London Calling has been massively praised ever since its release; it’s won album of the decade awards for both the 1970s (when it was released in the UK) and the 1980s (when it was released in the US). It’s eclectic, dynamic, and a stunning rebound after the artistic dead end of Give ‘Em Enough Rope, and is light years away from the stripped down punk of the debut, but all the critical praise has given London Calling a reputation that no album could live up to.
The opening title track is the highlight of the set, with plenty of quotable lyrics from Strummer: “don’t look to us/phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” or “a nuclear error but I have no fear/’Cause London is drowning and I live by the river”. Other highlights include the rock anthems ‘Clampdown’ and ‘Death or Glory’, Paul Simonon’s first song for the group (‘Guns of Brixton’, with a killer bass line), the ska inflected ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’, and ballads ‘Train in Vain’ and ‘The Card Cheat’. The horn section that features on some of the tracks sounds fantastic, and there are also compelling excursions into rockabilly (‘Brand New Cadillac’) and rock (‘Spanish Bombs’).
London Calling is not as perfect as its reputation would suggest, as it drags in the final quarter with songs like ‘Lover’s Rock’ and ‘Revolution Rock’. But the range of material that The Clash tackle while staying true to their punk roots is incredible.