#15. Arcade Fire | Funeral (2004)My family tree's
Losing all it's leaves
Crashing towards the driver's seat
The lightning bolt made enough heat
To melt the street beneath your feet
# of Voters: 45 | Score: 3059.184
Rank in 2014: #6
AM 3000 Rank: #31
Top Fans: Andyd1010 (#1), JWinton (#1), JohnnyBGoode (#2), Nassim (#4), Spiderpig (#4), VanillaFire1000 (#5), Chambord (#6), DaveC (#10), Slick (#12), Nick (#13), Maschine_Man (#14), NotBrianEno (#17), GucciLittlePiggy (#18), SJner (#18), Harold (#21), BleuPanda (#21), Bootsy (#23), ChrisK (#29), DocBrown (#32), BryanBehar (#33), LiveinPhoenix (#37), Toni (#37), Antonius (#45), PlasticRam (#45), Panam (#51), Gillingham (#57), Romain (#58), Acroamor (#61), Whuntva (#64), Bruno (#68), Moonbeam (#89), Jackson (#97), Dexter (#99)
The years leading up to the recording of Funeral were marked with death. Chassagne's grandmother passed away in June of 2003, Butler's grandfather in March of 2004, and bandmate Richard Parry's aunt the following month. These songs demonstrate a collective subliminal recognition of the powerful but oddly distanced pain that follows the death of an aging loved one. Funeral evokes sickness and death, but also understanding and renewal; childlike mystification, but also the impending coldness of maturity. The recurring motif of a non-specific "neighborhood" suggests the supportive bonds of family and community, but most of its lyrical imagery is overpoweringly desolate.
"Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" is a sumptuously theatrical opener-- the gentle hum of an organ, undulating strings, and repetition of a simple piano figure suggest the discreet unveiling of an epic. Butler, in a bold voice that wavers with the force of raw, unspoken emotion, introduces his neighborhood. The scene is tragic: As a young man's parents weep in the next room, he secretly escapes to meet his girlfriend in the town square, where they naively plan an "adult" future that, in the haze of adolescence, is barely comprehensible to them. Their only respite from their shared uncertainty and remoteness exists in the memories of friends and parents.
The following songs draw upon the tone and sentiment of "Tunnels" as an abstract mission statement. The conventionally rock-oriented "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" is a second-hand account of one individual's struggle to overcome an introverted sense of suicidal desperation. The lyrics superficially suggest a theme of middle-class alienation, but avoid literal allusion to a suburban wasteland-- one defining characteristic of the album, in fact, is the all-encompassing scope of its conceptual neighborhoods. The urban clatter of Butler's adopted hometown of Montreal can be felt in the foreboding streetlights and shadows of "Une Annee Sans Lumiere", while Chassagne's evocative illustration of her homeland (on "Haiti", the country her parents fled in the 1960s) is both distantly exotic and starkly violent, perfectly evoking a nation in turmoil.
"Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" is a shimmering, audacious anthem that combines a driving pop beat, ominous guitar assault, and sprightly glockenspiel decoration into a passionate, fist-pumping album manifesto. The fluidity of the song's construction is mesmerizing, and the cohesion of Butler's poignant assertion of exasperation ("I went out into the night/ I went out to pick a fight with anyone") and his emotional call to arms ("The power's out in the heart of man/ Take it from your heart/ Put it in your hand"), distinguishes the song as the album's towering centerpiece.
Even in its darkest moments, Funeral exudes an empowering positivity. Slow-burning ballad "Crown of Love" is an expression of lovesick guilt that perpetually crescendos until the track unexpectedly explodes into a dance section, still soaked in the melodrama of weeping strings; the song's psychological despair gives way to a purely physical catharsis. The anthemic momentum of "Rebellion (Lies)" counterbalances Butler's plaintive appeal for survival at death's door, and there is liberation in his admittance of life's inevitable transience. "In the Backseat" explores a common phenomenon-- a love of backseat window-gazing, inextricably linked to an intense fear of driving-- that ultimately suggests a conclusive optimism through ongoing self-examination. "I've been learning to drive my whole life," Chassagne sings, as the album's acoustic majesty finally recedes and relinquishes.
