A valiant and moving last hurrah from the sadly departed Clash hero
Joe Strummer’s sudden death last December seemingly brought the career of one of our greatest rockers to an abrupt end. But what makes Streetcore, the album he’d all but completed at the time of his death, so thrilling and fulfilling is that it brings both closure and new meaning to the man’s life and work.
Its 10 songs?seven Strummer originals, one co-write with Danny Sabre (“All In A Day”) and two covers, Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and Bobby Charles’ “Silver And Gold”?embrace the full span of Joe’s musical journey. There’s the heartfelt folkie troubadour inspired by Dylan and Woody Guthrie (“Long Shadow”), the possessed missionary on the electric bush telegraph (“Midnight Jam”), the hippie dreamer, acid prankster and punk Godfather (“Ramshackle Day Parade”, “Burnin’ Streets”) and the rocking tribal warrior (“Arms Aloft”).
Streetcore negotiates a resolution between the ethnocentric beats that hallmarked the two previous Mescaleros albums and the classic Clash sound that remained pivotal to Joe’s live performances. It also contains some of the most revealing songs he ever recorded, making it an essential, if ill-starred, trip.
“Coma Girl”, driven by his unmistakable engine-revving rhythm guitar, is classic Strummer, swept along by a Jamaican offbeat; bruising punk clatter collides with reggae-inflected prophesy on “Get Down Moses”, presenting an activist call to arms (“Who’s sponsoring the crack ghettoes?/We got to take the walls of Jericho.”)
Unsurprisingly, these songs are often informed by world-weary experience and the battle-hardened wisdom of a rock’n’roll veteran.
“May I remind you of that scene/The spirit is our gasoline” is the rallying cry of “Arms Aloft”, recalling the heyday of “Clash City Rockers”, when anything seemed possible. But elsewhere that spirit is besieged and under fire. On the extraordinary “Ramshackle Day Parade” the funereal synthesizer and baleful chorus describe a post-9/11 march of flailed souls, a toast to “all those lost, unborn and unmade”. “All In A Day” captures an inspired mix of uncertainty, mania and exhilaration, while on “Burnin’ Streets” images of urban decay are suffused with outrage and sorrow.
Even greater is the Rick Rubin-produced “Redemption Song”, a magisterial reinterpretation, Joe’s affinity with Marley’s lyric absolute. The similarly sparse “Long Shadow”, originally written for Johnny Cash, is, as Strummer’s biographer Chris Salewicz indentified, Joe’s own “Redemption Song”. This cowboy ballad is a righteous testament linking Westway anarchists and rocking desperadoes with US Depression-era hobos and chain gangs. It’s a song as deep and lasting as “White Man In Hammersmith Palais”, or any other previous Strummer composition.
Of course there’s a sadness here:a man is gone, and no one can take his place. But Mescaleros Scott Shields and Martin Slattery have served Strummer’s memory well, and Streetcore is something to celebrate, proof that, right up to his death, Joe Strummer was working at the peak of his powers.