Joe Strum­mer

Joe Strum­mer 001

Classic Rock - - Reviews - John ai­zle­wood

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.

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