Review of Streetcore Album by Joe Strummer

Streetcore may not quite reach the heights of its predecessor (2001's Global a Go-Go), but despite a ragged patchwork nature of rescued studio takes, it's certainly a fitting bookend to Joe Strummer's career.

Joe Strummer Streetcore Album

Following his sudden death in 2002, fellow members of The Mescaleros Martin Slattery and Scott Shields assembled a third and final record from unused material. It shares some similarities with the similar American Recordings of latter day Johnny Cash that Rick Rubin subsequently rescued from the archives. But unlike Cash's sombre march towards the grave, Strummer seems to have revisited his youth here.

Opener 'Coma Girl' is perhaps the most recognisable song of the 10 that formed the original record. It includes a sly nod to Strummer's beloved summer retreat of Glastonbury; "I was crawling through a festival way out west". Elsewhere, the opening guitar brings to mind the vitality of early The Clash records. While Streetcore doesn't possess the experimentation of the first two Mescaleros records, it succeeds by playing to Strummer's strengths as a Punk icon. So while some of the vocals are a little rough around the edges, the ragged guitars that accompany them only add to the sense of immediacy. Other parallels to the Clash include 'Burnin' Streets', which acts like a more relaxed cousin to 'London's Burning'. Some of the references made in the extracts from Strummer's radio show (that form a loose lyric for 'Midnight Jam') also have an air of nostalgia.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to the way the tracks were pulled together, we're treated to two covers here; the strongest of them, 'Redemption Song', was recorded by Rick Rubin (the man who encouraged Johnny Cash to mine popular music for material that he could re-imagine). While Strummer and a backdrop of acoustic guitars perfectly suit the mood of the song, the quality of the vocal itself is at times a little distracting. The superior version remains Rubin's duet mix that also included Cash on Unearthed. The final crossover here with Johnny Cash is actually a song that Strummer had written for the Man In Black, but that he ended up recording himself. 'Long Shadow' is a dark country ballad, that sounds like it was recorded around a campfire.

As with Hellcat's other releases to mark Strummer's 60th birthday, there's also additional material on offer here. While these 7 live songs originally appeared as B-Sides, they provide an insight into the Mescaleros' ability to embrace Ska and Punk to galvanise a crowd. While Strummer revisits the energetic songwriting of his past for large portions of Streetcore, it's also very satisfying to hear him belt out the Ramones cover 'Blitzkreig Bop'. The Mescaleros' albums were widely regarded as a return to form, but the fact that Hellcat has chosen to close the final of these posthumous releases with a series of live favourites seems strangely apt. Strummer was one of the greatest live performers of his generation, and this new postscript to Streetcore is a great way to illustrate that. It may not be a perfect record, but what it lacks in polish, it makes up for as an intimate portrait of a man rediscovering his roots.

Jim Pusey.

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