Thursday, August 31, 2006

ALBUM REVIEW: Sandinista!, The Clash

Album Review:

Sandinista! (1980)
The Clash
CBS Records

If you're a band at the epoch of success how do you follow up what is often considered one of the best rock albums ever made? For The Clash, whose epic 1979 double LP, London Calling, is to this day one of the best selling and most renowned albums to ever spin the answer was simple. Go beyond grandiose. 

Sandinista! is the kind of album that only a band as audacious, experimental and politically cognizant as The Clash could record. Originally released as a triple LP containing 36 radically different tracks that flirt with the sounds of straight punk, Jamaican "dub" reggae rock, classical chamber ballads and catchy pop, Sandinista! is proof that The Clash could still electrify listeners and move away from simply being classified as merely a punk band. 

While there were only three singles off the band's fourth album--the early white boy rap track, "The Magnificent Seven," the bubble gum pop cut, "Hitsville UK" and the military charged "The Call Up"--Sandinista! is more than just a crowded collection of scathing political rock songs. 

Highlights such as the anti-globalization plea, "Charlie Don't Surf," the haunting classical guitar piece, "Rebel Waltz," the straight punk anthem, "Police On My Back," the Calypso Castro revolution pop, "Washington Bullets," or the extremely bizarre but catchy violin wail, "Lose This Skin" are evidence that The Clash was eager to tackle as many sounds and visions as they could, while also giving fans more than enough to chew on. 

According to the band's guitarist/lead singer, Joe Strummer, the album was the spawn of a diligent three-week recording session during which the band simply could not stop writing songs. A musical feat of this magnitude could come out as overly ambitious and cluttered, but Sandinista! manages to stay refreshing and keeps the listener curious after every ride. While some argue that the album could have been cut down, I cannot think of a better way to explore this monumental band in the pinnacle of their short-lived career than by taking on the Sandinista!

It's All in the Game: Cracking 'The Wire'


Ok, here's where I praise one of the best shows on television, a show that everyone should go out and rent. This is from a column I wrote for the Indiana Daily Student earlier this month. While it's safe to say I'm a ├╝ber dork when it comes to anything from HBO's canon, this show ("The Wire") is beyond stellar. Check it out!

It's All In The Game
By C. Warner Sills

What makes a good television show? Is it the powerful narratives, rich characters and twisty cliffhangers that keep us coming back for more? Or is it the ease and accessibility of television that we crave? Take a show like "The Simpsons" that requires mindless and casual watching instead of dedication? Whatever draws us to escape into a show on a weekly basis or throw down $50 for an entire season on DVD, television series, when done right, have the ability to take us to places that film often can't touch.

Now while I could probably sit down and pour out a list of great shows of the past and present, I am writing to praise one particular program that you are most likely unaware of or haven't yet given a shot. Why devote an entire column to one show you ask? Because television just doesn't get any better than this.

HBO's intricate puzzle, "The Wire," first premiered in 2002 to stellar reviews but fairly mediocre ratings. Following in the footsteps of the unsurpassed network's other hits -- "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under" and "Sex in the City" -- creator/ex-Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon and his crew of diligent writers set out to take on the police drama genre. The result was a show that took an honest look at crime, government corruption, police politics and the world of drugs in one of America's hardest cities. Above all it managed to give us some of the most riveting characters to ever join the history of television.

The world of "The Wire" tackles the streets of Baltimore, a city that has had its share of fame in the entertainment world (previous cop drama and past Simon endeavor "Homicide: Life on the Streets" also chronicled the city's crime ridden milieu). While the Eastern shore city has always been the focus of the show, the themes and issues dealt with in the series are prevalent to any place plagued by the war on drugs.

The beauty of the show is that it covers all grounds of the city's drug epidemic. Sure it's a cop show, dealing with the inner workings of the various city police departments and special units, but just like in real life, this element of the battle is only a piece of the bigger picture. Instead of focusing solely on the actions of a couple rogue cops as they uncover weekly cases (a simple but tedious formula that has worked wonders for shows like "CSI" or the horde of prosaic "Law & Order" shows), "The Wire" chronicles everything from the source of the drugs to its corner dealings. It explores the corruption on the streets to the corruption in the court. From the solutions to the sheer despair, nothing is left unexamined.

The first season introduced us to the major characters and the inner-workings of the drug trafficking life (or "the game") on the streets of Baltimore, focusing almost exclusively on one Avon Barksdale and his crime syndicate. It showed the pressures of chain of command -- both on the streets and on the force -- and proved that police work is not as glamorous as it is often portrayed in the movies or on other shows.

Season two did a radical 180, focusing most of its attention on the corruption of city port unions and its ties to the trafficking of stolen goods, illegal immigrants used as sex slaves and (of course) drugs. The show devoted an entire season to the lives and stories of a group of low-key Polish longshoremen and turned it into ripe drama that at times felt like a Greek tragedy. How many shows out there do that and get away with it? The second season proved that not only had "The Wire" bested its predecessor, but it could also take the unglamorous and make it captivating. Of course, similarly to the first season, the ratings were minimal and the show was ignored from awards like the Emmy's, despite stellar acting performances and flawless writing.

Season three, released on DVD in preparation for the season four premiere Sept. 10, moved away from the ports and returned to the slums of Baltimore. "The Wire's" third act brought into play issues of family and loyalty and questioned the logistics of the war on drugs from both sides, with the cops testing new radical methods of decreasing crime and the dealer crews testing their hands at business-focused peace accords. Again, the characters were all portrayed with breathtaking realism and honesty and the writing couldn't have been better (for you pulp novel buffs out there this season welcomed crime novelist Richard Price [Clockers] to its impressive canon).

"The Wire" is not an easy show to watch. It requires a great deal of patience and devotion and asks a lot more out of its viewer than your average drama. Like a great novel, you cannot just pick it up at any time and a complete knowledge of the show's history is a must. Like great literature, however, the end results will leave you heavily rewarded and in a state of awe. It's simply that good.

For anyone tired of the same high body counts and stale characters of prime-time cop shows or for those who already respect HBO's impressive repertoire, watch this show. You will not be disappointed: After the first fix, the television fiend in you will no doubt keep coming back for more. You'll be addicted to the drug drama.