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.
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