Review Summary: Frankly, it's a mess.A Decade of Punk: The Clash in Six Chapters
An Account Dedicated to the Genius of Joe Strummer
Chapter IV: The Clash Get Sloppy
After massive success with their classic London Calling
, one could certainly say The Clash had it going for them in 1979. A new decade was dawning, however, and it remained the question whether the excellent punk group could keep up their momentum in the 80’s. With their previous album, Strummer and the boys had learnt that they could successfully mix their traditional punk sound of their self-titled debut and follow-up Give ‘Em Enough Rope
with a variety of new genres, such as jazz, reggae, pop and ska. For their upcoming album, they went even further in this. Because of London
’s unanimously positive reception, it is quite assumable that the ambition of the once young British punks was growing ever stronger. By the looks and hears of 1980’s Sandinista!, it certainly did. The Clash created not a double album, but went as far to do a triple one, spanning 6 full vinyl sides at its day. Still, with a total of 36 tracks, one cannot help but wonder if it would all be equally consistent and effective.
According to the media, it was as good as it got. Sandinista!
was almost universally hailed as a musical masterpiece, even more stunningly incorporating broad musical influences than its predecessor. The real truth about The Clash’s fourth though, is not as bright. With its massive length, it is very difficult to sit through in one go, and therefore all the more difficult to appreciate. If all material were up to the standards of London Calling
, this would naturally be a forgivable fact. But unavoidably, quite some nooks and crannies are filled with uninteresting, unconvincing or even embarrassing moments. It got more experimental than ever before for the band, and that is what eventually becomes too much for the record’s own good.
’s experiments come in three forms. The first is where The Clash once again succeed, reaching almost-London Calling
heights (indeed, almost, for no track here can truly match the one-time magic of that brilliance). The second is where the experiment is once again daring, but doesn’t turn out as well as one would like. These kind of songs unfortunately make for about half of the album. The third and last is, surprise surprise, where all goes wrong. Baseless repetition, useless overdubs, or completely failed attempts at genre fusion. It’s the kind of moments that make you wonder how on earth these blokes got that previous album so damn fantastic.
The first disc contains, by far, the greatest value in enjoyable material. In fact, as we progress to the second and third disc, the amount of worthwhile songs keeps shrinking and shrinking. The excellence is far from abundant, and in the end, the album is incredibly dragged down by its all-too-many filler tracks. A shame, because Sandinista!
definitely succeeds at times. Opener The Magnificent Seven
, an excellent flirt with rap supported by a groovy bass is a speaking example of this. And they keep it up for a while, indeed they do. Hitsville U.K.
was also new for the band, and is an effective ballad between Jones and his then-girlfriend Ellen Foley (widely known for her work with Meat Loaf
The smooth Junco Partner
revisits the reggae incorporated in London Calling
, and it’s not the only one. Reggae happens to be very prominent on Sandinista!
, and contains many of its highlights, being One More Time
(one of more collaborations with Mikey Dread
, who also co-produced the album), Police On My Back
, which works so well because it is the single track in The Clash’ repertoire that perfectly blends the genre with their original punky rock ‘n roll preference, and Charlie Don’t Surf
, lyrically simple, but one of the forgiving moments on the third disc. The means of The Crooked Beat
don’t quite make the mark, and are often repetitive or lack innovation.
Reggae is not the only genre revisited, however. Those who are familiar with Lost in the Supermarket
will recognize the foothold it placed for the disco-esque grooves on Ivan Meets G.I. Joe
(sung by Headon) and Washington Bullets
, the latter being one of The Clash’s most directly political songs, and its equal influence on the more poppy Somebody Got Murdered
. Look Here
is a nicely upbeat jazz/rhythm and blues crossover, and one of the record’s most unique moments.
Soul and gospel were also new to the table, but didn’t quite yield magnificent masterpieces. When the band incorporates the genre, rather than practicing it fully, it turns out for the better, showcased by the soul-ish guitar work in The Call Up
, opposed to the nearly straight-up Corner Soul
. When you hear The Clash doing gospel on The Sound of Sinners
though, you can’t be sure what to think of it. It doesn’t suit them all that well, but it does suit the experimental direction. Perhaps the real oddity is Lose This Skin
, which is solely written, and almost solely performed by English singer-songwriter Tymon Dogg
, who provides lead with vocals and violin, while the boys themselves seem a mere backing band. That said, it is actually one of the better songs Sandinista!
You see, that means it is even more of a shame of all that meaningless filler. Both The Magnificent Seven
and This Is England
are re-done backwards and overdubbed, in Lightning Strikes
and Mensforth Hill
respectively. The same counts for One More Dub
, immediately following upon its original counterpart One More Time
. It gets even worse on disc #3, where all kinds of spacey electronic effects form the backbone of their songs. There is, quite simply, no purpose for it at all. But perhaps the most embarrassing moments remain the addition of children singing: a girl doing part of Guns of Brixton
at the end of Broadway
, and a couple of kids almost fully covering Career Opportunities
vocally. It’s truly a shameful appearance for the track.
That too many spaces are filled up with useless or average material, is just why Sandinista!
falls flat as a whole album. There is enough excellent material to fill a full disc, so why make 3? Riddled by continuous growing ambition following their previous album or not, I sure as hell do not know what The Clash had in their minds when creating their fourth album. People will unavoidably miss out on the good material, because listening the whole thing simply is not worth it. At almost 2,5 hours (!), and with so much to get bored with, it is truly impossible to sit through Sandinista!
Do yourself a favour: get the good tracks, but don’t get the whole thing. Please.
- Michael Geoffrey ‘Mick’ Jones ~ Guitars, Lead Vocals
- John Graham ‘Joe Strummer’ Mellor (R.I.P.) ~ Guitars, Backing Vocals
- Paul Gustave Simonon ~ Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
- Nicholas Bowen ‘Topper’ Headon ~ Drums, Backing Vocals
The Magnificent Seven
Somebody Got Murdered
One More Time
Police On My Back
The Call Up
Lose This Skin
Charlie Don’t Surf
TO BE CONTINUED...