[Ed- This is a counter-review to a much older review found here.]
The Clash released Sandinista in December of 1980. On it, they experimented in many different styles of music. It was also on this album they escaped from the trappings of being a punk band. Now, don't take that the wrong way. The Clash were very much still a band that encapsulated the spirit of punk rock on this album, but instead of just telling society they didn't need their rules, they also firmly told the punk community they did not need theirs either. Which is why we find the band experimenting so heavily, they venture further into the reggae they began experimenting with on London Calling and even explore genres such as hip-hop, which was still in its infancy at this point, to dub, which most people outside of the reggae community were not familiar with.
The most disappointing thing when it comes to this album is when people review it today they seem to negate certain aspects of the album. Saying they lack the strength of other tracks on the album or show the band stepping too far outside of their musical capabilities for their own good. The tracks on this album that most people feel are weak or lacking only do so because they are so distant from what most expected from The Clash or they suffer from being archaic sounding in comparison to what has taken place since then.
The album opens with "Magnificent Seven" a song that takes equal parts funk from the late 1970's and the bravado of hip-hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, a group that would later open for The Clash during some of their shows in New York City. The song details the plight of the working man and the elements of life that keep him stuck there. While certainly not the most revolutionary concept, topically speaking, the opening tracking alone lets listeners know this is not the same band that was covering Vince Taylor songs on their last album.
From here the album proceeds through tracks that, while not a continuation of the band's previous output, don't challenge the listener like what is to come later. In short Side One of this triple album, consist of songs that serve merely as a primer for what is to come, with "Junco Partner" being the song most representative of the ride this band was about to take you on. Another highlight is the track "Ivan Meets GI Joe" which features drummer Topper Headron performing lead vocals for the first and only time on any Clash record.
Side two would find the band delving further into reggae and dub, especially on tracks such as "Crooked Beat" and "One More Time"/"One More Dub". This is, sadly, where they lose a lot of their previous fans because they quit even attempting to cater to them at this point. Which is truly sad, because "One More Time" features some of the best lyrics, "Straight To Hell" off the next album notwithstanding, that Joe Strummer ever penned while a member of The Clash. On this track Joe paints a picture of living in poverty in an urban environment that extends across borders. The song could be set in the less than affluent industrial sections of London, the ghettos of America yet to feel the full force of Reaganomics, or the poorest parts of Kingston, Jamaica.
If there is a throwaway side to this album it is going to be side three, this isn't to say that the songs themselves are weak. They certainly stand alone well enough; the issue here is seemingly the sequencing. There is no pop or anything that grabs your attention on side three. While it isn't worthy of skipping, the songs certainly suffer for where they fall on the album and in relation to one another.
Side four opens with a boom as Mick Jones takes lead vocals for a romp through The Equals' song "Police on My Back." For those of you who haven't heard the original, it's a great song. Much like Otis Redding's original recording of "Respect" is a great song. However, the definitive version of "Respect" is by Aretha Franklin, and the definitive version of "Police on My Back" is by The Clash. Also, on this side is a the classic song "The Call Up" a song which incorporates elements of dub and disco to write a song that takes a scathing view of military culture and also seems to be commenting on the re-establishment of the Selective Service by the United States after it had been discontinued since the close of Vietnam in 1973. Next the song "Washington Bullets" draws its musical influence from the incredibly punk rock genre of Calypso. The lyrics deal with the downsides of US imperialism as well as the good and bad actions perpetuated by Communist nations throughout the world.
Sides five and six are littered with a good deal of dub music, something many punk rock fans weren't ready for in 1980 and many still don't understand thirty-four years later. The dub version of songs that appeared earlier on the album is in line with the reggae The Clash were influenced by. It has never been uncommon for reggae artists to include instrumental or dub version of songs on singles or albums to allow DJs to toast over them. While many fans were confused by this move, it seems to be a stylistic and cultural nod to the music most influencing The Clash at this point. [Ed- Famed reggae producer/Deejay Mikey Dread, who previously produced "Bankrobber," worked with the Clash on many of these tracks] One oddball track at the tail end of this album is "Career Opportunities" which features keyboardist Mickey Gallagher's sons Luke and Ben doing vocals of a track first featured on The Clash's debut album. While this track is considered by many to be a novelty track of sorts or even tacky, it comes off as revolutionary in the sense we have young children rejecting the very opportunities that exist around them.
In conclusion, while this album ever have the influence of London Calling"? No, there's no question there. Will it ever have the commercial appeal of Combat Rock? No, considering the album just recently sold enough albums to reach Gold status in the US, whereas Combat Rock has sold over two million copies. On the first album The Clash released, Joe Stummer sang "When I get aggression, I give it two times back." That still held true on Sandinista only this time, The Clash weren't a working class band who knew only of the aggressions taking place in working class England. They were a band who had seen the aggressions taking place throughout the world. That's what they gave back on this album, even if the world wasn't ready for it at the time.
[Ed- This is a counter-review to a much older review found here.]