Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg [Redline 2CD]
CD1 is the Mick Jones mix of the original album that later became 1982's Combat Rock.

With the world’s record companies rushing to tempt us with "deluxe," "ultimate" and "utterly super-duper" revisions of the albums we’ve already bought seven times before, it’s surprising that the Clash, no strangers to the repackaging business themselves, have yet to give Combat Rock the vault-scouring treatment. It was, after all, their biggest album - and that’s big on a truly global scale, as opposed to the usual cultish approval they were accustomed to; it spawned their biggest hit singles… oh, and it was also partially responsible for breaking the band up, after Mick Jones’ original mixes were rejected by his bandmates, and either remixed, rerecorded, or altogether disposed of. All of which is very Let It Be, and of such conundrums are legends born. They didn’t release it. It must be worth hearing.

But what exactly are we missing out on? Or, more pertinently, were the rest of the band correct in their summation?

Yes and no. Certainly the opening blast of "Beautiful People Are Ugly Too" (a rare Topper Headon composition) and "Kill Time" are scarcely casualties you’d spend much time mourning over; the first sounds like a Godley-Creme out-take (without the redeeming features that might suggest), the second is a clattering steel drum conspiracy which goes on way too long. "Straight To Hell" it isn’t. The previously unknown "Walk Talk Evil," too, makes a better secret than you’d hope , an instrumental that was first conceived for Sandanista (where it would probably have worked a little better), but which really doesn’t do anything in seven minutes that it couldn’t have accomplished in three.

But Jones’ vision for "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" has a brittle punch that the smoothed out single patently lacked, and looks deeper into his BAD future than anything else on the disc; "Know Your Rights" is a shattered, shattering rant, while "Rock The Casbah" feels a lot more open, a bit more foreboding, and explosively, beautifully percussive. And so on across an album that divided Clash fans in its official form, and would have done so again if it had been left as Jones imagined it - even without playing it, did we really need another double album?

That’s disc one. Disc two dips into the album sessions for a clutch of instrumentals and alternate/edited versions, but its overall usefulness really depends on how many times you need to hear "Cool Confusion" (there’s five spread across the two CDs) and "Ghetto Defendant" (four).

Nevertheless, there’s no denying the importance of this collection in the annals of the Clash, nor can one resist wondering what might have happened had the record been released in its original form. They went out, after all, on the strength of one of the best performances they ever recorded… "Straight To Hell" again. Imagine a future that used that as its starting block! - Dave Thompson

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March 28, 2008