Originally published by PopMatters on February 12, 2010
By the time the Clash limped into 1985, they’d all but pissed away their good will from the punk faithful, and allowed suspicion, paranoia and rampant egotism to turn the band into a farce. With Topper Headon’s drug-fueled departure from the drum stool in the wake of the commercial success of 1982’s Combat Rock already cooling their momentum, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon then convinced themselves that whatever diva pretense was keeping Mick Jones afloat, it was too much to bear any further. Having jettisoned the undervalued rock swagger from the fold, the pair recruited a trio of bad haircuts to bow out with the oft-maligned Cut the Crap, a bloated album that handily arrived with its own review in the title.
In truth, Cut the Crap wasn’t a complete disaster. Sure, it was mostly… well… crap. But alongside the disappointingly subpar numbers drenched in standard ‘80s production were one or two songs that weren’t total duds, most notably the anthemic single “This Is England”, which when you look past the clap track and the rudimentary synthesizer isn’t really so bad after all.
So filled with shame and self loathing was Strummer over the swan song of a once great band, he soon disbanded the Clash and tried to find absolution by standing alongside Jones on the sophomore album release by Big Audio Dynamite as both co-producer and co-writer.
In the years that followed, Cut the Crap was routinely written out of the Clash’s history, from their first compilation of the CD age—1988’s two-disc The Story of the Clash—right on through 1991’s Clash on Broadway box set and that same year’s The Singles. In fact, it took 2003’s The Essential Clash—a compilation released a few months after Strummer’s untimely death—to finally allow “This Is England” to stand alongside the band’s former glories. The Singles has since been re-released as a single disc to include “This Is England”, and the song—along with its b-sides—is a part of the exhaustive 19-disc Singles box set.
To say the Clash have gone a long way to pretend Cut the Crap never happened is an understatement, but they’ve still got nothing on the Velvet Underground.
Last December, the New York Public Library held an intimate reunion (of sorts) of the Velvet Underground. This is the Velvet Underground in its second incarnation, the one where Doug Yule has taken over for John Cale. Yule, the prickly Lou Reed and the band’s longtime drummer Maureen “Mo” Tucker joined legendary Rolling Stone writer David Fricke (and his terrible haircut) in a panel discussion about the Velvet Underground. Sterling Morrison was not in attendance, as he’s been dead for well over a decade. Cale, who either wasn’t asked or declined, was also absent.
While the Velvet Underground’s debut (with Nico) is often viewed as the band’s singular masterpiece, there are some—myself included—who tend to favor their self-titled third album and its follow-up, Loaded. How Yule’s influence was felt is unclear, but his arrival brought with it an often more focused, song-oriented approach. Of course, I love all four Velvet Underground studio albums, and by saying so it’s understood that like so many before me, I don’t count Squeezeamong them.
Loaded was released in 1970, just after Reed left the Velvet Underground for what has been an often infuriating solo career marked with incredible beauty and incredible crapola in equal measures. Morrison left a short time later to pursue his Ph.D in Medieval Studies, which apparently qualified him for a career as a tugboat captain. Tucker, the last remaining member of the group that recorded the classic debut, left in 1972, and Yule continued touring Europe with other musicians as the Velvet Underground, recording an album for Polydor called Squeeze.
Until just now, I’d only ever read about Squeeze without ever actually bothering to give it a listen. But I figure, since I’ve suffered through all 12 songs on Cut the Crap a couple of times, I might as well try an album that only clocks in at a little over 30 minutes. Because even if it’s not really the Velvet Underground, it bears the band’s name. And the cover is sorta cool too, kind of like the fumes rising from the subway station on the cover of Loaded have almost completely enveloped the Empire State Building (or is that the Chrysler Building? It’s both artsy and fartsy, so it’s tough for me to say.)
Finding Squeeze online isn’t terribly difficult. It’s long out of print, and has never officially been released on CD, but in the digital age it’s all over the place.
It’s difficult to go into Squeeze with an open mind, and that’s really Yule’s fault. It’s essentially a solo album released under false pretenses. Today, such a move would be exposed as a fraud within minutes across the blogosphere. But back in that relatively archaic technological era, and with Reed’s solo career casting interest on the former cult band, it wouldn’t have been hard for Polydor and Yule to imagine people would just buy that snake oil without looking too hard at what it really was.