Saturday, August 28, 2010

Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros - "Streetcore" (LP Review)

I have to confess that I knew little about Joe Strummer's career after The Clash until I saw the documentary "Let's Rock Again!". Despite the somewhat silly title, it is a quite good description of the modest circumstance of Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros on tour promoting their second LP, 2001's "Global A Go-Go". Sometime after seeing LRA, I also saw the documentary "Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten". Apparently I'm not the only one that wasn't clear what he had been up to: even refers to the period between The Clash and The Mescaleros as "The Wilderness Years".

I liked what I heard in those documentaries, so I bought "Streetcore", which was posthumously released in 2003. I'm trying to review this LP without both the nostalgia regarding Strummer's untimely death in 2002, and my own continuing appreciation for The Clash, whom (much like Joy Division) I understand and appreciate far more now than "back in the day".

So with every attempt to be objective, I can honestly say this is an excellent LP. Not just a collection of excellent songs, what I appreciate most is this LP sounds exactly like what an LP by a 50 year-old Joe Strummer should sound like. I'll try to describe what that means, and we'll see if Lee agrees with me...

Strummer was in his mid-20s when the seminal double LP "London Calling" was recorded, and its sound captures the righteous indignation of a young punk. On "Streetcore", Strummer doesn't try to sound like the angry, street preacher of his youth and The Mescaleros don't try to be "the only band that matters". On the other hand, the fire is still there: he's still angry and he hasn't given up the fight, but he's tempered with age, experience, wisdom, and perspective. He doesn't deny his origins either; for example, the song "Burnin' Streets" slyly incorporates the lyrics "London is burning", but without the urgency of The Clash song "London's Burning". In summary, "Streetcore" gives us a version of Joe Strummer that is like aged leather.

This LP was assembled after Strummer's death, so there is a mixture of producers (e.g., Rick Rubin is the producer of the cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song"), and the song "Midnight Jam" was unfinished when Strummer died so instead of vocals it features samples of Strummer's BBC radio show. As a result, "Midnight Jam" sounds a bit like "Death is a Star" from "Combat Rock". And as the name The Mescaleros suggests, there is a definite Tex-Mex sound on some songs, esp. "Coma Girl", "Get Down Moses" and "Long Shadow". They're mostly known for their world music influences, but it sounds more like punk-influenced rockabilly to me. The only song that doesn't work for me is "Arms Aloft".

It is tempting to rate this more highly than it deserves because it is Strummer's last LP. However, even if he was alive and still recording, this would still be an important LP that serves as a blueprint for aging rockers yearning to remain relevant. It reminds me of the scenes in "Let's Rock Again!" where Strummer is promoting his upcoming concert, talking to people on the boardwalk and then later to a DJ at a local radio station. He seems to take it all in stride, but the viewer is left to think "dude, you're talking to Joe F'n Strummer, and you don't even realize it..." It is unfortunate that this LP is not more well-known.

Standout songs: "Coma Girl", "Get Down Moses", "Long Shadow", "Ramshackle Day Parade", "Redemption Song", "All in a Day", "Midnight Jam", "Silver and Gold".

Skip 'em songs: "Arms Aloft".

Final score: 9/10.


  1. Amen, and I *do* agree. I am horrified to admit that I didn't immediately purchase this album when it was released and only picked it up in 2005 at the strong urging of a friend who chastised me for not already owning it. Indeed, it is one of the best albums I've bought in 10+ years.

  2. At least you discovered it 3-4 years before I did!

    Are the previous two JS&TM LPs good as well? The reviews online seem more mixed.