Joe Strummer's foray into World Music with the Mescaleros has been largely overlooked in the pages of recent rock history. Perhaps that's because, a year later, Damon Albarn did much the same thing with Mali Music, or maybe it's just that Strummer's status as punk icon cast a long shadow over his subsequent work. Whatever the reason, Hellcat's reissue of the second Joe Strummer & The Mecaleros album Global A Go-Go is a real treat.
While it's light on bonus material, that's almost a blessing, it doesn't feel like they're cashing in on what would have been Strummer's 60th birthday by re-writing his legacy. For the uninitiated Global A Go-Go was the final album Strummer completed before his sudden death in 2002. Unlike its predecessor, the record displayed its cultural melting pot credentials proudly with each track highlighting Strummer's warm, everyman vocal delivery.
'Johnny Appleseed' with its mix of Celtic and African influences, 'Global A Go-Go' with its dub and electronic flourishes, and 'Mondo Bongo' with its late night Latin vibe, all sit proudly alongside Strummer's finest work. While there's little doubt Strummer was the main draw for many listeners, the multi-instrumentation approach from each of the band members is the real revelation here. Effortlessly fusing styles and ideas, it's a record that really hasn't dated because, in many ways, it was ahead of its time.
In fact, the only thing that really gives a clue to Global A Go-Go's release date is Strummer's lyrical musings. The most noticeable being the reference to his BBC World Service show ('There ain't no hut in the Serengeti/ Where my wavelengths do not probe'). While there's a certain sense of autobiographical reflection to be found throughout, there's also Strummer's punk infused anger informing some of the more barbed lyrics. However, the real highlight of the record is actually an instrumental; a 17+ minute reworking of a traditional Irish Folk song closes the album. 'Minstrel Boy' is a perfect way to bring the curtain down as it ebbs and flows like an improvised jam session around a campfire. Featuring a wealth of disparate instruments it brings together many of the musical ideas to be found on Global A Go-Go into one track.
The sole piece of extra material on this reissue is the live recording of 'Bhindi Bhagee from Strummer's final live appearance at Acton Town Hall. 'We'd like to sing about takeaway food, I know that's always on everybody's mind', he declares before playing the song, all in all it feels like a celebratory victory lap. That's why a reissue of Global A Go-Go feels particularly apt for Strummer's milestone birthday. While he can't be with us to mark the occasion, we can relive one of his most satisfying albums which sounds like he threw his own party in the studio.