fans a chance to hear this record like it’s for the first time.
You can order Intervention Records’ vinyl reissue of This is Big Audio Dynamite here at Amazon U.S.!