Magnificat — December 2008
The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Music of the Week: The Clash - London Calling

This is the third, and maybe last, of my investigations into classic punk. (The phrase itself is amusing, as the aging of a youth fad always is.) As I noted in the other two installments, on The Ramones and The Minutemen, I was not drawn to the whole punk vibe when it was new (I was in my late 20s at the time). And I’m still not. But I like this album, or at least about half of it.

If there was any pretense at the time of its release (1979) that this was just a group of untrained kids doing what comes naturally, I hope it was laughed at, because it’s plainly ridiculous. These guys are real musicians, and it shows. I don’t usually pay much attention to the drums in rock music, but I can’t help noticing that this is a really good drummer. Most of the songs here are top-notch lively impassioned catchy rock-and-roll. The title track is an absolute killer, by far the best thing on the album in my opinion.

This was originally a double LP, and to my taste there’s too much of it; of the 19 songs, at least half a dozen don’t do much for me, and most of those are on what would have been the second disk of the original release, assuming that the CD preserves the original song order. I think there’s a terrific 40-minute album in here. In general I don’t find their lyrics very interesting, so the album wouldn’t land near the top of my personal chart. But it’s good stuff. And anybody who wants to put the title song in their list of the top 50 or so greatest-ever rock singles would get no argument from me.

I was surprise to find that I recognized the last cut, “Train in Vain.” I had heard it on the radio without knowing its name or realizing it was The Clash, without thinking of it as anything very out of the ordinary. Outside the context of the album it just seems like a pretty good pop song, which makes me think that if this was punk, then punk was less a matter of specific musical values than of style and attitude.

I wonder if it was some natural quirk or a deliberate mannerism that made Joe Strummer often sing as if his tongue were anesthetized.



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