[Review] The Clash: Sandinista! (1980)

A sprawling three-album set that achieves self destruction through self production.

Kronomyth 4.0: Give them enough rope…

If you distilled the best songs on Sandinista! down to a single album, it would still be The Clash’s worst album. (I don’t consider Cut the Crap a Clash album.) Listening to London Calling was a joy. Slogging through Sandinista! is a chore. The album’s schizophrenic approach—mixing dub, punk, reggae, rock, disco, funky, pop, politics and jazz with wild studio experimentation—makes it impossible to digest in a single sitting. Those who felt robbed after buying this specially priced triple elpee probably should have paid more attention to the advance single from these sessions, “Bankrobber.” It’s not for nothing that the album this most reminds me of is the soundtrack to The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.

That’s my two cents, anyway. Others have found in Sandinista! a brilliant panoply of styles that, collectively, adds up to some big political and musical statement. To me, it just feels like a big eff-you to the record companies. In fact, the most “punk” thing about the album is its complete rejection of what a punk band was expected to do: play loud, fast songs. I appreciate that, just like I can appreciate what Lou Reed was doing with Metal Machine Music, but both albums played me more than I played them.

There is no doubt that The Magnificent Seven is a brilliant song. It may be the most exciting thing The Clash has done so far, mixing punk, dub and rap in a way that makes plain Joe Strummer was off his rocker. The Leader, Something About England, Rebel Waltz, Lightning Strikes, The Call Up and a killer cover of The Equals’ Police on My Back are also highlights. There’s your magnificent seven. The remaining 23 tracks make Black Market Clash sound like a bonanza of hits.

The trouble with Sandinista! isn’t just the trading in of protex blue for protean red. Strummer’s revolutionary sloganeering needs revolutionary music for context. But what was he rebelling against with these arrangements? Calypso music? And bringing in saxophones, pianos and violins for reinforcement is fine if you’re Ian Fury and the Blockheads, but The Clash never needed more than two guitars, bass and drums to take over the world.

I’ve pored over this triple-elpee set dozens of times looking for diamonds in the rough. And, sometimes, I’ve caught a glimmer of genius in The Crooked Beat, Hitsville U.K., One More Time and a few others. But I can’t shake the feeling that I’m listening to kids run wild in the candy store, layering synthesizers on top of saxophones on top of a seven-layer wedding cake of punk, rock, reggae and whatever else popped into their heads. Could it be that the honeymoon was over for The Clash? Not so fast, says the sweet come-back-to-me of Combat Rock.

Original triple elpee version

A1. The Magnificent Seven (5:31)
A2. Hitsville U.K. (4:22)
A3. Junco Partner (4:52)
A4. Ivan Meets G.I. Joe (3:05)
A5. The Leader (1:42)
A6. Something About England (3:42)
B1. Rebel Waltz (3:25)
B2. Look Here (M. Allison) (2:45)
B3. The Crooked Beat (5:28)
B4. Somebody Got Murdered (3:34)
B5. One More Time (3:32)
B6. One More Dub (3:24)
C1. Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice) (4:49)
C2. Up in Heaven (Not Only Here) (4:32)
C3. Corner Soul (2:42)
C4. Let’s Go Crazy (4:24)
C5. If Music Could Talk (The Clash/Mikey Dread) (4:36)
C6. The Sound of the Sinners (4:01)
D1. Police on My Back (Eddy Grant) (3:16)
D2. Midnight Log (2:34)
D3. The Equaliser (5:46)
D4. The Call Up (5:28)
D5. Washington Bullets (5:51)
D6. Broadway (5:48)
E1. Lose This Skin (Timon Dogg) (5:07)
E2. Charlie Don’t Surf (4:54)
E3. Mensforth Hill (3:42)
E4. Junkie Slip (2:48)
E5. Kingston Advice (2:37)
E6. The Street Parade (3:28)
F1. Version City (4:21)
F2. Living in Fame (Mikey Dread/The Clash) (4:50)
F3. Silicone on Sapphire (4:17)
F4. Version Pardner (5:22)
F5. Career Opportunities (2:30)
F6. Shepherds Delight (Mikey Dread/The Clash) (3:29)

Songs written by The Clash unless noted.

The Players

Topper Headon (drums, vocals), Mick Jones (guitar, vocals), Paul Simonon (bass, vocals), Joe Strummer (vocals, guitar) with Timon Dogg (violin, vocals, harmonium), Ellen Foley (backing vocals), Mickey Gallagher (keyboards), Davey Payne (saxophone), Norman Watt-Roy (bass). Produced by The Clash; recorded and mixed by Bill Price, version mix by Mikey Dread.

The Plastic

Released on 3LP and 2CS on December 12, 1980 in the UK (CBS, FSLN 1), the US (Epic, E3X/ETX 37037) and Japan (Epic, 49.3P-253/5) with lyrics booklet. Reached #19 on the UK charts and #24 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on 2CD in May 1989 in the US (Epic, E2K-37037).
  2. Re-issued on 3CD in 2005 in Japan (Sony, MHCP-526/8).

5 thoughts on “[Review] The Clash: Sandinista! (1980)

  1. I love Sandinista! but I too find it very hard to listen to in one sit. For starters, a triple album in the world of rock music was unheard of. It made sense for live albums, but a studio one was something we weren’t prepared for. Even All Things Must Pass was essentially a double album with an extra record of guitar jams.

  2. You know, I really wanted to love this album. The same with Tales from Topographic Oceans, A Day at the Races, AWATS (Rundgren), Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory et al. I always felt those albums should have been better than they were.

  3. Yes, it is a smorgasbord of almost everything imaginable. HOWEVER, at least half of it is well worth the detour. For instance – as soon as the Grenfell Tower fire scandal broke in London the first thing I thought of was Up in Heaven – (“You can’t live in a home which should not have been built/by the bourgeois clerks who bear no guilt.”) It’s absolutely bang on the nail social comment. The same goes for Something About England – even more so post-Brexit.

    And what about Ivan Meets G.I. Joe? “He tried his tricks that Ruski bear/the United Nations says it’s all fair.” It’s because that was true not least in 2014 in eastern Ukraine that we now have a large scale war in Europe.

    This only underlines that The Clash, politically and socially, were, in their era, the band who mattered more than any other – even if this is hardly their best album.

  4. For what’s it’s worth, I’ve only listened to this album ever in one sitting for 42 years now. It’s my favorite Clash album because it’s a novel. As a fan of dub the coda side 6 was fully worthwhile. Meanwhile, they followed it up with the nigh-unlistenable pretentious tripe of “Combat Rock!”

  5. Sandinista is by far their best album, I love it. How is it possible for such a fool to write about music?

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