Friday, September 3, 2010

It feels good being "Lost in the Supermarket"

If I had to make a list of my favorite albums of all time, London Calling would definitely be on it. I hate making lists of favorites and it's super hard for me to pick a favorite anything in music. Even top fives are rough. Top tens, well, maybe - if you hold a gun to my head.

But, if I were to make a list of my favorite albums, London Calling would definitely fall near the top. To me, it represents The Clash at their very best, as well as a sort of the holy grail of music cliffs. It was instrumental in my life because it was a great album that I discovered at the right time, but it also exposed me to a whole bunch of other types of music like rocksteady, dancehall, soul and hip-hop.

I think I got the album in 1991 or 1992 from a mail order music services after reading something about it a guitar magazine. At the time I know I thought I was the coolest kid on the planet, even if the other kids my age thought I, as well as the album, was pretty stupid.

I didn't care, I was hooked from the first notes. "London Calling" set the tone for the next 60 minutes of music. Those guitar stabs, the liquid bass, so simple and yet full of so much power, magic and magnetism.

There were no stars on this album, every component depends on every other component. Sure, they released three singles, but any of these songs could have been issued as a single. "Rudie Can't Fail", "Revolution Rock", "Koka Kola" - all on-singles that have star qualities. Still, it's better played as a whole. To quote Larry Mullen, Jr., "it's a musical journey."

The Clash has always focused lyrically on issues that matter to them, this collection really showcase their genius. While they do state the obvious directly, they typically use literary devices like allegory, double entendre and euphemism to convey compound meanings.

"But I believe in this - and it's been tested by research, he who fucks nuns will later join the church"
- "Death or Glory"

In preparing to write this, I did a little reading and came across Billy Altman's April, 1980 review from Creem Magazine. He states, "I don't find London Calling an easy album to handle", citing that they blow their load on the title track and then tread the same lyrical ground, offering no hope or resolution. He adds, "The four sides of London Calling have me feeling like I've been levelled [sic] by the weight of the world."

Now I'm not trying to pick a fight through time and space and with all due respect to Mr. Altman, I find his issue with London Calling ridiculous. On a level, yes, they do stay hyper focused on the bleakness of the world, as they saw it, but doesn't history record the same bleakness?

Wasn't it especially bleak in Great Britain during the late 70's? Weren't these "punks" rebelling against the political and social situations of the day? Against the extreme commercialism they saw? I find it irresponsible to assert that they should have some other view point, let alone of a beacon of hope to the masses. What hope did they have?

"The Guns of Brixton" exemplifies my point by foreshadows the race riots in Brixton, even if only proven so in hind sight. Again, I'm not trying to argue, but these were all songs of substance. Should we condemn Metallica (musically) or Rage Against the Machine (lyrically) for similar reasons?

Whether they were about the darkness of life in England or the darkness of life in general, they cover the same ground from different perspectives, pointing out individual nuances of their life experiences. These were four guys dealing with the drudgery of life in a difficult time.

Perhaps that sentiment produced the synergy between them that is so integral to the success of this album. Together they were able to convey they emotional turmoil of whatever they were doing when they recorded London Calling, they did it right. They are super tight on every track and you can feel how close the band are with each other - ah, the times before they started to hate each other.

And that's the thing that I love most about this album. Despite the bad times, despite their troubles, they came together to write a beautifully emotive album with a sonic landscape the size of the Sahara. They stretched out, pushing themselves in new directions, trying new things. It's 65 minutes of some of the best music ever written.

After talking about the Femmes, and now The Clash, I'm beginning to see a trend toward angsty music full of social implication and dissidence - and I'm okay with that.

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