Mick Jones was fired from The Clash a year after the release of the band’s biggest album, 1982’s Combat Rock, in large part because of the creative disagreements that arose during the making of that record. Before legendary rock producer Glyn Johns was called in to give the sessions punch and focus, Jones mixed and delivered his version of the album: a sprawling double-LP titled Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg, with longer songs and a sound heavily influenced by the walloping electro-funk filling dance floors in London and New York. Essentially, Jones tried to turn his last Clash album into his first Big Audio Dynamite album.
Instead, Jones had to wait to realize his vision until after he got the sack, with the help of filmmaker/DJ Don Letts and a trio of sympathetic musicians from the UK punk and reggae scenes. This Is Big Audio Dynamite, originally released in 1985, consciously avoids Clash-like rock anthems, holding fast to arty dance music layered with samples from old movies, wiggly synthesizers, found percussion, and Jones’ game attempts at rapping in his breathy singsong voice. Meanwhile, Jones, one of the best riff-crafters of the punk era, relegates his guitar to accents and fills, treating his own instrument as just another sound to be chopped up and redistributed where needed.
Big Audio Dynamite continued to pursue this sound in different configurations over the next decade, and though the band never produced a front-to-back classic album, Jones’ willingness to keep experimenting with the possibilities of cut-and-paste produced at worst noble failures, and at best some of the most exciting singles of the ’80s and ’90s. Sony’s double-disc “Legacy Edition” of This Is Big Audio Dynamite puts the band’s origins and impulses into proper context, adding more than an hour of B-sides, outtakes, and extended dance mixes. Some songs, like the Thompson Twins-y “Stone Thames,” sound too sketchy in their remixed and expanded forms, and some This Is tracks, like the clumsy hip-hop exercise “Bad,” the world-beat mishmash “A Party,” and the culturally dicey “Sony,” would sound like misfires in any form. But for the most part, the bonus disc’s emphasis on rhythmic complexity better defines what Jones was aiming for in the mid-’80s, even when he had trouble convincing his colleagues to go along.
The longer mix of the space-funk workout “Sudden Impact,” for example, now sounds like the missing link between Talking Heads’ more exotic collaborations with Brian Eno and the “Will it blend?” goofery of Gorillaz. And “The Bottom Line,” which sounds underdeveloped on the original album, becomes an exuberant homage to Grandmaster Flash when stretched to seven minutes, while the outtake “Electric Vandal” is a snappy jump-rope-ready pop song that would’ve fit right in on one of the later Clash albums, or at least Jones’ version of a later Clash album.
Some This Is Big Audio Dynamite songs are just fine in their original form, like the opener, “Medicine Show,” which combines Sergio Leone quotes and an internationalist spirit into wonderfully textured dance music. Or the Nicolas Roeg tribute “E=MC²,” which marries an insistent beat to dreamy music to generate a club hit so perfect that it justifies Big Audio Dynamite’s entire existence. This double-disc This Is fills in the details around B.A.D.’s best early work. Now if Sony were to release a Combat Rock special edition with the original Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg appended, that’d just about finish the picture.