--David Moore, Pitchfork
#14. Bruce Springsteen | Born to Run (1975)The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey, that's me and I want you only
Don't turn me home again, I just can't face myself alone again
# of Voters: 44 | Score: 3097.296
Rank in 2014: #16
AM 3000 Rank: #17
Top Fans: M24 (#1), GabeBasso (#3), RedAnt (#3), VanillaFire1000 (#3), Andyd1010 (#3), Nicolas (#4), DocBrown (#6), StevieFan13 (#15), JohnnyBGoode (#16), Honorio (#18), Bruno (#19), Slucs (#20), Listyguy (#21), Jwinton (#21), Dexter (#22), Nick (#25), Nico (#27), Toni (#28), Karla (#30), NotBrianEno (#31), SweepstakesRon (#34), Brad (#35), Spiderpig (#36), Harold (#36), BleuPanda (#39), BryanBehar (#40), LiveinPhoenix (#46), RockyRaccoon (#52), BonnieLaurel (#58), Slick (#62), SJner (#65), GucciLIttlepiggy (#84), PlasticRam (#96)
There seems to be a generational taboo in the action of having lauded this so sweetly when I was sixteen, but what choice did I really have? When a girl named Mary breaks up with you and the opening, blistering tune that fronts this record opens up with the line, "The screen door slams / Mary's dress sways / Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays," you're going to choke up and you're going to find everything you can in an album that provides such robust detail and sensational wonderment. My courtship with The Boss began as more of a rebound than anything else, and though people stopped and stared, whispering and subsequently cackling at the madness of this frizzy-haired Italian kid crooning to "Thunder Road" in his Opeth tee and laceless moccasins, there wasn't an ounce of regret in those days or anything that resulted from them. I'm unapologetic about what I like, the utterance, "I like Bruce Springsteen and U2; I'm a housewife" escaping my lips several times in jest as I hold those seminal music conversations with new faces and cheery acquaintances. I sang "Backstreets" with the mother of my ex-girlfriend, her abashedly burying her face into her hands and an unsympathetic gaze shooting from the only other mutual friend present. I know that I'm a dork for loving Born to Run, but I couldn't be arsed into caring.
Aforementioned "Thunder Road"... it really is an absolute masterpiece, one that I know every word to and an archetype of what I wish all songwriters made a stab at. It's so fearless, unconcerned with offending anybody who hears or realizes that the subject of focus (this Mary girl...) is them. I could spout nearly every line and lyric that the song offers and do a soliloquy about why each one means so much to me, but to keep from tiring out my fingers or boring your eyes, can I just do one? No line in the entirety of Bruce Springsteen's repertoire will EVER come close to being as evocative and haunting as "They haunt this dusty beach road / In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets". Dear lord, it seems that I can't keep my attention on anything as this song is nearing that moment, and I always mouth the words and louse up one or two in the overjoyed process. And of course, there's that classic line from the title track that I always seem to remember best from witnessing my American Government teacher wailing along to it one day in class; I always just mumble along and catch the tail of it, "...and SUICIDE MACHINES." Don't even get me started on why also-aforementioned "Backstreets" is such a killer, especially when he makes that admittance of hatred towards her and her new lover. Such a brutal confessional.
The truth is that I've neglected much of this record because of the few personal hits that plagued my moody bedroom sessions, but there isn't a single weak or unnoticeable track on Born to Run. "Night" takes off so tensely, as if it's a distraught husband speeding through the metropolitan haziness to meet his hospitalized lover. With a swaggering contrast, "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" was the first thing I ever remember digging when I encountered this CD on some obdurate first playthrough, that jazziness being absolutely unmistakable once you've heard it. For an album that I've broken morsels off of more than I've swallowed whole, it blows my mind that the entire package kicks my teeth and stomach as ferociously as it does whenever I let it. Even if The Boss is considered to be a walking, audible chick flick, there's no denying that he's a force to be reckoned with, somebody that you would never want to piss off or slight unless you're aiming to have a vindictive narrative hurled in your honor (which, in all honesty, sounds pretty worth it).
