Monday, June 14, 2010

Sandinista: The Little Album That Couldn't

It's that time again. Time to visit my old friend, "Sandinista." We haven't gotten along for years and I'm not sure why I think we'll get along now.

What do you do when your favorite artists haven't amassed enough of a catalogue to keep you satisfied in their absence? I can only listen to "The Clash" and "London Calling" so many times. "Give 'Em Enough Rope" is solid, but too weak to build a relationship on. "Combat Rock" is nice, but we're more acquaintances than friends. What do you do when you need more? This happens occasionally with my favorite artists. Sometimes, there just ain't no more.

I usually go back to the album that didn't do it for me first time around. It often sounds fresh, like a new release, since I never gave it much thought on the first pass. Or in the case of The Clash's "Sandinista," the 21st pass.

I've tried time and time again to listen to certain records by favorite artists that left me cold the first time around, just to see if I was missing something. It's rare when I don't come up feeling the same way. I still haven't given up on Joe Jackson's "Blaze Of Glory" and David Bowie's "Young Americans," though all these years later, I still don't like them. I did see the light, thanks to the persistence of some of you, and now really enjoy McCartney's "Chaos & Creation In the Backyard," a record I absolutely hated on first listen. That was worth my time. Thank you. The patience paid off.

"Sandinista" seems to be the record I've given the most chances. It has so much to offer...right?

The way we watch "The Godfather" or "It's A Wonderful Life" or some other epic on Christmas Day, I seem to have that one day each year when I pull out this 3 LP monster of mostly still unfamiliar tunes, just hoping that this time around will be the pass to kick my ass. And every year, about 15-20 minutes in, I find myself drifting. I say "unfamiliar," because it seems that no matter how many times I try, I can still only remember the five or six "hits."

The record is dense, and seems to slug along. Like a lesser John Cassavetes movie, "Sandinista" deserves your time and respect because of those involved, but it really needed someone to say, "Ok, cut, DAMNIT, CUT!"

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this record. If you'd like to defend it, tell me why, so I can finally enjoy it, too.

I'd also love to hear your choices of records that you wish you liked more because you think you're supposed to. Dylan's "Time Out Of Mind" anyone?


DH said...

I like the kid-chorus versions of earlier Clash hits. But I never got this on CD, the hits from the Clash on Broadway box were all I really wanted.

Exile on Main Street I like okay, but I prefer Let it Bleed, Beggar's, Sticky, Some that the kind of choice you mean?

Sal Nunziato said...

If you're saying that you don't really care for "Exile," then yes, that's what I mean.

mnmjr. said...

"Sandanista" is my favorite Clash album, but I can't defend it.

I love it the same way I love the films of Ed Wood, the free Jazz of Ornette Coleman or the art of Andy Warhol.

I love it because the band was crazy/ambitious/desperate enough to make it at all when it would have been (much) easier (and profitable) to just do "London Calling Pt. II". They could have taken the easy way and become pop stars, but they tried to be Artists/Activists (and failed mostly)...but do you think Bono would say/do half of what he does if the Clash hadn't tried it first?

I guess that's why I love "Sandanista" so much: It's the sound of four ordinary guys trying to Make a Difference. Who else do you know who's so willing to drop the bird in the hand for the sake of principle?

Troy said...

I respect Sandinista for the very reasons that mnmjr noted, but that doesn't mean I can sit through Sides 5 or 6 of that album. (I think they released 'This is Radio Clash' roughly around the same time, and I cannot get enough of that. It is awesome.)

As for other albums that I should like but just can't get into:

1. U2 - No Line on the Horizon. I like U2 in general, but this is one of the most boring albums I've ever heard. It just goes nowhere.

2. Mavis Staples - We'll Never Turn Back. Great concept and I love to hear Mavis sing just about anything. This album just didn't do it for me.

3. Eric Lindell - Gulf Coast Highway. I think EL is terrific and listen to the previous discs a lot. With the exception of 'If Love Can't Find a Way', I can't find my way through this album.

big bad wolf said...

sandinista is just too damn long. editing really does make for classic albums. few of the great double albums---and there are relatively few great doubles in my opinion---were much over 80 minutes, and exile on main street and london calling, two of the two very best doubles in my opinion, were way under that. sandinista is over an hour longer. ambition, even well-intended ambition, can overreach and that, to me, is the problem with sandinista. by the time i get to sides 5 and 6, i'm worn out. i like the songs, but i no longer like the album or its brazen ambitiousness---i just want it to be over.

sal, i have a problem with time out of mind. i hate the production; i think there are good songs under there, but they all sound better to me if they come up on the shuffle as individiual songs. the sound of the album defeats the songs---with the exception of cold irons bound---when i listen to each stragiht through, which i try to do every year or so to see if it can change my mind this time. that tell tale signs had some songs i loved form the same period makes me think it is lanois, more than dylan that makes me struggle with TOOM.

mnmjr, i know what you mean, but it still is stunning to see you write that it would have been easier to just do london calling II. london calling was startling and brilliant at its release and still is. to repeat it would likely have been impossible, even if they had wished to---lightening strikes not twice, but once. they were brave, but also smart, to go in another direction

Sal Nunziato said...

