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Punk chameleon Mick Jones is back on song

  • Story Highlights
  • 1st album released on CD by Carbon/Silicon, featuring Clash star Mick Jones
  • Joining him is Generation X, Sigue Sigue Sputnik driving force Tony James
  • Alan McGee: Carbon/Silicon like "the Rolling Stones jamming with a laptop"
  • Elton John urged his own management to lend their business acumen
  • Next Article in Entertainment »
By CNN's Peter Wilkinson
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Punk's master of reinvention, former Clash guitarist and songwriter Mick Jones, returns to form this fall with a raucous and upbeat album from his latest band Carbon/Silicon.


Jones, left, and James record and produce all their music at their small west London studio.

Joining him is former Generation X bassist and Sigue Sigue Sputnik driving force Tony James, the group's computer buff who is the silicon to the carbon of the more instinctive, earthy Jones.

The pair, close friends since the mid-1970s when they were briefly in notoriously named London SS, have been making music together in their recording studio, incongruously based on an industrial estate in west London, and giving it away as free downloads on the band's Web site for the past 5 years.

Now the veteran rockers are releasing "The Last Post" on CD. To promote it they'll be playing a couple of concerts in the United States in December and more in Britain next year.

But fans of Jones -- who was inducted with his former Clash bandmates into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 -- or James will be disappointed if they are hoping to hear their hits of yesteryear. The point of this band is that it is two middle-aged musicians going back to basics and trying to produce something fresh: in this case, a garage sound tinged with electronica and glam.

"If we played the old stuff people just wouldn't be interested in anything new," Jones, 52, tells CNN at the studio. Watch, listen to audio slide show of the band through the years »

James, one year older than his friend and now without the shocking pink, sky-high hair of his Sputnik days, agrees. "If we wanted to get played on the radio, we could just call ourselves 'Clash X' or something like that, but we don't want to become cabaret versions of ourselves," he says.

Although former Oasis manager Alan McGee has memorably described Carbon/Silicon as "the Rolling Stones jamming with a laptop," in fact very few samples apart from a few drum loops are used on the album, in contrast to much of the music of Jones' last band, Big Audio Dynamite.

"We used samples at the start of Carbon/Silicon so we had a full canvas but our music ain't about that," says Jones. "It's about an emotional connection so we've taken most of that stuff out 'cos it's not us.

"We found that the samples became a constraint 'cos you always knew where you were going to go, so you were never free. It somehow took the heart away. The important thing is to have a contemporary rhythm section that informs the music but without slavishly using other people's stuff. Now we've seen the light."

The strident politics that distinguished The Clash from their 1970s contemporaries is never far away either on "The Last Post," but Jones preaches an optimistic message.

On "Oilwell," he pleads: "We're trying to make a humanitarian case, for dropping some love on the human race." And on "National Anthem," possibly the most personal and emotional song Jones has ever written, he asks: "Who loves you enough to tell you right from wrong ... to give you hope and care."

James appears grateful to be given a further bite of the pop cherry and to have the chance to work with Jones, whose songwriting partnership with the late Clash frontman Joe Strummer was hailed by Rolling Stone magazine last year as the third greatest after Lennon-McCartney and Jagger-Richards. "I believe that Mick has a particular genius for seeing a song in its entirety," he says.

"On 'National Anthem,' I came in with a loop and Mick just wrote and sang the vocal straight off. The first take he did was the one we used on the album. Or he can play a bass line from start to finish without hearing any of the other instruments."

Jones himself seems unbothered by his musical legacy or expectations on him, putting his positive outlook down to his determination to keep looking forward.

"I'm always thinking that tomorrow is going to be the day. I want to be in the moment ... always cautiously optimistic about the future but with no expectations. It's only chasing an illusion.

"I try to be fresh by ignoring everything I've done up 'til now. I don't find it hard to be original ... I just do what I do instinctively and don't even think about it."


One high-profile fan of Carbon/Silicon is Elton John, who urged his own management to lend their business acumen. "They have more to say, they are more relevant and I like them better than most young bands today," the singer told The Telegraph recently.

Both Jones and James are dripping with enthusiasm for their music, despite the many years of relentless touring and recording under their belts, and more Carbon/Silicon releases are assured. Asked what they would sound like, James says, only half-joking, that he wouldn't be surprised if Jones started writing jazz. But one thing is guaranteed, with these two at the controls, anything is possible. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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