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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Clash -- London Calling


I have been lazily putting off writing a review for The Clash's London Calling. This is one of those albums you are told is hugely important and world changing, yet if you mentioned it in a crowd, a lot of people would shrug, not knowing what you were talking about.  Billions of people in the western world, including those who were in their teens and twenties when London Calling was released not only have never heard it--they don't even know who The Clash is.  Most of what music journalism looks at as musical turning points are really nothing more than music journalism turning points.  My early experience with The Clash is based solely on a few kind words from my father and movie or commercial placement of "Should I Stay or Should I Go."  It wasn't until after college that I actually heard London Calling.
Journalists like to label The Clash as a "punk" band, but London Calling is not punk at all in terms of tempo or aggressiveness. I guess it is punk on the basis that it is a little political and sounds rough.  The main vocalist (the guitarist sings lead on some songs, too, as does the bassist) sounds like he is shout-singing with his tongue hanging out his mouth (RIP Joe Strummer).  I listened to the album a couple of times, latched on to a few songs, but didn't get the hype.  Yes, it fused a few genres decently, but so what?
I can't really go into the cultural importance of London Calling because it came out two years before I was born, and that stuff gets so muddled by the media and history, it's impossible to know the truth.  All I can do is listen to the album a bunch of times and figure out if I like it or not.  I gave the album more spins after my initial few listens and could say I liked it well enough.  I haven't listened to it a ton in the last three or four years, except for the six or seven times in the past week to try to form some sort of opinion for this review.  Thankfully, I run this blog, so I can say whatever I want however I want to...I think writing a concise, streamlined, masses-ready review of London Calling wouldn't make sense or be fair to the album.  Let's just start with the parts I like:
"London Calling," the first track, is appropriately ominous.  It conjures images of foggy streetlights and riverbanks flooding over dark city blocks.  "Brand New Cadillac" begins to shed the dark sound, and I like that by "Jimmy Jazz," track three, the album sounds like a party.  When the trippy, reggae-tinged "The Guns of Brixton" first passed through my speakers, I thought, "This is great.  This sounds like something Rescue Me would use to make a crazy night out montage at the end of an episode."  A couple years later, what do you know:

They must have been reading my mind.  Man, what a great show.  Anyway...
Speaking of great, London Calling has one truly classic song that is good no matter how it is classified or historically looked upon.  That song is "Lost in the Supermarket," a song about a kid who grows up in a lifeless apartment building separated from anything real, and who looks for some sort of commercial salvation.  It is a great song, easily identified with, enjoyable to hear.

London Calling also has a great fakeout ending. Penultimate-track "Revolution Rock" goes on and on until it seems like nothing could follow it, and indeed, it is the last track listed on the record. But this is all lies. "Train in Vain" starts right up after "Revolution Rock" and it's easily one of the best songs London Calling has to offer. Strangely, I find that I like the songs the lead guitarist or bassist sings on far more than the ones the lead vocalist sings. Is that Clash blasphemy? Here is what I don't like about London Calling:
It goes on forever. This is a double-album, but it could easily be culled down to one. "The Right Profile," "Wrong 'Em Boyo," "Lover's Rock," cut, cut, cut. Yes, I'm actually saying this. Just because people tell you something is good doesn't mean you can't criticize it. London Calling's long running time also highlights something, and I've mentioned it already: the lead vocalist's singing can be a lot to take--sixty-five minutes of it is tough to bear, even with other band-members taking the microphone from time to time. The Clash followed London Calling with a triple-album, and I can't even fathom listening to the sound of that singing for close to that long. It is not for me.
So for me, as a modern day listener (it's always the present), London Calling is a good album that could be much better with some major culling. It's a fun listen in chunks, but there is no great tangible weight of its history in every decibel. Yes, I'm giving The Clash's London Calling a seven out of ten. This is happening.

