Which is the best Clash album?
Most will cite the debut or 'London Calling'. And rightly so, they are both great albums. There may even be some who vote for 'Sandinista' (in a sort of perverse "Look at me. I'm a big fan, and I'll do the unexpected thing to prove it" type way).
My choice? 'Give Em Enough Rope', the supposedly disappointing second album.
Since the impact of the debut, there had been 3 further singles - "Complete Control", "Clash City Rockers" and the peerless "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais". Those 3 singles rank amongst the best tracks The Clash ever did, and each one moving further from the Punk template (which they'd already tried to break down with Reggae stabs on the debut).
And they're also now at full strength with Topper Headon installed on the drum stool and Paul Simonon now able to play bass without relying on tippex marks on the neck.
CBS were obviously looking for a big rerun on their investment, and selling albums in America would be a useful source of this return. They weren't convinced that the debut would shift units and most likely suggested (imposed?) Blue Oyster Cult producer Sandy Pearlman to twiddle the knobs for the next album, and also to give the whole package a buffing-up to ready it for the US market.
The final mix had Joe Strummer's vocals lower in the mix than Topper's drums for no other reason than Sandy Pearlman disliked the vocals. And that may actually be a masterstroke in disguise as the sheer attack of the opening 3 songs - "Safe European Home", "English Civil War" and "Tommy Gun" - is very probably the greatest first 10 minutes of any album.
After that, it would take something special to keep the pace up. It keeps bowling along, although in fairness, it does fall just short (no less valid, certainly not filler or padding, just not quite firing as high). Until ... nestled in the middle of Side 2 is very possibly the best song Mick Jones ever wrote - "Stay Free".
The album shows a movement from the confines of Punk. A wider soundscape - Topper's versatile drumming and Mick's New York Dolls and Mott The Hoople influences can be heard in the arrangements that would ultimately return CBS's investment and (if only for a brief moment) be one of the biggest bands in the world.
"The only band that matters"? Perhaps not, but between 1978 and 1982 they were certainly one of five or six bands that lay claim to that title.
And here's an interesting aside/thought: those 3 preceding singles, this album, and 'London Calling' were produced in a Bernie Rhodes-less environment. Make of that what you will, but their best work was produced without their supposedly indispensable manager.
Maybe CBS and Sandy Pearlman got it right - The Clash don't sound out of place here, if anything it probably gave them the confidence to further explore their influences and sounds on the double 'London Calling' and triple 'Sandinista'.
Disappointing? Not a bit of it.