The 30th anniversary re-issue of The Clash’s London Calling offers nothing new in terms of extras (the same set of ‘making of’ documentary and videos that were released for the 25th anniversary release) but does offer a welcome chance to revisit one of the greatest albums of all time.
London Calling was the third album by the band, showing a far broader range of styles than on their self-titled debut and second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope, and setting them firmly apart from their 1970s punk contemporaries.
Reggae, calypso, blues, jazz, rock and roll and punk are all there across the 19 tracks. It is partly because of this breadth of styles coupled with the album’s simplistic production, having been recorded in a matter of weeks, that gives London Calling its timeless quality. Opener ‘London Calling’, with its familiar pounding bass line, lyrics of urban decay and Strummer’s gravelly vocals is as fresh as ever.
Well received when it came out and achieving top ten spot in the UK album charts in 1979 it has since gone on to be quite rightly recognised as a classic. It has now sold over two million copies worldwide, gone platinum in the US and received accolades such as number eight slot in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Consistency across its 19 tracks is one reason for its longevity. Each song has its merit and offers something different; from bassist Paul Simenon’s love of reggae to guitarist Mick Jones keen sense of melody and Joe Strummer’s rockabilly roots.
Among the highlights of the first half of the album are ‘The Right Profile,’ a rare rock tribute to the actor Montgomery Clift and ‘Lost In The Supermarket’, written by Strummer about Jones’s childhood, growing up in a block of flats with his grandmother in west London. “I wasn’t born, so much as I fell out,” and images of listening to “the people who live on the ceiling, scream and fight most scarily” are among the fantastic lyrics on this track.
Among the instantly appealing songs is ‘Clampdown’, one of only a few that would have seemed in place on the band’s previous albums. Jones’s ‘Train in Vain’ is another. This was the band’s first hit in the US and only added to the album at the last minute after a deal for it to appear as a free promotion with the NME fell through.
The growers include bassist Simenon’s reggae track ‘The Guns of Brixton.’ What Simenon lacks in vocal prowess on this track he more than makes up for with its instantly recognisable and often copied bass line.
On CD and MP3 the album lacks the careful attention to placing of each song across its four sides. What was originally side four starting with ‘Lover’s Rock’, including ‘I’m Not Down’ and ending with ‘Train in Vain’ is as good a side of an album you will ever hear.
Given the joy of the album it doesn’t matter that this latest re-issue offers little new. Who cares when you’ve got 19 songs of this quality to listen to.
by Joe Lepper, December 2009