Big Bad, I have the same problem with Time Out Of Mind. Tell Tale Signs is the preferred listen over any of the last three Dylan records. (4, actually.)

Anonymous said...

go put some more wood on the fire. don't force yourself to like this. its a great album. go listen to something else.

Gummo said...

Sal, I loved Sandanista when it came out; me & my friends listened to it for months, first obsessing on one side, then another.

Sandanista is the Clash's White Album -- a monster kitchen-sink decks-clearing sloppy catch-all masterpiece.

I think the most important key to Sandanista is SIDES -- this was very much a record album, made back in the days when the natural listening division was sides of records -- 15 to 25 minutes of music with an arc of its own, like a little one-act play made as part of an overarching whole. It was never meant to be listened all the way thru.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sal, glad you turned around on Chaos and Creation. I love Sandanista. Not sure I can defend it either or offer much in the way of intelligent criticism, I just like most of the songs and I like the sprawl, plus it turned me onto rap and dub and probably a couple other genres, so for that I'm grateful to it. I guess what I love about the album is that it feels like they were trying to embrace the entire world of pop circa 1980. To me, it feels like after playing with all these genres and absorbing them. When Combat Rock came out it felt like they had created some great synthesis out of the (glorious, to me) mess on Sandanista. But for me, that album never quite jelled. I remember thinking at the time that the next Clash album would be amazing. Oh well.

I agree with those who don't love Exile. I like it fine, but I can't see it as the greatest rock and roll album of all time, or even the greatest Stones album. I don't think the songs are all that great and for blues-y stuff I prefer their earlier covers. There are parts of Exile where Mick, as he sometimes does, veers toward minstrelsy, at least to my ears.

For stuff that you feel like you should love but don't, for me it's Tom Waits's entire body of work, and most of The Band's non-Dylan stuff. On the other hand, I recently found my way into liking Pavement after trying off and on.

Bruce Handy

Sal Nunziato said...

I must admit, I am really surprised by the positive comments about "Sandinista." I think I may take the "sides" approach for my next visit.

And, I'm always surprised by any negative comments about "Exile."

anythingshouldhappen said...

How do Sal!

First up I love Exile, the last great Stones album.

On Sandinista,I just find myself nodding with all that Big Bad Wolf says.

I like it, I can't explain why I like it, the dub fascination got way too much on the 12 inch accompaniments.

However, it's way way too long.

On the whole vinyle release you found yourself running out of steam part way through Side 2, so you can imagine how knackered I feel at the end.

misospecial said...

really interesting comments on this.

@mnmjr, re who is willing to drop the bird in the hand for the sake of principle: that would be todd rundgren. he not only dropped it, he pissed on it and set it on fire. with interesting if occasionally baffling or infuriating results.

i share your admiration for the unsatisfied ones, the ones who are too restless and contrary to settle back into working the same acreage. it's a little mad, but it keeps your inner fire burning, right?

steve simels said...

Well, my favorite Dylan album is "Self Portrait," but in the immortal words of Chuck Barris -- what do I know? I like cold toilet seats!!!

Actually, I'm kidding. FWIW, I seem to recall reviewing "Sandinista" favorably back in the day, and I do not think I've listened to it since.



I love some of Sandanista but the whole thing doesn't work for me. It is one of those "who do these guys think they are with a three LP ablum." But I recall buying London Calling and thinking "who do these guys think they are releasing a double album." And ...

As a complete aside I just saw the movie "Exit Through The Giftshop." I liked the movie very much and what it says about art, artists, and how sometimes there is a fine line between art and hype. But my point ... both the intro and outro credits run under a very cool song -- Richard Hawley's "Tonight the Streets Are Ours." Do you know the song? The album it is on? His other work? Any advice?

Noam Sane said...

I'm with you on Time Out of Mind, never was sure why, but it just doesn't do it for that you mention it, the production is kind of dry and distant. Love & Theft and Modern Times, those I dig immensely. Lately, it's been New Morning, though.

