Joe Strummer 001
Before The Clash, after The Clash, but not really The Clash.
The Clash never did re-form, but just before Joe Strummer died in 2002, it had never seemed more likely. Old wounds had healed, Strummer and Mick Jones were collaborating again and distance had cemented The Clash’s place as rock greats. And while he could never quite flee the mothership, Strummer toiled long and hard. For all that the commercial breakthrough remained elusive, his drinking and depression were at bay, he was building up a substantial volley of post-Clash work and, at the age of 50, a promising future beckoned.
The 32-track (35 in box-set form) 001 is, like everything Strummer turned his hand to, a glorious mess. The first disc is essentially a non-Clash best of, from 70s pub rockers The 101ers to The Mescaleros, via soundtrack work, duets with Johnny Cash (a stately version of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song), Jimmy Cliff and South Park. He couldn’t quite re-bottle The Clash’s magic, but he came mighty close on Yalla Yalla, Johnny Appleseed and Trash City.
The second disc covers the same periods and it’s mostly taken from Strummer’s vast archive of unreleased/unfinished songs. Unlike The Vanilla Tapes, London Calling’s 25th-anniversary extras, the sound quality, even of the demos, is pristine. There are revelations, not least Paul Simonon’s thumping reggae bass on Czechoslovak Song/ Where Is England, which Strummer would radically overhaul before it became The Clash’s last stand, This Is England. The solo demo Blues On The River would have been worked up into something special, London Is Burning turned up on the posthumous Streetcore as the less effective Burning Streets, while 1986’s twangy 2 Bullets and the string-laden U.S. North both feature Mick Jones.
The frustration lies in what’s missing. There’s nothing live (Strummer-fronted tracks made their way onto Pogues B-sides and their box set), nothing with Lee Perry or, more frustratingly, any glimpse of the material Strummer and Jones were working on in 2002.
On its own merits, 001 disrupts the notion that Strummer lost his way after The Clash, without wholly overturning it, but there’s nothing remotely grubby here. Still, it’s hard to imagine that Strummer’s discography will end with this collection.