Anyone who had been
paying attention to the direction The Clash were heading in before their
breakup in 1986 shouldn’t have been surprised by the music frontman Joe
Strummer was turning in with his last project. Having assembled The Mescaleros
by the late ‘90s, Strummer had moved beyond the standard three chords-backed
political rants that helped launch a genre and continued his experiment with a
more global sound (ska, reggae and world music), while still holding on tightly
to the punk rock hooks and sing-along choruses he was best known for. When he
died suddenly in 2002, Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros had released two records: Rock Art and the X-Ray Style and Global A Go-Go,
with Streetcore following posthumously in ’03. Though not a massive step away from The
Clash in sound, the Mescaleros albums were certainly bringing Strummer’s songs
to a new audience.
And like manna from heaven, those good-hearted
punk rockers at Hellcat Records celebrated what would have been Strummer’s 60th birthday this year, by breaking open the vault and liberating a whopping 57 tracks
from Strummer and his band as a digital-only “box set.” Along with the three
full albums mentioned above (each concurrently reissued on vinyl and CD), the collection
includes a slew of B-sides and live tracks, with the Holy Grail being three live songs – that sound impeccable – recorded from the November 2002
reunion of Strummer and Clash bandmate Mick Jones at a London benefit concert.
The pair does justice to “Bank Robber,” “London Calling” and “White Riot,” and
while Jones swears it was unplanned, you can’t help but imagine a full-on
reunion was not out of reach had Strummer not died weeks later. The Hellcat
Years includes a blistering set from that show (sans Jones) and others with Strummer and his band tearing
through a blend of Clash songs (“Rudie Can’t Fail,” “White Man in Hammersmith
Palais”) and Mescaleros tunes (“Johnny Appleseed,” “Coma Girl”), as well as some
brilliant covers (“Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Police on My Back”).
A hell of a present
for (from) a punk rock legend.
Calling,” “Johnny Appleseed” -JOHN B. MOORE