I feel like anybody should relate to a record like this one. Don't let the tarnished implications of the moniker 'Bruce Springsteen' fool you, as this could easily slam most of what's on the airwaves today. Give Bruce a chance.
#13. Radiohead | Kid A (2000)That there
That's not me
Where I please
# of Voters: 48 | Score: 3131.065
Rank in 2014: #26
AM 3000 Rank: #37
Top Fans: Bootsy (#2), ChrisK (#2), Spiderpig (#6), DepecheMode (#7), OrdinaryPerson (#7), GucciLittlePiggy (#7), Dudumb (#9), GabeBasso (#9), Nick (#11), BleuPanda (#18), Gillingham (#20), M24 (#21), Panam (#23), BangJan (#23), JohnnyBGoode (#28), Jackson (#37), Honorio (#40), Listyguy (#41), PlasticRam (#44), ProsecutorGodot (#46), NotBrianEno (#50), Jirin (#50), JWinton (#52), DaveC (#55), Slick (#56), Sjner (#64), LuvulongTIM (#66), Whuntva (#68), Dexter (#90), Harold (#91), LiveinPhoenix (#93)
Just KiddingI had never even seen a shooting star before.
That icy descent of notes announcing Kid A's opening track, "Everything in Its Right Place", were the cold shower waking rock and roll from its lust for rave culture since 1997. Kid A is the bastard hybrid child of those flirtatious years, art-damaged rock music shimmering with electricity.
I remember what a big deal Kid A was when it was released, just for debuting at number one on the charts without any singles to promote it, and driving downtown that Tuesday night to buy a copy. I parked in an underground parking garage and when I put the CD in the car stereo, that initial shower of synthesizer notes echoed off the walls, and I sat transfixed as the song played its course.
Kid A is a post-modern recording. Self-conscious of pop, rock, and electronic music, reflecting the band's own listening tastes as well as subverting what they had been recording up to this point, obsessively drawing on inspirations to remake them anew. The idea of post-modernism is to take (something traditionally defined as) low art through the wringer, reconstitute and recontextualize it until it becomes a new form. This album throws together disparate pieces of IDM, Krautrock, new wave, even flourishes of ambient and jazz, or cinematic film scores. In construction, the album is heavily cut-and-paste, in the vein of William S. Burroughs' Nova Trilogy and Dadaist poetry. It is the oppressive view from inside a nervous breakdown, a mess of odd time signatures and lyrics that seem to speak of horrible night terrors. Cold, strange, off-putting, and altogether cryptic, Kid A is steeped in so many traditions that it comes off unlike anything else. As Bergen Evans wrote, 'We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.'
#12. Bob Dylan | Highway 61 Revisited (1965)Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?"
The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, "Death to all those who would whimper and cry."
And dropping a bar bell he points to the sky
Saying, "The sun's not yellow it's chicken."
# of Voters: 52 | Score: 3218.604
Rank in 2014: #12
AM 3000 Rank: #10
Top Fans: SJner (#1), M24 (#3), RockyRacoon (#8) Bootsy (#10), Nick (#10), BangJan (#10), Gillingham (#12), JasonBob4567 (#12), SonofSamIam (#13), GabeBasso (#17), PlasticRam (#18), Listyguy (#22), Jirin (#23), Babydoll (#24), Nico (#29), Harold (#30), Nicolas (#30), Acroamor (#31), Bruno (#34), SweepstakesRon (#37), Jackson (#42), LiveinPhoenix (#53), ProsecutorGodot (#58), Whuntva (#62), Brad (#65), Spiderpig (#66), Dexter (#79), Andyd1010 (#92), Dudumb (#96)
On August 30, Dylan released what remains for me the most electrifying rock-and-roll album of all time, Highway 61 Revisited. From its opening rim shot, which snaps the album into motion, an opening that stands above nearly all others in the history of rock and roll, a crack that strikes deep into the soul, Dylan spins and whirls into a snarling, searing 51 minutes of anarchic imagery and music. This is Bob Dylan at the height of his phantasmagoric powers, the dark visionary, the painter of nightmarish inner landscapes who brings together the strands of disparate worlds, mixes them and deconstructs them, crafting a world of disillusion and alienation that offers what may have been the first inclination that the Age of Aquarius was not all peace and love.
