So clearly I'm an unabashed Clash homer but I really couldn't help it. This was the album that introduced me to the slightly more than meets the eye punk sound of the Clash and without my love for it I would never have made the leap to the mind altering greatness that is London Calling. Much like Nirvana's Nevermind I will always hold a special place in my musical heart for the self-titled debut from England's second greatest rock band because it was my introduction to an entire world of possibility... sort of like getting that first glimpse of the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition before your parents magically make it disappear. Even though you aren't sure exactly what's behind it, you've seen enough to know that you are definitely going to like whatever's there. Here's the thing about that though... eventually the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition loses its luster. Sure you flip through it when it comes in the mail but the only strong feelings it provokes are those of nostalgia for the days when it WAS a big deal. Essentially, it's a throwback... a relic... like seeing a really great cover band that is fun because hey, they're playing Hey Jealousy but it's still far from life altering. That's the feeling I get now when listening to albums like Nevermind. They've become more about what they WERE than what they ARE and while The Clash isn't quite in that place for me, this exercise in bracketology has made me at least wonder if it's closer than I had originally thought.
Husker Du's New Day Rising completely defies explanation. I will readily admit that upon first listen, I was bothered by the lo-fi fuzz of the guitar and Bob Mould's oddly grating voice. Over time though, I began to notice the nuance of the way the lo-fi fuzziness of the guitars allowed the melody to come through in a way that punk/hardcore/whatever you want to call it hadn't quite achieved before. Mould's voice began to sound less grating and more an upgrade on Minor Threat/Fugazi singer Ian McKaye's tortured howl. The choruses of songs like, "Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill" became more anthemic and before I knew it, I couldn't stop listening. Husker Du was combining everything that I secretly enjoyed about pop punk with all the things I openly enjoyed about hardcore. The music here isn't static though. Like a punk rock singularity, within a track like, "I Apologize" you can hear punk past, present, and future. You can hear the Stooges, the Sex Pistols, Green Day, and some 14 year old kids fucking around with a Squire Stratocaster in a basement.
So while it feels like I'm turning my back on something that was KEY to my development as a music fan* I have to give the nod in this matchup to Husker Du. The Clash is a snapshot of where I was as an impressionable music listener and was the doorway to something much bigger. But New Day Rising is amorphous... each time I hear is like the first time I'm hearing it and it's tough to improve on that.
New Day Rising will face London Calling in Round 2.
*I even remember buying this album in the $9.99 bin at Plan 9 in Carytown on one of Movie's "I knoooooow Cary St." road trips, while Goodwin sniped something to the effect of, "Oh you're buying another CD...okay"