Various Artists

Burning London: The Clash Tribute

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Despite their usually scattershot quality and the apathetic reaction of music buyers, record labels regularly turned out tribute albums throughout the '90s. Many at least retained enough understanding about their subjects to justify their release. Not so with Burning London, a salute to the Clash, the rare bird where tribute becomes insult. As great as the Clash were, their success was peculiar. No other band during their heyday could have pulled off their best material. Their topics and lyricism were intricate and specific, and they had to build the songs around their own personalities. The Clash knew they'd have to inject a lot of themselves to make them work, and they did so passionately. The personalities on Burning London -- many of whom, unsurprisingly, were signed to Epic -- don't have that kind of intensity, and it's obvious. No Doubt's version of "Hateful" is closer to Madeline Kahn's interpretation of Marlene Dietrich from Blazing Saddles; the Urge's metal reading of "This Is Radio Clash" is similarly uninspired. But most jaw-dropping is the Indigo Girls' take on one of the Clash's most furious and idiosyncratic songs, "Clampdown," an idea that shouldn't have even been considered. This campfire rendition with bluesy background "oohs" and "ahhs" recalls amateur folk singers at very slow open mic nights. Burning London gets better when the artists pick more universally acknowledged Clash hits, like when Ice Cube and Mack 10 rework "Should I Stay or Should I Go." Even Third Eye Blind turn in a sweet rendition of "Train in Vain." One exception to the simplicity rule is Moby's and Heather Nova's subtle rendition of "Straight to Hell," which grasps the heartbreak of the song's abandoned Amerasian children. In the rest of its grooves, though, Burning London is an excellent argument for the squelching of tribute albums.

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