This is an album of brutality and innocence, an album that could only have been produced by an artist at the height of his powers, with a war raging overseas in the shadow of a presidential assassination. It is that rare album on which not only are there no weak cuts, but on which each song is a masterpiece, a classic rock and roll album.
Some history is in order, here. This is Dylan’s second electric effort, released in August of 1965, just five months after the remarkable Bringing It All Back Home. The earlier effort featured an electric side and an acoustic side, though the acoustic songs are nothing like anything he’d recorded in the past. In structure, in approach, they are songs that seem designed for full-band backing.
Dylan had been making the move toward rock and roll for about a year, starting with the release of the more personal Another Side of Bob Dylan, an album that lacked much of the topical fireworks of his two previous albums. Another Side was still a folk album, but sounded different than the folk music that was popular at the time both in terms of content and song structure.
Then in February 1965, Dylan released “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, the rollicking, rocking masterpiece that would forever change how rock and roll would be played from then on. “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, with its images of revolution and chaos, prefigured the pitched political battles that were to soon characterize the decade—but its musical impact was not apparent until the release in July of “Like a Rolling Stone” and Dylan’s fateful appearance at the Newport Folk Festival several days later.
The 1965 festival has taken on mythic stature in the annals of rock and roll and there is some dispute over exactly what happened when Dylan walked on stage dressed in leather jacket and white shirt with snap-tab collar and cranked out his allegory of intellectual freedom, “Maggie’s Farm”, “It Takes A Lot to Laugh” and “Like A Rolling Stone”. There apparently was booing and the crowd was angry—though just how angry and how much booing remains in dispute. He left the stage and came back to play a pair of acoustic songs—“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”—and left again.
He then went into the studio to record what was to become Highway 61 Revisited—and it seems clear from the finished product, at least, that Dylan was affected by what went down at Newport. Much of the album was recorded and finished in the wake of Newport and some of the disc seems in some ways a rebuke to those who had created an image of Dylan that Dylan had no interest in living up to. (The brutal “Positively Fourth Street” was recorded during these sessions, though not included on the album.)
Dylan had already made his statement of liberation on Bringing It All Back Home, when he sang “Well, I try my best / To be just like I am / But everybody wants you / To be just like them. / They sing while you slave and I just get bored. / I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”
The result is Dylan’s hardest rocking album, an album of biting satire and vituperation, of fevered playing and controlled aggression.
There are the brutal recriminations of “Like a Rolling Stone”, a song so pointedly nasty, so harsh and unforgiving, that it is almost scary. “How does it feel / How does it feel / To be on your own / With no direction home / Like a complete unknown / Like a rolling stone?” Dylan sings, running down the song’s target, a woman who “dressed so fine” and attended “the finest schools” only to find herself finally taken down a peg, lost and alone.
“Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people / They’re drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made / Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things / But you’d better lift your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe,” Dylan sings without sympathy. “You used to be so amused / At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used / Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse / When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose / You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.”
“Tombstone Blues” is a dervish of images and surging, gyrating music—a truly anarchic explosion of music. The key here is the mix—somehow producer Bob Johnston allows each of the players their own space, allows us to hear each instrument as it weaves its musical line in and around the others, with Michael Bloomfield’s biting guitar and Al Kooper’s rambling piano charging up the entire effort.
“It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” is Dylan’s easy blues, a hobo song that ambles along its way, the languid beat masking the urgency—hinted at throughout by Dylan’s keening harmonica—an urgency that suddenly spills out in the final verse: “Don’t say I never warned you / When your train gets lost.” That hidden urgency explodes in Al Kooper’s bouncing organ on “From a Buick 6”, as the singer navigates the cruelties of the world, with a little help from his “soulful mama”.
