The Clash – Sandinista!

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

This is the most controversial of the Clash albums. Final (and all but disowned) album Cut the Crap is not controversial, insofar as: 1) it is not a real Clash album; and 2) everyone agrees that it is an embarrassment. It is not a real Clash album because the Clash are not the Clash without Mick Jones. Not surprisingly, Jones’s absence is likewise the reason the album is an embarrassment (though neither Paul Simonon nor Topper Headon appeared on the album either, Headon having also been fired, like Jones). Jones was the band’s primary songwriter, guitarist, and sometime lead vocalist, including on some of their best songs. Joe Strummer is treated like a punk god while no one talks about Jones. I have nothing against Strummer, of course – he was undeniably a phenomenal lyricist – but I believe he gets too much credit for the Clash and Jones gets not enough. Cut the Crap proves that Strummer alone was not enough.

What I Think of This Album

Jesus, this stretch of albums is killing me. The Clash section consists of two regular albums, one double album, one triple album, a double album length compilation, and a live album. And what comes after this? A 40-something song compilation for the Clean. Fuck. Me.

So, lots of people hate this album, but as is usually the case with a double or triple album, there is an excellent single album tucked away in here, and arguably a very good double album, too. Yes, some of the experiments do not work. At all. But I am not going to hold that against the Clash. This album’s successes broadcast the band’s talent and vision in ways the earlier albums cannot, as the band grew to take in genres like rap and calypso, delved further into reggae and dub, and still maintained lyrical excellence. In fact, there is basically nothing on this album that you could nail down as traditional sounding punk a la “White Riot.”

The rubbery bass line of what is essentially a rap number in “The Magnificent Seven” is a favorite of mine; it was played not by Paul Simonon but by Norman Watt-Roy (Ian Dury and the Blockheads), who got a belated writing credit, along with fellow former Blockhead and frequent Clash collaborator Mickey Gallagher. At the 5:00 mark, Joe Strummer ad libs the self-mocking “Fucking long, i’nnit?” A remix (“The Magnificent Dance”) became a club hit. The variety continued on the sunny, Motown-inspired “Hitsville U.K.,” sung by Mick Jones (ahem) and Ellen Foley (of “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” fame), with Watt-Roy again on bass; this song references indie labels Factory and Rough Trade.

“Junco Partner” was a cover of a 1951 blues song done in a reggae style, but also with strings and a noticeable organ. The liner notes on this album are garbage, so I don’t know who did what. There is a tender humanity to “Somebody Got Murdered” that is reminiscent of “Lost In the Supermarket,” and I love the joint chorus and synthesizer sounds (and, of course, Jones on lead vocals). “One More Dub” is a far more interesting version of “One More Time,” a collaboration with Jamaican DJ Mikey Dread. The calypso of “Let’s Go Crazy” is amazing, and the gospel of “The Sound of the Sinners” honestly puts a smile on my face.

The pickings are slimmer on the second disc, but the highlights are still impressive. The blistering cover of “Police On My Back” is worth the price of listening to every crappy song that follows, and more. Barrelhouse piano and harmonica-stabs make “Midnight Log” an unexpected pleasure. The strident, funky “Call Up” may be a little on-the-nose, but it sounds great, with lots of textural sound effects, and a fantastic bass part from Watt-Roy. Much more successful lyrically is marimba-heavy “The Washington Bullets,” which offers a history lesson in American imperialism, and also calls out communist authoritarianism.

I’m a big fan of the Irish folk-punk of “Lose This Skin,” written and sung by violinist Tymon Dogg (later, a member of the Mescaleros, with Strummer, and previously a member of the 101’ers, with Strummer) in a Victoria Williams-type voice. Not enough can be said about the atmosphere-rich “Charlie Don’t Surf,” (obviously, inspired by Apocalypse Now), told (in part) from the point of view of a Vietcong soldier. I believe that’s twelve excellent-to-outstanding songs right there. And there are plenty of lesser but still worthy tunes, too.

The Decent Songs:  rockabilly “The Leader”; noodly “Rebel Waltz,” which perhaps overstays its welcome; “Up In Heaven (Not Only Here)”; reggae-styled “Corner Soul;” sax-fueled “If Music Could Talk,” which references Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, and, uh, Joe Ely (also decent is “Living In Fame,” which is the dub version of “Music Could Talk”); “Kingston Advice,” which has some cool sonics, at a minimum; “Silicone On Sapphire” – just weird enough to win me over; and “Version Pardner,” which is the dub version of “Junco Partner.”

The Notable Failures:  “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe,” written and sung by Topper Headon – the sound effects are interesting, and maybe it would’ve been okay with a less annoying chorus; “Mensforth Hill” is “Something About England” backwards, and it’s almost good; and “The Street Parade” sounds like it could have been developed into something better with a bit more time and effort.

The Basically Worthless Tracks:  the cover of Mose Allison’s “Look Here”; “Something About England”; Simonon’s spare “Crooked Beat”; “Lightning Strikes Not Once But Twice” is a disco-funk-rap workout that gets old very quickly; “The Equaliser” just goes on too long, and perhaps at some point, enough reggae/dub on this album was enough; the jazzy “Broadway,” especially the child singing; “Junkie Slip”; “Version City” is a hot mess; “Shepherds Delight” is just a slower (?) instrumental version of “If Music Could Talk” – seems a bit lazy of the band to tack this third version of the same song on; and finally, the kiddie choir version of “Career Opportunities” is a fucking travesty. Watt-Roy played bass on some tracks because Simonon was off acting in a movie during the recording sessions. This album was released within one year of London’s Calling – astonishing.

The Best Thing About This Album

The bravery in trying to pull this off.

Release Date

December, 1980

The Cover Art

Boring, but not bad.

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