Review Summary: If you'd make a list of albums that have changed your life...A Decade of Punk: The Clash in Six Chapters
An Account Dedicated to the Genius of Joe Strummer
Chapter III: The Clash Reach Creative Perfection
Surely, I had heard about The Clash a year ago. I had heard their as-of-today popular single Should I Stay or Should I Go
, which, I so naively thought back then, represented their sound. The only other thing I really knew about them were that they were a punk rock group from Britain, a country I had always massively loved as far as musical preferences were concerned (and are still concerned now).
After moving forward, say, a couple of months, I heard about that album, London Calling
, supposedly a classic, and not only in its genre. I had heard a single track off that record, the title cut. That song was immensely catchy, immensely British, immensely lyrically brilliant, immensely whatnot: in short: immensely fantastic. My curiosity had been awakened.
Now I sit here today, holding this very same album in a very high regard, and piecing together how I got to that point. I can tell you, it did not happen overnight. In fact, when I first heard it, London Calling
didn’t exactly blow me away
. Apart from that title track, which I still loved, I didn’t hear all that much appeal. I could enjoy the more straightforward rock songs, such as Brand New Cadillac
I know now why I thought like that then. My view of music had been extremely narrow-minded, the only two genres listened to by me being rock and metal. I honestly admit those still remain the favourites, but at some point, a logical revelation overcame me: I grew slightly bored with the all-too-soon similar-sounding songs. I needed to explore new grounds, fresh areas, territories unknown to the my mind.
Now, it is wrong to say London Calling
is solely responsible for that realization and the change it caused. It were multiple factors that created a reaction, but in terms of chemistry, The Clash and their famous album were one of the stronger catalysers. In a way, London Calling
redefined my experience of music.
But enough with the blabbering. Those of you who will have come as far as to this sentence will by now be wondering what is so great about this 1979 album, and I will eagerly enlighten them.
If you’ve kept up with my previous two reviews, or already know the story of The Clash from their very raw roots in London, you know that their early work, especially their self-titled debut, was straightforward, simple in composition, and fuelled by Mick Jones’ catchy guitar work and Joe Strummer’s iconic, shouty voice. London Calling
turns almost that whole approach upside down. Under Strummer’s lead, the band began incorporating genre’s such as reggae, ska, pop and jazz into their traditional punk sound. As such, it is no real surprise the rock purist may at first experiencing trouble getting used to the album’s sound.
In the end though, that perhaps initially slightly uneasy mix of styles is the one that pays off most. As time passed, and the time spent with the album added up, I came to realize there was so much more to The Clash than that magnificent title track. It still stands as one of the album’s best cuts, however, with its semi-apocalyptic lyrics, carefully put into metaphor as always, and best of all: it has attitude. A certain attitude that The Clash only began to truly immerse themselves in on this album. Perhaps that credit is partly due to the fine rhythm section consisting of Simonon and Headon, who put out a performance no one could have deemed them ever capable of on the previous Give ‘Em Enough Rope
. The bass is positively prominent, with incredible moments such as the jumpy line in the title track, and Headon’s drumming is impeccable, performed with both great timing and skill.
These musicians, with this approach, in the London environment of the late 70’s, created a 19-track album that still has found no equal. Undoubtedly the diversity of the album is one of the reasons it has maintained its status. Each and every track sounds completely unique, and yet, this musical melting pot makes it all fit together. It was truly an incredible achievement.
As said, the title track can be a little misleading, as it is perhaps one of the closest resemblances of The Clash’ earlier work, despite the improved instrumentation and attitude. Even follow-up Brand New Cadillac
, a then-20-year-old cover from British rock and roll singer Vince Taylor
, which stays with the simple three-chord punk format and an overly present Strummer, does not at all forebode things to come. It is only from the third track onward that we are strangely aroused by what on earth The Clash have been doing in those recording sessions.
We find ourselves between the ska of Hateful
, the more accessible pop influences in Lost in the Supermarket
and Train in Vain
, the strongly reggae-like The Guns of Brixton
and the jazz in Jimmy Jazz
. That’s not where this almost eclectic experience stops, however. Outstanding additions are new instruments such as the surprisingly fitting horn sections in Rudie Can’t Fail
, The Right Profile
and Wrong ‘Em Boyo
and the piano in The Card Cheat
. Luckily, the raw punk is still very prominent in tracks such as Clampdown
, showing that The Clash hadn’t forgotten their very important past. On top of this, they still included lyrical wit, which as ever addressed crucial political and social themes, carefully put into often metaphorical language. They had it all put together.
I could go on forever about London Calling
’s superior quality and diversity, of course, but it must be up to those who have not heard it yet to make it a high priority. Some albums must be heard, and this is one of them. London Calling
is, because of its eclectic mix, not only extremely relevant in the classic punk scene, but also outside of it. Like any true classic, it needs its time to fully sink in, but damn: it’s worth it. A definite peak for The Clash, which they had been so steadily building towards. Sadly, they would only go downhill…
- Michael Geoffrey ‘Mick’ Jones ~ Guitars, Vocals
- John Graham ‘Joe Strummer’ Mellor (R.I.P.) ~ Guitars, Vocals
- Paul Gustave Simonon ~ Bass Guitar
- Nicholas Bowen ‘Topper’ Headon ~ Drums
Brand New Cadillac
Rudie Can’t Fail
Lost in the Supermarket
The Guns of Brixton
Wrong ‘Em Boyo
The Card Cheat
Train in Vain
TO BE CONTINUED...