Thursday 11 October 2012

Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros - Streetcore

Joe Strummer, like many polarizing musicians, was a difficult character to package into a neat box. He came out of the British punk movement, but - to these ears at least - the Clash's take on the punk movement was much more deeply nuanced, thoughtful, and constructively provocative. Compare with the Sex Pistols, or the Stranglers.  Strummer's post-Clash career was far more rock than punk, with elements of Folk in the Dylan/Baez/Mitchell vein.

Strummer's last album - Streetcore - is to my ears his finest since London Calling, and possibly even surpasses it.  Joe died suddenly before it was completed, and it was sadly released posthumously in 2003.  Supposedly, Joe was working on more material for the album at the time of his death, and it is likely that two songs "Redemption Song" and "Silver and Gold" were not intended to be part of it. When you get to know the album, though, they become inseparable from it, lending key elements to its layered character.

Another consequence of Strummer's sudden death is that the final takes for most of the vocals had not been laid down, and so the album uses material from intermediate takes.  This lends them a freshness and authenticity that jumps from the soundstage, and makes you wonder how a "final take" could possibly have improved upon it.  Technically, maybe.  But emotionally, no way.

Joe Strummer was a character of endless contradictions.  Always politically a vocal proponent of strong left-leaning views, he espoused both environmental and social causes.  He claimed to be an anarchist, yet worked single-mindedly - the cause of much friction with his band-mates - to achieve both critical and commercial success.  And having achieved it he then dismantled whatever he had built and moved on - an act of self-loathing, it would appear.

Please make a point of tracking down one of the most important albums of the last decade.