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‘Sound System’ is a grand look back over The Clash’s career

Published 1:24pm Friday, October 4, 2013

Mick Jones is closing his history with The Clash in grand fashion.

Jones oversaw the first re-mastering of The Clash’s core five albums since the 1990s, and he called the result — “Sound System” — the best box set ever released.

He just may be right.

Even though The Clash dissolved in the 1980s and frontman Joe Strummer died in 2003, this feels like a Finale. As Jones — the band’s lead guitarist and secondary vocalist — said it’s the last time he’ll likely work on a project involving The Clash.

“Sound System”  plays like a vibrant piece of music history dusted off, polished and restored. The box set includes remastered versions of “The Clash,” “Give ‘Em Enough Rope,” “London Calling,” “Sandinista!” and “Combat Rock, “ along with about 50 bonus tracks — it excludes “Cut the Crap,” which was recorded as the band was dissolving.

“Sound System” incites a binge listen of The Clash’s five albums — 91 tracks —that reminds you how dynamic the band was. From the fierce guitars and chants of “White Riot” to Strummer’s urgency on “London Calling” to poppy beats of “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” the boxset is a potent reminder of why The Clash set itself apart as one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands ever. Yes, The Clash was a punk band, even though countless people try to label them as new wave or some other genre. The Clash was a punk rock band that was fearless when it came to branching out to borrow bits and pieces of various genres.

The Clash infused songs like “Brand New Cadillac” and “Jimmie Jazz” on “London Calling” with hints of 1950s rockabilly.

Of The Clash’s five remastered albums, “Sandinista!” perhaps shines brightest, like an immense, dynamic gem at the heart of the band’s career. “London Calling” is deservedly hailed as the band’s classic, but “Sandinista!” and its 36 tracks play with a rejuvenated freshness on “Sound System.” The remastered tapes clarify and reveal the many nuances on what is easily the band’s boldest, most ambitious album as it infuses elements of jazz, reggae and calypso in being on the leading end of the world music fad that would be utilized by bands like The Talking Heads in the ‘80s.

Bassist Paul Simonon designed the physical box set, which looks like an old boom box with military writing and then CDs that resemble the original vinyl releases of the album. They also come with dog tags and other assorted trinkets.

But, the real triumph of “Sound System” is that it cleans up The Clash’s recordings without losing the song’s grit and force.

If it proves to be a sendoff by Jones and Simonon, it’s hard to think of a more fitting final chapter.

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