Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Albums2010 #5: London Calling

I've kind of come to appreciate The Clash in a somewhat backwards and unconventional way. Green Day's Dookie introduced me to early-90s post-punk that wasn't really as hard-edged and political as it had been in the past. That, in turn lead me to The Sex Pistols and then eventually to one of the pre-packaged, greatest hits collections that you kind of find everywhere. That's how I first started listening to The Clash- listening to what someone in a record company somewhere thought were their 'good songs.'

So, buying and then listening to London Calling was something of a revelation. Inspired by an Entertainment Weekly article covering the genesis and recording of what they considered to be one of the best if not the best album of the past quarter century (this was early 2000s or so), I wondered why, if this album was the pinnacle of the genius and musical talent of The Clash, did I not own this album? So, I went out, snagged it and dumped it all on my computer, not thinking that it might someday be an actual object I'd want to hold in my hands. Several years and some cullings of iTunes later, when I started making my list for the Albums2010 project, I was horrified to find out that I was missing half the album! So quick downloading fixed that- and together, this album was just as brilliant as I remembered it being.

What to me remains the genius of The Clash is their ability to evolve away from the simple, fast-paced guitar driven structures that characterized early punk. Listen to The Ramones: the vast majority of their songs sound similar, are fast as lightening and not much longer than 2-3 minutes in length. And with The Clash, early songs like 'White Riot' and 'Clash City Rockers' fell firmly into that category of classic punk musical structure. But, unlike a lot of punk bands, they evolved and became something more- and that evolution is on fine display with this album. Sounds of jazz, ska, reggae, rockabilly, even the 60s 'wall of sound' style of music are all evident here.

There are familiar songs: the album opens with a bang with 'London Calling'- tracks like 'Rudie Can't Fail' and 'Revolution Rock' and 'Train In Vain' are probably the more familiar singles to casual fans of The Clash. But it's surprising how excellent the complete package of songs actually is. Although the style and sounds of a dozen different genres can all be heard on the album, the core sound of The Clash, with Joe Strummer at the mic and backed up by Mick Jones and even Paul Simonon (on 'Guns of Brixton') are essentially the glue that makes everything work. I'm not sure there's another band out there that could have had so many different sounds on one album that somehow get melded together into a brilliant album.

When I was frantically trying to reassemble the tracks to the album, it was the ones that I apparently discarded that were the most impressive to me- tracks like 'Hateful', 'The Card Cheat' and 'Koka Kola' all made me wonder what I was thinking in deleting them from my iTunes in the first place. What else is there to say? I'm not entirely sure... you can get this album, stick it in your CD player and not touch it after that. To me, that's the hallmark of a truly great album: one you can just listen to all the way through, where every song is worth listening to again and again and again. And with London Calling The Clash achieved the true brilliance that a lot of people achieve maybe once in a lifetime.

Overall: It's London Calling. It's The Clash. Of course it kicks ass- but, my bias aside, if you want a damn good album and have never heard of/listened to The Clash before, start with this album. You won't regret it.

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