John Morthland

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410

From the raw rage of their epochal first album to the fiery precision of this third one, the evolution of the Clash has been one of the most engrossing spectacles in recent pop music. All along they have been voraciously absorbing old styles and techniques and appropriating new ones. Although nothing on "London Calling" quite comes up to the three British singles (particularly Complete Control) the group released between their first two albums, it would take a real nit-picker to find much wrong with this two-disc set. (p. 90)

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The Clash draws on nearly everything that has come before them, but without really aping anything. Reggae, which they have always worked with so knowingly, is represented here by Rudie Can't Fail, Lover's Rock, and Revolution Rock. But, on both Jimmy Jazz and Wrong 'Em Boyo, they also dig back into the r-&-b that helped shape reggae. Boyo is a classy piece of rock phrasemaking as good as the title song…. Brand New Cadillac is updated rockabilly, and the music (though not the lyrics) of I'm Not Down sounds like it could have been written by Jimi Hendrix. On The Card Cheat the group takes a few tips from Phil Spector. Yet, despite all these easily traceable influences, the Clash still sounds like no one else.

Thematically the new songs are also more expansive, in this respect continuing the progress the Clash's second album made over their first. The lyrics are much less specifically British, more international, with almost as many references to nuclear meltdowns as to war. They manage to draw morals (as in Wrong 'Em Boyo and Death or Glory) without being overly moralistic; they condemn drug consumption among the upper crust (Koka Kola) without ignoring its devastating presence among their own former peers (Hateful). And though Four Horsemen may ascribe a presumptuous mythic status to the Clash, Spanish Bombs provocatively juxtaposes the luxury they enjoy as rock stars with a less attractive imagery: that of the civil war in Spain and the urban guerrilla warfare in Northern Ireland today. And in Train in Vain … they tackle relationships between men and women with the same guts and intelligence they apply to other subjects.

Call it "punk" if you must, or just call it "contemporary rock."… [The Clash have] built convincingly on their original premises and have managed to reach their [audience] without compromising. (pp. 90-1)

John Morthland, "Ramones/The Clash," in Stereo Review, Vol. 44, No. 6, June, 1980, pp. 90-1.∗

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