Review Summary: An Eclectic Experiment or a Cmplete Waste of Space?
When The Clash released their follow-up to the masterful London Calling, expectations were, naturally, high. However, 1980's Sandinista! was greeted with derision and bad reviews by much of the press and the music-buying public. A triple-album was too much music it was argued, not only for listeners to comprehend but for The Clash to fill up with quality music. This may be semi-true; it is obvious to those listeners that sit through all 36 songs that the quality control is almost non-apparent. This is a shame as there are many excellent songs present that are lost amongst the murk. It also seems apparent that The Clash's broadened musical horizons, while marking this diverse collection of songs out, leaves the listener stunned as they are catapulted back and forth between ska, reggae, dub, punk, rockabilly, gospel, calypso, soul, disco, funk, rap and bizarre covers of two early Clash classics by (Blockhead's keyboardist) Mickey Gallagher's kids. If this eclectic mix wasn't already enough, on first inspection it seems that little attention has been paid to the running order of the songs as the song styles switch to and fro.
On first listen it’s all a bit much, and most definitely very un-(pre 1980) Clash like. However, as you delve deeper you discover brilliant individual songs and even discover structuring of the records. On the 2CD version the straight run-through ordering misses this point, but when listened to on 6 sides over 3 vinyl records (as it was originally – and in my opinion a better way to listen to the album) each side is arranged in a certain way, for instance some feature radio skits by diverse people such as Ansel ‘Double Barrel’ Collins (side 3/tracks 13-18 on CD1). These are not immediately apparent on CD. Similarly, side 5 (tracks 7-12 on CD2) is ordered to start of with the fast-paced violin of ‘Lose This Skin’, before descending to the swirling keyboards and effects of ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’, then leading to the sound collage ‘Mensforth Hill’ making up the middle of the side, before ascending to another song heavily reliant on sound effects (‘Junkie Slip’), then ending the record back on a jaunty pace with ‘Kingston Advice’ and ‘The Street Parade’. It is obvious from the sequence – or perhaps ‘musical journey’ – of these songs that they were selected in this order to give a flowing vibe to the side, where faster songs give way to slower effects-laden ones, before coming back up to faster ones. It is peculiarities such as these that give Sandanista! it’s vibe – order remains amongst the wild experimentation.
One of the best things about Sandinista! is that some of the best songs are ones you won't have heard mentioned on Clash compilations, and are instead buried somewhere on the album. In the same way, if you take some songs off the album they sound weak, but in their place on the record they sound perfectly fine – witness the ‘dub’ side (6 – tracks 13-18 on CD2) featuring red-eyed metallic dub cuts of previous songs on the album. Another notable feature of the album is it’s ‘song-cycle’ ideas. This was primarily influenced by Jamaican producers such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (who produced the ‘Complete Control’ single in 1977) and Mikey Dread (who produced the 1980 ‘Bankrobber’ single and Sandinista!), who use techniques of re-using instrumental cuts of songs and re-producing them, dubbing them up, or adding toasts or new vocal melodies. In the Clash book ‘Passion Is A Fashion’ it is noted that The Clash originally began sessions for Sandinista! in Jamaica with Mikey Dread intending to cut a full reggae/dub album. This obviously permeated through the further sessions for the album and the idea of re-using takes from recorded songs placed in the first half of the album and dubbing them up for a place later in the album was kept, demonstrated by ‘One More Time’/’One More Dub’; ‘Something About England’/’Mensforth Hill’; f Music Could Talk’/’Living In Fame’/’Shepherd’s Delight’; ‘Washington Bullets’/’Silicone On Sapphire’; ‘Junco Partner’/’Version Pardner’, as well as the children’s covers of ‘Career Opportunities’ and ‘Guns Of Brixton’. This is interesting to note, as it shows how the band were not just experimenting musically, they were also looking at aspects of presentation and musical culture.
To trawl through Sandinista! song by song would be missing the point though (not to mention hideously time consuming). Sandinista! is an unparalleled adventure across musical boundaries, within the context of Sandinista! every song has its place and makes sense (most of the time). It is a given that there is some truly awful stuff here ('Mensforth Hill' anyone?) but you can pretty much forgive the band for that when they have songs like 'Somebody Got Murdered' on the same album. The singles are perhaps not as immediate as on other albums, which is nice – none were particularly heavy hitters in the charts (the singles were ‘Maginifcent Seven’, ‘Hitsville UK’ and ‘The Call Up’, for the record). There most definitely better songs than those here – ‘Somebody Got Murdered’ has a wonderfully swirling flute sound, Lyrically, Strummer is all over the map – ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ whisks us to Trinidad (or perhaps the Notting Hill Carnival), ‘The Sound Of The Sinners’ is a New Orleans style street gospel, Jamaica’s capital is name checked in ‘Kingston Advice’ and ‘Broadway’ is set in a backstreet of New York. Another tramp’s story, ‘Something About England’, concerns a war story told in a clever way – Mick Jones sings the main narrative of a man asking a homeless bum about his life, while Joe slips into the character of the street-dwelling war veteran with gruff ease. We are back in Jamaica with the gang-boss refrain of ‘The Equaliser’, whereas ‘One More Time’ expels Strummer’s opinions on everyone having to fight their way through life in the ghetto. White Brits singing about ghettos does kind of jar to be honest, but the song is strong enough to hold out over its four-chord refrain, sitting in a comfortable space between reggae and rock.
