Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Clash - Sandinista! - 1980

When a band goes into the studio and records whatever they want, it can sometimes freak-out their fans.  Trying out a new sound!  Total creative diversion!  Panic!!!  Welcome to the epic-in-scale, Sandinista!  Three records, thirty-six tracks.  Six sides of sonics from the Clash.  All written in a year and self-produced.  Some of the tracks are great, classics even.  Some are too much to handle, practically horrific, many leaning towards a painful all band sing-along.  Writing about every song would be droll and demand many repeated listens ... wait, that just happened.  A run down of some of the best, worst, and strangest:

Best:
"Magnificent Seven" takes the lead as the stellar opening track.  (If you don't know this song, then shame on you, you are not magnificent.)  VVer #2 is more familiar with the Live at Shea Stadium extended mix, which is hard to top, so it is nice to hear the studio track.  Most excitingly, and to her gracious surprise, the shout-out to "Cheesebouger!" mid-track is on both versions.  This track seems to make a comeback on Side 3's "Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice)."  The two songs couldn't be more similar.  Same beat and tempo makes you think you will hear "MAGNIFICENT!" shouted out in the middle of the former track.

"Junco Partner" from Side 1 is a reinterpretation of an American blues tune by the same name and makes for a classic Clash reggae track.  It's full of blurted, incomprehensible lyrics and whacky sound effects.  This is mirrored in the dub version, "Version Pardner," on Side 6 which is laden with experimental noises.  Nice balance; only a six-sided concept album could include both!

Further pursuing Side 6 (possibly the most consistent side of the six, if one must choose), a distorted talking track fades into "Version City" to reveal catchy, yet structured, flatly-tuned stanzas backed by a bluesy harmonica.  Its droning, yet optimistic.

The xylophone on "Silicone on Sapphire" hints that this track is a reprise of the state-of-the-world commentary track "Washington Bullets."  The dubby, calypso version on "Silicone on Sapphire" lacks any structured singing found in the former, and instead loops futuristic, computeresque program talking.  It is novel and it totally works.

Best Honorable Mentions:
"Crooked Beat," "One More Time," "One More Time Dub," "Police on My Back," "The Equaliser," "Living in Fame"

Worst:
"Hitsville U.K." is certainly music, but the sing-along, high-range harmonization and chimes aren't too appealing.

"Lose the Skin" isn't that bad, isn't good, but so memorable.  It barely sounds like a Clash song; that's because it was written and performed by Tymon Dogg, a Strummer collaborator.  This is common on Sandinista! as there are more than a handful of guests appearing (sometimes multiple times) on this triple.  The only Clashy thing about "Lose the Skin" are the drums, otherwise you get an oddly, high-pitched voice over fiddling strings.  Please no.

"Career Opportunities" is unfortunately re-imagined from their first album at the end of Sandanista! to really provide no added benefit to this album.  Another instance of children singing gone awry.  The message in the song is there, but the VVers don't want to listen to the musicality of this message.  

Strangest:
"Ivan Meets G.I. Joe" might be played at what you would call a discotheque.  Not sure what is happening here, but there are plenty of lasers to go along with the political lyrics.  Most importantly, are Ivan and G.I. Joe figurine size?  People want to know.

"Look Here" channels some zoot suit dancing with good use of a xylophone.  Odd, but not horrendous.  This might be evened out by the similarly-paced, rockabilly tune "Midnight Log."

"Mensforth Hill" is an instrumental cacophony with overdubs gluing it together.  Apparently the forgettable "Something About England" from the first side of the album is recycled backwards to help with the chaos.  Turns out "Something About England" actually sounds better backwards.

If you've heard Hardcore DEVO, which coincidentally was recorded several years before Sandinista!, you can't help but make the obvious connection to "Junkie Slip" on Side 5.  It is sparse, has oddball chanting, and bloopy instrumentation.

Strangest Honorable Mentions:
All of Side 3 except "Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice)"

Somehow, this is a weirdly, cohesive album.  After multiple, multiple listens, many of the tracks are exceptional, and are re-imagined versions of other tracks on the album.  The Clash embrace a recycling of sounds that make this massive production circularly connected.  Like most albums, this one is better when you fully immerse yourself in its sonic experimentation.  Sandanista! rewards the patient listener.  For the VVers, it has aged well over multiple spins, where at first the album just sounded like disjointed cacophony.  It is politically aware, yet subtly brilliant.  The tracks not listed here are still interesting in their own way, but outdone by others on the album.  There is so much music, how is it all crammed into this one project?  Perhaps it is the shear quantity of music that makes this an under-appreciated triple, despite its compelling complexities.