It’s a testament to the life of Joe Strummer that he never figured out what to do with his punk-god gravitas. The Clash assumed that rerouting one’s own little corner of human history was a lifelong responsibility. But unlike some of his punk/new-wave peers, Strummer didn’t take it upon himself to solve third-world debt or teach Chaucer to soccer moms when he hit middle age. Throughout his meandering solo career — as tepid roots-rocker, amicable indie actor, and confused global-rock busker– he seemed plenty busy just figuring out what it meant to be Joe Strummer, if it still meant anything at all. He was busy being born until the day he died.
Streetcore — cobbled together from tracks Strummer was working on with his band the Mescaleros at the time of his death in 2002 — suggests he had a ways to go, which is part of its charm. The album is just as messy as the Mescaleros’ first two stabs at relevance, 1999’s Rock Art and the X-Ray Style and 2001’s Global a Go-Go. No one expected him to have a crystal ball, but it’s unfortunate that, with British soldiers off rocking the casbah, Strummer opens Streetcore“crawling through a festival way out West…. Thinking about love and the acid test.” Later, on the sweet, ambling “Midnight Jam,” he imagines lolling away the September of his years as a late-night DJ, telling tall tales, rocking U-Roy and old Clash tunes.
Yet, if a serendipitously creepy acoustic tribute to Johnny Cash (“Long Shadow”) and a version of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” sound like Strummer fretting about his legacy, “Silver and Gold,” a country cover of Bobby Charles’ “Before I Grow Too Old,” strikes the perfect note of anguish and wanderlust. Likewise, the Clash-like “Arms Aloft” finds old Joe summoning more spit than he has in years. But Streetcore‘s most moving cut may beits weirdest: an electronica-tinged rumination called “Ramshackle Day Parade,” which opens on Marilyn Monroe and ends up haggling over the wages of myth and mythsploitation itself, issues weighing heavy on a Johnny Cash fan who’d just hit 50. “Every dog must have its day,” he sings with resignation and pride — as if his was still yet to come.