Saturday, January 08, 2011

London Calling (1980)

Wow, when is the last time I put this on? I'm jumping around the room here. As product of three decades and more past, this clearly falls into a category of album I have discussed previously—those known better for being known than recalled for their features and charms. In this case, I'm a little surprised to count myself among those who either forgot how good this is or insufficiently appreciated it at the time. I mean, I remember sitting in a living room with my brother, with whom I shared a railcar apartment at the time, playing this loud every day for weeks. But I don't remember loving it in the way I have these past few weeks. WTF?! I still think that, pound for pound, ounce for ounce, Sandinista is probably the better album, but now we're starting to get into the questionable area of comparing and analyzing various ecstasies, and ecstasies, as we're all supposed to know by this point, are not there to be considered soberly—they are there to be enjoyed heedlessly. It doesn't hurt any that this kicks off in the title song with one of the most stirring and blatant generational calls to arms you may be privileged to encounter, anywhere, any time, nor even, indeed, that the album cover art itself self-consciously mimics a similarly positioned Elvis Presley album. They are out to change the world here, it's as plain and simple as that. And if they failed—only two years later they were getting routinely slapped around as sellouts, two more years out they appeared to be acting the part, and two years beyond that they were all but gone entirely, with nary a ripple on the surface of the water marking their departure, let alone their one-time presence—they did so as honorably as it's possible to do, leaving behind an indelible mark of which we have not yet seen even the edges. Compare this with the previous album, Give 'em Enough Rope, and the subsequent one, Sandinista, and all that followed, and it seems likely that we have another case of artists gone to the crossroads. Song by song, this is not that different from what's on Rope—yet there's something about it that's leagues and miles beyond. Partly it's the willingness to switch up on the musical styles—"Lost in the Supermarket" is sweet and wistful (and deceptively acerbic) in a way nothing of theirs had been before, "The Guns of Brixton" as dramatic and menacing and atmospheric. "Spanish Bombs" as swinging. And "The Right Profile" celebrates ... Montgomery Clift? Stagger Lee's in the mix too. And so it goes, up and down and across the four vinyl sides and full hour of this magnificent release. It's so good that it almost makes me sad that so little can or ever will compare to it, and that it's already happened and we won't see its like again. But I bravely wipe away my tears, and play again. LOUD.

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