Published Sep 09, 2013When we talk about collections like Sound System, the new, lavishly packaged collection from the Clash, we're not talking about art or ideas. We're talking about a thing, an object to fetishize, so trying to evaluate the musical value of a set like this is a moot point. The CDs themselves — the band's studio albums, excluding much maligned swan song, Cut the Crap — are unimpeachable classics, especially in the eyes of anyone ready tocough up the bucks for this pricey collection. Even the most casual fans will have many if not all five of their records already, thereby negating the need for this item altogether. So it comes down to packaging. This is a collector's item as much as it is a vessel for some of the most urgent, inventive and vital music to ever grace the pop charts. Again, Cut the Crap ain't here.
For a band whose visual presentation was as carefully crafted as the music they created, this should come as no surprise. The militaristic aesthetic that carried the Clash through much of its later years is once again employed here, the boom box-shaped box covered in camouflage. Thematic ephemera — stickers, buttons, a poster, a notebook and military dog tags — are all included, not that anyone will actually use these for fear of messing with the structural integrity and overall completeness of the box.
Of more practical use are the Sound System Extras discs which sprawl Super Black Market Clash across three CDs, augmenting the original 21-track record with more B-sides, live tracks and alternate versions, as well as the band's original demos recorded by Julien Temple. Footage from that session is included on a DVD, as are promo clips and 20-minutes of Don Letts' incomplete Clash on Broadway film. Some well-curated liner notes, both reproductions and a new, contemporary edition of Clash fanzine Armagideon Times tie everything together.
There are better books and deeper demos out there, but realistically, this is everything a Clash fan could ask for. So do fans need this box? Probably not. But it looks great on a shelf and makes one hell of a talking point at dinner parties. (Legacy)