Saturday, March 24, 2018

Classic Album Review: The Clash - London Calling (1979)

Forget about The Clash’s punk roots, by the time London Calling came out in 1979, the band had evolved considerably, and the result was this masterclass in cross-genre pollination. Not that the band had moved on entirely, or abandoned its core ethos; it's simply the case that collectively, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon, had improved markedly as musicians, and as a unit, and were thus better able to get their message across in a tighter and far more emphatic fashion.

While punk had started to encounter credibility issues, The Clash were evidently quite determined to be taken seriously, and in many respects, London Calling, with its underlying political posturing and unashamedly direct social commentary, established a template that many a post-punk contender would seek to adopt or emulate over the course of the following decade.
What should also be recalled is that the band were still a few years away from fully breaking through in the USA at this stage, and despite the album essentially being conceived in the States, London Calling retains a sense of Englishness that by default or by design still defined them. Make no mistake, even if they’d given this album a different title, the content would still evoke imagery of dark/wet grimy back streets, multicultural high-rise housing estates, rampant social injustice, and varying degrees of street violence.
When Combat Rock came out some three years later, with its plethora of US-chart breaking hit singles and stadium anthems, much of that tone and character was long gone and The Clash were headed for mainstream glory, concert tours, and extravagant pay days galore. It might be said, for all of their eventual popularity on the New World side of the Atlantic, by the time they belatedly achieved it, The Clash had already lost the very edge and points of difference that made the band so vital in the first place. It is hardly surprising a somewhat painful split was just around the corner.
So London Calling captures the true essence of The Clash, and any newcomer should start right here. The raw energy of the highly charged and almost threatening title track opens the album and that track itself remains perhaps the best example of what made the band so special. But look out too for the universal rockabilly influences on ‘Brand New Cadillac’. The ever-present Jamaican reggae vibes of ‘Guns Of Brixton’, ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, and ‘Revolution Rock’. The similarly political overtones on the otherwise catchy ‘Spanish Bombs’. The simple funk of closer ‘Train In Vain’. Plus, what is, in my opinion, the album’s coup de grace, ‘Clampdown’, one of the best anti-working-for-the-man anthems ever committed to vinyl.
And all of that, before I even start to tell you how truly great that album cover is …

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