[25th Anniversary Legacy Edition]
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2004, Volume 11, #11
Written by John Metzger
When The Clash released London Calling, punk rock was at the end of its rope. Bands had either collapsed under the weight of their own violent tendencies or were snatched up by corporate America and transformed into pale imitations. The Clash, too, had scored a deal with a major label, but the ensembleís artistic vision was too grand to be contained. In essence, the group single-handedly saved punk rock from itself.
In many ways, The Clash became punk rockís populists by reaching out to those who otherwise might not have bothered to listen. Musically, the band employed a broad range of styles that moved beyond the purely angry, anarchic mayhem of its peers, and as a result, London Calling was the masterful apex of its career. Overflowing with ideas, the songs effortlessly leapt from rockabilly to reggae to hard rock, while folding in elements of blues, jazz, R&B, and folk, and all of it was delivered with the pummeling fury of a tempest unleashed. Better still, the gooey pop sheen of its incandescent melodic structures was the ultimate subversion. Laying low beneath the clatter, the infectious grooves sufficiently transformed the set into something that was broadly accessible. Exuberant, urgent, passionate, and intense, this was music that demanded oneís attention and kept it for the entirety of the hour-plus duration of the albumís 19 tracks.
Lyrically, too, The Clash allowed populist themes to pervade London Calling as the group made dire predictions for the future and urged the working class to rebel against its oppressors. The isolation that follows a persistent drug abuse problem was detailed on Hateful; Lost in the Supermarket spoke to those seeking happiness in material goods; Clampdown railed against the fascist factory bosses and those who would become them; and Spanish Bombs paid tribute to the revolutionaries and freedom fighters from another era. Yet, for all its anti-establishment ranting, the group maintained both a sense of humor and perspective, painting a broader picture of the common manís life in Western society by dabbling in the sexual polemics of Loverís Rock and relaying the tale of Broadway and Hollywood star Montgomery Cliftís collapse on The Right Profile.
Indeed, itís hard to imagine the face of rock Ďní roll without such moments as the horn-splattered reggae of Rudie Canít Fail, the punk sneer that graces the Beatle-esque Spanish Bombs, the updated rendition of Stagger Lee re-christened as Wrong íEm Boyo, the wistful Train in Vain with its sorrow-drenched regrets, or the driving march of the title track. Itís not surprising, then, that London Calling not only is considered a classic, but also is cited regularly as one of the most important and influential recordings ever made.
While that is certainly enough for many, thereís another intriguing twist to the story of this 25-year-old masterpiece. Prior to the official sessions for London Calling, The Clash had been experimenting with the notion of recording the album on its own, and for years, questions continued to be raised as to whether or not the group had captured any of the rehearsals held at Vanilla studios. It wasnít until March 2004, however, that the lost tapes surfaced in Mick Jonesí house. Although there are no earth-shattering discoveries, the 21-track collection that has been dubbed The Vanilla Tapes offers an insightful glimpse at the early development of an extraordinary album, while highlighting the influence that producer Guy Stevens had on the final package. Be it a reggae-twisted cover of Bob Dylanís The Man in Me, the rough-and-tumble rendition of 4 Horsemen, the country-tinged swagger of Lonesome Me, the instrumental rendition of Jimmy Jazz titled The Police Walked in 4 Jazz, or the re-visitation of Remote Control from the groupís first album, there was an intangible, but powerful force that prevailed over the proceedings, and it brightly shines through the din of the rough and raw demos featured on the collection.
Delving even further into the history of London Calling is a wonderfully produced retrospective titled The Last Testament: The Making of London Calling. Featuring an array of interviews with Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon, among others, the documentary provides an entertaining reflection upon a monumental moment in rock history. Rounding out the DVD are several promotional videos as well as some home video footage of the band recording the album with Stevens in Wessex Studios. Taken in total, the expanded Legacy Edition of London Calling comes at just the right moment in time, offering a tribute of sorts to the recently departed Joe Strummer as well as a call to arms for a world that seems even more divided socially and politically than it was when The Clash first unleashed its battle cry.
London Calling [Original Album] ó
London Calling [Bonus Materials] ó Ĺ
London Calling: 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition ó
Of Further Interest...
London Calling: 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box