On the Record: The Clash – Sandinista!

 

The Clash made only two types of records: masterpieces and failed masterpieces.The U.K. version of thier self-titled debut and London Calling are masterpieces, and the remainder of The Clash’s output falls into the latter category (okay, Cut the Crap is probably just a failure). 1980’s Sandinista! is probably the band’s best failed masterpiece and their most consistently inconsistent album, if that makes any sense. Released just one year after the double LP London Calling, The Clash let loose the triple album Sandinista!, reportedly with the hopes of recording themselves out of a contract with CBS. (A triple record counts as three albums, right? Right? No.)

At 36 tracks and almost two and a half hours, listening to Sandinista! is no easy feat. It’s sprawling, unfocused, and a mess; there is simply too much material here. Though the album does contain some of the best tracks the band recorded: “Magnificent Seven,” “The Call Up,” “Washington Bullets,” “Somebody Got Murdered,” “Charlie Don’t Surf,” and more; even the much maligned “Hitsville U.K.” has its merits.
Yet, as I tried several times in high school to make a Sandinista! Redux, thinning out as much as the filler I could, whittling it down to about 12 tracks, it simply doesn’t work like that. I suppose one needs to endure the plodding and overly-long “The Equaliser” to fully appreciate “The Call Up,” for example. The album needs (almost*) all of the filler to fully understand and appreciate the eccentricities of The Clash. Sandinista!, more than any of their other records, showcases The Clash’s evolution from angry, politically-charged, three-chord punks to the musically daring band they desired to be. Sandinista! also demonstrates the band was not content to be defined by a single genre; in fact there’s little here that could be classified as traditionally “punk,” certainly not the straight-faced, gospel-fueled “The Sound of Sinners” or the Springsteen-esque “Corner Soul.”
Lyrically, Strummer and Jones remain as socially conscious as ever. The music may not seethe with the anger of their debut, but the band has become more articulate and are still just as passionate. However, their social commentary and politics do get diluted, and risk being lost among the filler and half-baked ideas.
Sandinista!turned out to be The Clash’s most adventurous album, exploring more genres and styles than its predecessors or successors, from punk, rockabilly, reggae, and new wave to gospel, dub, folk, jazz, and even rap. Sure, this 36 track behemoth is difficult to wade through, but ultimately it’s a more rewarding listen than either Give ‘Em Enough Rope or Combat Rock, likely because when one finds a gem like “Somebody Got Murdered” or “Broadway” one feels like they’ve earned it.
[*I say almost because, really, no one needs to hear the children’s choir sung “Career Opportunities” or anything after “The Street Parade,” actually.]

About James Hrivnak
The H is silent.

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