Never fell in love with Sandinista as a whole...never listened to it all the way through. But there are nuggets there to be harvested, and every time I put it on I find another. The Mose cover is an oddball fave. Why not just rip it and boil it down to a single CD.

It's nice to have unfamiliar music by one of my favorite bands available...that's the value of that record to me.

Wilco, "Summerteeth". The first song, "I Can't Stand It," is just a tremendous slice of pop-rock ...but then...there rest of the record just lays there like a flounder. I've gone back repeatedly, but I give up a few tunes in each time, completely annoyed. Since then, I've found very little from them that moves me in any way. I keep trying though.

I'm also immune to the charms of "Bitches Brew" and "On the Corner". But that's a whole 'nother bag.

Sal Nunziato said...


I just yesterday recommended "Summerteeth" to a friend, saying it was Wilco's finest hour. "Layers of genius," I gushed. "To music in the 90s what Good Fellas was to film."

How do you like dem apples? Hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Well hopefully everyone can agree on GoodFellas.

Bruce Handy

OldRockr1 said...

I saw this post a while back at Setting the Woods on Fire. Sandanista as a single album. Not bad when you piece it together.


Side A
1. Police On My Back
2. One More Time
3. Washington Bullets
4. Somebody Got Murdered
5. The Call Up

Side B
1. The Magnificent Seven
2. Hitsville U.K.
3. Something About England
4. Charlie Don't Surf
5. The Leader

Still all in all it was and is just too much effort to listen to. London Calling was so huge in my musical "growing up" back in high school that this was too much of a shock to the system.

Exile? Great but not as good as Let It Bleed in my opinion. The Stones were so great from Beggar's Banquent through Exile that is is hard to quibble.

Time Out Of Mind did not age as well as I hoped. I couldn't get enough back when it came out but I turn to it less and less as the years pass.

But that's just my opinion.

Michael Giltz said...

Ooh, was I one of the ones to send you back to Chaos and Creation? Def one of his best solo albums; poor Paul, never as cool as John though he was the arty one, as he would insist. People bored by Exile. Dylan's odds and sods better than his last three good to great studio albums? Huh. Blaze of Glory by Joe Jackson is just pretty good; ambitious and some good tunes. Nothing wrong with that and nothing wrong with your take on it.

Noam Sane said...

How do you like dem apples?

I guess I'll go back and give it another shot. I'll let you know...

Sal Nunziato said...

Hey Noam,

Hope my "apples" comment didn't come across as a blow off. I sincerely found it hilarious that your comment came so soon after my rave.

Sal Nunziato said...


Can't say I've listened to enough of Richard Hawley to remember much. Sorry about that.


I feel like the "good to great" Dylan albums you refer would have made one truly brilliant record. Just my opinion.

Noam Sane said...

Hope my "apples" comment didn't come across as a blow off.

not at all, I do respect your opinion based on what I read give it another shot!

jaytingle said...

I very much enjoy "Time Out of Mind."

DH said...


I suggest you tackle Wilco by starting with the DVD of the doc "I am trying to break your heart." That's what finally cracked it for me. They're now in my top bands. Tweedy is incredibly compelling and the band's dynamic -- fraught back then for sure -- was crystallized. They also are better live.

That said, Summerteeth has some amazing songs you should appreciate in isolation: Shot in the Arm, I'm Always in Love, ELT, When you wake up feeling old, and the title track, at least.

@Bruce -- Waits is also someone to see live, not too easy these days. But surely his early stuff (Closing Time/Blue Valentine) is accessible.

Michael said...

I fall into the "love it" camp. It was almost instantly my favorite album when it first came out. I was in high school and screened my own t-shirt in a likeness of the cover, and in place of the band, had all my friends sign it at the end of that school year. The weirder this album gets, the more I like it. All of the crazy dub overload, the DJ'd side, the sprawl, the light and the dark, the bleating of the sheep near the end, all seems significant, in place, perfectly conceived and realized. I know this album gets a lot of flak for being so long, but I find this is its most endearing aspect to me. In the digital realm, I love to queue it all up and let it play, and I always just get utterly lost by what used to be side two. But at the beginning of what used to be the sides, I am pulled back to earth for another world to begin. I love it when an album has that kind of power over me.

"Lose this skin" is the one for the ages for me from this album- it still reduces me to defiant tears, every hair standing on end. It's a masterpiece.

nc said...

S! is unfocused, sprawling, experimental and spotty (at best)....

what's not to love?