 1979 Epic
1. London Calling 3:19
2. Brand New Cadillac 2:08
3. Jimmy Jazz 3:54
4. Hateful 2:44
5. Rudie Can't Fail 3:29
6. Spanish Bombs 3:18
7. The Right Profile 3:54
8. Lost in the Supermarket 3:47
9. Clampdown 3:49
10. The Guns of Brixton 3:09
11. Wrong 'Em Boyo 3:10
12. Death or Glory 3:55
13. Koka Kola 1:47
14. The Card Cheat 3:49
15. Lover's Rock 4:03
16. Four Horsemen 2:55
17. I'm Not Down 3:06
18. Revolution Rock 5:33
19. Train in Vain 3:10


Anonymous said...

So Christina Aguilera, Cardigans & Buffy records are as good or better than "London Calling"? Nice work camper...

"The Clash were a major influence on my own music. They were the best rock 'n' roll band." Bruce Springsteen

I guess Bruce buys the hype too..

Anonymous said...

Most teens and 20-somethings probably have not heard of most of the albums in your personal collection. The ones featured in your very shrewd and entertaining reviews. The selections of St. Nicholas, himself...I guess that makes you a closet hipster and the zombie puppet of evil music journalists.

Neal said...

Ah, anonymous poster number one, you have incorrectly identified the review's purpose. The purpose of any of these reviews was not to compare Christina Aguilera to The Clash or some other combination. The purpose of each is for the reviewer to give their opinion on how they like the album. Such things are always subject to aesthetic judgement of the reviewer, and not the opinion of Bruce Springsteen, no matter how authoritative a music source he is.

And even if you don't know the reviewer, you can judge from the Christina Aguilera post and his comments for the Peter Gabriel post that he probably wouldn't rank Christina Aguilera over The Clash. ;)

Nicholas said...

Thanks, Neal! The Bruce Springsteen comment kind of reminds me of this:
I actually have the same exact opinion of the Aguilera and Clash albums I reviewed. Some great songs crammed into overstuffed albums. But I can listen to The Clash any day and enjoy them. Back to Basics is literally the ONLY thing out of XTina's Xtensive library that I can stand.
I do wish that the second anonymous poster would become un-anonymous (even if they are the same poster as the first) because that second one was genuinely funny. I mean...BRAINS! MUSIC BRAINS!

Nicholas said...

Also, they said my reviews were very shrewd and entertaining, AND called me Santa Claus. It don't get much better than that.

Anonymous said...

Ho Ho Ho St. Nick! Can't wait for you to scoot down the chimney with your super duper...ah..shrewd(gotta stick that in there) reviews of "Blonde on Blonde", "Remain in Light", "Exile on Mainsteet", "Kid A", etc so you can explain how they are the over-hyped spawn of Beelzebub..I mean, music journalists and all the while the Tings Tings, Everclear and John Mayer feel so the belly of a 2 month old puma cub.

Love ya Loupy Dude ;)

Nicholas said...

Sadly, you'll only be getting a Kid A review. Can't stand Dylan, and my three Rolling Stones records don't include Exile...but gladly you also won't be getting any Ting Tings (they have to be a music journalist's a conspiracy!), Everclear (which ones are those?), or John Mayer (he pretty much owes Rolling Stone magazine for every house and girlfriend he's had in the last decade) reviews.
Finally, if you have a domesticated, breeding-population of Pumas, I am more jealous of you than I can express.

Anonymous said...

I can imagine John Mayer taking his 'girlfriend for a day' to his Your Body is a Wonderland Ranch to see his brood of pet pumas...but now I wish my imagination would quit that. Have fun with Coldplay, who everyone has heard of, unlike that mundane rabble, the Clash. Be sure to name drop Apple Martin, bro...your review will be even more entertaining & shrewd, if that is even the end of infinity.

I'll send you a juice box of freshly squeezed Puma blood so you can extract DNA to breed your own puma hybrids.

Nicholas said...

Haha! Sure thing, buddy. Just don't bring my bad poetry into this ;)