Some artists can manage to swerve the dread ‘second album syndrome’ — a notion that says a follow-up album to a band or artist’s debut will undoubtedly disappoint those who loved the first — others, however, aren’t so lucky. For The Clash, following up their massive dent into the music industry, AKA their self-titled debut album, was an even more challenging proposition than usual.
The curse of the second album is one that everyone within the music industry knows all too well. In fact, it is so ubiquitous in music that it seems to be a headline in waiting upon a promising debut. However, when you look back at the annals of musical history, it is more often the case that those who stumble at the second hurdle were lucky to be heralded at first.
The debut album is perhaps the purest form of music we can hold dear. So often that first record lands as musical vomit, a churned mix of every idea, tune or melody the artist or band have ever consumed, left splattering across the floor with its release. When The Clash released their debut, they delivered this stomached concoction with vitriolic violence that cast them into the mainstream of alternative thinking. It was clear within the first needle drop that The Clash were, already, the only band that mattered. But, following that record up produced a slightly different set of results.
A simple extension of the band’s sound on their debut wasn’t anything to really scoff at. Despite the seventies being fondly remembered as one of the most expansive moments in musical history, the ignition of punk was enough to cover any critics attempt to lambast their creativity with a sticky film of gob-flavoured soot. But, in reality, the album just didn’t land with the same ferocity as the first. It meant some fans were instantly turned off.
One thing that may have annoyed many of those who bought the sophomore album of The Clash is that despite not ranking in the top three of the band’s efforts, it easily has one of the best album covers. The artwork, however, would prove to be one of the best parts of the record.
That’s not to say that Give ‘Em Enough Rope is a bad album—far from it. But moving on from the fire-breathing garage band intensity of their self-titled debut was always going to be a complicated manoeuvre to master. In truth, the record sees Mick Jones and Joe Strummer caught between two opposingly moving ships, as they drift in separate directions (before thankfully reconvening on London Calling) they are left without much to hold on to, producing cartoonish splits as they move apart.
The band kept one foot firmly on the politically-conscious punk rock, which had seen them become the talk of the town in their aforementioned first record while also a few hints at the behemoth that was to follow a year later. It sees the group try to remain faithful to the genre that gave them life while sampling the variety of musical wealth that had immersed them in London. The album’s best moments come on tracks two and three with ‘English Civil War’ and ‘Tommy Gun’ just about nudging their way into the top tier lists of Clash rockers.
All in all, Give ‘Em Enough Rope is still a landmark album for the band, but to expect anywhere near the power of their debut or the skill of London Calling is to be left disappointed.