“Ballad of a Thin Man” reprises the theme of dislocation that Dylan raised in “Like a Rolling Stone”, telling the story of a man, Mr. Jones, lost in the modern world, Mr. Jones wandering lost in the wilderness: “Because something is happening here” but he doesn’t “know what it is”. But it also is Dylan’s response to the changing times, a coda to “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in which he derides the comfortable and the would-be opinion makers and trendsetters (He is “well read” and has “many contacts”). There is the chuckle at the end of the first verse that lets you know Dylan has no sympathy for Mr. Jones, the song tracing with a growing derision Mr. Jones’s pretensions and growing alienation—“There ought to be a law / Against you comin’ around.”
With “Queen Jane Approximately”, Dylan leaves the door open, saying that there might be some relief from the alienation and dislocation—“Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?”
Then comes the title cut, which kicks off what I’ve always thought of as a three-song nightmare suite: “Highway 61 Revisited”, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, and the majestic “Desolation Row”. The songs pile up a series of incongruous images, from the demanding god of Highway 61, where the good, the bad, and the horrid are all quite at home, to the story of Tom Thumb kicking around Juarez.
It is on “Desolation Row” that Dylan brings this nightmare to its logical and illogical conclusion, with a host of unlikely characters—Cinderella, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, Dr. Filth and Nero—casting about in a world that seems to jump off a Brueghel canvas, or maybe out of a William S. Burroughs novel. “They’re selling postcards of the hanging / They’re painting the passports brown / The beauty parlor is filled with sailors / The circus is in town,” Dylan sings atop a truly beautiful guitar line, a slowed-down flamenco riff that seems at odds with the dislocation and brutality of the lyrics.
The lyrics are a thick jumble of images, much of them contradictory, leaving us to wonder whether “Desolation Row” is heaven or hell. The Good Samaritan is heading to the carnival, but Casanova is punished for going there. Einstein had been famous “For playing the electric violin / On Desolation Row”, while Ophelia, who finds death “quite romantic”, stares at “Noah’s great rainbow” and “She spends her time peeking / Into Desolation Row.”
And it’s not as if the singer knows the answer either—or that we are asking the right questions: “All these people that you mention / Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame / I had to rearrange their faces / And give them all another name / Right now I can’t read too good / Don’t send me no more letters no / Not unless you mail them / From Desolation Row.”
Highway 61 Revisited does not fit in comfortably with the other trends of its time. It was one of a handful of albums (including the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Revolver) that gave literate rockers the green light to create a kind of intelligent, probing rock music that had not existed before.
--Hank Kalet, Popmatters
#11. The Clash | London Calling (1979)This here music mash up the nation
This here music cause a sensation
Tell your ma, tell your pa everything's gonna be all right
Can't you feel it? Don't ignore it
Gonna be alright
# of Voters: 49 | Score: 3304.591
Rank in 2014: #4
AM 3000 Rank: #6
Top Fans: LuvulongTIM (#1), Nick (#3), StevieFan13 (#4), Honorio (#4), Michel (#5), M24 (#7), Slick (#7), RockyRaccoon (#7), DaveC (#8), LiveinPhoenix (#13), SJner (#13), Harold (#14), Jackson (#17), Bruno (#18), DocBrown (#22), Whuntva (#25), PlasticRam (#25), GabeBasso (#29), Dexter (#31), Dudumb (#33), RickyMathias (#36), BleuPanda (#36), Antonius (#43), Spiderpig (#45), Jirin (#47), Nico (#52), ChrisK (#54), Bootsy (#58), Nicolas (#59), BryanBehar (#61), JWinton (#62), Brad (#67), BangJan (#73), Romain (#83), VanillaFire1000 (#85), Andyd1010 (#86), Acroamor (#94)
Give 'Em Enough Rope, the band's last recording, railed against the notion that being rock & roll heroes meant martyrdom. Yet the album also presented itself so flamboyantly as a last stand that it created a near-insoluble problem: after you've already brought the apocalypse crashing down on your head, how can you possibly go on? On the Clash's new LP, London Calling, there's a composition called "Death or Glory" that seems to disavow the struggle completely. Over a harsh and stormy guitar riff, lead singer Joe Strummer offers a grim litany of failure. Then his cohort, Mick Jones, steps forward to drive what appears to be the final nail into the coffin. "Death or glory," he bitterly announces, "become just another story."
