Strummer and co's finest hour repackaged with the Vanilla Tapes demos and a Don Letts Making of... documentary, The Last Testament, on DVD
Time could well have been up for The Clash when they came to make their third album in 1979. The ‘Class of ’76’ backlash was in full swing, an ill-conceived sophomore outing, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, still cast an ominous shadow, and a new breed of electro/industrialist art rockers were preparing to invade the capital. As Strummer recalls in the Last Testament documentary (once mooted as the LP title itself), hard work and team spirit were the qualities that marked the fight back.
Under siege, The Clash hunkered down in the Vanilla rehearsal rooms to road-test the sketches of songs that would become the rebel rockers’ revenge. There’s some that didn’t make it: their cover of Matumbi’s version of Dylan’s “The Man In Me”. Then there’s the title track with different lyrics and elementary sound effects and “Guns Of Brixton”, then the instrumental “Paul’s Tune”.
The Vanilla Tapes are a valuable addition to the Clash mythology, the grit and grime of a band sparring in the ring. But, ultimately, they just make the supercharged, customised and invincible finished masterpiece sound greater than ever. This is rock ‘n’ roll brimming with swagger and verve, drawing inspiration from the outside world but also Strummer/Jones’ inner life (“I’m Not Down”) and childhood memories (“Lost In The Supermarket”). Elsewhere?”Jimmy Jazz”, “Hateful”, “Rudie Can’t Fail”, “Death Or Glory”?losers, smackheads, rude boys and child-beaters burst into life, tackled with rage, grim humour and compassion.
The end of the ’70s zeitgeist?fear, paranoia and the rise of the right wing?induces the title track’s impassioned call to arms and the defiant “Clampdown”. Brilliantly sequenced so that the songs and characters smash into and cross-reference each other, London Calling engages soul riffs, reggae beats and vintage rock ‘n’ roll as a band of true blood brothers define their battle-scarred universe. As remarkable now as it was 25 years ago.