Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sandinista!: An Introduction

A few days ago, I read an article about music on the Internet that made me mad. It did so by invoking one of the hoariest of music crit formulas: "[X-band] that everyone loves is actually not as great as [Y-Band], which fewer people love." The X-band in question happened to be one of my favorites, the Clash, and the Y-band was Mick Jones' post-Clash outfit Big Audio Dynamite (of this song, among others). Yes, it seems The Guardian saw fit to publish an article called "Big Audio Dynamite: More Pioneering Than The Clash?", written by Ben Myers, which advances its brave thesis statement with all the confidence of a prospective troll. Here's the passage that has inspired me to write about Sandinista! for the next few days:
For all the lengthy magazine retrospectives and weighty biographies that rightly claim the Clash were musical pioneers, there's also a strong argument to be made that BAD were more forward-thinking – or perhaps more of their time, more now – than Jones's previous band. Less confined by the constraints of rock'n'roll and determined to shake off the Clash's formidable legacy, Jones – the member who brought hip-hop into the Clash and wrote their sole No 1 single – set out to create a sound that utilised the emerging technologies used by dance and rap music and took a more multimedia approach to their presentation.
I've listened to the first few BAD albums, and I know the Clash repertoire fairly well (ask me about Cut The Crap sometime, preferably later), and this statement is simply not true. We'll start off by putting aside the possibility that BAD was simultaneously forward-thinking, of its time, and of now, and focus more on the Clash side of the equation. The Only Band That Mattered happened to matter as much as they did in part because they regularly escaped the "constraints of rock 'n roll", starting at least as early as 1978 when they released a really good reggae track called "White Man In Hammersmith Palais." Their beloved third album, London Calling, includes old-school rockabilly ("Brand New Cadillac"), ska ("Rudie Can't Fail"), advertising jingles ("Koka Kola") along with some of the most exciting punk tracks to ever grace my untrained teenage ears.

Even if the Clash had never made anything prior to Sandinista!, though, Ben Myers' statement would still be absurd, because by itself Sandinista! is one of the most expansive, diverse, dense, and downright creative displays of rock prowess ever to grace three LPs. Yes, there's plenty of chaff (particularly, as we'll see, toward the end), but even the most interminable tracks somehow contribute to the overall Sandinista! experience. No one has ever asked me what my personal choice for a "desert island" album would be, but for the last few years it has felt as if Sandinista! is the only logical choice: at 2 1/2 hours, it's one of the longest albums ever, and with 36 diverse songs to choose from I am far less likely to get bored than I would if I brought in, say, the first New York Dolls album.

Another reason I wanted to do a track-by-track is that I felt, reading reviews of this album on Allmusic and elsewhere, that most people ignore all but a few of the most popular songs, and thirty years later it's about time that someone has something to say about "Junkie Slip," even if it isn't much. So, with that in mind, we'll see what happens tomorrow as I turn over side one, aka "the side with most of the hits," including "The Magnificent Seven" and "Hitsville UK" among others. See you then.

*Why is it guitars that are always so restrictive of creativity? Why not the sampler, or the beabox? Every instrument has its limits...**
**...Except the Moog.

1 comment:

  1. Great idea! Sandinista is a hidden trasure!
    Funny because I know some die-hard Clash fans and when I say that I think Sandinista is as good as London Calling, they wanna kill me. (actually I think it's BETTER, but don't tell anyone).
    I agree with you on the desert island record.
    Looking forward for the next posts!
    Rafael from São Paulo, Brazil
    P.S.: I don't like very much the first two albuns and Combat rock, and never listend to Cut the Crap. And I love BAD!