But "Death or Glory" — in many ways, the pivotal song on London Calling — reverses itself midway. After Jones' last, anguished cry drops off into silence, the music seems to scatter from the echo of his words. Strummer reenters, quiet and undramatic, talking almost to himself at first and not much caring if anyone else is listening. "We're gonna march a long way," he whispers. "Gonna fight — a long time." The guitars, distant as bugles on some faraway plain, begin to rally. The drums collect into a beat, and Strummer slowly picks up strength and authority as he sings:
We've gotta travel — over mountains
We've gotta travel — over seas
We're gonna fight — you, brother
We're gonna fight — till you lose
We're gonna raise —
The band races back to the firing line, and when the singers go surging into the final chorus of "Death or glory...just another story," you know what they're really saying: like hell it is!
Merry and tough, passionate and large-spirited, London Calling celebrates the romance of rock & roll rebellion in grand, epic terms. It doesn't merely reaffirm the Clash's own commitment to rock-as-revolution. Instead, the record ranges across the whole of rock & roll's past for its sound, and digs deeply into rock legend, history, politics and myth for its images and themes. Everything has been brought together into a single, vast, stirring story — one that, as the Clash tell it, seems not only theirs but ours. For all its first-take scrappiness and guerrilla production, this two-LP set — which, at the group's insistence, sells for not much more than the price of one — is music that means to endure. It's so rich and far-reaching that it leaves you not just exhilarated but exalted and triumphantly alive.
From the start, however, you know how tough a fight it's going to be. "London Calling" opens the album on an ominous note. When Strummer comes in on the downbeat, he sounds weary, used up, desperate: "The Ice Age is coming/The sun is zooming in/Meltdown expected/The wheat is growing thin.'
The rest of the record never turns its back on that vision of dread. Rather, it pulls you through the horror and out the other side. The Clash's brand of heroism may be supremely romantic, even naive, but their utter refusal to sentimentalize their own myth — and their determination to live up to an actual code of honor in the real world, without ever minimizing the odds — makes such romanticism seem not only brave but absolutely necessary. London Calling sounds like a series of insistent messages sent to the scattered armies of the night, proffering warnings and comfort, good cheer and exhortations to keep moving. If we begin amid the desolation of the title track, we end, four sides later, with Mick Jones spitting out heroic defiance in "I'm Not Down" and finding a majestic metaphor at the pit of his depression that lifts him — and us — right off the ground. "Like skyscrapers rising up," Jones screams. "Floor by floor — I'm not giving up." Then Joe Strummer invites the audience, with a wink and a grin, to "smash up your seats and rock to this brand new beat" in the merry-go-round invocation of "Revolution Rock."
Against all the brutality, injustice and large and small betrayals delineated in song after song here — the assembly-line Fascists in "Clampdown," the advertising executives of "Koka Kola," the drug dealer who turns out to be the singer's one friend in the jittery, hypnotic "Hateful" — the Clash can only offer their sense of historic purpose and the faith, innocence, humor and camaraderie embodied in the band itself. This shines through everywhere, balancing out the terrors that the LP faces again and again. It can take forms as simple as letting bassist Paul Simonon sing his own "The Guns of Brixton," or as relatively subtle as the way Strummer modestly moves in to support Jones' fragile lead vocal on the forlorn "Lost in the Supermarket." It can be as intimate and hilarious as the moment when Joe Strummer deflates any hint of portentousness in the sexual-equality polemics of "Lover's Rock" by squawking "I'm so nervous!" to close the tune. In "Four Horsemen," which sounds like the movie soundtrack to a rock & roll version of The Seven Samurai, the Clash's martial pride turns openly exultant. The guitars and drums start at a thundering gallop, and when Strummer sings, "Four horsemen ...," the other members of the group charge into line to shout joyously: "...and it's gonna be us!"
London Calling is spacious and extravagant. It's as packed with characters and incidents as a great novel, and the band's new stylistic expansions — brass, organ, occasional piano, blues grind, pop airiness and the reggae-dub influence that percolates subversively through nearly every number — add density and richness to the sound. The riotous rockabilly-meets-the-Ventures quality of "Brand New Cadillac" ("Jesus Christ!" Strummer yells to his ex-girlfriend, having so much fun he almost forgets to be angry, "Whereja get that Cadillac?") slips without pause into the strung-out shuffle of "Jimmy Jazz," a Nelson Algren-like street scene that limps along as slowly as its hero, just one step ahead of the cops. If "Rudie Can't Fail" (the "She's Leaving Home" of our generation) celebrates an initiation into bohemian lowlife with affection and panache, "The Card Cheat" picks up on what might be the same character twenty years later, shot down in a last grab for "more time away from the darkest door." An awesome orchestral backing track gives this lower-depths anecdote a somber weight far beyond its scope. At the end of "The Card Cheat," the song suddenly explodes into a magnificent panoramic overview — "from the Hundred Year War to the Crimea" — that turns ephemeral pathos into permanent tragedy.
Other tracks tackle history head-on, and claim it as the Clash's own. "Wrong 'Em Boyo" updates the story of Stagger Lee in bumptious reggae terms, forging links between rock & roll legend and the group's own politicized roots-rock rebel. "The Right Profile," which is about Montgomery Clift, accomplishes a different kind of transformation. Over braying and sarcastic horns, Joe Strummer gags, mugs, mocks and snickers his way through a comic-horrible account of the actor's collapse on booze and pills, only to close with a grudging admiration that becomes unexpectedly and astonishingly moving. It's as if the singer is saying, no matter how ugly and pathetic Clift's life was, he was still — in spite of everything — one of us.
"Spanish Bombs" is probably London Calling's best and most ambitious song. A soaring, chiming intro pulls you in, and before you can get your bearings, Strummer's already halfway into his tale. Lost and lonely in his "disco casino," he's unable to tell whether the gunfire he hears is out on the streets or inside his head. Bits of Spanish doggerel, fragments of combat scenes, jangling flamenco guitars and the lilting vocals of a children's tune mesh in a swirling kaleidoscope of courage and disillusionment, old wars and new corruption. The evocation of the Spanish Civil War is sumptuously romantic: "With trenches full of poets, the ragged army, fixin' bayonets to fight the other line." Strummer sings, as Jones throws in some lovely, softly stinging notes behind him. Here as elsewhere, the heroic past isn't simply resurrected for nostalgia's sake. Instead, the Clash state that the lessons of the past must be earned before we can apply them to the present.
London Calling certainly lives up to that challenge. With its grainy cover photo, its immediate, on-the-run sound, and songs that bristle with names and phrases from today's headlines, it's as topical as a broadside. But the album also claims to be no more than the latest battlefield in a war of rock & roll, culture and politics that'll undoubtedly go on forever. "Revolution Rock," the LP's formal coda, celebrates the joys of this struggle as an eternal carnival. A spiraling organ weaves circles around Joe Strummer's voice, while the horn section totters, sways and recovers like a drunken mariachi band. "This must be the way out," Strummer calls over his shoulder, so full of glee at his own good luck that he can hardly believe it." El Clash Combo," he drawls like a proud father, coasting now, sure he's made it home. "Weddings, parties, anything... And bongo jazz a specialty."
But it's Mick Jones who has the last word. "Train in Vain" arrives like an orphan in the wake of "Revolution Rock." It's not even listed on the label, and it sounds faint, almost overheard. Longing, tenderness and regret mingle in Jones' voice as he tries to get across to his girl that losing her meant losing everything, yet he's going to manage somehow. Though his sorrow is complete, his pride is that he can sing about it. A wistful, simple number about love and loss and perseverance, "Tram in Vain" seems like an odd ending to the anthemic tumult of London Calling. But it's absolutely appropriate, because if this record has told us anything, it's that a love affair and a revolution — small battles as well as large ones — are not that different. They're all part of the same long, bloody march.
--Tom Carson, Rolling Stone