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The Clash: Sandinista!

Coherence is overrated. Sure, there are moments when you know all the answers, and that's when you play the first Ramones album, a persuasive argument in favor of two-minute, three-chord rumbles, wrecking shit just because you can, and getting stoned; or the early and mid-60s Motown singles like "The Tracks of My Tears" and "Nowhere to Run," where the pain of loss is clear and cutting and you can't think of anything else and don't want to . . . though you still may want to get stoned.

Personally, I enjoy moments of clarity; I just don't have them very often. I like the wanderers and I understand the flip-floppers and I certainly believe in the kind of people who mix all the flavors together when they get a Slurpee. Most of the interesting and honest people I've met don't actually know what they're doing, or why - they just try stuff out until it doesn't work for them any more. Once, as the old verse goes, I was a child; I thought like a child and reasoned like a child and liked Field of Dreams. Now that I have become a man, or at least have met the age requirement, I still really like Field of Dreams, but I recognize that, as a work of art, it blows, and I have added new obsessions, like old Bogart movies and Superfly. Putting it another way, what kind of a creep doesn't change his mind or at least his approach after seeing, say, a quick little act of imperialism turn into a bloody civil war?

clash_sandinista.jpgSandinista! is, like all Clash records, a political album, but that's not entirely the point here: It's a sprawling, ragged, undisciplined mess, and now, exactly 25 years after its release, it is more fascinating and fun than ever. When it was released, a lot of people bought Sandinista! - and then realized that it was a triple album, which meant (in the pre-downloading days, which still exist at my crib) that you had to get up five times and flip sides or switch records in order to play it all the way through. Even the later CD version was spread over two discs.

And the listening itself requires some attention. It's not a straight rocker, like the early Clash stuff, or a tightly themed critique of Western indulgences, like the brilliant London Calling. It's got early hip hop, country, gospel, choral, reggae, funk, dub, Celtic, and R&B, without much "punk," and the songs are about... well, I'm often not sure, though I think they tend to condemn said imperialism and police brutality, and that's the way it needs to be.

Most importantly, this is an album to explore, over and over. Many of the high points are immediately evident: the leadoff track, "The Magnificent Seven," has a truly rocking disco beat that's part party, part rage, and the segue to the pure pop of "Hitsville U.K." is shocking and thrilling every time, as if you get to fully enjoy two very different eras of your life in 10 minutes. "Somebody Got Murdered" is tuneful in the best spirit of London Calling; the cover of Eddie Grant's "Police on My Back" screams with indignation; and "Charlie Don't Surf" builds on a revolutionary wave of Paul Simonon's bass.

Good enough, but lots of listeners through the years have dismissed the rest of Sandinista! as unfocused and even arrogant - as if we want to hear the Clash getting a children's choir to take the lead on a cover of their own "Career Opportunities." Well, actually, some of us do - I think that old punk rock song is a total blast when done in those boys' school voices. "Rebel Waltz" is just what it broadcasts, sounding like a drunk friend stumbling back to the bar while ranting about getting the unions off their asses and shutting down this goddamn town. Of course the Clash's gospel plea for forgiveness, "The Sound of the Sinners," is completely ridiculous, but that backing chorus - "Judgment Day!" - sticks with you, just as the fiddle in "Lose This Skin" swings harder every time you hear it. There are fragmentary, studio-experimental tracks that aren't as immediately catchy as these songs, but they're never uninteresting. Something is always moving on Sandinista!

That's why this is near the top of my Stuck On Another Stalled Subway Train List (the Chicago version of the Desert Island List). On "The Call Up," another classic, fuck-your-wars song, Joe Strummer sings,

Who knows the reasons why you have grown up?
Who knows the plans or why they were drawn up?

This answer is clear: Nobody around here.


Posted on September 18, 2006

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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