: Wednesday, November 19, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros

Streetcore (Hellcat Records)

Back in ’79, fronting the Clash, Joe Strummer looked more intensely alive than any performer I’ve ever seen, playing like a man on the end of a live wire, spitting imprecations through ruined teeth and pounding his mic stand on the stage. Their label’s lame “only band that matters” hype aside, the Clash really did stand for something. They gave the lie to punk’s stupid nihilism, railed against social injustice with real fury and considerable wit, and affirmed that it was (and is) not just acceptable but necessary to kick against the pricks.

It’s been almost a year now since the news came that his great, strong heart had ceased to beat, and I still can’t believe he’s dead. When he checked out last December (merry effing Christmas), Strummer was in the middle of recording his fourth solo album. Two of his band boys finished the 10 tracks on Streetcore as a tribute to him. It’s a worthy epitaph — an eclectic mix of rock, reggae, R&B, and folk influences, all framing Strummer’s blasted, passionate voice.

“Coma Girl,” “Arms Aloft,” and “All in a Day” rock as hard as anything the Clash ever did, but it’s the warmth and humanity of Strummer’s last music that make Streetcore worthy of repeated spins, and some of the finest moments here are the quietest ones. “Long Shadow” sounds like the demo it was — Strummer wrote the song for Johnny Cash. He really doesn’t have the vocal chops to sing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” but his version succeeds on heart alone. “Ramshackle Day Parade” and “Burning Streets” are evocative vignettes of city life that hark back to the more contemplative moments on the Clash’s sprawling, self-indulgent magnum opus Sandinista!

In “Ramshackle Day Parade,” Strummer sings, “All your life you dreamed a dream / Somehow connected to the silver screen / With half closed eyes you realize / Love in the life that is paradise.” Go easy, bro.

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