Jan 282011
Rock Band DLC

A couple of dips aside and Harmonix has spent the past two weeks acting as though they’d never stopped releasing awesome since Rock Band 3 came out. What’s next? What could possibly top Bowie?

Well more Bowie, which this isn’t. BUT. It comes close.

The full album of The Clash‘s iconic 1979 London Calling.

The Clash, London Calling
– “London Calling+
– “Brand New Cadillac
– “Jimmy Jazz
– “Hateful
– “Rudie Can’t Fail+
– “Spanish Bombs+
– “The Right Profile
– “Lost in the Supermarket
– “Clampdown+
– “The Guns of Brixton
– “Wrong ‘Em Boyo
– “Death or Glory
– “Koka Kola
– “The Card Cheat+
– “Lover’s Rock
– “Four Horsemen
– “I’m Not Down
– “Revolution Rock

+ = pro-guitar/bass chart available

Some broad stuff to mention about the album before I get into the specifics.

Firstly, while this is a classic punk rock album, you’ve actually got a hugely diverse range of styles here. If all you know of The Clash is “Rock the Casbah” (not on this album) you’re in for a real treat.

Next, “Train in Vain” is not included in this album release as it’s been available as DLC for going on three years now.

Third, this week isn’t really geared for keyboard The only one standing out to me at the moment is “The Card Cheat”, though there may be others I’m just not remembering at present. Still, if you’re focusing primarily on that instrument you may be in for some disappointment.

Finally, the price. Each song is the standard $1.99/160 MS points, but the whole album of 18 songs? $19.99/1600 MS. I suck at math and even I know what an incredible deal this is. Buy the album, get a whopping eight songs free. Definite something to keep in mind for those who were considering cherry-picking.

And now, the album breakdown. I haven’t listened to London Calling in its entirety for quite a while, so this should be a treat.

The eponymous first track, “London Calling”, is probably one of those voted Most Likely To Sell A Lot from this album release. In many ways, I consider it a perfect punk song – sort of strange when you consider its relative lack of punk’s signature mad energy. The restraint however is what makes this song what it is. The whole thing is wrapped so tight that it thrums with danger. The biting lyrics, the militant staccato beat, the haunting bass melody – it’s contemplative thought coupled with raw emotion, the best of all worlds. Don’t get me wrong, I like my punk fast and furious too, but it’s often times pure reaction, like the tantrum of a three year old. The Clash are the older, wiser big brothers who can see the whole picture and know that there’s more to getting a message across than trying to be too loud to ignore. That’s what’s so great about “London Calling”: it doesn’t just want to be heard, it wants to infect. And it does. It certainly does.

“Brand New Cadillac” on the other hand isn’t punk at all (remember that bit about London Calling‘s diversity?). Here we have pure rockabilly in a cover of Vince Taylor’s 1959 song. It’s a great version though, a full two-minute burst of raucous power. Should be amazing fun to play on all instruments.

Then we have “Jimmy Jazz”, which is another thing altogether. The first word to pop into my head when I hear this is “smooth”. This is a song that appears, on first listen, to be one of the least impressive. It easily slips under the radar with such amazing bits as “London Calling”, “The Guns of Brixton” or “The Card Cheat”. But in truth, it has an amazing fluidity about it. This song always feels less like it was written and more that it was formed. I don’t see this being anyone’s #1 play choice from the album this week, but musically it has a lot to offer (and hey, there’s some piano! Discordant but there!), and that lot is much different from anything else on the album or, perhaps, in the game.

“Hateful” … By now, it’s pretty clear that with The Clash, with London Calling, we’ve got something entirely new and wholly amazing on our hands. I mean, where do you even begin to classify “Hateful”? Four songs in and we have four songs that are not only different in tone but completely different in style. Here we have some experimenting with a ska beat into an awesome song. This should be a great party song for Rock Band: very upbeat, there’s a lot to do on all instruments (except maybe keys, I can’t decide exactly what instrument I’m hearing there), and a fun use of backups/harmonies going on throughout. Not the best song on the album, but one that should be a blast for the game.

