What happens to once-innovative, now-aging rockers whose individual careers have sunk to near-obscurity? They form ‘supergroups’. Aware of the commercial dangers of courting that phrase, Carbon/Silicon has instead been touted as “a pairing of Rock Legends”. Actually, Mick Jones and Tony James were briefly in a group together in the mid-1970s, so Carbon/Silicon is a reunion of sorts.
Jones, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as original guitarist and co-songwriter for the Clash, might well qualify as “legendary”. James, on the other hand…well, he was in lesser-known punk band Generation X with the future Billy Idol. He also played with Johnny Thunders and did a stint with Sisters of Mercy during their cod-rock phase. His ‘80s new-wave group, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, hasn’t been mentioned much in the publicity material for Carbon/Silicon. Maybe that’s because Sigue Sigue Sputnik and their “Love Missile F-111” are known more as symbols of ‘80s excess and superficiality than for anything approaching “legendary”. In any case, with Jones reduced to releasing increasingly crappy Big Audio Dynamite albums and producing heroin-chic rockers the Libertines, and James touring with a partially reformed Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Carbon/Silicon was born. It was immediately ten times as promising as anything else either man had going at the time.
Coming nearly a half-decade after Carbon/Silicon’s formation, The Last Post is the rare debut compilation album from a band that’s never before released any official recordings. Radiohead have received a lot of press for their recent Internet-freebie In Rainbows, but Jones and James have been giving away Carbon/Silicon material exclusively on the band’s website for several years now. The Last Post is made almost entirely of tracks from 2006’s A.T.O.M. and Western Front albums, remixed by former Clash engineer Bill Price. Especially for a couple guys nearing the far side of 50, it’s surprisingly fresh and vital-sounding.
From the Clash’s “Train in Vain” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” to Big Audio Dynamite’s “Contact” and “Rush”, Jones has demonstrated a rare gift for pop songs that combine modest melancholy and genuine joie de vivre. Add Carbon/Silicon’s “The News” to that list. The delicate guitar plucking at the beginning is a ruse. Soon enough, Jones’ most irresistible, raw, and genuinely punk guitar riff in decades bursts forth, buoyed by a thumping beatbox. Immediately, the track establishes Carbon/Silicon’s identity, a more edgy, guitar-heavy, politicized update of the original Big Audio Dynamite sound. 20 seconds into the album, and any questions about Jones’ musical relevancy and vitality are left in the dust. In terms of lyrics, Jones is on point as well, dreaming of a world where “People started growing / Instead of being crushed / And people started slowing down / Instead of being rushed”. Though the music may belie Jones’ age, it’s nice to hear he isn’t pretending to be a young firebrand, instead embracing the wisdom of his years.
None of the eleven remaining tracks on The Last Post are as good as “The News”. But that doesn’t stop it from being a solid, engaging, encouraging, hook-filled good time. A slight element of sameness sets in as the album goes heavy on midtempo numbers. Throughout, Jones’ lyrics temper disillusion and anger with hope and encouragement, and his idealism gets the best of him only on the too-lofty “The Magic Suitcase” and 9/11-referencing “Oil Well”. Even on those tracks, though, the melodies win out. When everything falls together, as it does more often than not, you get a track like “Tell It Like It Is” or “Acton Zulus”, which sound great blasting out of your speakers even as they send a little chill of regret down your spine. Though this is clearly Jones’ show, James adds a key element of loudness and, on “Really the Blues”, an icy near-goth polish to the proceedings. This is crucial because Jones’ voice, always modest, at times sounds almost worryingly thin.
Carbon/Silicon get you thinking, but never talk down to you. Two of The Last Post‘s best tracks are also its loosest. “What the Fuck”, “as Dostoyevsky used to say”, according to Jones, is fun and biting where it could just as easily have been dumb. “National Anthem” has a stoned-out, swinging amble, over which Jones asks, “Who loves you enough / To install the right values”? Ironic, maybe, coming from an old punk, but Jones has seen too many young rebels fall by the wayside not to be looking at the big picture.
The Last Post is not a game-changing record. Often, Price lets the fun go on for too long when a concise three minutes would pack more power. But what’s most important here is that fun is at the forefront, for both Jones and James and the listener. Who said world-weariness can’t be a good time?
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// Notes from the Road
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