Review Summary: Rock's greatest myth album
Fearlessly experimental? Yep.
Important, both at face value and for its influence? Yep.
Defining an existential struggle for identity? Yep.
A seemingly never-ending flow of perfect songs? Uh.....
Welcome to 'London Calling', rock's greatest myth album. A masterpiece in every way except for a good chunk of the music.
Don't get me wrong, it's a good album. But its flaws are simply too numerous for ti to be seriously considered a 'classic'. And yes, they are 'fearlessly experimental' here, but there's something amiss about its eclecticism. Previous forays into unconventional genres - reggae on White Man In Hammersmith Palais
, boogie-woogie on Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad
- married the intended genre to the Clash's own brilliant, ragged, guerrilla sound. However, the new boundaries broken here - including jazz, skiffle, soul and pop - are too often 'textbook' renditions. The band hasn't taken these sounds and seen how they could stretch, twist or weld them; these songs are parrots. Wrong 'Em Boyo
actually has the live, in-the-studio restart at a quicker tempo that defines skiffle (but is ultimately killed by Strummer's gaspy vocal). Revolution Rock
is the most embarrassing, fat-white-awful reggae imaginable - the same goes for Jimmy Jazz
and pop effort Lover's Rock
, which is at least redeemed by the lean, lovable Train In Vain
. At best, such as the wild rockabilly of Brand New Cadillac
, the Clash's experimentation is endearing and enjoyably, but it is rarely of the greatness that it is hyped up to be.
That said, when all the pieces are pulled together, 'London Calling' contributes moments of unspeakable importance. At a time when British society was seemingly unravelling and the wider world was at a now-or-never point of arrested development, the Clash capture an almost existential crisis: when the world sets out to crush rebellion and individuality with a money-flowing, obscenely corrupt establishment and your destiny is seemingly in the hands of bosses and rich men leading sad lives and the only escape is in emptying bottles, making payments on a sofa or a girl or striking a deal with a hustler who'll drain your soul, then you've got to fight for that soul - be the poet in the trench, making up the ragged army with your flag waving high and wide. When the apocalypse foretold in the grim title track falls, how are ya gonna go to your maker? With your hands on your head or with your head held high, knowing that you were your own person? "Every cheap hood who strikes a bargain with the world/Ends up making payments on a sofa or a girl", rails Strummer against Jones' punching guitar. Life is do-or-die on 'London Calling': the protagonists of Jimmy Jazz
, Wrong 'Em Boyo
, Lost In The Supermarket
, The Card Cheat
and Guns of Brixton
are all facing, physically or spiritually, some kind of extinction. Whether or not they try to get out is their choice, because fate is closing in on them either way.
'London Calling's messages are magnificent. It's intents are magnificent. No, it's music is not always so. Whether or not you are prepared to forgive the Clash for that is your choice, up to you. But hey - making your own choice forms the beating heart of the album.
Death or Glory
Lost In The Supermarket
Guns of Brixton