October 28, 2004

The Clash: London Calling (Legacy Edition)

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So The Clash are back. Yes, shortly after front-man Joe Strummer’s untimely death, the pioneers of punk-rock have returned with the re-release of their magnum opus, London Calling. This celebrates the twenty-five year anniversary of its conception. Between the original album, the previously unheard and unrehearsed Vanilla Tapes and the DVD which follows the making of the album, it’s easy to see that this 3-disc epic is long overdue. At a loss for words, nothing in the past quarter-century has come close to touching their bona fide tribute to middle-class politics and glorious rock and roll. Between my word limit and the number of days I have to write this article, there is no way for me to justify London Calling on paper. Rolling Stone ranked it the 8th best album of all time, and it is safely in my top 10 as well as the majority of my like-minded friends (including Rob in High Fidelity). Simply put, it is a liberating 19-track epic that manages to capture adolescence, definitive punk rock and the past, present and future of every movement from reggae to modern rock.

The Vanilla Tapes have minimal production quality and some songs show only small resemblances to the final product on the actual album. Yet, hearing the loose rhythms makes it easy to notice that this is how The Clash wanted to be heard, as striving youngsters and the modest gods of average citizens. Hearing untouched genius in the sound of a garage band practicing, you discover the roots of the band as well as their then disguised ambition and depth. The Vanilla Tapes feature a few songs, including a cover of Dylan’s “The Man In Me” and “Walking the Sidewalk,” that never appear on London Calling despite their artistry. Some tracks, such as “Working and Waiting” and “The Police Walked in 4 Jazz,” are tracks that eventually made the album under different names. What the Tapes manage to do is expand one’s appreciation for The Clash. The disc captures exactly where they were as a band in the late 70s, pushing forward after their self-titled debut in 1977. Other songs, such as “Where You Gonna Go (Soweto),” find the four Brits in a much more relaxed zone that they never really delve into in the album itself.

Such range was never fully realized with track selections and musical rewrites. Granted, nothing’s missing from London Calling, but when you hear the previously unknown gold that is The Vanilla Tapes, one starts to wonder if there was anything The Clash couldn’t do. Hearing the raw emotion, the live atmosphere and the energy all go towards convincing the listener that they’re right there with Strummer and his boys. Anybody who appreciates live releases from bands like Pearl Jam or Dave Matthews will, at the very least, cream their pants. The DVD itself is insightful. In the 30-minute documentary, we get interviews with the band and other important figures involved with the production of the album. It also includes promos, unseen home video footage and a 36-page booklet of photos to round out this ridiculous package.

5 Stars

Archived article by Dan Cohen
Sun Staff Writer