The standout lyrically is most definitely ‘Washington Bullets’, set to a lilting semi-calypso beat, whisking the listener through a tour of political hotspots – from Chile’s Santiago Stadium, to the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, 1961, to the Dalia Lama’s viewpoint of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, to the refrain that yielded the album’s title, concerning the Nicaraguan revolution. The key style of vocals for Sandinista! is the collaboration of Strummer and Jones singing in unison on many of the songs, formers stream-of-consciousness’ and mumbled narratives complimented by the latter’s chicken squawk. Topper Headon and Paul Simmonon make a vocal appearance on one track each; Headon’s is the ill-advised disco of ‘Ivan Meets G.I. Joe’, andSimmonon’s is the ‘Guns Of Brixton’ copycat of ‘The Crooked eat’ on which he warbles lyrics about a bust at a late night blues party competently if not spectacularly. One other key point to note is that The Clash were not only experimenting with musical styles, but with musical techniques too. Hence the dub versions of several tunes, the recording of 'Something About England' being played and recorded backwards ('Mensforth Hill'), and the innovative vocal technique employed on 'If Music Could Talk', where Joe Strummer sings (or mumbles) two separate lyrics which are then panned hard left and hard right (disconnect your left or right speaker and you'll only hear one set of lyrics).
An eclectic experiment is probably the best way to sum up Sandinista!. Some of the experiments work and at times The Clash sound at the very peak of their songwriting; on the other hand these moments are counteracted by failed experiments where the band sound like they are just trying to fill up the record. Still, 36 songs for about a tenner isn't bad and back in 1980 The Clash had to forfeit virtually all their British sales to bring the price of the triple album down to that of a double, resulting in a virtual commercial failure. Every Clash fan should own a copy of Sandinista!, though they would be advised to ease themselves into the band with London Calling or Combat Rock first. The record company felt that Sandinista! was too messy at it’s time of release, and opted to issue a more direct one-LP version to radio stations, entitled “Sandinista Now!”. Some may also say Sandinista! is a mess and that a more immediate disc preferable, but personally you can take your ‘Police On My Back’ and go, and I’ll quite happily revel in the eccentricities of ‘Silicone On Sapphire’, thank you very much.
I feel this is an album you'd really need to supply a lot of detail for. You were close, but I think you'd need more. This album is very strange at first, even for a fan, and even after you've settled with the album, most of the tracks will only last a short time. Magnificent Seven is of course a classic, but it doesn't take the album that much higher, concerning the whole 36 tracks thing.
You did a good job though, but I only slightly disagree with the rating.
nice review, this album has some amazing songs(Somebody Got Murdered, Up in Heaven, Police on my Back, Washington Bullets, Charlie Don't Surf), but then it has some bad to mediocre songs. There is a great single album inside the triple recordThis Message Edited On 02.24.06
This is a fantastic album. One of my favorite of all time. Clash or no Clash. If Pat Boone had made it I would say the same. Very ambitious and expansive. I've listened to it quite a bit and it has impacted my musical taste tremendously. Nice review, but a bit more about an album such as this would of been appreciated. And don't forget to clean up the typos and what not. You can edit your reviews through your profile page. This Message Edited On 01.28.06
Good album. However, it requires a bit of listening to find the great tracks. Such as: Magnificent 7, Ivan meets GI Joe, Somebody got murdered, Police on my back, Up in Heaven etc. But theres still many crap ones, mostly the dub songs and tracks 7-9.
Sandinasta was the first clash album i bought and it almost put me off them at that stage but i am glad that i suck at it and bought another one because now i think they are the best band that ever took to the stage. now i dont mind the album because i have sepperated the crap from the good songs
The highlights of this album are without doubt Up in Heaven (my favourite Clash song), The Leader (Beautifully Sarcastic), Something About England (Weird as hell but with those brilliant string hooks and great lyrics), Magnificent Seven, Ivan meets G.I Joe, Somebody got murdered, Corner Soul, Lets go crazy (Fantastically energetic), The Call Up, Washington Bullets, Charlie Don't Surf and Kingston Advice. An underated classic.
I felt like this was a bit too long for my liking. Some tracks really don't work, but there are some great tracks on here as well. Lots the album drags on. I think the 2nd disc is better then the first. They're still a fantastic band though, amazing stuff. 3 consecutive albums were excellent to superb.
My dad loves this (saw them perform the album live and claims its one of the most amazing experiences of his life)...but I just can't get into it. Too reggae for me. More disappointing for him than me though I feel.
I dunno if they played anything else, but by the sounds of it they didn't. But apparently the whole audience just stood there stunned at the end of it. *shrug* Must have all been massive Clash fanboys.