Review Summary: Where punk truly transcends its limits and a masterpiece is born.
Today we are plagued. More specifically, plagued by a mass of information; we are the internet age and are likely united through at least one common facet of merely existing in these times - we’ve all encountered those ‘best of’ lists, critically or subjectively attempting to make sense of the digestion of all this data, ranking something as vague and abstract as recorded sound above or below another example. The point of my educated but unprofessional rambling boils down to the notion that, if like myself, you’ve sat and read a few of those lists - perhaps a ‘greatest albums of the 70’s’ or maybe even ‘most important albums ever’ article - you’ll have surely witnessed some critic or random Tom, Dick or Harry pouring out his best superlative efforts to explain why a 1979 LP by English punk band The Clash was, and is, so damn important. We are living in a time of unprecedented information, so when a repeat offender rears its dusty head up as many times as London Calling
does, one must begin to take notice, and after discovering the album, giving it time to seep in amongst the other tracks our ilk have doubtless floating around their music obsessed minds, this author must claim that next time he flirts with the idea of making one of those lists himself, The Clash’s 3rd LP has become something utterly impossible not to include. And pretty damn high up, too.
Both historically and personally to The Clash, London Calling
was massively crucial. It served as one of the most convincing and exciting examples of just how far punk rock could be stretched; with its creators pushing the boundaries of their once straight ahead rock sound into realms few other punks managed, including themselves, to this extent at least. Punk had a reputation for being puckish and dumb, with those reluctant to change or move with times initially tarring the creators of such music as untalented and stupid. But as punk evolved into post-punk and new wave, such blind detractors were often left eating their own words, perhaps nowhere more stunningly than when London Calling
hit the shelves in 1979.
There’s a dizzying array of cosmopolitan styles and genres mixed and interlaced together, carefully built on top of urgent punk foundations. There’s a musical intelligence here; a sound crafted by inexcusably talented and ambitious musicians, that ends up drifting away from its roots so much by incorporating the roots of their collective influences. Listening to London Calling
may lead one to initially assume that this isn’t punk at all, what with the blend of roots, rockabilly, reggae, ska and countless other intercontinental splashes, but through its unification of such disparate sources, and once enriched by the stabbing political messages thread throughout, one begins to see just how clever The Clash were. It’s not punk music in the sense of 3 chords, dumb rock, as it rarely touches on such ground, but it still has a fiery punk spirit undercutting each and every outing, and through its adaptation of foreign musical styles, the sound becomes more political and revolutionary than any punk band has sounded before, in mere musical terms at least. With London Calling
, The Clash broke off into post-punk, but through the album’s intelligent mix of styles, they’ve also dragged the pure guts of punk along with them, and in the process, transcended the genre’s limits to an unprecedented standard.
It’s an epic manifesto too, with a whopping 19 tracks and an hour of disc space. There’s virtually an iconic song every other track or so – the nightmarish, post-apocalyptic tension of ‘London Calling’; the sense of urgency and suffocated anger on ‘The Guns of Brixton’; the guitar pop meets political ramblings of ‘Spanish Bombs’; not to mention the delights of other grade A tracks such as the jerky ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, the consumerist attack of ‘Lost in the Supermarket’, the metallic ‘Clampdown’, and the anthemic ‘Death or Glory’. There’s quality, vibrancy, urgency, thrills and hooks consistent throughout the entire track-list, ultimately, and when you strip away deep analysis or historical importance, this is what truly matters, and here, The Clash did nothing but nail making an enduring, influential and truly classic album – pile on top the aforementioned deeper levels present and the historic musical importance of this double LP, and we finally arrive at my humble declaration of just why all those inclusions in the upper echelons of ‘greatest ever albums’ lists make complete and utter sense. London Calling
is a musical revolution, and simply one of the most stunning rock albums of all time.