With “Rudie Can’t Fail” again we genre-hop, this time going to reggae. This is a pretty awesome song, combining a joyous tone (there’s a party going on here and you’re invited!) with some rapid fire lyrics weaving an interesting story. As with its cousin “Hateful”, “Rudie” should be a ton of fun to play in Rock Band.

Side Two! “Spanish Bombs” takes us back to The Clash’s traditional politically-charged punk rock. It’s probably my least favourite of those in the socially aware category on this album. It’s catchy as hell (should be lots of fun to sing with a partner – I’ll take Mick Jones, Joe Strummer sits really uncomfortable for me), but it’s by far the least musically interesting of that bunch to me. It’s pretty standard: simple hook, simple melody, simple beat. It’s still a great song, don’t get me wrong; I think it could be a good warmup staple for any regular Rock Band group. But it’s definitely overshadowed on this album.

“The Right Profile” never quite caught with me. It’s a bouncy tune that makes great use of a brass section, but never had much more to offer me beyond this.

Then we have “Lost in the Supermarket”, which I just love. It’s a bit of an odd style for The Clash, very pop with a disco beat. It magnificently accents the song’s satire-fueled critique against blind consumerism. Brilliant.

Probably a bit more what you’d expect if you hadn’t heard the album before, we have “Clampdown”. This is much more in the vein of “angry punk”, though as ever The Clash are far more than that. Here they rebel against … well, just about everything really. It’s part of what I love best about punk, urging you to grab something inside and hold tight to it forever. But as with “London Calling”, The Clash have more tools at their disposal than just anger, and here they use metaphor and symbolism to make their case. All the while, the chorus relentlessly urges you on, trying to spur you to some action. As for playing it in the game (I keep forgetting that’s technically what you’re all here for, I get so caught up sometimes), this is a solid pick. It’s mixed back a bit, but there’s some interesting keyboard work going on, plenty use of backing vocals and harmonies, some great stuff happening with bass and guitar, and drums if not especially complicated – are solid.

Time to flip the switch again with “The Guns of Brixton”. Here we’re back to reggae, and a song that sounds unlike anything else on London Calling. The rhythm section is front and center, and the song snakes over you and crawls under your skin. You don’t so much hear “Guns of Brixton” as you feel it. It’s infectious. Long after the song’s stopped, your head continues to sway to the beat, the chorus – an off-putting mixture of flat and emotional – still echoing in your ears. A song at home in any Rock Band library, but drummers and bassists especially, don’t let this one pass you by.

Disc two! I can’t believe I forgot about the keys in “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” (which I’m assuming will come with “Stagger Lee” included). Bad, bad me. Here we have another ska entry, and a great, fun song. A blast on every single instrument, this one. There won’t be anyone playing this that will be able to keep from singing “Don’t you know it is wrong?” Just impossible.

“Death or Glory” is sort of a signature tune for The Clash, managing to touch on everything about their style in one song. Charged, invigorating lyrics and vocals more in their old style that combined with intricate musical arrangements showing how much they’ve grown. If rock and roll were to suddenly become sentient and embodied in a single human form, this would be its theme song.

“Koka Kola” is a bitter song, slashing at corporate culture and consumerism – a frontal assault in tone, content and music versus “Lost in the Supermarket”. Here’s your straight angry punk, and it’s a credit to London Calling that it’s another welcome voice adding to the chorus. All instruments should be interesting to play, though its energetic nature means drums are probably going to stand out.

As mentioned in the beginning, “The Card Cheat” has a very strong piano presence; the thing sounds more like a Billy Joel song than a Clash song at first. Definitely check this one out if you’re looking to boost your keys library. As to the song itself, here we are 14 songs into the album and we again have something that’s an entirely unique sound to anything else we’ve already heard. I’m not even entirely sure how to classify this one. It’s BIG. It feels big, it plays big, Joe sings it big; it’s almost like it would feel more at home on a Meat Loaf album. It’s a gorgeous song and I love it, though I must admit that excepting keys (and vocals of course) I’m not entirely sure how it will play in the game. Still, those keys alone – particularly in a post-RB3 pack so light in them – could make it all worth it.

