Wednesday 18 April 2012

There's a place in Version City

As far as I am concerned, the difference between something being great and something being the best is the difference between objectivity and subjectivity. For me, it's fairly self-evident that, whether or not their songs are your cup of tea, The Beatles are the greatest popular music group of all time. Their enormous influence on culture and wider society sees to that, even if you think they were rubbish and that Eleanor Rigby was a stinky bell end.

The best popular music group of all time though, that's something much more personal. Myself, I think that it is The Clash and have done for many years.

Which brings me to Sandinista!, their fourth studio album -a three-disc set which was released in 1980. I was released in 1980, too, immediately makes me feel a connection with it. I first heard Sandinista! in about 1999 and frankly it was a bit too much to take in. I pretty much fell into the way of thinking that a lot of people do - nice album, a lot of great songs, but imagine how great it would be if it had just been edited down to a single disc...

But I now realise that would not have made it great at all; rather, it would have detracted from its greatness. I now believe that Sandinista! is the greatest album ever made.

Its sheer size is just the start of it. Its scope and ambition are what set it aside. Four years previously, The Clash were a bunch of London herberts in the grubby UK punk scene, supporting the Sex Pistols. Two of them were even fairly musically limited when they started out, too. But by 1980 they were the biggest rock 'n' roll band on the planet. You'd have forgiven them for resting on their laurels and letting the money roll in.

Not a bit of it. As well as making an epic and sprawling 36 song set - comprising punk, rockabilly, rock 'n' roll, showtunes, reggae, genuine Jamaican dub, avant garde sound collage, gospel, soul, blues, rap and hip hop and a calypso protest song - they also released the whole thing for the price of a single LP, forgoing royalties on the sales to do so.

For me, it's a statement record. It is also a work of dazzling audacity, brilliance and unstaunchable creativity. It is also a true desert island disc - if I ever had to be a castaway, Sandinista! is the album I would take and never tire of. It may not be the best album ever released, but as far as I'm concerned its greatness has never been bettered, before or since.

It's not just a masterpiece, it's also a masterstroke. In fact, fuck it, it is also the best album ever made. Just decided.

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