Album Review: The Clash “Sandinista” (1980)

The Clash’s fourth studio album Sandinista (named after the Nicaraguan Marxist rebel group) is by no means a punk album and in fact is about as far away from punk as you could possibly get. Released in 1980, this album saw the band move radically away from the punk movement they helped spearhead, not only in terms of sound but in size as well. Sandinista is a triple album – a rare thing in itself containing three discs, six sides, thirty-six tracks, and totaling 144 minutes a concept that you would think some progressive rock act would be behind not a so-called punk rock band.The music on this album in many ways spans the history of music to that point, and explores genres ranging from funk, reggae, rockabilly, dub, calypso, rap, and gospel, genres that are stylistically miles away from The Clash’s first album of mainly punk rock songs in fact there is hardly a punk rock song on this album. The band began exploring with different styles of music on their previous release “London Calling” but went even further on Sandinista. The band explores rap on “The Magnificent Seven and “Lightning Strikes” this before the genre was even popular in the mainstream, reggae on “Junco Partner”, rockabilly on “The Leader”, jazz on “Look Here”, gospel on “The Sound of Sinners”, and Celtic folk complete with fiddle on “Lose This Skin”. The massive array of musical styles on show here makes it seems as if with each new track you are also moving to another style of music, that is how varied this album is musically. The band also experimented significantly on Sandinista, experimentation that included the appearance of different instruments ranging from violin to harmonica, extra singers including a re-recorded version of “Career Opportunities” being sung by small children, various sampling, and several alternate dub versions of tracks that already appear on the album. Lyrically Joe Strummer is Joe Strummer, with political and social topics appearing throughout the album including themes such as the military draft on “The Call Up” and American imperialism in Latin America on “Washington Bullets”. In fact, Alternative Press magazine included Sandinista in its 2000 list of the “10 Essential Political-Revolution Albums”.

Sandinista is very much a stretch to listen to at 144 minutes and could have done with some trimming in places, but then again the idea of it being a triple album is probably worth a couple of filler tracks here and there. This goes back to the argument of would The Beatles White Album be as good if it was a single album? Just put Sandinista on at a party and you won’t notice the lesser moments. For me, Sandinista is one of the coolest albums of all time simply because it has everything.  Stylistically the range of genres on here is immense, while the production on the album is first class for its time with the arrangements, sampling, and sound given careful attention to detail by the band. As an album, it was definitely ahead of its time especially considering the bands punk background, and could arguably be seen as the first “world music” album to be released by a western act. A radical departure from the bands earlier work and a continuation on from what the band did on “London Calling”, this album is a major artistic statement from a band at the peak of their career and proved exactly why The Clash was one of the biggest bands in the world at that time. Sandinista is well worth a listen that is even if you don’t have 144 minutes to spear.

– Sam

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