London Calling is not a punk album.
Even though these albums are the greatest of all time, I don’t like all of them. Sometimes my opinions line up, sometimes they don’t. London Calling is a categorical don’t, and it’s because it is not punk. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad album, per sé—it is the sixth greatest album of all time, after all—but I can’t stand it. The reason for my frustration is for the same reason this isn’t punk: restraint.
I am by no means a concise person. Keeping written pieces below specific word counts can drive me completely up the wall. I often have too much to say and few ways to say it with few words. I have learned the value of polysemy and ambiguity, and how to make words valuable; but, at the end of the day, using little to say a lot is hard. Joe Strummer evidently forgot it, or never gave enough of a shit to indulge.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the music on this album is great: tight, well produced, forceful pieces of rock music. Plus, it became a skeleton key for so many albums and genres that followed that I can’t deny its importance in the pop culture canon, from ska to post-punk to power-Punk. It still drives me up the wall, though.
This album is over an hour in length, and twenty-three tracks long. Why the fuck is this album that many tracks and that long?
Length is not determined by the amount of tracks and the physical time, but how much is used to express an idea.
I don’t mind long albums, necessarily; I do, however, despise albums that are too long. Length is not determined by the amount of tracks and the physical time, but how much is used to express an idea. If half the tracks on London Calling were removed, it would still be a powerful album. Strummer feels the need to share every idea he has, no matter how solid, or interesting. The result is unnecessary bloating. Bloat is the enemy of punk.
I’ve listened to this album so many times, trying to enjoy it; but each time I do, I inevitably get frustrated, or bored shitless. I don’t care about Rudie’s success rate, or the Jimmy Jazz; I don’t care if Joe Strummer can’t navigate a goddamn supermarket. By spending time on all the ideas that interest him, instead of condensing, the entire album suffers, and ultimately fails to be punk.
This is something I can relate to: I have been learning the value of restraint, saying as much as possible with as little available. It’s a challenge. Ultimately, though, the more you can say, in less time, the more impact you have. Just imagine if the awesome title track, and “Spanish Bombs” and all the other hard hitters were paired together, and the meandering bullshit was cut. It would be potent, and vital.
And for many, it is, but not for me. For me, it’s obnoxious and self-indulgent.
So ultimately London Calling is an important, solid album, but it is not punk and bores me.
Until Yo Ti Queiro Infinito