Joe Strummer: Assembly
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Released: 26 March 2021
Joe Strummer’s solo work celebrated on new release.
Joe Strummer, best remembered for his time with The Clash, died back in 2002 and was universally mourned by the rock and punk community. Since those years have passed, he has taken on an iconic image of your average Joe who spoke common sense about the people mattering and doing things your own way. He has become an image and words passed around social media, separated from the actual life he lived, and the real, conflicted man, that he was. He really was just your average Joe really who took to the stage with a guitar like a tommy gun and a love for the power of rock ‘n’ roll and became burdened with the idea of fame and the expectations of fans.
Assembly, a new compilation from Dark Horse Records, focusses on Strummer’s solo work, with ‘carefully curated singles, fan favourites, and archival rarities’. The irony is that back in 1986 when the Clash disintegrated one album too late, Strummer’s early solo work was virtually ignored by critics and the public alike, whilst Mick Jones (his erstwhile writing partner from The Clash) had a successful career with BAD and as a producer.
Strummer’s first solo musical efforts were working on soundtracks (almost exclusively with director Alex Cox) as though he was hiding his work in a larger format. The only track on Assembly from this soundtrack period is Love Kills from Sid & Nancy, a great little rocker if sounding slightly 80s overproduced now, though I prefer Dum Dum Club from the same movie. It’s a shame that nothing is featured from his Walker soundtrack which really showed Strummer’s skill as a composer and the beginning of his interest in Latino rhythms. Likewise, the Trash City recordings he made for the movie Permanent Record, are criminally overlooked and well worth tracking down.
In 1989, Strummer released his first solo album, Earthquake Weather, which was a critical and commercial flop, saw him lose his contract with Sony records and not release an album for another 10 years. The one song on Assembly form Earthquake Weather is Sleepwalk, one of the most beautifully melancholic songs he wrote. This writer loved Earthquake Weather on its release, with its Latino beats and downbeat, almost film-noir lyrics. Again, track it down if you can.
Maybe not surprisingly then, Assembly concentrates on what was the critical and commercial success of Strummer’s later recordings from 1999 to 2003’s posthumous Streetcore.
Four songs feature from 1999’s Rock Art and the X-Ray style and showcase Strummer’s great ability to mash up world beats and create something multi-layered but still somehow always retaining the rock ‘n’ roll spirit. Tony Adams has hip-hop and reggae beats with slide guitar and rocking rhythms. The lyrics conjuring up beauty from the inner city, with an all-night party feel to it. X-Ray Style is the sound of a multi-cultural city, with African bongo drums a speciality and a laid back guitar rhythm. Forbidden City has a 50s rock n roll rhythm, whilst Yalla Yalla’s hip-hop electronic techno beat, is like the soundtrack to a sunrise over a long night party, throwing in kebabs, tae kwon do, ragga FM, and a barrel of beer.
Global A Go-Go was released in 2001 and three tracks feature on Assembly. Johnny Appleseed is a folk-tinged rock out, Mondo Bongo is full of wordplay against a beautiful melody, that sounds like it’s being sung around one of Strummer’s famous campfire sessions in the small hours, as the drinks have been drunk and the spliffs extinguished, and At The Border, Guy has sound loops, reggae bass, and dub, sounding like tuning the dial-in and out of world radio.
Strummer’s final album, released after his death, Streetcore, gives Assembly four songs. Streetcore itself was more of a straight rock album than the previous ones, but still featured a mix of sounds. Coma Girl is a great upbeat rocker, whilst Get Down Moses is reggae-tinged rock. Long Shadow is a beautiful country song., with Strummer’s stripped-down sound still as cool as fuck. For a white man to cover Redemption Song takes balls, or complete arrogance, and takes a lot of cred to make it count. Strummer had paid his dues and brings a real poignancy to the Marley classic.
For the completists, there are three unreleased tracks thrown into the mix: live versions of Rudie Can’t Fail and I Fought The Law, both from Brixton Academy in 2001, and an acoustic version of Junco Partner, which was discovered on an old tape belonging to the late artist.
Joe Strummer’s solo output from the very start was eclectic, original, energetic and inspiring, it’s a shame that he spent ten years barely releasing anything and a shame that when he did finally get acclaim for his solo work, that he passed away. If you’ve missed out on his solo work this is a great starting off point.
The Joe Strummer Foundation is here.