The Clash Sam Sutherland - Essay

Sam Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Until now, the Clash has been lionized as much for its potential as for the quality of its recorded work. To a rock intelligentsia frustrated by the genre's commercialism and subsequent loss of urgency, the awkward angles and rough edges of the band's early singles and albums were proof of its authenticity. (p. 120)

Yet this recklessly honest British quartet has been as limited as it has been liberated by the very passion so central to its critical esteem. It has been the galvanic live show that fleshed out the earnest rapport the band sought with its audience, on record, too often the narrow stylistic range and intensity of performance obscured the humor and humanism that emerged so vividly on stage.

"London Calling" transcends that paradox, achieving a quantum leap in the breadth and clarity of the Clash's music. As such, it marks a triumphant turning point for the band, and possibly for the new rock movement with which it is associated. This is openhanded, openhearted rock modeled on classic sources and requiring little additional explanation beyond the songs themselves….

The band's thematic concerns remain as provocative as before, based on the populist ideals it sees threatened by the repressive realities of Ireland, Jamaica, and its native England. If the Clash's targets are the same, its aim is more careful. "London Calling" thus achieves a stirring balance of psychological detail and moral force, similar to Elvis Costello's "Armed Forces" in its indictment of Western decadence.

Such weighty themes still lead Joe Strummer and Mick Jones to chew their lyrics with angry relish, braying as much as singing them in rheumy, full-throated abandon. But the added shadings here more convincingly convey pathos, humor; and even joy—not just anger…. ["London Calling"] is far more consistent and coherent than either of its single-disc predecessors. (p. 122)

Sam Sutherland, in a review of "London Cailing," in High Fidelity, Vol. 30, No. 4, April, 1980, pp. 120, 122.