I don't know if it was just the song, or the moment in time that I was listening to it, or if it was just the fact that I am still bitter that Joe Strummer surprisingly passed away last Winter; but this album moved me in an emotional way that a cd (even cds that I am in love with) has not yet moved me. I was taking the light rail to school on Friday morning, and just as the sun was rising at 7 a.m. and I was being lifted up over the waking city, watching it slowly expand below me, I heard Joe Strummer singing "Redemtion Song" through my headphones and I was destroyed. I closed my eyes as to not make a scene, but that was all I really needed. I was crying like a goddam emo kid who just got his cardigan stolen by the football player that slept with his high school girlfriend 28 years ago. But all that hippy stuff aside, the new Strummer album is very impressive.
If you have been following post-Clash Joe Strummer than you know he is not writing punk songs any more, at least not in the traditional sense. He did a few soundtracks and then started a band called the Mescaleros with a bunch of eclectic musicians and his biggest fan (Tim Armstrong) signed them to his respectable HellCat Records. I am not reviewing this for a punk site because it is punk, but rather because this fallen soldier has done some of the most important music for the punk genre.... well that and he is a genius. Joe Strummer died out of nowhere last December because of heart problems he had always had. Apparently he had a few rough versions of the songs to appear on this album. This is where the Mescaleros deserve a lot of credit. They took these rough ideas that Joe had and created ten great songs out of them. I usually hate pothumous albums because the producers create something the recently deceased would have never done. But this album contains the same kind of rock with roots in punk and world music that his other albums have consisted of.
Now I am not going to do a song by song synopsis of this because every song has a place on this album and every song is impressive, and necessary. There are a few songs, however, that have especially won a place in my heart already. The opening track, Coma Girl, is the first single off the album. In every past album the band has kicked each off with a great opening track. It continues on Streetcore with "Coma Girl". It is a track that builds in intensity and emotion, where Strummer's vocals reveal how his imagination and use of words convey a wide spectrum of human emotions. And, as usual, reggae somehow seeps into the rock of this track. But while the ska wave of the mid ninties and other raggae can seem very dated and passe, Strummer's composition make the concept of raggae seem fresh and even exciting. Until now I have never heard anything resembling raggae to be remotely exciting. Also, track 3 "The Long Shadow", is a gorgeous, acoustic, country-influenced tribute to Johnny Cash. I am assuming this was Joe's Tribute to his gradually sickening hero. Little did he know that the 70-something year old Man In Black would outlive him. "You don't face your demons down, you gotta grapple em, jack, and pin em to the ground." This is an example of Joe's supreme lyrical skills. I think that passage there sums up the most important message that we can learn from all of Johnny Cash's music.
As stated early, the stripped down acoustic/organ cover of Bob Marley's "Redemtion Song" (recorded by Rick Rubin) is a weathered, yet empowering rendition. This track is a perfect example of why Joe always was, up until the end, a punk singer. His voice is tortured. With every note that he struggles to reach (and always exceedes in doing so) you can hear the gravel in his throut and know he's been to hell and back and has brought stories with him. From the opening strum to the final sounds of his talking in the studio the album is all over the place. Thanking fully the band toned down the systhesizers on this album. I always thought the only downside to the previous albums was way too much sonic experimenting. To the point were it is overbearing and takes away from the intent of the song. They take it down a notch here, and it makes all the difference. There is the ragga of "Get Down Moses", to the ambient peice "Ramshackle Day Parade", to the most rocking track "All In A Day", but the closing track on this album is the opus. Joe and the Mescaleros cover "Before I Grow To Old"(Fats Domino) but rename it "Silver and Gold." This song sounds like a Neil Young-style acoustic-guitar/harmonica rocker. This is a happy peice, and once the violin comes into the mix, there is no reason everyone shouldn't be feeling this track. Joe sings "I am going to do everything silver and gold, and I have got to hurry up before I grow to old." With every word you can almost hear Joe singing them with a smile. The track is beautiful, but what it stands for, what it means, what it says about human life and spirit has a greater impact than anything else on this album, or perhaps in my collection. There is something that we should all be clear about regarding his death..it came out of nowehre. He was not sick, not on drugs, not slowly dying. This was not his way of accepting the oncoming Reaper. He had no idea that after walking his dog that winter day, that he would sit on his couch and lose conciousness, never to regain it. You see this song is all about loving life to the fullest right before you die. Strummer probably sang this mere months before passing. This song is very optimistic and depicts human spirit at it's best. Even more than that, it is a statement about how fragile our lives our. We can be optimistic and healthy and we can lose life faster than we can get to that point.
Whew....depressing..and beautiful. The secret to life is finding the beauty in all things, even things depressing. This song leads me to beleive that Joe would agree with that statement, as he rocks that big Casbah in the sky.