Sunday, November 2, 2014

CD Odyssey Disc 674: The Clash

Greetings, gentle reader! It’s been almost a week since I did a blog entry – did you wonder where I was? Perhaps you thought I was on another holiday in Italy? Nope – I was just reviewing a behemoth of a record, and it took a whole week to listen to the damned thing.

Before I get to that, I want to give a shout out to my friend and fellow music enthusiast, Randall. In the wee hours I’ve often waxed poetic with Randall about my love for Blue Oyster Cult, and emboldened by his interest, I decided to pass along a list of my favourite tracks.

Not only did Randall listen to all the music, he listened to it multiple times, and then gave a thoughtful review of my selections, and Blue Oyster Cult in general. You can read it all at his blog right here. I was really touched that he took the time to get to know a band that has meant so much to me over the years. Thanks, Randall!

Disc 674 is…. Sandinista!
Artist: The Clash

Year of Release: 1980

What’s up with the Cover? The band stands in front of a brick wall, looking very urban and austere…or painfully out of place. I wouldn’t be surprised if after the photo was taken they were all mugged. Sadly, the thieves did not steal the satchels full of songs they ended up putting on “Sandinista!”

How I Came To Know It: There is a guy who works across the hall from me (let’s call him “Tom,” since that’s his name). He also likes music and sometimes we shoot the breeze about it. Turns out he likes the Clash as well, so I asked him what his favourite album was – he surprised me by saying “Sandinista!” I didn’t own it, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

How It Stacks Up:  Let’s just say I wasn’t impressed with Tom’s selection. I have six Clash albums and “Sandinista!” is easily the worst. Here’s the full list, since I’ve once again finished reviewing my Clash collection.

  1.  London Calling:  5 stars (reviewed at Disc 258)
  2. Self-Titled:  4 stars (reviewed at Disc 256)
  3. Black Market Clash:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 16)
  4. Give ‘Em Enough Rope:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 227)
  5. Combat Rock:  3 stars (reviewed at Disc 474).
  6. Sandinista: 2 stars (reviewed right here).
Rating:  2 stars

More is not always better. When you decide to put every idea you come up with in the studio on a single record without any editing you don’t get a modern classic, you get a bloated mess – and that’s what “Sandinista!” is; a triple album (yes, triple) with 36 songs that should have been an EP with eight.

The album starts out very promising with the opening track “The Magnificent Seven” delivering one of the best funky bass-lines in music. Bassist Paul Simonon is never better, not even on later classics like “Overpowered by Funk.” Strummer’s rhythmic singing here is proto-rap, and totally works.

Whither the rest of the album? Unfortunately, a long descent into self-congratulatory excess.

Stylistically, the record is all over the place – punk, rock, jazz and a whole lot of reggae and dub. This is not automatically a bad thing – an album with range can be a good thing. However, when you have three albums and 36 songs it slowly becomes loose and directionless. It was like they were committed to doing it all on one record, without realizing some of it wasn’t worth doing at all.

The very next track after the magnificent “Magnificent Seven” is the sugary pop song, “Hitsville UK.” It has a bass line that sounds like it was inspired by “Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread” but with less seriousness. I think the Clash intended this song to be a critique of these kinds of songs, but when you stray this close to the line, you become the monster you’re trying to mock.

I could go on, but frankly I don’t have time to explain why I don’t like the songs on this album – there’s too damned many of them. Here’s a few highlights, though, since you did come here to read about music.

If Music Could Talk” features a directionless jazz saxophone, with the boys kind-of-sort-of talking over top of it about music. This song proves that just because music can talk doesn’t mean it’ll have anything meaningful to say.

Other songs have weird dialogue intros and outros, like on “Let’s Go Crazy” which would be a pretty cool song with Caribbean drum beats (yes, “Sandinista!” has those as well). However, I don’t want to listen to some goofy rant every time I listen to this song.

And the true low is the use of kids singing for no apparent reason. At the end of the already rambling song “Broadway” we have a little kid singing “Guns of Brixton” and doing his best to wreck it for me. Later, they repeat the error with a grade-school remake of “Career Opportunities.” It felt like I was trapped at a small town variety show.

Also it bears repeating: seriously, guys – a triple album? What the hell?

The Clash have great musicianship and loads of talent and there are plenty of good tracks as well on “Sandinista!” “Something About England” is thoughtful and catchy social commentary. “Corner Soul” captures the magic of pop crossing with punk that they did so well on their first album and “London Calling.” The reggae inspired songs show an honest love for that style, and the Clash do it well (although a lot of these tracks suffer from weird dialogue pieces noted above).

I’ll keep this album because the good songs are very good, but they can’t hold the album up on their own. The bottom line is there’s just too much musical masturbation to get through to find them.

According to Wikipedia (which is never wrong), “Sandinista!” is the highest charting album in Canada out of the Clash’s entire collection, making it to number three. That’s higher than “Combat Rock,” and “London Calling” (both of which peaked at #12. What the hell were you thinking, Canada?

Best tracks:   The Magnificent Seven, Something About England, Corner Soul, The Sound of Sinners, Police on My Back, The Call Up, Washington Bullets, Lose this Skin

No comments: