Band: The Clash
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Sandinista!" is a great record, some of the 80-90 best minutes of the Clash's work...
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Unfortunately, the last disc is pretty crappy.
Best song: "The Magnificent Seven" is the best "punk band trying to rap" song and "The Call-Up" is a great political song.
Worst song: "Mensforth Hill" is not good.
Is it awesome?: The first two discs are great. The third is not so much.
I've touched on gutter punk politics, but my knowledge of South American politics is less than my knowledge of physics or chemistry. Basically, I know nothing.
So, I won't speak to the issue of the Clash naming their 1980 triple (!) album after a Nicaraguan opposition political party. I will, however, speak to the idea that people (including famed rock critic Kurt Loder) think "Sandinista!" is an album on par with classics of rock and roll.
I'm sorry, but that's just not true.
First, there's the double album problem. I have mentioned it many times, but double albums are almost always inherently flawed. It is incredibly difficult to produce 90 minutes of great music, so the band finds itself trying to fill the album. Sometimes, those songs are b-side-quality tracks. With concept albums, they are simple crap plot-forwarding songs. Other times, experiments and jokes dot the album.
"Sandinista!" isn't a concept album, so you can take out the plot-forwarding songs. However, being a triple (!) album, the record's final two sides are mostly made up of experiments and b-side quality tracks.
It's actually kind of funny. The album's first four sides are nearly unparalleled in their quality. "The Magnificent Seven" is great and the Ellen Foley/Mick Jones duet "Hitsville UK" is the band's best ballads. "Washington Bullets" is constructed out of some dumb lyrics, but it has an odd style, but one that the Clash embrace and pull off. Adding more percussion to the band's already great reggae/dub rock was a perfect fit.
"The Call-Up" is a great song that would fit perfectly today in the modern American landscape:
All the young people down the ages
They gladly marched off to die
Proud city fathers used to watch them
Tears in their eyes
Even "The Sound of the Sinners" -- a religious song that the band mostly pulls off -- is a good song. Like the rest of the first four sides of the record, it's a bold move, but one that the band pulls off.
But, the portions of the last two sides (the backward song, the dub versions of other songs, the children singing on "Career Opportunities," etc.) speak to experiments and b-sides that could easily have been left off. Sure, "Sandinista!" could be the best double album ever, but it's not a double. It's a triple.
To use the baseball analogy: I know Willie Mays is one of the top 10 players of all time. But, his career wasn't just the first 15 years; Those last few years spent stumbling around the Met outfield also count.
The first two discs are great, but the final one -- the disc with the Clash misjudging fly balls and falling down in the Met outfield -- is part of the conversation, too.