For anyone who grew up amidst the white heat of the punk revolution, heroes were supposed to be a thing of the past. Joe Strummer, however, was the exception who proved the rule and while The Clash only rarely lived up to the promise of their incendiary first album, Strummer’s solo work in the past five years did much to recapture the passion and raw energy of those early years.
His death, in December last year, therefore not only robbed a whole generation of one if its iconic figures, it also brought a premature end to a new career that promised much. Thankfully this posthumous release was into the later stages of preparation when Joe died – he even left detailed notes for the cover artwork – and was completed by fellow Mescaleros Martin Slattery and Scott Shields earlier this year.
What’s immediately striking about the album is what a great ear Strummer had for a memorable cover version – remember Police and Thieves from the first Clash album. Bob Marley’s Redemption Song takes on renewed relevance in his hands, while Bobby Charles‘ hit Before I Grow Too Old (here renamed Silver And Gold) sounds like someone who knows their time is almost near.
It’s not that the album is maudlin or melancholy – quite the reverse in fact. Although songs like Ramshackle Day Parade now take on an almost unbearable poignancy, others, like the recent single Coma Girl, remind you of what a great storyteller and lyricist Joe could be on his day.
Get Down Moses recalls past glories, especially The Clash’s early dub experiments, and Arms Aloft is a life-affirming rocker, with more than a touch of White Album-era Beatles about it. Of the eight self-penned tracks only All In A Day lacks the focus and drive that typifies the rest of the record.
Joe even penned what amounts to his epitaph, Long Shadow, although, irony of ironies, it was originally intended for Johnny Cash. Certainly the lyrics “If you put it all together, you didn’t even once relent/ You cast a long shadow, and that is your testament/ Somewhere in my soul, there’s always rock & roll,” could equally apply to an artist, nearly a year after his passing, who is still sorely missed.
The cruellest irony of all, however, is that this may well be Joe�s finest album in 20-odd years and you can only wonder what other riches may have followed.