“Lover’s Rock” always slips by me. As a song it’s decent enough, but its relative mediocrity is particularly evident when surrounded on all sides by such greatness. It’s a pretty generic pop/soft rock song, though listening to it a bit more carefully I note that there’s still some interesting stuff going on back there: there’s a couple guitar breaks that I hadn’t really noticed before, and hey, there’s some more piano! I wouldn’t go out of my way to get this, but will happily consider it one of my whole-album freebies.

Trampling all over the previous track, out bursts “Four Horsemen”. It’s everything that “Lover’s Rock” isn’t: aggressive, derisive, and interesting. As you would imagine of any song titling itself around horses, a driving beat is at the heart of the song, but that’s about the most cohesion the song has. As it progresses, each instrument (including keys) grows further and further away from the rest, spinning off in all directions and pretty much doing whatever the hell it feels like. But that center does remain, and the ability to keep a touchstone with the other song elements keeps it from being too overwhelming. This should be amazing to play with a full plastic band.

“I’m Not Down” reflects more of Mick Jones’ pop sensibilities, but it’s pop with a viscous bite (much like “Train in Vain”). As with many of the songs this week, vocals will be a ton of fun to play with a partner. Guitar too– All the instruments, really. There are some odd time signature changes that will keep drums on its toes, the bassline is running around doing its own thing, and the guitar is bright and touches on several styles just throughout this one song. Far more than “just” a pop song.

Finally we have a cover of “Revolution Rock”. While I can understand the decision to close the album with this – it’s a mellow reggae song that serves as a soothing wind down after over an hour of music – but it lacks the punch that personally would’ve preferred at the end of a such an incredible album. (Luckily with “Train in Vain” this does technically happen, but.) Drums aside (and some organ I suppose), I find there’s not much going here that would interest me to play in the game. I would definitely skip it individually, but as part of the album bundle I’m not going to say no.

Well damn, that was easily the longest and most difficult RB DLC post I’ve done yet. It’s so tough to not fall into the trap of simple saying “It’s awesome, get it. It’s awesome, get it.” over and over. Because you know, this album is awesome and you should get it. London Calling is, simply put, one of the greatest albums ever released. The breadth of songs, their styles, their quality – it’s near unmatched.

As individual songs, there are 15 that I would buy for Rock Band easily, without hesitation. All I have to pay to get the whole thing is a little bit over half of what I would happily hand you already? No question that at $20, London Calling is absolutely worth it.

Still, if you must cherry pick, and you only wanted a few from the album then the songs I recommend overall would probably be “London Calling”, “Rudie Can’t Fail”, “Clampdown”, “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”, “Death or Glory”, and “Four Horsemen”.

If you’re a drummer or bassist, add “The Guns of Brixton” to that list. If you’re a keyboardist, add “The Card Cheat”.

But really, if you’re looking at all that, BUY THE ALBUM. You will not be disappointed.

  • Nova

    And I don’t recognize a single, solitary one. Then again, I was never much of a fan of The Clash, I must admit and so probably didn’t actively search out their music.

    • Jet Wolf

      Well I’ll have the whole thing and you can play some when you come visit. :P

  • Nova

    Great, now I have “Rock the Casbah” playing on a mind-loop.
    (At least the few lyrics I know, anyway)

    • Jet Wolf

      I will always remember how much I adored that song courtesy of MTV and never had even the slightest idea who sung it until years and years and YEARS later.

  • QuestionMark

    This is one of those DLC releases that caused me to gasp in appreciation. London Calling has a ton of tracks I’ve been excited for and as you say, at 20 bucks for 18 tracks, it’s a bargain.

    I’ll concede to never having gone as deep into the album as I should have, though I’m remedying that. I absolutely ADORE Lost in the Supermarket, and actually wasn’t aware it was on the album, so that was a nice treat. Can’t wait ’til I can afford this one.